This past weekend, upwards of 3,500 educators attended the American Montessori Society Annual Conference in Chicago. Touchstones Executive Director, Stefanie Takacs, and ETC Montessori President, Erika Ohlhaver, had the pleasure of leading a workshop--one of 128 offered over three days--during the final conference period: 8:00 AM on Sunday morning! During the 90 minute session, Ohlhaver and Takacs invited the more than 50 attendees to consider the ways in which Montessori education develops leadership in children ages three and up.
An initial presentation, led by Ohlhaver, explored models of leadership and the ways in which children learn and demonstrate leadership. Afterward, Takacs led a sample Touchstones discussion with 16 workshop attendees to examine what some of those ideas look like in practice. Sitting in a circle with the volunteers--with the rest of the room listening and watching--she cited the Touchstones Ground Rules and read a folktale from Touchpebbles B aloud, as all participants read along on their handout. In this story from the Middle East, a dog and a wolf meet at the edge of the woods and start a conversation. The wolf is starving, so the dog offers to help him get some food and a job. As they start toward town, the wolf notices the dog's fur is worn thin around his neck. When the dog explains that it is from the collar and chain his master uses to keep him home at night, the wolf turns quickly on his heels and flees back into the woods.
Everyone in the workshop completed individual and pair work before Takacs began a short discussion on the text with those in the circle. She asked whether they would rather be the wolf or the dog. A lively and thoughtful discussion ensued--just long enough to experience how Touchstones programs seed responsibility for leadership within each member of the discussion. After the workshop was over, several of the Montessori educators shared how this was the most engaging and helpful session they had attended at the conference.
In our daily lives, we don't always recognize the power of discussion to open our minds. We see this every day playing out as dismissiveness, intolerance, and exclusion. Touchstones programs offer us the opportunity to reflect on our own ideas and examine why we think as we do. Through collaborative discussion, we learn to share leadership with intentionality--so that all voices are heard and diverse perspectives are valued as opportunities to better understand ourselves and each other.
- Stefanie Takacs, Executive Director