Tag Archives: Montessori

Nonviolent Communication: Observing Without Evaluating

Not too long ago I heard of a new three-session workshop, Difficult Conversations: Using Nonviolent Communication in Our Relationships, hosted by a yoga teacher whom I have studied with multiple times online. The required reading is the book What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication, authored by the teacher and her former husband. Ultimately, I decided to pass on the workshop to conserve funds that have been too readily spent during the pandemic!

In the meantime, during a conversation with our younger son and his girlfriend, I mentioned the workshop, and immediately Katryna responded that it reminded her of the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which she had on a bookshelf, having read portions of the book but not a cover-to-cover read. I then blurted “that is who trained the leader of the workshop!”

All this by way of explaining how, thanks to our local library, I have come to read Rosenberg’s book.

In general, I tend not to have patience for reading self-help books, which is what this book initially felt like. However, I was determined to give it a try and so pushed on to chapter two and then chapter three, by which point I was hooked.

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is grounded in four essential precepts, the first being observation without evaluation. Immediately this idea hit home. As a teacher and a parent, I can recall too many instances where adults made value judgments based on what they saw rather than simply stating what they noticed. A typical example: This child is lazy because she does not turn in her homework on time. The observation would be: This child does not turn in her homework on time. The judgement is: This child is lazy.

This type of thinking is not unusual for us humans, as assumptions about the reasons behind what is seen or heard helps to give meaning to actions. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for those assumptions to be made without benefit of knowledge or understanding of the actual conditions behind the action. The result is inaccurate evaluation; evaluation that is incorrect.

Our older son and his wife are both trained Montessori Guides and as such had to studiously learn how to observe children without evaluating them. After one of her training days, Sandra returned home and described spending hours at the Central Park Zoo diligently recording regularly paced observations in a journal. Each observation was of the same animal throughout the day. Even while it was sleeping she remained attuned to how it positioned itself, whether it moved, if it made noise, and anything else it did.

This may sound tedious, and at times she said it was, but it brought home to her the importance of simply observing. The exercise helped to fine-tune her sense of looking, watching, noting, heightening her awareness that observation takes focus. And, as I learned in a nature journaling class this past fall, only by truly focusing on an object can you begin to see it. Often, this focus leads to questions, which should be duly noted for future research, yet the questions are not the actual observation; they are two distinct entities.

Liz, the nature journaling instructor, shared the Curiosity Cycle. As this is a cycle, the Further Questions would lead to additional Observations, and so on. Drawing is from my Nature Journal.

While this is not a one-to-one equivalency with NVC, the observation component meshes them together. Simply put, an observation can only ever be a neutral statement of what is seen. The way to know the meaning behind what we see is to then ask questions to find out the “why”.

…I noticed close to one hundred ducks swimming in the Mill Pond, almost all of them moving in the same direction. Gradually, a bunch would turn 180 degrees and ascend in flight. Maybe they were swimming with the tide, or preparing for flight by swimming in one direction to give themselves enough of a runway for taking off in the other direction. And that had me wondering if there is any intentional synchronicity to floating en masse? Knowing that they do not ride the currents as other water fowl do, does wind direction impact how ducks prepare for flight? What is the relationship of this large group of ducks to one another? What is the deal with duck families?

From my Fall 2019 Nature Journal

Dear Laurie

Dear Laurie,

I always turn to you when pondering conundrums, and today is no exception. I am reading prodigiously for graduate school and one article, “Philosophy of Education Before the Twentieth Century” has me wondering about the importance of timing.

You know how important timing has been in my personal life. Ave and I went to the same college and lived in the same dorm; although our paths may have crossed daily in 1975, we didn’t meet until 25 years later. Everyone’s life has such examples of perfect timing and, alternatively, missed opportunities.

What about timing in education? What makes a child ready to learn? To take advantage of – or miss opportunities? Why are some students sponges and others brick walls?

In the article, it’s clear that many philosophers and educators believe timing is important. Rousseau thought children are ready to learn at certain times and that teachers should take advantage of those “windows”. Montessori believed, more dramatically, that if you miss those “critical periods,” the opportunity is lost forever. Piaget outlined four stages of development and Vygotsky addressed the development of a child’s language, particularly inner language, and its importance to play and social interactions.

They all discuss timing in terms of cognitive development, which is crucial. But timing is also important in pacing, class length, and even starting time.

Pacing and tempo are fine arts that I am still trying to master. I teach slowly and methodically when going over new material, more quickly when reviewing. But being clued in to student’s attention span, mood, and frame of mind often require me to pick up the pace, modulate my voice, or “tap dance” spontaneously in some other way.

Class length is also important. Forty-five minutes may be too long for a kindergartener, but not long enough for a chemistry lab. I’m also convinced that teenagers would learn better at noon than 7 a.m. And is there anything more pointless than trying to teach the last class before a vacation? I guess I’ve answered my own question. Timing is crucial in many different ways!!