Friday, November 17, 2017

Part 2: An Understanding of the Communication and Collaboration Between Parent and Teacher

A lot of what was discussed in the previous blog post, An Understanding of the Communication and Collaboration between Parent and Teacher, is applicable from the perspective of the parent to the teacher/Guide as well. In fact, it is really applicable for most interactions. However, when I think of what can be added or helpful here when the roles are reversed, I think about my previous experience and others' experiences that have been shared with me. I ask myself, what can I share that might be helpful for parents themselves or in their communications with Guides and/or administrators of Montessori schools in conjunction with this format and image?

For better or worse and for what it is worth, this is what I have come up with and I hope you find it useful. Ultimately, parents think to themselves, “I want what is best for my child.” One step further is that they know their child has to get an education, one way or another: home school, public, private, charter or alternative. So, obviously we are continuing this communication as the parent who has chosen a path for their child to receive a Montessori education.

(From the perspective of a parent) “As a parent there are so many things I want to know, even if it is not conscious. There are things I do not even know I want to know. There are things that I think should be obvious for my child’s teacher to communicate with me as well as the school administration. I am also too busy to sometimes care, remember, or ask. So, I want my child’s teacher and the school to intuit these things and communicate them. After all, I am paying them a lot of money. I do not want to have to accept to trust even if I say that I can or will. My child and their future is in your hands and I want to know. With all this training and experience, I want you to provide me with easy to access and straightforward information because I am too busy to get anything long winded, whether I am a stay at home parent or a full time working parent. I may not make it to every event or respond to every communication, but I still want to come. Sometimes, I even want you to figure out a convenient time for me to read your communication or attend a school event.”

This is both true for the parent that is more laid back and the “helicopter” or “lawnmower” parent. Why? As adults, we still have an innate desire to evolve and do better. We are former children with needs, desires, characteristics and tendencies that are both tapped and untapped, realized and unrealized. As parents, we need to be inspired just like our children. As a parent this is what we are communicating intentionally and unintentionally. This is what a parent wants to say to their child’s teacher, whether they know it or not; this is just what the Guide should be hearing. “I know you think you were only trained for my child’s education, but you were actually trained to educate us both. The principle of following and inspiring the child also applies to us. My child won’t get the full benefit of a Montessori education without me being on board. This is the paradigm I need you and the school to break through. I am going to place demands on you, spoken and unspoken. Sometimes I’ll say something and mean something completely different."

Now that we got through that, how do we work through it with this model?
Parents need to be given an awareness not only of the goals for their child, which include the general outline for the year and for three years, but also an awareness of the importance of a willingness to collaborate. If a parent is already aware, then they need to communicate with the Guide. A parent should request, or a Guide should make sure they have a meeting with parents to find out what each other’s goals are for their child. Montessori teachers are used to just accepting children and having families trust the process. Parents are used to just sending their child to school. This is essentially what goes on and there is no problem, until there is and there is always a problem.

So, I am writing from the parent’s vertex on the triangle to say, have a meeting with your Guide before school starts or at the very beginning. Go over goals, expectations, and get concrete, at least simplified information about the program you are signing your child up for. The paradigm of an isolated school/home experience must be broken. The unspoken misunderstandings and assumptions between home and school in a Montessori environment need to end. The only way to do that is through active communication and listening, follow through, and follow-up. It is the Guide’s and school's responsibility to find a way to inspire the adult to such communication. Having a more active, conscious and collaborative ongoing communication provides protection for possible future conflicts. Our role is to inspire and figure out how to best role model how we interact with the children, providing congruency for the adult.

In conclusion, for now, let’s recap. Review the previous blog post, because the information there is applicable here for the dialogue and understanding from parent to Guide as well. Adults are people, who have already experienced being a child, who still want to and need to be followed and inspired also, whether conscious of it or not. Parents and Guides should have an understanding that Guides were not just trained to educate the child and that parents don’t want to be “educated,” because that makes them feel inferior, even if they are communicating otherwise. Human beings do not like to be preached to; that is another reason why lessons tend to be so successful in a Montessori environment. Guides do not preach to children, nor do they come across that way. Do something different and meet with parents at the beginning of the year to establish a clearer understanding. This seems like a lot that the parent is asking, but the parent is not asking. This is what the parent and Guide signed up for when the parent became aware that a Montessori education was best for their child and the Guide decided that they wanted to devote their career choice to serving the child.

