In this week’s podcast episode, Letty is talking to Elizabeth Slade of Public Montessori in Action, which aims to ensure fully-implemented Montessori education for children, families, and educators of the global majority. They are discussing how planning and record keeping tools help increase a program’s fidelity to high quality Montessori implementation.
by Letty Rising
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Elizabeth Slade is an author and educator with 36 years of experience working in Montessori education. She has worked in independent and public Montessori schools as an elementary teacher, Montessori coach and administrator. She spent 6 years at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector working with public Montessori schools across the country and now serves as the Executive Director of Public Montessori in Action International.
Elizabeth joins Montessori Talks to discuss the Montessori Planning and Record Keeping Guide and how it’s been beneficial for the schools that have piloted it, how it creates structure in the classroom, and how it can address equity in the learning environment. Here’s the edited interview. For the complete experience, you are encouraged to listen to the entire podcast episode.
Could you elaborate on how the Montessori planning and record-keeping guide you’ve created simplifies these tasks for educators?
This topic has grown to be one of my favorites, mainly because it’s the invisible part of a Montessori educator’s job. It’s the behind-the-scenes magic that contributes to the preparedness of the adult in the Montessori environment. Our Montessori Curriculum Map is designed to help educators navigate the expansive Montessori curriculum and ensure they cover all subject areas in a comprehensive manner. The goal is to make sure that we arrive at important milestones at the end of three-year cycles.
It sounds like this tool could be a game-changer. How does it strike the balance between offering a structured approach while also allowing for the Montessori principle of ‘following the child’?
The map is organized by month and age, allowing educators to know what lessons to focus on. But there’s flexibility built in. The cornerstone is observation—seeing and understanding the needs of the children before you, and adjusting your plans accordingly. So while the map provides structure, it doesn’t limit the ability to adapt to the needs and progress of the students.
That’s brilliant, especially for new teachers who often struggle with balancing structure and flexibility. Now, considering you work primarily with public Montessori schools, how does your tool align with state regulations and Common Core standards?
Ah, the eternal question! The map is structured in a way that it can be aligned with Common Core State Standards, or any state-specific educational benchmarks. The fact that educators are following a somewhat similar cycle allows for more effective collaboration, particularly in creating or adapting lessons to meet these standards. So, it lightens the load and makes it easier for Montessori educators in public settings to meet those external expectations while staying true to Montessori principles.
Could provide an example or two of how these Montessori Planning and Record Keeping (MPR) tools that you have, are used in a real classroom scenario?
One of the tools is an observation tool. It was really fun going on visits to schools and seeing this on clipboards, noting what has been observed. This is a lesson planning inquiry observation tool where you have students’ names on the left-hand side and questions across the top. It’s not a tool that’s done in one day or even a week; it’s on the clipboard for a few weeks. It asks questions like what they have recently watched others use, or what they have been talking about with their peers. This tool also serves as an equity tool to show me if I haven’t been attending to the interests of all children in the classroom. It helps me tailor my lessons toward each child’s interests and abilities, aiming for that “magical right time, right child, right lesson” that every teacher aspires to create.
Have educators in the public Montessori schools you’ve worked with found your planning and record-keeping guide beneficial? Can you share some instances of positive feedback or improvements you’ve noticed in their practice or in the school culture as a result?
The transition skills checklist is an essential tool we’ve developed that condenses both the extensive Montessori curriculum and Common Core standards into what we believe are foundational skills for children. It aims to prepare them for the next educational level, focusing on their overall development and self-esteem. We have practitioners continuously refine these checklists to better align with actual classroom needs, encouraging dialogues between educators at different levels. For instance, one school managed to reach 90% proficiency in the transition skills among students moving from early childhood education to elementary. This showed a significant boost in students’ preparedness, especially in the challenging context of the recent pandemic.
Alignment between Montessori and Common Core standards is becoming clearer, and the next step is for schools to develop their curriculum maps. Tools help prevent gaps in teaching, such as my own experience of inadvertently overlooking geometry for three months. It’s about facilitating the “behind-the-scenes” work that educators do, making the job more manageable.
By aligning curricula and employing transition skills checklists, Montessori schools not only ensure that they are meeting educational standards but also nurture each child’s unique developmental journey. This combined approach creates a robust, adaptable education model that holds the child’s well-being as its core focus.
Recently, there has been increased focus on the role of equity in the educational environment. You’ve mentioned that your planning and record-keeping tools emphasize this aspect. Can you delve into what this focus on equity means and how your system helps in this regard?
Absolutely. The recent racial reckoning in our country has brought implicit bias to the forefront of our awareness. We all have these biases, but the challenge is making them visible to avoid perpetuating inequities. This is where our tools come in. For example, our observation tool helps teachers see what they might not naturally pay attention to. It allows them to identify children who aren’t usually on their radar, ensuring they’re not overlooked and receive equitable opportunities to learn.
What about teachers who are conscious about these biases but still struggle with it in the classroom, especially in a Montessori setting?
We have a Montessori educator self-reflection tool available in our free tool section. Developed collaboratively by a diverse community of practitioners, this tool is organized into three sections: discovering, engaging, and refining. It helps teachers become aware of their biases, intentional in their actions, and committed to continuous improvement. It’s a wonderful resource for communities to use collectively, setting goals for more equitable teaching.
These tools seem invaluable. But how do they contribute to maintaining the integrity of Montessori methodology, particularly in public settings where there might be different educational expectations?
The core of these tools is to ensure full implementation of Montessori, especially in the public sector where the emphasis might not necessarily be on Montessori principles. Our tools serve as a guide to the Montessori curriculum, reminding educators of lessons and materials that they might overlook, such as the decimal checkerboard or cubing material.
There’s often tension between ticking off a checklist and selecting lessons from a repertoire. How does your system navigate this?
It’s true that some educators lean toward a checklist approach while others prefer more flexibility. Our system allows for both. The record-keeping section serves as a linear progression where educators can ‘check boxes,’ satisfying that need for structure. At the same time, the planning portion acts like a menu, offering a range of options that can be tailored to individual needs and circumstances.
The idea is to provide a framework that supports educators in delivering high-fidelity Montessori education, while also acknowledging their individual teaching styles and the unique needs of their students.
By marrying these two aspects—structured record-keeping and flexible planning—we aim to create a comprehensive solution for educators. It helps them not only in focusing on the individual development of each child but also in ensuring that they are meeting the broader objectives of a fully implemented Montessori education.
Our aim is not only to offer resources locally but to also have a global outreach. We focus on professional development, partnerships with schools, and fostering communities of practice. The tools and resources we offer are meant to make everyone’s life easier and more effective in the Montessori environment.
It’s so important to underline that while your services are centered on the global majority, your tools are there for everyone—every Montessori school globally. It streamlines the process, saving time and effort that can instead be devoted to the students.
Yes, we believe in sharing resources so no one has to start from scratch. This helps schools tailor the resources to their unique community needs while also benefiting from collective wisdom. It’s a win-win.
The takeaway from today’s episode is clear: whether you’re starting from scratch or using pre-designed tools, planning and record-keeping are pivotal. They make your school a more organized, effective, and enriching environment. Parents will better understand what you’re doing with their children, and it allows the freedom in the classroom that is so integral to Montessori teaching.
Letty Rising has been involved in Montessori education for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Sociology, a California State Teaching Credential, and an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as a Homeschool Education Specialist, Montessori Elementary Teacher, School Director, Principal, Montessori Coordinator, and Consultant in several public and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. Letty currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.