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  • Persistence in the Second Plane

    Children in the First Plane of development are learning how to push through struggles, how to try again and again and again, often motivated by an internal drive toward their own independence and mastery. Children in the Second Plane are typically already independent in their daily needs. They can dress themselves, feed themselves, and communicate clearly. They can express their frustrations in words and describe their emotional states and motivations. But they are still building their understanding of their own capacity. Now, as children at this stage of development become much more conscious of their role within their group, their accomplishments or failures are just as often measured against those of their peers. The work for parents and teachers, now, is to add to the support and modeling we've done for younger children with specific opportunities to notice the small gains older children can learn from. For example, in the Elementary years, Montessori teachers regularly talk with students about the students' goals for their own learning, helping them to articulate what they hope to accomplish and helping them, along the way, to be reflective to the many small steps it may take to reach the end goal. Elementary teachers become a sort of organizational coach; Elementary students often imagine large scale outcomes for their work and may need more support in identifying the dots between point A and point B. By helping students to identify what the next immediate step is as they move toward a farther-off goal, adult advocates can help learners to focus on the successes that take them toward their more ambitious horizons. Learners at this age are more likely to measure their success or failures against their friends' accomplishments, but wide differences exist in the pace and predicability of development now. As a result, Elementary children can sometimes demonstrate unreasonable expectations for how (fast, smart, tall, popular) they should be. Again, supporting them as a coach might, teachers can help learners now to parcel out their progress through challenging tasks, to help them to identify the ways in which they are moving forward even when they may feel stagnant compared to their friends. Avoid comparing your child to their peers (they're going to be able to do that already without your help) and instead, notice what your child contributes that is unique to them. When you're giving feedback, focus on the effort and thought involved in a task instead of the outcome, and ask your child to talk with you about the ways in which they progressed. "I can see that you put a lot of time into this writing. Can you tell me what you were thinking about when you developed these ideas?" "Your artwork is really evocative. Tell me more about what you are hoping someone looking at this piece will think or feel." Even when you're redirecting children, emphasize the process, drawing children's attention to the small steps that lead to the outcomes they seek. "This math lesson has been a challenge. What are some steps you can take to make sure you're checking your work as you go along?" Finally, we know, too, that it's often going to be bumpy in the Second Plane. Just as it's important to have a trusted adult with whom to strategize and reflect, it's important to have people who can simply be with you during your frustration. Avoid telling learners at this age that their emotions aren't valid or that they should be hiding them, especially when they're expressing sadness or frustration. "You're too old to cry," both devalues the real emotion they feel when something has gone wrong and suggests to them that they are wrong to have felt it at all. Instead, affirm the emotion, remind them that they are capable and you believe they can move through it, and ask them to consider what they might do next. "I can see how much this means to you. It can be really exasperating to struggle with something like this. What do you need to feel settled before you decide what to do from here?" Offer opportunities to practice emotional regulation. "When I am feeling overwhelmed, it's sometimes helpful for me to find a quiet space away from the noise of the classroom to think. Would you like to come with me?" What's most important is not that children at this age get it all right the first time (they won't) but that, when they struggle, they are able to conceptualize the struggle as a part of a longer process. We can't keep the frustrations from happening, but responsive adults can help to frame these challenges to support children's persistence through them, and we can help them to feel a little less alone in the process. #SecondPlane #Elementary #ForParents #ForTeachers #Theory