Monday, July 31, 2017

An Understanding of the Communication and Collaboration Between Parent and Teacher

There is so much that can be said regarding this relationship. Keeping the idea of the triangle in mind and who or what makes up the sides and angles, it’s an ever evolving and sometimes devolving exchange. However, I like to look at it like a dancing of particles, similar to an explanation given in an elementary lesson called “God Who Has No Hands.” We have to understand the particles involved, and how they interact with each other, knowing their roles and the internal and external influences upon them in order to keep the balance as close to an acute equilateral triangle as possible. To have a simple image and a goal in mind is important when communicating something like this. 

What I am going to touch upon will eventually be so much more comprehensively covered than these blog posts can do justice to what I ultimately want to and will convey. However, please consider this as an introduction to look at what you know, or may not know, in a different way to aide in communication and collaboration with each other. I find that these strategies, attitudes, and perceptions help me be an effective communicator, so I want to share them with you. Based on my successes, failures, and feedback that I have received, I have been working on creating and communicating what I feel will be different, more intuitive, practical, and easier to grasp and follow in areas where we may be lacking and to give us a control of error to fall back on when we may have a blind spot or just may not be sure about something.

Before moving forward, have in mind this image of the triangle, but only the part that relates to the parent/teacher relationship. One vertex of the triangle is the Teacher/Guide and another vertex is the parent(s). We will be aware that “administration” is on the other vertex, “environment” is on the bottom, “assistants” are a side of the triangle, and the other side of the triangle consists of “other adults” who interact with the child. The child is the center of the triangle. Our focus is between Parent, guide/teacher and child.

Now, for a framework. The parent, teacher, and child would not be interacting in each other’s lives if one was missing. They are all connected, which is so important to keep in mind. There is an interdependency; yet, so often, there is an air of entitlement with at least one. Expectations are not even communicated, just expected to be known. All too often, collaboration does not happen. One expects the other to do their job, report back and be done with it. How can this model be successful when there is such an intricate interdependency that is truly and constantly at work? 

Practically speaking, there should be an open forum discussion between each adult. So often, schools ignore or forget the constant notions that have been drilled into parents’ heads about how things should be, and it is usually a very traditional and unfortunately all too common way of thinking. Parents don’t care or do not even realize that, for the most part, teachers are faced with this day in and day out. Teachers are usually in a constant struggle between the dynamics of their student’s home life, parent expectations that don’t match a timeless philosophy, school dynamics, the education from their training, and the experience that they are offering to the students. 

Children are in the middle of everyone’s expectations and eventually, as they get older, a realization of their own expectations becomes convoluted based on the adult’s impression of them and their experiences in different environments. With all of that said, there is one thing that needs to be crystal clear. A Montessori education is for ALL children. Montessori may not be for all parents, generally because they have a different perspective on human development and expectations or understanding of children. Lastly, the piece that I find is too often left out is that a child may not be a good fit for a certain Montessori classroom, but it does not mean no Montessori classroom is a good fit. 

Just like in the classroom with children, we can only meet parents where they are, not where we want them to be. In our communications with them we have to remember not to take anything personally. Which is also good advice in our everyday interactions in life. Have you ever been yelled at by a parent? Maybe you have been told that their child absolutely does not lie. Have you experienced a time when a parent was upset with you because you did not meet their expectations of how you should handle a situation, but you handled it in a way that falls in line with Montessori’s philosophy? I have definitely experienced these situations. You are either going to successfully turn these situations around or you are not. Simple and obvious, right? Well, it is true and we have to accept that. Once we do what we do, the rest is out of our control. We have to find peace in that idea before moving forward. 

