Notes from “Deep Dive” on the Topic of Adolescent Observation


Denver, Colorado

On  October 20, 2018 at the First Adolescent Colloquium in Denver Colorado, a group of talented Montessorians were assembled to aid in the development of content for the first sanctioned AMI Adolescent training. There were young and old skilled practitioners lending their experiences to structured conversations, aptly named “Deep Dives”.  

Our topic was “observation” but after our discussions, you can see that we have modified that to “scientific observation”. Our group was made up both of people who intentionally chose this topic, and those who left the selection up to fate. And I think because of that, it seems we were able to have a truly robust conversation. The participants were: Ben Moudry, Juan Cordova, Tina Booth, Grae Baker, Jacqui Miller, Katy Myers, Kate Barrack, Rachel Balkcom, Ali Scholes, and myself, Paul Raymond.


Initially, several of us thought “Observation”? We know how to do this. We’re Montessorians. It’s what we do. How will we discuss this for five hours?” But as we dug into this topic, we came to some rather stunning conclusions about the nature of observation in the third plane, some of which tie deeply into a later discussion regarding the increased need for social justice and a more immediate recognition of our individual privileges.

Dr. Montessori was very clear about our task. “Education is an aid to life.” And how we manifest that work is through the process of observation.

Observe first, respond second.

But observation does not occur in a vacuum. We all exist within a culture and society and we must recognize our individual biases before attempting to analyze our observations. Additionally, we must remember that we, ourselves, are a material of the prepared environment.

In the first plane, we teach young children, explicitly, how to observe the work of others; how to stand, how to look. In the third plane, no such explicit lesson exists. Yet, when we spoke to our student guest at the colloquium, her responses revealed that while she was not aware that she had become a good observer, it was a fundamental skill she had acquired anyway.

In that regard, our discussions led us to profound realizations about the nature of observation during the third plane, how it connects to the Human Tendencies, and how, because we are a material in the environment, the skill of observation looks quite different when considering adolescents who are now capable of metacognition. Observation with adolescents is no longer a one-way mirror, and our work with them, must change us as well.

So while our process is scientific, the effect is also a spiritual one that will inevitably alter the adult. Most fittingly, at the end of our discussion, Tina shared this beautiful quote:

“The first step in becoming a Montessori teacher is to shed omnipotence and to become a joyous observer. If the teacher can really enter into the joy of seeing things being born and growing under his own eyes and clothe himself in the garment of humility, many delights are reserved for him that are denied to those who assume infallibility and authority in front of the class” (To Educate the Human Potential 85)

The complete article can be found in pdf. format in the right hand margin of the site…

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