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Head's Corner, April 2, 2013
Greetings CMS Families,
I hope that you had a great weekend and that you took full advantage of the beautiful weather we had. I don’t want to speak to soon however, I think we are finally transitioning to spring, despite today’s frigid temperatures. As an eternal optimist, I believe that spring is here! Spring is a very busy and exciting time for schools. At CMS, our students are completely comfortable in their classrooms; they have established friendships, and have taken a lead role in their educational path. We have strengthened our bond with you and have mastered the art of collectively caring for your children. That is not to suggest that we have to wait until spring for this to occur, it simply means that by spring, we are all in agreement about how we work together as a team on behalf of the children. The partnership between home and school is solid and our students are confident in and out of the classroom. Our recent parent conferences are an example of student growth and a confirmation that we value our partnership with CMS families.
Parent conferences give us an opportunity to discuss your favorite subject, your children. It is during this time that teachers share pertinent information with you regarding your child’s progress, observations about their academic and social journey as well as great news and in some cases difficult news. Parents and guardians also share valuable insights about students that allow us to meet their needs. We recognize that every day is a work in progress. We are fortunate to work in concert with you so that we can provide a phenomenal education for your children.
At CMS, student success is critical. We define success as students reaching and exceeding their potential. They are confident and lifelong learners. They are excellent community members who are kind and respectful and that they understand that they have are a part of something greater than CMS (is that possible?). Recently, I met with Laura Russ, a CMS parent who is completely invested in CMS. We often engage in conversations about CMS and sometimes about the “work place”. She, like so many are in awe of the Montessori philosophy and how Dr. Montessori’s vision could make a difference not only in schools but also in the workplace. After our conversation, I realized that we have a real opportunity to explore ways in which CMS parents can adopt Montessori principles at home and in their workplace. There is a buzz in the business world about Montessori in the workplace. We were featured in Briefings Magazine several months ago. This could be a great opportunity for CMS parents to explore. I have attached Laura’s article “Montessori at Work: Ten Things About Work I Unlearned After Being a Montessori Mom.” It is an interesting article that I think we can all benefit, even those of us on staff at CMS.
Montessori at Work:
Ten Things About Work I Unlearned After Being a Montessori Mom
By: Laura Russ
As a Montessori parent, I anticipated learning about the classroom lessons that my two children shared with me, but I didn’t realize how relevant the Montessori principles would be in my own professional work. As I’ve understood more about how my children are learning in their school day, it has upended a lot of my own conventional wisdom that many of us carry in the adult work world. On reflection, it has led me to develop ten lessons that I have tried to “unlearn” based on what I’ve experienced as a Montessori Mom:
- Start with the end in mind.
Most work environments hold as gospel that we must define purposes as end points. However, successful endeavors often do not start with an end goal such as a specific salary, title or a growth outcome. Instead, an individual or organization simply continues to do something that holds initial meaning and purpose, and the end points are realized almost by accident. This isn’t to say that goals don’t matter – they just shouldn’t be interpreted as a reason for doing something. It’s only by “following the strand” that we get to unexpected results that take us beyond our initial goals, rather than limiting our success with a fixed end point.
- Failure is not an option.
Failure must happen for growth to occur. Environments where failure is not an option are usually characterized by their lack of creativity and innovation. Creating work projects where failure can be safely tolerated and modeling adaptability is the antidote to failure. Failure and subsequent adaptation helps us manage the inevitable adversity that arises and allows us to see it as normal rather than an aberration to be squashed. In Montessori classrooms, “failure” is interpreted as an opportunity to try it again until learning is synthesized.
- Fear and external rewards motivate.
Brain research shows us that people achieve their best work when they are relaxed and feel safe. Safety, not fear, produces results. This is different from not having responsibility – it is the freedom with responsibility that Maria Montessori defined as the most fruitful. Work environments that attempt to control and motivate through fear are counterproductive and, over time, they lead people to focus on looking good rather than doing good.
- This is mission critical.
Just a useless thing to say unless you work at the Space Station, and something I’ve never heard uttered in a Montessori classroom for good reason.
- Hierarchy and authority equate respect.
Authority and respect often get confused in the work world. Grace and courtesy should be habitual behaviors that we incorporate into our work lives regardless of title, level, or tenure. This goes from who gets bumped out of the reserved conference room to who gets to attend meetings late. In Montessori, both the teachers and students are treated as worthy of respect even though they have different levels of authority. Shaking hands in the classroom at the beginning and end of each day from the earliest age is one example of this mutual respect.
- Good managers actively manage their employees.
For managers, most of what we need to do is learn how to get out of the way. The purpose of management should be to guide and teach, not to disrupt or control. Similar to a parent disciplining a child, guidance shouldn’t be motivated by our own control needs, but by a sincere desire to teach. It doesn’t mean that managers should passively observe their employees from a distance – this is discouraging and frustrating for an employee who then feels misunderstood and unappreciated. Instead it means the manager must do the hard work of understanding another well enough to know how and when to get out of the way to allow the employee’s best work to come through.
- Complicated means sophisticated.
Tools and resources don’t need to be complicated to be effective. Maria Montessori invented many technologies in the form of classroom materials long before the invention of devices that we now think of as technology. Over reliance on complicated systems, tools and technologies can mask internal chaos. The purpose of any tool is to help us learn about ourselves or our organization and then apply that information for growth and improvement. Any tool that doesn’t advance learning should be discarded in place of tools that provide self-correcting feedback and clarity.
- Benchmarking is essential.
Benchmarking against yourself is important, but why overly focus on how you or your organization compares to anyone else? If you’re at 95% and everyone else in the industry is at 80%, does that mean you should hold back your efforts? Benchmarking to others is often just a distraction and either a reason for a false sense of superiority or complacency. In most professional jobs, no two employees do exactly the same job anyway. The emphasis should be on organizational influence, fit, and effectiveness evaluated through individual performance.
- Effectiveness can be measured by how much you know.
One cold, hard truth that many of us learn after completing our formal education is that it doesn’t matter how much you know – it matters how you apply what you know. This principle is inherent in Montessori teaching since all learning is applied. Learning for the test or to achieve a grade is irrelevant. Often employees are lauded for how long they have been in the job or how many degrees they have, and yet the individual has contributed very little to the growth or purpose of the organization.
10. Meetings are essential.
Maria Montessori understood that real work only gets accomplished with long stretches of uninterrupted time. Each interruption is not only the time of the disruption itself, but the before and after downtime that meetings inevitably create. When most of us think about where our real work gets done, it’s usually not in the middle of a normal work day rife with disruptions – it is often at home, in the evenings, or in the office before anyone else comes in. In other words, when we have time to allow our concentration and thinking to grow rather than just react.
Although these concepts are broad and not novel, I have been struck by how much our work lives are governed by old ideas that contradict so much of what we as Montessori parents hold as valuable principles for our children. As Maria Montessori would have noted, we have as much to learn from our children including observing the way they learn as they do from us. And most importantly, we should apply what we have learned in our respective work environments in order to make an impact.
Laura Russ- CMS parent
I hope that we can all reflect on the principles of Dr. Montessori and incorporate them into all aspects of our lives. Our children have that luxury, why can’t we?
Have a phenomenal week!