Step one in any of these situations is to breathe. People do not need a reaction right away, so don’t give them one. Just breathe, and ask a reflective question or reiterate what you hear them saying. In any one of these situations this works to begin to diffuse the situation either for both parties, or at least yourself. Explain that before you go any further, you would like to agree on what the hope for the outcome is for this situation. When you know what the desired outcome is for both parties, you know there is a place to navigate to, a goal. You may think you know what your desired outcome is and what the parent’s is, but the idea that they are identical is an assumption that is practiced all too often. I have been so successful in diffusing situations and saved time by making this initial clarification my “go to” during a meeting with parents. You might go through a whole rigmarole with parents only to find out they have had every intention of pulling their child out of the school. I am not suggesting to ask if they are planning on pulling their child, although in some cases that may be a good idea. Just make an opportunity to clearly agree on the goal of the meeting. I find that parents are usually surprised by that, and usually end up appreciating it. Once the hopeful outcome is established, it is something you can go back to if the response isn’t, “well, I am pulling my child anyway.” 

So, let's say a parent is yelling at you and/or upset with you for whatever reason. Breathe, reiterate the situation if applicable and say, “So, what is your goal for the end of this meeting?” If it is a reasonable answer I would say something like, “I like to think we are on the same team. We both want what’s best for your child, although that may look a little different for each of us. Since we both want the same thing, I think we can work together to A) handle a situation like this differently and here is my suggestion about how this can look. What is yours? B) I want to support you in what you are trying to accomplish with your child and I would like to feel supported by you in how I am trying to nurture your child’s natural characteristics and tendencies so they can be the best person they can be.” Then a more hostile-free dialogue can stem from there. 

What I want to communicate is that we have decided to take on a career where we have to accept the fact that we must continuously play the role of diffuser and rebuilder. If we do not have this mindset then we are setup to fail. When we accept this role, we get less frustrated and take things less personally. It is silly for a garbageman to get mad at the people who throw away the trash that is set out for pickup in the morning. They chose a role and must accept it. Part of our description as guides, which was never told to us, is to be a diffuser and bridge builder. Parents are people, they are what they are, and we can’t get mad at them if we are meeting them where they are. If we are not coming from an emotional perspective, but a higher, more mental perspective, it is what it is. We have to use our emotions to bridge the gap and our mind to rise above a frustrating emotional perspective where we are “taking it personally.” When we work collaboratively together, interactions are optimized for growth, and both sides are benefiting the child, end of story.

Friday, June 30, 2017

An Introduction to the Framework for Collaboration and Cooperation


When one practices transparency it is under the pretenses that he or she is constantly working on open-communication and holds themselves accountable. Professionalism is a skill and practice of good judgement and polite behavior, no matter the situation. Character deals with the integrity of a person always striving to utilize and practice sound mental, moral, and emotional qualities. To be successful in continuing to develop these qualities, two parts are needed. One needs to tap into their will-power to make the decision to act in these ways. The driving force to remind yourself when situations are difficult, should be that you are answering to the child.

In communicating to parents, administrators and other co-workers, you’re not really answering their questions, but rather answering on behalf of the child. It is a mindset that you must constantly hold in both your mind and your heart, to help navigate through challenging conversations. When your thoughts and your communications are focused on serving the child, it is easier to not let comments affect your communication personally. There may be a feeling of advocacy for the child, which might cause you to communicate as if you are taking something personally, but it has to be with the mindset that you are holding the service for the child in the highest regard. When you do this, you can’t or won’t take it personally. Your conversation will be directed into a positive flow with a successful outcome.

So, in your interactions, this mindset will more readily enable you to have a reflective conversation when the other person seems to be attacking either you, what you’re doing or what is happening at your school. The bottom line is that the parents, teachers and the administration all want what is best for the child and the trained teacher needs to direct or redirect any given conversation into a compromise and a collaboration of the end goal: what’s best for the child?

While this is a subjective question, the parents have their personal experience, maybe whatever they have read and their own intuition to fall back on, but the trained Montessori teacher has their education and experience to support the end goal of guiding, not only the child but the directives given to the child to nurture their timeless characteristics and tendencies. When the adult can fall back on timeless characteristics and tendencies, there is little room for arguing or interpretation.

A starting point in any conversation can be with the end goal of having the following statement in mind: The “child” is not just the small person in front of you, but includes all the children who are not in front of you, humanities’ future.  When we focus on something greater than ourselves, we become humble, which is also an important quality to harness. The work before us becomes not about us. The desire to serve the child feeds our will-power to help us accomplish those tasks that otherwise might seem impossible.

