What does it mean to be brave? Choosing to be brave is not a destination, but a journey that is traveled every day. Being brave is a choice. It does not have to be a magnificent act. Practicing or making the choice to be brave can be about the choice to go through the process of overcoming a fear or doing something even though you are scared. As a Montessori educator, being brave is a duty of the guide for the sake of both the children and families. I have tremendous gratitude for Judith Cunningham, Michael Jacobson and the Montessori Model United Nations. It is because of them, and the forum that they have created, that I can communicate and better understand bravery. The children and families also inspire me to strive to be a good role model and to do myself what I ask of the children to do.
Last year, I participated as a President on the Dais for one of the committees at the Montessori Model United Nations Conference in New York City. I decided to open up the session by asking the delegates (students) what being brave meant to them. Then I shared with them what being brave meant to me. Next, I encouraged them to utilize this safe forum to choose to do one thing that scared them or that they were nervous about. It could be something such as raising your placard, standing and announcing that you were present and voting in front of over 60 strangers. Or, if you were scared to meet someone new, go up to someone in the committee and introduce yourself. I had such an overwhelmingly positive experience with that and such great feedback that I decided to do it again this year when I was invited back to be President at the conference again.
I was definitely tested at the conference to exercise what I thought I needed to be brave about last year. However, this year’s biggest test of bravery for me at the conference brought me the greatest gift of awareness. So, I did my bravery spiel again, and the search for a resolution on the topic of whaling between approximately 30 countries and 60 delegates began. The room was buzzing; excitement was in the air. Twenty to thirty parents were in the room observing in the back at any given time. While everything was moving wonderfully, something different was happening this year that I had not experienced before. Parents were trying to involve themselves.
They were passing notes to the children, which I did not find out about until later in the day, and it was not just in my room. Some were actually trying to influence their children. Then, in the afternoon, a parent yelled across the room after a vote and said, “I don’t think the children understand.” I was shocked; this is not supposed to happen in a Montessori environment, let alone a Montessori Model United Nations environment. I had a flash of being at a baseball game and seeing a parent obnoxiously yelling to the children. This was not okay. However, it was the end of the session and the parent privately apologized. Unfortunately, for me, this was not over. Something needed to be done, but what?
For much of the night I thought about how to handle this situation. How could I change the dynamics that were being created in this forum? I could not allow any other parent to think it was okay to interject or continue to take away the possibility for self-directed learning from any of these children. In my mind, that was my responsibility, the children. Something had to be done, and when I realized a solution that was a possibility, I knew it would not be a popular one. It was going to be difficult, and many things could go wrong. Yet, I was a President of a committee, I spoke to the delegates about being brave, education is my life, and in my heart I knew what I needed to do, despite fears of possible undesirable outcomes.
It was not until the session began that I made the final decision. I briefed the Dais about my concern and unhappiness with regards to how some parents conducted themselves the day before. Then, I told them that, because of that, I was going to probably ask the parents to leave the room so that I could speak privately with the delegates. I explained to them that I did not recommend this, but based on the circumstances, I felt it was the right decision to make, for the sake of the delegates.
And so, the session began with roll call. After that, I addressed the parents and let them know that it was not okay to give negative reactions in the back of the room, pass notes to the delegates or speak across the forum to express an opinion. With that, I asked them to leave the room and the Dais would invite them back in approximately ten minutes after the delegates were addressed.
As President, I explained to the delegates that voting on draft resolutions was their decision alone, being on the speaker’s list was their choice, and while it might be hard, they should not let their parents or chaperone persuade them during the session. I explained to them that a parent calling out across the room as one did the previous day was not okay and just as they are expected to conduct themselves in a certain way, so are the adults in the back of the room. Along with that, we reopened the floor to vote on whether the delegates would like to vote on the current draft resolution without the parents present. The delegates voted in favor of voting on the draft resolution, and once we did, it passed unanimously. The Dais then invited the parents back into the room.
At the end of the conference, parents still shook my hand, complimented me, asked to have me take a picture with their child, and I also received at least one apology. This experience taught me several things. Good things can happen when you follow your heart. This experience was about the children and that gave me the courage to follow my heart, which in turn, led to my experience of making sure I modeled what I spoke about, being brave.
It is my hope that, in sharing this story, guides, administrators, and parents can take away something positive from it. My purpose was to show a personal story that might help someone else decide to be brave no matter how big or small the situation. Often times, our imaginations make things look more scary than they actually are. I would like to encourage you to share your story or thoughts about being brave.