Self-compassion: Learn from Mistakes, Don’t Beat Yourself Up

May 17, 2011

Compassion is sensitivity to the suffering of self and others and a commitment to do something about it.

— Paul Gilbert (a researcher at Kingsway Hospital in the United Kingdom) in Nixon (2011): Self-compassion may matter more than self-esteem

Robin Nixon has an excellent article on why “[…] self-compassion may be the most important life skill, imparting resilience, courage, energy and creativity.”

She cites the work of Kristin Neff who says self-compassion has three parts to it:

  • mindfulness: accepting your thoughts and feelings without being carried away by them,
  • common humanity: the recognition that everyone goes through similar hardships, frustrations and disappointments, and,
  • being kind to yourself: by being aware (mindful) of your anguish, and recognizing that others have shared similar feelings, you can commit to actions that reduce suffering in the future.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Self-compassion: Learn from Mistakes, Don't Beat Yourself Up, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Kindness and Community

May 3, 2011

Just as each species in a biological community contributes something that helps sustain the community, people need to contribute to each other in their communities to to keep them stable, productive, and happy.

We’ve been talking about social action this cycle. Students have been finding and reading articles, and thinking about what they could do — themselves right now — to promote social justice. The articles have come from a number of different places: local stories from the Memphis newspaper, the Commercial Appeal; national articles from the New York Times; and even international things from the from BBC. Now, for Personal World, they’re thinking at the really small scale, about what they do for their classroom community.

The objective is twofold. First, I want them to contribute more to each other, and think about what they’re contributing, to maintain a healthy community. A little self reflection should help them realize if what they think they’re doing for others is actually helping. But, secondly, I also want them to recognize the efforts of their peers for what they are: attempts, even if futile or misguided, to be helpful.

It’s sometimes easier to think about doing charitable things for people far away, because it’s impersonal. There’s little risk of being embarrassed. But even the smallest groups need some altruism to grease the wheels of community.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Kindness and Community, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Social Loafing Update: The Student Perspective

March 25, 2011

I presented my post on social loafing as a Personal World lesson. For the rest of the week students are supposed to reflect on their own habits, and think about when and why they loaf and how to avoid doing so.

We had a good discussion during the lesson. We’ve had a few obvious examples of social loafing over the year with soccer. We started off with one person versus the rest of the class, and every time one of the teams wins two games in a row, the losing team has to pick someone from the winning team for the next game.

In the first few games, the smaller team played their hearts out and was able to hold it’s own remarkably well, but as the year progressed, and students improved their technique and teamwork, the greater numbers began to tell. But as the teams grew it was pretty clear that some of the people who were working really hard before, were taking it easy.

So students are going through the list of reasons why people socially loaf and reflecting on which apply to themselves. Of course when I went over the list during the lesson, I asked if there were any other reasons they could think of based on their own experience. Our resident expert in social loafing had a very Montessori suggestion about why a student might “seem to be” loafing during group work, “What if you want the other students to learn more?”

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Social Loafing Update: The Student Perspective, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Social Loafing: Getting Groups to Work Well Together

March 20, 2011

PsyBlog has an excellent summary of the research on social loafing, the phenomena where people working in a group work less compared to when they work alone. Because we do so much group work, this is sometimes an issue.

The first research on social loafing came from Max Ringelmann way back in 1913 (Ringelmann, 1913). He had people pulling on a rope, and compared the maximum they could have pulled, based on individual test, to how much each person actually pulled. The results were, kind of, sad; with eight people, each one only pulled half as much as their maximum potential strength. A graph of Ringelmann’s data is shown below. If everyone pulled at their maximum the line would have stayed horizontal at 1.

The relative loafing of people working in a group. As the group gets larger, the amount of work per person decreases from its maximum of 1. Data from Ringelmann (1913)

The PsyBlog article points out three reasons why people tend to loaf in groups:

  • We expect others to loaf so we do it, too.
  • We feel more anonymous the larger the group, so we feel less need to put in the effort.
  • We often don’t have a clear idea about how much we need to contribute, so we don’t put in as much as we could.

This can be summed up in Latane’s Social Theory:

If a person is the target of social forces, increasing the number of other persons diminishes the relative social pressure on each person.

— Latane et al., 1979: Many hands make light the work: The causes and consequences of social loafing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psycology. Quote via Keith Rolag’s Website.

How do we deal with this

The key is making sure students are motivated to do the work. We want self-motivated students, but creating the right environment, especially by training students in how to work in a group will help.

  • Make sure students realize the importance of their work; this makes them more motivated.
  • Build group cohesion; team members contribute more if they value the group they’re in.
  • Make sure the group clearly and fairly divides the work. Let everyone be part of the decision making process so students have choices in what to do will help them be more invested in their part of the work.
  • Make sure each group member feels accountable for their share of the work.

A Brief Excursion into Mathematics

Ringelmann’s data falls on a remarkably straight line, so I used Excel to plot a trendline. As my algebra students know, you only need two points to write the equation of a line, however, Excel uses linear regression to get the best-fit line through all the data. Not all the data points will be on the line (sometimes none of them will be on the line) but the sum of the distance from each point to the line is minimized.