In conclusion, as illustrated in the graphic above, there’s a paradigm and framework that I would like to communicate to incorporate as many dynamics as possible to best support the education of the child. The first part will be an understanding of the communication and collaboration between the parent and teacher; the second part will be the teacher and administrator’s perspective; and the third part will be administrator/parent communication and collaboration, to create the angles of the triangle. The final piece will be the role of adults, assistants and the environment, all with the focus of the child in the center, giving us an acute equilateral triangle. This triangle is always the goal, but it will always morph into any of the other 6 types of triangles based on the give and take relationship and interactions among people and the environment. The goal is to have as close to an acute equilateral triangle as possible based on collaboration, cooperation and communication.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cooperation VS Collaboration

https://www.pinterest.com/rmetka/montessori-lower-elementary-6-9/
The terms cooperation and collaboration are not often or easily distinguishable, but doing so and understanding the difference can be very beneficial in the classroom and among co-workers. One important distinction is “active” and “inactive” participation. Someone can be inactive or silent and still be cooperating. When collaborating, everyone has an active role. If someone is simply being compliant, they can be considered to be cooperating. That is not the case with collaboration. There is shared action with collaboration. With cooperation, someone can simply give someone help to achieve something. When cooperating a person is making or helping someone to be able to do or achieve something. Collaboration offers the help along side someone or some people to achieve something together.

A Montessori Classroom offers the opportunities for both throughout every single day. Here is an example of collaboration from my classroom. One boy had the idea to create a timeline of the history of the Titanic. Several other boys joined in on the idea. They helped each other do research, draw, write and color on the timeline. As the guide, I had very little to no part in it, and my assistance was not necessary. One boy got the idea from a book to contact someone from the book. He asked an adult for help in contacting him to get some more or unique information. He emailed a historian who helped with the movie “Titanic.” The man responded and they were able to exchange and get new information for their work. This great work had many other benefits besides completing a project together. Everyone had a shared work to do to accomplish a goal, and they all played active roles, while there was no dictating. This is what a Montessori classroom makes room for. Below is an interesting diagram of cooperative and collaborative learning.
Public and traditional schools mostly offer cooperative learning opportunities and very rarely if at all offer collaborative learning. When a Montessori guide gives a lesson, there is cooperative learning between him/her and the student(s) to understand new information. A follow-up lesson gives way to more cooperation to reach the goal of understanding, remembering and/or applying. Yet, if students get an idea to do something different together, which leads them to learn something new (a different goal), those students are collaborating. Now, both cooperative and collaborative learning styles are happening in the classroom.

What about looking at the school as a unit? A school has a mission that is usually developed by one person, the founder. Cooperation is where the parents agree to follow the policies, pay tuition, get their children to school in hopes that the guides and other students will cooperate to help their children learn and be better than when they are dropped off. Some parents do not even think that much about it, they do not even play much of an active role, other than getting their children to school. However, here is a different outlook on collaboration for the school as a unit.

A Montessori school wants to play an active role in children’s education. Families want to play an active role in their children’s education. The basics of cooperation are met. Payment is made, children’s needs are cared for, and parents drop students off on time and come to conferences. Before the children are accepted or start, there is an agreement of goals that are to be attained for their children through a collaborative conversation between head of school, guide and parents. The school provides information that the parents can do at home to facilitate their child’s growth and development. There is also a monthly night of engagement between school and parents to nurture the parents’ understanding of happenings in the classroom and to share information or ask questions about experiences that are happening at home. Then the school takes an active role in creating solutions if necessary. Sometimes, even just the act of sharing helps others with what they are going through, or may go through, in the future. There is not so much lecturing as there is the sharing of information to come to new knowledge, expressing it and being able to apply it for another’s benefit. It is a group work and not a facilitator structured work. By default, it can be argued that there is a facilitator or leader, but beyond that there is a group agreement for group work based on a common goal where everyone plays an active role.

In conclusion, there are many similarities, even with the etymology. Yet, collaboration requires active and group oriented work. By work, I mean the actual meaning of the word, a sustained physical and mental effort to achieve goal(s) or overcome obstacles. While there can be cooperation (working together) during collaboration there cannot be true collaboration during cooperation. When the facilitation to achieve a goal is led by someone, and there is at least one person taking an inactive role, by simply complying, the work is cooperative.

