On giving and receiving feedback

Today I visited a Montessori classroom (around 30 children, 9 to 11 years old) and had the chance to attend a presentation about animal welfare, created by one of the children. First, it was a feast to see how much information she collected, how she organised it into a meaningful sequence, and how she presented, both reading texts written by herself and initiating brief guessing games where all children gladly took part. The presentation lasted almost an hour, and awoke the general curiosity. Many children set precise questions and she answered with sincerity.

Obliques

The most touching part for me was the final feedback from most of the people present, both children and adults (the teacher, the girl’s parents and a few guests including me): it felt sincere, accurate, carefully worded and spontaneous. I have read many articles and books about giving feedback and I thought I knew a lot, but was overwhelmed and almost surprised by how experienced everyone acted in that circle. I was equally moved by the quiet joy of the girl answering with a few words to each person, often with a simple, soft “Thank you”. It felt so right! She did a terrific job, put a lot of effort, time and passion into it, presented it to the whole group with an enviable nonchalance, then her classmates gave her positive feedback and a few points to improve: she deserved to be proud for that. It made me think of the times when my parents scolded me for looking too proud when I received compliments, and I am so glad that this girl, and the other children in that group, can practice this healthy feedback exchange from an early age so that it can become a natural, fully functional part of their growth.

Die Sonne genießen. N'Jumo, Orientalisch Kurzhaar.

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On disappearing while observing

At the last concert I attended as audience member, I happened to think about my love for observing. I loved to be for once in the audience instead of on the stage; to have the privilege to be still, to receive music without the need to interact with the musicians, except by clapping and cheering after each piece. The moment I loved most was after the concert when I stood near the stage, looking at the drummers packing up their gear: concentrated, efficient, relaxed after the show. I didn’t feel the need to interact with them, it would have been an interruption, even if I approached the stage with the wish to greet one of them. After a while he noticed me and walked over for a quick greeting, then had to come back to his instruments. I felt like a birdwatcher, briefly approached by a curious bird. I then wondered how I could ask (or even pretend) attention and recognition, when I feel so blessed as I get little or none of it. Maybe it’s because this is how I make sure to get sincere attention, instead of artificially-induced positive feedback.

I thought that attending a concert is one of the many setups where I am not the centre of attention, and not even an active participant in a communication. I felt the same positive sensations when I was observing wildlife during my university studies, and I realise that it was the strongest reason for me to enter the wildlife management field: this ability to disappear from the eyes of the animals, while working behind the scenes for their well-being. Well, sometimes they did notice me, like “Gina”, a female red deer rescue, who loved human attention, especially when it came in form of food 🙂

La Gina

I felt a similar heartfelt call when I met Maria Montessori’s concept of observation and her way of enabling children to learn by themselves, by stimulating their curiosity rather than actively keeping their attention on activities designed by myself. Even my friends sometimes make me the wonderful present of their spontaneous life, free from interactions with me. With my closest friends I notice that we have communication phases and observation phases, and we found our way to stay near each other with the possibility, but without the obligation, to interact. I feel it is a true mark of respectful closeness.

I have even experimented this mindset by standing near an intersection for several traffic light cycles. For ten minutes, the traffic lights lost for me the usual meaning of “Wait! Walk!” and my attention moved to the approaching cars, bikes and pedestrians. I watched how impatient each of them was, how some people scanned the surroundings while waiting and others kept their attention on the traffic lights; how some children on bikes negotiated the intersection with careful attention; how few people noticed me while others didn’t. At the orchestra’s rehearsals, it happens that I have significant gaps in my notes, or I plainly have nothing to play for a whole piece: wonderful! Time to disappear and observe! Time to watch other musicians and better understand which parts are hard for each instrument; time to better hear each one of them in the sum of sounds; time to enjoy their concentrated faces.

I sometimes think there is something odd in my fascination for this kind of disappearance. At the same time I find very healthy to practice invisibility and experience the world without being the centre of it, at least for a little while.

Any of you made similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Find the difference #5: what you say vs. how you say it

I have been thinking about what has made discussions among me and others become heated, and most of the time it was not what people said, but how. Here are the two sentences I wish to compare:

  • You are not allowed to say that!

vs.

  • You are not allowed to say that this way! which could mean: You can say that, but the way you said it hurts me!

It makes me think a lot of parents and children. How many times I hear: “Don’t cry!” or “Don’t complain!” and I guess that it’s because seeing the suffering of others make us uncomfortable, at the point that we could prefer to silence it completely. There is a great article about this dynamic on happinessishereblog.com, and a shorter post on The Badger’s Smial. But what happens when we try to silence the cries, and worse, when we succeed? The suffering person feels even worse: oppressed, unable to both deal with the issue and to get support. I (among many) noticed that children get increasingly upset when they feel that their message doesn’t get through, and with an immense sadness, that some children (and adults) stop communicating and are therefore considered “good” – just because they are quiet.

