MMM Students Working Together on Real Problems

The family meeting (last week’s Montessori Message) along with the class meeting lay a groundwork for authentic problem solving in the real world. In those meetings, our children practice active listening, presenting issues and discussing options for a positive outcome, and understanding how we arrive at decisions. On their journey to adulthood, each of our children will encounter difficulties-problems which need to be addressed and solved in real life-outside of the context of an organized meeting. How will they fare with these?

A couple of weeks ago, MMM presented Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to a full house. This play was chosen by students through vote, and was almost entirely student-run, from costumes to blocking, etc. It was a tremendously well-received production, energizing our students in every way. The audience never knew that just days before the performance, students had butted up against significant hiccups.

On the Saturday before our Wednesday night show, we held a dress rehearsal meant to be a final run through and boost confidence before the big night. Instead, it was a tumultuous evening which exposed some real problems in our production (lines not entirely memorized, set not easy to change, run time way over two hours, and more). Within the span of a couple of hours, the students had to regroup and problem-solve these very real, imminent issues which would affect the outcome of their production. Was there stress? Yes, lots. Was there crying? A little, as a result of stress. Was there arguing? Yes. Were they frustrated? Definitely. But in the middle of it all, actors, directors, and managers were able to pull together and make some beautiful edits to the script, add a narrator (so that they could omit certain scenes to cut down on run time), and add props to help those who were struggling with their lines to have a backup while on stage. How did all of this magic happen? As an adult in the community, I chose to step back and observe their work at that point in time and here's what I saw our adolescents doing:
  1. Identifying the problem: by talking with one another, even when there was conflict involved, they were able to clearly define the problem at hand. Active listening was key in this step.
  2. Clarifying the goals: in defining the desired outcome, our students made sure they were on track to resolution.
  3. Brainstorming: this was very useful in allowing all stakeholders to feel heard and invested in the process. If a certain actor did not want to lose any lines, but the other actor in the scene did, the brainstorm revolved around how to bridge the gap between those two desires and what was best for the play.
  4. Evaluating options: once they had brainstormed options, they quickly moved to evaluating those and eliminating options that would not move them towards their goals.
  5. Making decisions: at the end of the evening and into the next school day, decisions were made and all stakeholders held to them.
Though the production that night was nearly flawless, the days leading up to that evening presented our students with exceptional opportunities to problem-solve.

As an adult at MMM, I was inspired by the process our students rolled out, which they seamlessly put into place as needed and carried out their plans to the letter. I was also inspired by the ability of our young people to collaboratively solve big, real-world problems and handle the conflict involved, navigating discomfort and using their internalized tool kit from family and class meetings to reach their goals.

It happened in a very different, more organic way than in the meetings. I could chalk it up to magic, but I know that it is all those years of practice that allows them to spontaneously solve problems in a healthy, constructive way.

Nancy Coronado, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School