With that said, our goals should include to understand collaboration and cooperation. Have or create more opportunities to allow for collaboration. Get parents involved to collaborate and not just cooperate. Heads of schools and schools would benefit by collaborating with each other to help make the school and school policies better. This is assuming that the head of school is creating a space with staff who want the same thing as the head of school and are willing to work together to get there. This takes humility and good communication skills on the part of at least the head of school. If schools, or even guides, can start with this understanding and applying it at least to their classroom and parents, it would be amazing to see what the reported difference would be before having this awareness.
Please share your thoughts comments and experiences so others can benefit from your insights!

 Sources:


Monday, January 2, 2017

Resourcefulness: Leading as a Parent, Teacher, or Administrator



Dictionary.com states that being resourceful is being able to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations, difficulties, etc. Anthony Robbins states that “it’s not the lack of resources, it’s the lack of resourcefulness that stops you.” A lack of resources should not be a sign to give up and quit, but a sign to show us that it is time to be resourceful. I have been consciously studying resourcefulness for a few months now. Because of all I have written about this year, and because a new calendar year is beginning, I thought wrapping up the year and starting the new one talking about resourcefulness would be a good idea.

One’s ability to be a great leader in the situation they are in is dependent upon how resourceful they can and/or choose to be. If you let a conflict with your child, student or co-worker stop you from flowing, then you are not being resourceful. Maybe you are too tired, someone else wants your attention, you have something better to do than to deal with it, or something else needs to get done. Eventually, a cycle, a pattern is created and you develop a bad habit in your interactions with that person or avoidance of your interactions with that person. Here, I am applying the idea of resourcefulness to your interactions with people and not a lack of physical resources. We do not lack resources to resolve something frustrating. What we lack is the awareness to step out of the cycle or situation and to look at it from the perspective of a hawk. Sometimes we have to be the observer, see the picture from a different angle, and imagine the different points of view of those involved. Yet, that is only part of it. Being resourceful is more than that.

At this point, if you google the word resourceful, 16,400,000 results pop up. People are studying and doing research on its importance and role. The University of Oxford Department of Education published a study entitled, “Resourceful Leadership: How Directors of Children’s Services Improve Outcomes for Children.” On page 13 it identifies 8 core behaviors that resourceful directors of children’s services displayed.

  1. Openness to possibilities
  2. The ability to collaborate
  3. Demonstrating a belief in their team and people
  4. Personal resilience and tenacity
  5. The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
  6. Displaying a focus on results and outcomes
  7. The ability to simplify
  8. The ability to learn continuously


They found that the most effective leaders who were being resourceful were differentiated in two clear ways: 
They were able to select the right set of behaviors for a given challenge and most importantly know why the behaviors would be most effective. 
They were able to draw on a broader and deeper set of relevant knowledge, skills and attributes, to help make those behaviors as effective as possible in their contexts. 

Wow, now that is a lot to take in, I know. How do we apply it to our everyday lives? I’m just trying to not feel so frustrated with my student, child or co-worker, or I can’t seem to get my child to go to bed. My child won’t eat. My husband/wife seriously gave this crazy consequence to our child. I have felt like there has been tension between these two teachers, I have not addressed it or no matter what I do it keeps getting worse. Some of these are examples of what I think we are looking for to be able to apply this awareness of being resourceful. 

Whether we are in the midst of the conflict or mediating the conflict, any or all of these 8 core behaviors are applicable. Even they are not enough. We have to also be humble. If we are mediating or directly involved, people need to sense genuine humility or they will not respect what we have to say. That humility also should accompany a sense of confidence. Being willing to ask someone "smarter" for help is incorporating humility and utilizing a sense of resourcefulness. Sometimes we do not know the answers and we have to ask someone else. One purpose of life is to evolve. There are always smarter people. We should utilize them as a resource. At times it is not a matter of smarter people, but people who have more experience. We need to humble ourselves to look to those people and/or their experiences. In turn we become that person for someone else who looks to glean from us.