  • Teacher Talk: Persistence

    When you first learned about Montessori, you may have been enchanted by the peaceful classrooms, by the idyllic language about the nature of children and the hope for the future they offer. You may have imagined yourself a beloved teacher and guide, children gathered at your feet as you offered them a wonder-filled glimpse at the petals of a daisy, bluebirds resting gently on your shoulders. Zippadeedoodah. Most days, as it turns out, aren't much like that. OK. None days are actually like that. The truth is: teaching is hard. The truth is: much of what we look forward to as Montessorians we will never see. The truth is: we do it anyway. Day by day, you may encounter children who are "not yet peaceful." Day by day, you may have to remind yourself to "look to the child yet to come." Day by day, you may wonder why you ever bought into this to begin with. Our work as teachers is not measured day by day. Thank goodness. We would never see the growth. Our work is measured over months and years, as the child who held their mother's neck and cried for the first three weeks of school lengthens and stretches and settles and becomes the leader, consoling a friend on the playground, caring for the classroom pet. As the child who stomped through the classroom, scattering the golden beads and knocking over the tower, too big for their own body and oblivious to the trail they left behind, transforms and calms and becomes graceful and attentive, carrying a silver tray filled with tiny glass bottles without making a sound, welcoming a guest to the classroom with a freshly brewed cup of tea. As the assistant who yelled across the classroom to get the children's attention and rolled their eyes when you assured them that the children really could mop up that entire spill on their own, blossoms and emerges and quiets down, advocating for more time or patience for the children in conferences with parents or prepares an elegant new material for the Cultural shelf. Day by day, the horizon can seem unreachable. That's ok. The horizon will always be unreachable. That's what makes it a horizon, from the Ancient Greek term used to describe the boundary of what we can see. The horizon will always in our view, but never attainable. When you are feeling overwhelmed by the work of it all, by the seemingly endless list of things yet to do, materials yet to prepare, shelves yet to clean, slow down. Take a seat. Observe. Ask yourself, "Where is the growth?" Look for it. It's there, although it's often overshadowed by the work that's still yet to do. We demand so much of ourselves that we can sometimes, ok, often, overlook the good work we've already done. But if we continue to ignore the quiet successes, we are ignoring the light posts that lead us toward that horizon. Day by day, we may only notice the dark spaces, but in the long, slow, path of humankind, we are shining in light. Look to the horizon, then get back to the work of the day to day. Keep going. #ForTeachers #teachertalk

  • Persistence in the Third Plane

    Like other developmental phenomena, children's experiences with frustration and persistence reflect their stage of development. For learners in the Third Plane, the frequency, intensity and cause of frustration can be almost impossible to predict. These young people are dancing among physical, social and intellectual chaos, with their bodies, their relationships and their identities changing rapidly and irregularly. The only thing predictable about what frustrates them and their ability to push through those challenges is that it will be unpredictable. Above all, adult advocates, then, need to practice their own patience now. Your teen may look and speak like an adult. They may make reasonable, wise observations on the world. You may take pause sometimes at the thoughtfulness with which they articulate their goals or the compassion they can show to their peers. And then you may be totally blindsided by a meltdown over some seemingly miniscule affront, like the length of their trousers or whether they need to put their telephone away at the dinner table. Think about what you know about learners in the Third Plane: they are flooded by change in almost all aspects of their lives. They want simultaneously to be responsible and to be free. They are outraged by injustices and often not so good at distinguishing between issues of justice and issues of taste. They have to work through all the contradictions of adolescence. And there is no level of insistence from you that is going to rush that process along, no more so than you could have made your toddler grow faster. Indeed, reminding teens that they are overreacting or being dramatic or making too big deal out of things enforces for them the belief that you don't really understand them. Instead, think of this time as an opportunity for you to model self-care and compassion and to practice your own patience. Affirm the stressors. "This feels like it matters a lot to you." Model emotional self-regulation. "Let's take a second to breathe before we talk." Ask for student-generated solutions." What do you want to do to move forward?" Help them to set manageable goals and talk with them as they reach each one about how they feel about the pace and progress of their effort. And finally, be a torchlight, not a mirror. When teens say things like, "I'm never going to get this right," or "I'm the worst at this!" remind them clearly that you're focused on what step you can take next rather than on why it's hard. "I know it feels that way, but I'm interested in talking about what you need to move forward from this." You cannot protect your teen from the struggles, big and small that accompany adolescence. You can't keep them from the bad grade or getting cut from auditions or the ways teens can hurt each other's hearts sometimes. And likewise, you can't pick up all the pieces for them. Your goal is not to shield them from the world, but to help them to be prepared for it and to remind them that you love them even in the messy times. Your calm, your patience, and your eye contact are far more valuable gifts than your protection. As they practice moving through challenging moments, they're going to have clear messages, from their peers, from the media, from that little red devil standing on their left shoulders, that they are less than they should be. Your work is to be the constant voice, that angel on their other shoulder, reminding them that they are strong enough, they are clever enough, and they are not alone. #ThirdPlane #ForParents #ForTeachers #Adolescence #Theory

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