Curiously, since the data is pretty close to a straight line, you can extend the line to the x-axis to find out how many people it would take for no-one to be exerting any force at all. Students should be able to determine the equation of the line on their own, but you can get Excel to give you the equation of the trendline. From the plot we see:

y = -0.0732 x + 1.0707

At the x-axis, y = 0, so;

0 = -0.0732 x + 1.0707

solving for x we first subtract the constant, 1.0707 from both sides to get:

0 – 1.0707 = -0.0732 x + 1.0707 – 1.0707


-1.0707 = -0.0732 x

then divide by -0.0732 to isolate x:

 \frac{-1.0707}{-0.0732} = \frac{-0.0732 x}{-0.0732}

which yields:

x = 14.63

This means that with 15 people, no-one will be pulling on the rope. In fact, according to this equation, they’ll actually start pushing on the rope.

It’s an amazing result, but if you can find flaws with my argument or math, please let me know.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Social Loafing: Getting Groups to Work Well Together, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Enjoy the Silence

March 16, 2011

… an emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking [my emphasis].

–Leon Neyfakh (2010): The Power of Lonely in The Boston Globe.

Every day (almost) we have half an hour blocked off for Personal World. It’s a time for reflection, a time to collect ourselves, and a time to be alone. Adolescents in general tend to be social animals, but, as Leon Neyfkh points out:

… a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.

–Leon Neyfakh (2010): The Power of Lonely in The Boston Globe.

Neyfakh’s article provides a nice roundup of research into the importance of solitude.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Enjoy the Silence, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Boys, girls, and blogs

January 10, 2011

There’s a curious and clear gender difference when it comes to my student’s use of their blogs. All the girls have them and most are posting things right now, but the boys don’t.

This is in large part due to the way I rolled out the student blogs. I started with a couple students (girls) who were most interested, and since then I’ve been setting up blogs for students as they’ve been requested. The process has been slow because I’ve been trying the multi-user version of WordPress (WPMU), which is not nearly as easy to set up as a stand-alone WordPress installation (like the one used for the Muddle). I think, however, that I have the setup process worked out now, so I could accelerate the rollout if necessary.

Since the two students I started with were girls, it’s perhaps not too surprising that it’s the other girls who were most interested in getting their own. That’s the way the social connections are arranged in our class.

Scattergram showing how girls' (red) brains mature differently than boys' (blue). Data from Lenroot, 2007.

Though there’s no real evidence for it, I do wonder, however, if there is a gender component to it too. Since girls tend to develop more quickly than boys at this age (see Sax, 2007 for a general description, and NIH, 2010 for a recent overview of adolescent brain development), so perhaps they’re more self-reflective. Girls also tend to emphasize interpersonal relationships more (e.g. Johnson, 2004), and are generally more communicative.

… females (1) develop more intimate friendships, (2) stress the importance of maintaining intimacy, and (3) expect more intimacy in their friendships than do males. — in Gender, grade, and relationship differences in emotional closeness within adolescent friendships by Johnson, (2004)

At any rate, I’m curious to see how this develops. I think I’m going to remind the whole class about the blogs though.

(Excel Spreadsheet used to create the brain volume scattergram: here.)

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Boys, girls, and blogs, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.


September 5, 2010

Artist Mary Cour throwing herself into the mural.

We’ve been really lucky to have the artist Mary Cour help us out with our classroom mural. She came up with the idea about two cohorts of students ago to paint students’ outlines on the wall and let the students fill them in with words and images that were meaningful to them. Early adolescence is a time of self-discovery and exploration, so this type of project is a wonderful way to encourage self reflection. I let students work on their silhouettes during personal reflection time, and they’re always eager; it’s easy to see why Facebook is so popular with this group.

The mural became quite the marker for the students and for the school, so now, every two years, we add the new group of students to the wall. The new outlines are superimposed over the older ones so you can still see previous generations of students, a tangible reminder of their legacy in the classroom.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Mural, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Reflection versus reflection

May 22, 2010

The Letter, by James Carroll Beckwith.

We want students to spend some time in introspection, but it is sometimes difficult to focus and understand what we’re trying to accomplish. The other day I ran across a small mirror, about 10 cm in diameter, sitting in the closet. It was our half hour for Personal World so I handed it to a student who was still trying to settle down and said, “Reflect.”

After the obligatory eye-roll, the student went on with their introspection, twirling the mirror around in their hands. A few days later, the student mention the event in their newsletter article, where it came to the attention of one of our parents, who an Educational Psychologist at a near-by liberal-arts college. She mentioned it to one of her colleagues who’s a social psychologist, and it turns out that there’s a lot of research on the psychological effect of looking into mirrors. In fact, mirrors are an important tool for researchers, but much of the research has found that people are most often negatively affected by mirrors.

social psych has studied extensively the impact of mirrors on people—they increase a state called “objective self awareness” where you become aware of yourself as a social object. It is usually associated with negative affect because it causes us to compare ourselves to our internal standards (and we usually fall short of them). We then make attempts to “escape self-awareness” by doing physical distractions (or even abusing drugs) or by repairing our image by doing good deeds or trying to live up to our standards.

Some of the research is fascinating. Mirrors are extensively used in ballet training, yet Radell et al., (2004) found that ballet dancers performed better after classes in rooms without mirrors. Scheier and others (1981) found that mirrors made people more likely to withdraw from fearful situations.

[A] state of heightened self-awareness can be created when an object in one’s environment, like a mirror, focuses an individuals’ attention on one’s self. This state of self-awareness causes the individual to compare one’s self to ideals presented in the environment. In a ballet class, this could be other students’ performances or a teacher’s demonstration. If the student feels she is not matching the ideal characteristics presented to her, then negative self-evaluation may result. – Radell et al., 2004.

There is some suggestion that heightened self-awareness, though not necessarily attained only through the use of mirrors, does have positive effects, but I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface of the literature.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Reflection versus reflection, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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