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  • Erin Trondson

From Erin on Servant Leadership & Montessori

From Erin on Servant Leadership & Montessori

I have been interested in a style of leadership called Servant Leadership ever since the most recent American Montessori Society conference when one of the administrator workshops played the following Simon Sinnek TED Talk.

I am struck and moved by the overlap of this leadership style and the Montessori philosophy. The founder of the term, Robert K. Greenleaf, explains Servant Leadership as the following:

“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership … involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” … the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” –Robert K. Greenleaf

I am certain that most Montessori teachers would be struck with how this mirrors the way in which we view and approach the classroom. The Montessori teacher focuses on the growth and well-being of the children, and does so by flipping the traditional classroom model of having the teacher at the top of the pyramid, and instead puts the child at the center. This model supports the development of children reaching their highest potential.

I am also intrigued with Servant Leadership as it resonates to me as a Montessori Leader. Traditional business models and methods of management don’t often translate well when managing a Montessori school. Employees and leaders at a Montessori school, especially those who have been through Montessori training, become critical thinkers and often reject top-down management styles for their classroom. Therefore, these same individuals tend to bristle at top down management styles for their school culture as well.

Over the years I have honed and cultivated a leadership style that tries to honor and respect every individual that works at Woodland. Like the Montessori teacher with their students, I try to meet each teacher or staff person where they are at in terms of their development and support. Some years that may mean supporting them through becoming a first time parent, another year it means helping them navigate Montessori training with their work load, or supporting a challenging behavior in the classroom, other years the struggle is personal financing, or the death or a parent, or seeking renewal within their teaching career.

The point being that I see my role less about telling teachers what they can or should do, and more about equipping them with the training, materials, and resources they need to excel in their role. I also see it as my job to make sure their basic needs are met so they can show up daily, balanced and nourished, and do their best work for our children. Just as the Montessori teacher sees the whole child, I try to see each Woodland community member as a whole person, and not just the work they perform for the school.

I am also struck with another kernel of the Servant Leadership concept that emphasizes how it is the leader’s role to help other folks see their roles as a leaders, and how their role influences and inspires those around them. Again I am struck by the symmetry of this concept with Montessori. As Montessorians we work to support children to develop an inner discipline and guidance instead of imposing on them our ideas. We encourage children to be autonomous, independent, and follow their voice in the classroom, and in life, and to recognize how that autonomy and choice impacts the world and communities around them - we help them see themselves as leaders.

I am going to give this concept of developing leaders more thought as the Head of School, and consider how can I help parents and teachers see their role as leaders - leaders who support the cultivation of other leaders in their family or classroom communities.

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