Every somewhat - experienced Montessori guide knows that there are ebbs and flows throughout the year in the classroom. Of course, we see more down hills after a long break. This is because the process of normalization gets interrupted. There are even periods where, during consistent school days, it just seems like the children are too loud or are not cooperating. They are not engaged, are socializing too much, and you feel frustrated in general. Yes there is the rule of thumb: give more lessons, observe, have one on one meetings, etc... All of these things work or work to a certain extent. They are important and must be done. However, I would like to contend that there is something more foundational than all of that. We must connect with our students at the heart level. True education cannot happen without that. When we connect with our students, we give them a key to unlock the door to connect with themselves. Then the work, the joy, begins.
I was fortunate enough to learn this early on in my start. If I do not connect with the children, I will lose them. But, I didn’t even think of it like that. I have always had a passion to connect with all my students at the heart level and see them want to connect with me too. As a guide or head of school, you cannot ask for much more, other than connecting with the parents in the same way. So, what are some exercises or techniques to help make that happen? I have thought of several things that I realized I do. It is important to remember that it can’t be acted or forced, you have to own what you are doing. They see through you and respect your vulnerability. With that said, I’d like to share a story and hopefully it lights a little spark of inspiration.
Now, let me preface this with saying that I have a reputation for being fair but tough, funny but serious when necessary. So, I realize everyone has different expectations of their classrooms and ways of running it. Also, while this post is meant for primarily elementary and adolescents, I think connecting at the heart applies to all levels. However, I am intending my story and insight to be applicable to all types and styles of guides in the classroom. So, I would like to briefly rewind to the beginning of the year and share what I did with the children. What I chose to do is not uncommon in the elementary classroom.
Like so many other classrooms, we had started our school year with creating guidelines for the class. They came from the children. Everyone had to agree. Then everyone had to sign it. We hung it up on the wall. All of the children were excited then.
We returned to school in January of 2016, there was also excitement in the air and the room was buzzing. Everyone was legitimately happy to be back. There were a few students still literally on vacation. Things were good, for the most part. The transition back did go pretty smoothly. However, the couple of children returned about a week later. Then we received two new students who had experience in elementary. I was noticing that there was more than a buzz in the classroom. There were too many times where I repeated myself. The class was just feeling off and I was not satisfied.
Eventually, I noticed after redirecting and pointing out what was on the wall, it was lost and fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. I figured out, even though it originally came from the children, they were not connected to it from their heart. This led me to have a meeting with them in January. Also, I explained how something curious seems to happen with pictures and things that get hung up on the wall.
You see, after about 3 months, people just forget, they just do not notice anymore. It might as well not be there anymore. I said, “what I have noticed is that most of you are not following what you signed and agreed too.” Some children looked upset, like they disappointed me and knew it (my perception of course). I assured them that it was okay and that “when you sign something, it is like making a promise,” and they should know that for the future. In the meantime, I expressed my observations and what I found frustrating. Then I shared with them that it was on them to do better and be better. Either way, I was going to keep being me. Yet, I wanted to convey something to them and ask them some questions about one word. This is where one technique comes in.
“So, who can tell me what respect means?” Right away, hands went up and I got examples, not definitions. I knew that I had to find a word that could encapsulate what might be missing in the classroom during certain interactions. When I heard the children were not getting it, not listening, I asked someone to grab a dictionary. I had them read the definition of respect, respectful and respectfully. I tried to get them to connect to the word. Then I explained to them the power of words. I showed them what happens to the body when we think negatively with a muscle testing exercise. I turned it into a self-talk, self-respect and respect for others lessons. It was awesome! The 6-12 year olds really took to it, reminded each other and applied it for the whole week. It is now February and “respect” is still understood and utilized in the classroom more than the 10 or 15 other agreements. Now that it has been about a month, it will be time to introduce a new word.
As you know, January and February get broken up with conferences, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day Weekend. Yet, reminding them about respect when they made certain choices, showing them that I cared and not judging them had really brought about a deeper level of, well respect, between all of us.
To recap, connecting at the heart is the goal. The sooner this is done the better, but it cannot be rushed or forced. Helping them to connect to certain words like respect is a key to this journey with the children. Next month I will share another exercise that I have been doing and will continue to do with the children. It has to do with connecting to their individual hearts. If we do not teach children to do this, then connecting with them can only go so far! If you give the above exercise a try please feel free to comment and share with others your experience.