Today, rather than hunker down in front of my computer during my morning work cycle, I took a wander through the deYoung Museum’s exhibit, “Monet: the Late Years” located in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and ended up reflecting upon the fine art of reflecting!
I’ve been in need of some down time and this morning I took advantage of my #MontessoriNomad lifestyle; while I was expecting to be satisfied with my solo adventure into this particular museum, I wasn’t expecting to be struck with inspiration. Whether it is the relaxed state of my mind that allows connections with the work I’m contemplating in my subconscious, or whether my musings stemmed from the brilliance of this master artist, I found myself thinking on the role of reflection as an effective leader.
Reflection is an often underutilized strategy for school leaders to notice patterns within their organization, to calm the hubbub when needing to effectively respond to a situation, and to plan for what’s to come based on what has passed.
Reflecting on Scale
The first thing that struck me from this thoughtfully curated collection was the scale. In his later years, Monet painted on huge canvases and the exhibit highlighted their magnitude, displayed like sentinels down the hall.
I think this scale reminds me to remember to identify the scope of my reflection, to look at a problem in detail, or to step back and amplify the situations to better see patterns. One example from my own experience: “Is the school community experiencing the same kinds of social drama as in previous years? If so, then maybe the scope of reflecting upon one or two toxic elements won’t give me the feedback of seeing both the real root of the problem.” Scale reminds me to identify and analyze the problem I’m trying to resolve so I can best adapt a solution.
Reflecting on Variables
The next part of this lustrous exhibit to strike me was the multiple studies Monet did of the same subject. A row of Japanese Bridge paintings not only revealed the differences in light and season, they also showed the passage of time and shift in perspective as Monet’s eyesight began to wane due to cataracts.
Now apply this reflection to school leadership and you can surmise that it would be wise to look at the same situation from a multitude of angles – just think of how you might approach a problem differently if you had the information collected from different times of day, or over time. Think about how you’re better able to plan when you have laid out all the data collected from over time and can now see the evident changes revealed.
Reflecting on the Depth
When most people think of Monet, his famous “Water Lilies” paintings jump to mind, right? Having been to the Orangerie in Paris, home of his greatest canvases all of which depict the reflections on his pond in Giverny, France, I can attest to there’s a good reason you might equate him with these epic paintings of water lilies. In Monet’s later years, his water lilies look to be floating in their vibrancy, hovering over the depths of the thin-layered foundation of paint that has a surprising depth, like when you can shade your eyes from the blinding reflection to look into the sun-dappled depths of a pond.
In leadership, I find that reflecting helps me discern whether what I’m seeing is on the surface, like the lilies, or has an underlying complexity, like the depths of the pond water. One school leader I worked with was able to identify the issues with low enrollment wasn’t due to the surface symptoms she initially thought, and she was better able to make the necessary adjustments in her approach based on this type of reflection.
Reflecting on Transitions
This particular exhibit focuses on a limited period of time in Monet’s career, yet this prolific artist filled the walls. From the micro scale of looking at the pond’s reflection to to the meta viewpoint of the ecosystem, Monet reminds us to recognize transitions, to notice when they’re happening and reflecting on them. In “Corner of the Water-Lily Pond”, he depicts water lilies floating near tufts of grass and near a slash of warm color that is the path around the pond lined with trees. I believe he beckoned his viewers to follow him down the path of change, noting and celebrating the transition.
When school leaders pay attention to the ebb and flow of their community, they are better equipped to reflect on transitions and their meaning. I recently had the opportunity to reflect on a momentous change happening in a new Montessori community that welcomed their new Head of School. Reflecting upon this transition assisted me in preparing for many aspects to make it as smooth a transition as possible.
While this morning my mind wandered into and out of this exhibit, making connections to the work of school leadership, I am yet again reminded that our role as a school leader is never one thing. That effective leaders rely on a variety of strategies and leadership styles adapting to each situation and the need for reflection is paramount to this process.
Adapting actions based on insights gained from a multitude of perspectives and reflecting upon them gives leaders formidable fodder to move their communities forward.
Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, educating support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12