I find that if I were a parent, I would promise to listen to all messages my children send me, eventually suggesting to express them a way that makes it easier for me and other people to help, but in no way editing the original content.

A similar censoring reaction happens often also when people get aggressive during a discussion: it seems easier to stop fighting if the other party stops pushing its idea forward, while it could be that it’s a matter of how the idea is expressed, and if the atmosphere calls more for white/black outcomes, rather than mutual understanding. I am trying to practice this form of de-escalation with my friends: I notice how the most vibrant advocates of a given idea calm down when they understand that I am OK with them owning their idea, and I am focusing on the way it is expressed. I think it takes a lot of pressure away, because there are endless possibilities to improve the formulation of a message. It could make me look undecided, when compared with people who get heated when they feel that others don’t agree with them; but I don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. It is actually a reason I left OSGeo Board a few years ago, because I felt that I could not fight for my/our ideas, but it was expected from my role. Now I would come back to OSGeo with a new  awareness, that I can contribute, move things forward in this equally firm, but more understanding way.

Book review: “Sachgeschichten”, published by Duden

I regularly check the children section of my local libraries, because I find witty and instructive books written in way that is easy to understand. I appreciated this one a lot:

sachgeschichten

It is edited by Duden, unfortunately out of print. It features several one-page summaries of various topics, with accurate and funny illustrations, followed by two pages of related words. I like the open approach that permeates the book: each topic is presented in its various facets and with a lot of questions, suggesting further research. The final chapters explain how to prepare an oral presentation and a poster, and tips on how to present in front of classmates. I wish I had such a book when I was a kid! My schoolbooks were usually on the oversimplified side, while scientific literature was too complex. I am nevertheless happy to have found it now, because it is a great way to learn German! I noticed that I know around half of the words presented for each topic, so I have a lot to catch up 🙂

“I’m sorry…” – what’s next?

Today I found these three examples of the uselessness of a simple (and/or insincere) apology, the last one also suggesting a way that requires actual reflection on what happened, and how to avoid it happening again. I share all three versions here.

Short version: only saying sorry is useless (not only to objects!).

Medium version: you can say sorry and remove the cause of anger, but you can’t avoid leaving a scar.

Long version: you can apologise in a way that you recognise what happened, you promise you will improve, and you ask for forgiveness. Read the full article at A better way to say sorry – by Cuppacoa.

Book recommendation: “Ce n’est pas toi que j’attendais” by Fabien Toulmé

I read this comic yesterday at the library, in its German translation.

IMG_20170828_184328

I have been moved by the story of this father and his family, who discover that their newborn baby has Down syndrome. Fabien Toulmé includes the hard moments as well as the happy ones, his doubts, his difficulty in accepting his daughter, the various degrees of help he receives from doctors, colleagues, family and friends. He doesn’t hide that it took him weeks to take his daughter in his arms. He tells how his wife and older daughter reacted, and how they all took care of the newborn baby.

I found that this story portraits ordinary people, not heroes, facing difficulty, and overcoming it with their own forces and with the medical support available to them. I have thought myself what would happen if I become the mother of a special child, and I felt so unprepared. I wonder how many people feel this too. I am glad that Fabien shared their journey so honestly, and especially happy that he did it in a comic: emotions and feelings pop out of the pages more strongly than printed text would do. I recommend this book to everyone, not only future parents: knowing a bit better what journey it is to raise a special child would hopefully increase empathy and support.

IMG_20170828_184256

 

Encouraging independence in children – some thoughts

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I was reading another chapter from Montessori vom Anfang an, and was impressed by the authors’ observation that children need to learn independence very early on, but parents often find it hard to let them go – with unhappy results for both parts.

I stopped reading for a while and searched backwards in the text for how many times this concept was brought up. My impression was that children grow up so fast that parents have little time to get used to a given relationship with them. Children are born so helpless and dependent from their parents, then they learn to speak, move around, use objects, take decisions, interact with others: they change so fast! My heart understand parents who remember vividly their kids as babies and miss dearly those months. It must be so difficult to accept that your children will walk progressively away of your protecting arms, and there is no way to completely save them from suffering.

I must say that this is one big reason why I don’t feel ready to have children. I am afraid that I won’t let them grow as fast as they need; or worse, that I won’t see my bias. With children in kindergarten I have hope to become a good teacher, because I can treat them as people, like I try to do with everyone, but with that extra responsibility of my role. I am afraid to become a mum and become over-protective: “my children come first, no matter what”. Or, on the opposite, I am afraid to treat my child in a way that I find fair, but that others (that child included) don’t find affectionate enough.

Big thoughts… they make me worry quite a bit, but I am also glad that I think about these topics. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments!