I spent my undergraduate years studying visual arts and socializing with students of science. Understandably I spent many a late night discussing the differences (and similarities) between science and art.
In an effort to gain more clarity about what I am doing and my intentions regarding this profession and my work with children, I wrote a personal guiding manifesto. I wrote the following passages about science and art.
I believe that the science of guiding is in the theory of child development, the proper preparation of the environment, and the technically precise presentation of materials. I believe that one can be trained in the science of guiding in an academic setting.
I believe the art of guiding is in observing children, selecting specific presentations, timing invitations, enticement, and engaging interest throughout a presentation. I believe the most important art is observing. I believe that one must master the art of guiding through work with children and that a qualified and engaged mentor facilitates this process.
(read the whole manifesto here)
I think the following passage from Primal Leadership validates my view of the science and art of the Montessori method.
Emotional intelligence … involves circuitry that runs between the brain’s executive centers in the prefrontal lobes and the brain’s limbic system, which governs feelings, impulses, and drives. Skills based in the limbic areas, research shows, are best learned through motivation, extended practice, and feedback. Compare that kind of learning with what goes on in the neocortex, which governs analytical and technical ability. The neocortex grasps concepts quickly, placing them within an expanding network of associations and comprehension. This part of the brain, for instance, can figure out form reading abook how to use a computer program, or the basics of making a sales call. When learning technical or analytical skills, the neocortex operates with magnificent efficiency.
…The design of the neocortex makes it a highly efficient learning machine, expanding our understanding by linking new ideas or facts to an extensive cognitive network. This associative mode of learning takes place with extraordinary rapidity: The thinking brain can comprehend something after a single hearing or reading.
The limbic brain, on the other hand , is a much slower learner- particularly when the challenge is to relearn deeply ingrained habits. The difference matters immensely when trying to improve leadership skills: At their most basic level, those skills come down to habits learned early in life. If those habits are no longer sufficient, or hold a person back, learning takes longer. Reeducating the emotional brain for leadership learning, therefore, requires a different model from what works for the thinking brain: It needs lots of practice and repetition.
Primal Leadership p 102-103
The preparation of the adult is comprehended quickly (with the neocortex) and we leave training (or at least I did) feeling fully prepared and fully equipped to work with children in an authentic Montessori way.
The reality (for me at least) is that my training was only the beginning of my preparation. Every day I struggle to be better, to inch closer to the prepared adult (reeducating the limbic brain). The art of guiding, the daily emotional realities of stress and frustrations, hopes and dreams, the limbic brain part, is hard. It may be the hardest thing I will ever do.
The authors of Primal Leadership state that the limbic brain skills are “ best learned through motivation, extended practice, and feedback.” I have motivation (and I hope we all do) and I have opportunities for extended practice, but I want better feedback. I’m looking for Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.
“a significant part of the competence research base we rely on stems from a then-radical proposal made back in 1973 by the late Harvard professor David McClelland. Writing in the flagship psychology journal, McClelland proposed that if an organization wanted to hire or promote the best person for a specific job, such as a leadership position, it should discard what were then the standard criteria. Instead of testing people for their IQ, technical skills, or personality – or just looking at their resumes – McClelland proposed first studying employees who were already outstanding performers in that job and systematically comparing them with those who were just average at it.”
What an interesting proposal.
What if we studied Montessori guides who are already outstanding performers in the environment and systematically compare them with guides who are presently giving average performance?
What hidden truths about guiding would we discover?
What if we did the same research with assistants or administrators or parents even?
And if you are asking yourself why do this research, here is my answer (though it is a rambling answer)
When I played baseball as an elementary and middle school child I had to hit ground balls and run fast because try as I might, I simply could not hit the ball into the outfield. I was not a particularly athletic child but mostly I had problems with my stance. I had good form, meaning I held the bat properly and lifted my arms properly. In fact I committed to memory and relied upon my coach’s tip that the batter can step with his lead foot in a particular direction (towards left field or right field, etc…) to aim the ball in that direction. Nevertheless, I was an average, maybe less than average batter.
