Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Maria Montessori and the Modern Office

I remember back in 1992, when I got my first full-time job teaching in a community college. There was much talk about the paperless office, which many assumed we would see in the next 5 years.

I am here to report that we are not there yet. Not even close. I will need to plant at least a dozen trees to make up for all the paper being used to document faculty development in my department.

I spent almost 5 hours yesterday redoing this year's set of faculty development forms to make it match the model that we've recently adopted. Yes, we adopted it after I had my faculty use the old model. The new model requires that we put in more specific dates than we had before. I could have made each individual faculty member redo the form, but since I had them all electronically, I just retyped the information to match the form. Then I made multiple copies.

I will also be making multiple copies of last year's forms and supporting documentation to send to the accrediting agency who wants them, even though we just sent them a complete set a few months ago.

Yes, many trees must die and postal carriers must hurt their backs and documents must be shipped across continents. Paperless office?

I try not to get bogged down in thinking about all the things I'd rather be doing with my time. I'm paid well to assemble these documents, and perhaps they will assume an importance that I can't see now. I think of Shakespeare and wonder what he would have rather been doing. We assume that he loved writing those plays that are such classics, but I suspect he begrudged the time it took away from his sonnet writing. Or maybe he had visions of elaborate stage sets, but he couldn't ever find funding.

Today is the birthday of Maria Montessori, the woman who helped convince us that children are not empty baskets waiting to be filled, but instead, that they are individuals with gifts and skills. She believed, as do many (a majority?) of educators these days, that the goal of an educator should be to help children discover these gifts and develop them. I see these ideas even in higher education.

My mother used to talk about how sad she was that she and my dad couldn't afford to send me to a Montessori school, but I never felt deprived. I had a Montessori mom! My favorite memories are of going to the library and being allowed to check out any books I wanted. I had all the art supplies a child could use. I don't remember my parents ever mocking any of my creations. I remember a fellow kindergarten student telling me that I drew the sun wrong, but my parents never discouraged me.

I wonder what Maria Montessori would make of our work lives. I'd like to see a workplace that does the same thing as a Montessori school does: a workplace that thinks about the gifts that each employee could bring to the workplace, a workplace that wants to maximize every worker's full potential. As an administrator, I try to set up ideal settings, within my powers, for faculty to make the most of their talents and skills--and hopefully, so that students too, will find a place to discern their destiny.

Even tasks which feel like mindless copying and filing lead to this outcome. With no accreditation, we won't have a school very long. And so I sort and copy and file. Along the way, I take time to marvel in the wide range of interests and experiences that faculty are documenting. I try to get rid of the resentment and instead to fill my mind with contemplation of how more of these activities could be encouraged and how I can enable the best in faculty and students.

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