Friday, April 5, 2013


A few weeks ago I was walking on the beach with a friend who is the Principal of a large school here in Aruba. She was telling me about how for the past weeks she had been doing assessment of the teachers at school by observing them and then writing a report on what she saw. Having had specific training, and having been a teacher herself I am sure her reports were very valuable to her teachers. She asked me, "Where do you get feedback from?"

I considered the question for a while, and have pondered it since. I read a very excellent chapter in the book "How Children Succeed" by Paul Tough about feedback and how it is used by a teacher in an inner city school somewhere in the US who is helping to develop some of the top junior chess players in the country. Most of her work centers around feedback- the children play their games, and then they very carefully review their decisions and the outcomes of these.

Clearly, feedback and reflection are paramount to the learning process.

I thought about our situation. Being a one room school, with a staff of exactly four people, and juggling the work of head teacher and administrator- this seems to leave little space for someone to come and let me know specifically how we are doing. However, the more I think about it, the more brilliant and complete Montessori appears to me to be. There are many feedback loops that are intrinsic within the structure of the environment and involve all of the members of the community.

In simplistic terms, the children experience feedback directly from the materials (built in control of error), from natural consequences from the environment including the social environment, and from shared reflection with the adults. Their parents experience feedback  from observing and interacting with their children, and from communication with the school (conversations, conferences, reports).

Teachers receive feedback directly from the children, first and foremost. By observing them we can tell a lot about if what we are doing is working and where changes need to be made. Communication with parents lets us know about how the time at school is influencing a child at home and vice versa. Visits from consultants, if you're lucky enough, are very great feedback. And finally, what has really helped me lately better understand the processes I'm going through, personal reflection. I've been keeping a journal of my own difficulties, successes, questions that has helped me see where I feel I am improving and areas where I need more help. I try to write especially when I have a deep emotion associated to something regarding the work. This process keeps me from acting impulsively on whatever the situation is, and also allows me to leave the open questions at school (instead of bringing them home to mull over 24/7).

As an administrator I get feedback from parents and other teachers. Among the staff, we are fortunate to give ourselves time to observe each other at work (although we could do it more often than we do). I invite parents to help with problem solving, planning, and evaluating where there is space for it.

It is amazing to me that in Montessori there can be so much going on even within a small school community.

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