Let’s look at a practical example of how to apply resourcefulness. I’d like to give a wide example in hopes that it reaches many people so that they can apply something from the example. I'm going to break down a general example into the 8 core behaviors.


1. Openness to possibilities

So, just imagine that I started my own Montessori School and that I also am still teaching elementary aged children between 9 and 12 years old. Now, let’s just say that when I started this endeavor I learned the importance of waking up each day with the awareness that the possibilities were endless and that I would be open to possibilities. I did not have to wait until this experience to start doing this, but having this experience is what triggered it. So, no matter what we do, we have to start and maintain our day with that concept and act as if possibilities are endless. Before long, we see the benefits of being open to possibilities and maintaining an awareness that possibilities are endless. 


2. The ability to collaborate

As a Montessori teacher, years ago, I realized that the ability to collaborate is essential. We cannot maintain a successful classroom or successful anything without collaboration, so I decided to make this applicable to the mission of the school I started and to be more conscious of applying it to all aspects of my life. I soon had the opportunity to be aware of something special. 


3. Demonstrating a belief in their team and people

I naturally believe in my students, and more times than not, I get great results. Unfortunately, sometimes, belief is not enough. However, it is important. The people around you, or who work for you need to know intrinsically that you believe in them. Sometimes, they give you reason not to. Regardless, of what they show you, people always give you something to work with, so believe in that. People come and go in our life. So, believe in them or that part of them until they go or you go. Who knows what kind of positive impact that will have on them or because of your belief what positive impact that will have on the next person they interact with. Conversely, why should we be negative about a person or situation and handle it poorly? Ultimately, it leads to more stress and frustration than handling it well.

Continuing on in a hypothetical example. I get to school and I know I have a child who is going to be disruptive, probably not going to do much “work,” but this child has potential and this child shows me that he/she can realize this potential. This is where resourcefulness comes in. I have to believe in the child, focus on that, and he/she has to believe me. So, I have to connect with this child. That is the most important thing... connecting. I have to, not only collaborate with the child and parents, but also with the children. They all have to know that I believe in all of them to make this work, to help this child make the change for themselves that they need to make. The child’s heart, myself, and the people around this child are my greatest resources. 


4. Personal resilience and tenacity

Next, I have to have a personal resilience and tenacity. My stance must be unwavering and everyone must feel it. It is not always perceived as a firm restrictive stance. Sometimes it is a smile and positive attitude focusing on the good and not the frustrating. What you feed will get bigger. It’s a natural law. 


5. The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system

Everyone has to know that I have a commitment to create and sustain this system and method for this person and really now this group. We now have a common unwavering goal, which is reiterated on a regular basis. Being trained in Montessori gives us an advantage to be better at being resourceful.


7. The ability to simplify

Now goals are simplified at different levels for the people who need them, but the leader knows the goal, mini goals and who needs to focus on what, so we are simplifying and distributing goals to be achieved. Collaboration is happening now. The leader (parent, teacher, administrator) must continuously learn. People are always changing, taking two steps back or evolving. 


8. The ability to learn continuously

We have to continuously learn. There is always something new to learn, adapt to or try differently. If all of these things are happening and used as tools then many different things happen. A few things that happen in this example are that the disruptive child finds peace, acquires life skills, and makes a more positive impact on him/herself and those around them. The children around him/her learn change is possible, patience, resilience, conflict resolution, the importance of collaboration, life skills and several other things. The parents obviously experience the joy and outcome of being collaborative loving parents in a Montessori school. Of course, I also feel fulfilled in my purpose among other things.

In conclusion, I know things do not always go as planned and we do not always feel successful. Sometimes it turns out that, on the surface, we are not successful. However, if we stay the course and do things like this or similar, then we are successful! We cannot control people, but we can control ourselves. There are times when success is not what we thought it was going to be. Sometimes it is about our own personal success in what we learned, how we handled a situation and how that changes us in a positive way for the future. So much is here, and these 8 core behaviors are applicable to smaller situations too, whether it is getting a child to bed, talking back, a disgruntled employee, or potty training. Not to come across as cliché, but life is a school and there are infinite resources available. We just need to be humble enough and dedicated enough to exercise the muscle of resourcefulness, just as we would our bodies at the gym.