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Freedom to Interact (or Not) in the Third Plane

April 11, 2019

 

While the intrinsic drive to socialize and the supports needed to regulate that drive were prominent in earlier planes of development, this motivation takes priority in the Third Plane, when learners are transitioning from their reliance on environments prepared for them by adults to ownership on the design of those environments themselves. Now, the preparation of the environment shifts from creating a space within which learners use social engagements to learn about or explore the world around them. Instead,  learners now use social interactions to express their identities separate from those of the adults around them. Their choices of who, how and when to socialize reflect that self-definition. They are measured by the company they keep, and they want it that way. 

 

Montessori teachers now pay attention to the ways in which learners are expressing themselves through their social groupings, with a special lens toward the inclusion or exclusion of members of the group. Learners with developed social skills may be tempted to make poor use of those skills as they establish their own leadership in a group, leaving some peers out by design. While we appreciate that this may be a predicable exploration of agency and control, and especially potent for adolescents, we don't see it as a necessary trial of development. Instead, you'll notice Montessori teachers helping learners to self-regulate their paths to feeling in control, to plan, enact and reflect openly on their social engagements to self-audit whether the way they've behaved is consistent with the values they hold. You may see teachers recommending great texts that include protagonists who struggle with social settings as well, or encouraging problem solving of real, complex problems between intentional groupings of unlikely friends. And while you might think about Middle School or High School as being more "Mean Girls" then peaceful collaboration, you should notice Montessori teachers helping learners to navigate through these complexities, not by pretending they don't exist, but by naming, discussing and resolving them candidly and without judgment. 

 

Because while Montessori classrooms can seem pretty perfect sometimes, remember that calm is not the same thing as simple. We seek to support healthy social interactions and healthy social boundaries, not by implementing them as rules from above, but by offering safe spaces within which to talk through how hard this social thing can be sometimes. The relative calm emerges from learners feeling heard and understood, even in their messy complexity, even on their bad days, even when they may have behaved in a way that hurt someone else. Holding still the belief that people are inherently good, we seek to offer the most support on the days when learners' behavior doesn't match their nature. Understanding the internal chaos that comes in the Third Plane, we seek to balance it with external calm, especially on the days when that internal chaos is flooding out in every direction. Because, even in adolescence, the academic pace of the classroom emerges from learners' natural development, Montessori teachers here know they have to model emotionally responsive, socially inclusive engagements for learners to emulate. The leadership and agency that emerges then, we believe, is more likely to be compassionate, respectful and supportive, a far cry from the way teens are often pictured in the media, but a predictable extension of what we've known about their development to this point. 

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