Monday, October 31, 2016

Tying it all together: Leadership, Connecting, Mindfulness, and Thinking

Over the course of this academic calendar year I have written about several different topics. I had mentioned that eventually I would come full circle and tie some of those topics together. Effectively connecting with students at the heart level, connecting to the heart through awareness, and intuitive, critical and analytical thinking are all important components of a happy, successful, and fulfilled Montessori school. In fact, I would say for just about any organization, but we are fortunate enough to be talking about Montessori and this environment gives us the freedom and responsibility to be able to do this. I will go so far as to say it is the duty of the head of school to establish this momentum for the staff so that they can overflow to the children and facilitate a symbiotic relationship with the parents. The head of school must be mindful, connect at the heart level and instill an awareness of these things, as well as of the impact that Maria Montessori’s education has on developing intuitive, critical and analytical thinking for the students.

In August, the head of school can and should start doing exercises and communicating with the staff about the importance of mindfulness, awareness, connecting at the heart level and open communication. The head of school should study leadership regularly and be a model for these qualities and practices. The question is, how can the head of school and guides do this? Well, it starts with the leader of the staff, parents and children. A mission statement is the first line of communication to indicate any of these things. Families want to know more than that the guide cares and is effective, but that the school as a whole does as well. In my eyes, a head of school should be firm, but open-minded, compassionate and understanding, and people should be made to feel this. Ice breakers should happen at the beginning of the year. Not just silly ones, but ones that help everyone to get to know each other on a deeper level. If the guides are excited to be there, that will trickle down to the children and parents.

Heads of schools already have an advantage because Montessori guides already want to be there; they just also want to feel connected, welcomed, appreciated and engaged. Just like the children and parents want to feel. Plus, it is a special person who decides to go through the rigorous training of being a guide. Guides should be checked in with regularly, naturally joke with them a little bit and speak to them more about school when possible. These special people want to make a difference and we are honored to be in a position to encourage and support them to do so.  Do something special for their birthdays, help to celebrate their life and your appreciation for them being in yours. Talk about awareness, and if you do not know about it, learn. Ask them engaging questions to think about their classroom differently and always bring conflict and misunderstandings to the fundamentals, hopefully your school’s mission. If guides are not mindful and aware, then the children can’t be. Remind them to breathe and take a step back, compliment them. Ask them if they are teaching and having the children do that as well. Sometimes we get so caught up in pedagogy and curriculum that we lose sight of the heart and the person.

Guides should have opportunities to teach the children to de-stress. Have them teach diaphragmatic breathing. Maybe yoga classes can be given on Friday afternoons. Show the children how to slow down a few minutes each day with some deep breaths. The guides should be remembering to smile and laugh with the children as well as be good managers of their classrooms. How am I encouraging any of the three types of thinking today? What materials encourage any of the given three types of thinking? Why is this important? We want our students to be super thinkers, to the best of their ability. What if they were able to better access and use both their right and left hemispheres more effectively? It does not have to be, oh I am more left brained or more right brained. Give them the opportunity to explore and develop both. This is what I mean by a super thinker. One who can access both hemispheres and practice mindfulness and being aware. These are fantastic life skills, not innate, individual traits.

What do the parents want? If you do not know, and do not assume, then ask them? Give them a survey or ask personally. Ultimately, most parents want their children to thrive, be happy and they want to know what is going on. Montessori is foreign to them, even if parents think they know. In fact, most guides are still learning about their understanding and concept of Montessori’s teachings, even years after being involved in it. Being human often gets in the way of our learning. Being a Montessori head of school, guide, parent and child is a lot like authenticity in that it is a journey and not a destination. Let me also clarify that we are ever so much more than a Montessori school, head of school, guide, child or parent. We are all human beings, some would say spiritual beings having the human experience of manifesting what a woman concluded from her observations and work. However, yes, it is easier to say Montessori school, head of school, guide, child, and parent. Yet, I feel it is so much nicer to have this understanding when we say that.

In essence, we have to constantly work on knowing ourselves and giving those around us the opportunity to know themselves too. Education is nothing without that. Connecting at the heart level is the key to communication and education. Awareness is the opportunity to see it. Mindfulness is the process we use to get there through the tool of Montessori’s approach. Communicate, be open, take a step back, breathe, and connect. It’s a very fulfilling process and an honor to be part of such a journey.