Years later after working for the Quantum Learning Network and picking up a few tips on self-improvement, I played a season of softball with a recreational league. I studied the best batters on the team and realized my stance needed work; specifically I was standing too close to the plate. When I took a small step back it allowed the end of my bat (larger and travelling faster) to hit the ball and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was consistently hitting the ball into the outfield. I had become a much better batter by observing better players and learning from their success.
I want to be my “best guide”. I want to learn from exemplary models and would welcome empirical research into best behaviors. I don’t want to imitate a master, I want to travel the trails of different masters to find my own way.
I recently read Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee and found it has profound applications in the preparation of the adult for our work with children.
Consider these passages ( where the word “leader” appears in the original text I have substituted guide, other substitutions are also in italics)
Great guides move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great guiding works through the emotions.
No matter what guides set out to do—whether it’s creating strategy or mobilizing children to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if guides fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.
While most people recognize that a guide’s mood—and how he or she impacts the mood of others—plays a significant role in any environment, emotions are often seen as too personal or unquantifiable to talk about in a meaningful way. But research in the field of emotion has yielded keen insights into not only how to measure the impact of a guide’s emotions but also how the best guides have found effective ways to understand and improve the way they handle their own and other people’s emotions. Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the environment sets the best guides apart from the rest—not just in tangibles such as better education results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.
This emotional task of the guide is primal—that is, first—in two senses: It is both the original and the most important act of guiding.
Leaders have always played a primordial emotional role. No doubt humankind’s original leaders—whether tribal chieftains or shamanesses—earned their place in large part because their leadership was emotionally compelling. Throughout history and in cultures everywhere, the leader in any human group has been the one to whom others look for assurance and clarity when facing uncertainty or threat, or when there’s a job to be done. The leader acts as the group’s emotional guide.
In the modern organization, this primordial emotional task—though by now largely invisible—remains foremost among the many jobs of leadership: driving the collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing the smog, created by toxic emotions. This task applies to leadership everywhere, from the boardroom to the shop floor.
I am enthralled by the idea that there is neuroscience research into specific emotional intelligence skills that we can developed and strengthened to better guide a group.
Guiding is to Psychology as Improvisation is to Acting
Guiding (or teaching) requires one to assess how the mental state and needs of an individual interact with the present circumstances and determine an appropriate course of action in the moment. Then repeat the process moments later after observing how the individual responds to the guide’s actions.
We don’t generally have the advantage of long rehearsals and preparation (like stage or screen acting), instead we stumble through the moment reading cues and making the best of the situation with our collaborators (like improvisational acting).
The letters in commercially available large moveable alphabets are generally organized by letter size.
Small moveable alphabets however, are often arranged alphabetically. An alphabetical arrangement provides an indirect preparation for the skill of alphabetizing.
What if the letters were arranged as on a keyboard? Keyboard arrangements vary from country to country and between languages. The most common arrangement in the United States is called QWERTY in reference to the first 5 keys in the top row of letters.
A small moveable alphabet arranged as a keyboard would provide indirect preparation for typing.
Alphabetizing vs typing… which indirect preparation would you prioritize?
City Montessori School
39, 437 pupils 2500 teachers
read more here
This news article about Cheryl Ferreira demonstrates her impressive dedication to support AMI Training Centers.
Here is a bit to get you started…
In the good old days, there were examiners coming from all over the world to test our girls studying for a Montessori diploma.
Then things began to sour. Violence and crime drove away the Westerners. The Sri Lankans continued to visit. Eventually, they also stopped coming.
Ultimately, it was left to Cheryl Ferreira to keep the Montessori tradition alive in Pakistan. For five years she had been visiting Pakistan without fail for a week in May to test the candidates, help compile the results, attend the diploma ceremony and return to London to resume her work at the Maria Montessori Institute.
having established that others are unwilling to visit Karachi for the exams, the article tells of specific events that challenged Cheryl’s commitment.