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By Elizabeth Slade
Spring is making its way across the country reminding us all about the cycles of life – the earth as a great reminder of how to endure and rise again. In this season we are also supporting one another through the disillusionment phase and into acceptance. This means we are weathering the time of discontent with how we are managing the impact of the global pandemic and actively choosing to move forward into reconstruction. What will we take from this time that will make us stronger?
Here are some recent thoughts on ways to navigate this time.
It is easy in this time of phase two Distance Learning to become frustrated with the number of times one is asked the same question. There’s a repetitive nature to the ways in which people need support right now and it is calling on us to be generous and patient. Imagine this is the first six weeks of a brand new classroom where no one knows and understands how to do anything. We spend our time repeating the same phrases, the same lessons, the same procedures and routines with the absolute faith that it will become the new normal in time. Let’s lean into that faith now which will allow us to be less frustrated and more generous in our response to other’s needs.
Given this is a new experience for everyone, there are no best practices developed yet. This requires us to let go of being the expert or being certain and to remain open as we implement. Likely creative and inspired ideas will flow from the team at this time and it is important that we are open to them, embrace them, and explore the ones that make the most sense for the children and families we serve. This may be a structure that is already in place within your school or it may be new. Remember that new is different and different is not always comfortable.
What do we need to do in order to be present with the discomfort enough to embrace and leverage the good ideas arising? This brings us back to our method- Dr. Montessori as a scientist was constantly observing for, listening for, and open to the ways in which she needed to adjust her method to serve the child. When she realized locking all of the materials away in the cupboard was an obstacle she shifted to setting them out on shelves to be chosen and thus choice was born as one of the major hallmarks of her philosophy. May we be fed from her inspiration to do the same during this time of developing a new way of being with the method.
Connect, connect, connect
When we are out of our depths as humans we can easily fall into a fight, flight, freeze, or appease. Connecting with all of the adults in your community regularly helps you understand and support the movement out of trauma response and into action. We will all get there, each in our own time and yet it feels better to be connected through the process.
Families, in particular, need much more connection than in the past. Having weekly touchpoints for families to gather and connect is an essential component of this new way of being. They may or may not have consciously chosen a Montessori school for their child and this is an ideal opportunity to open them to the gifts of the method. Holding weekly gatherings allows for further understanding of the Montessori method. Independence, for example, is a foundational aspect of the Montessori approach and a conversation about this with families would provide them with concrete suggestions as well a greater understanding of how they can support their child’s easiest transition back into the classroom when Distance Learning ends. These family engagement opportunities also provide an opportunity to hear from the community about how the plan is going, what needs work, and their ideas for how to refine the plan going forward.
As we spring into action to create rhythm with phase two Distance Learning it is important that across level teams everyone is implementing an equivalent plan. Those in fight mode may have pushed ahead, over-functioning as a way to cope with this time while those in flight or freeze may be doing as little as possible. Now is the time to ensure the adults are working as a team to implement a similar learning plan across all classrooms at the same level. This ensures that every child will have access to the same curriculum. This will likely require collaborative planning time, calibrated schedules, and on-going support. Also, we need to consider the roles of the other school-based adults: How are all of the adults in our school community remaining connected to our children and families? How are we ensuring that we are balancing our touchpoints, synchronizing our service providers, and offering every adult an opportunity to be a valuable member of the team?
Keep the end in mind
While we are managing the separation from physical school it’s important to remember that the hope is that ultimately children will be back in Montessori classrooms. This means our entire community must be focused on the goal of fostering independence. If our children become complacent – dependent on screens to move forward in their learning – they will be lost when they return to school. While this will likely be a theme in your weekly touchpoints with families it is also important to reflect and refine as a staff how we may be supporting all learners in reaching the highest level of functional independence for their developmental stage through our work at this time. What are we doing to encourage, inspire, and acknowledge children’s independence?
It is our task to hold a Montessori flame and offer a perspective during this time of finding a rhythm. Though this new way of being may be uncomfortable or difficult for the community it is calling on new skills to be developed and new muscles to be flexed. How can the things we are learning support us as we move into the future?
Crises cause us to see the fissures, the places that are not strong. They underscore what isn’t yet working and allow us new clarity about the gaps or fault lines. These components are not new- they weren’t working before either- we are just being offered a new chance to address them. We have an opportunity now to hold these weak areas in perspective and to make plans to begin strengthening what has been revealed.
This will not last forever and it is important, though we don’t know the endpoint, to be a beacon of hope that these skills and abilities will not go to waste but will bring us through this time stronger and more ready as a team to meet the needs of all learners in our Montessori classrooms.
Elizabeth has been a Montessori educator since 1987. Her extensive work in the public sector has included posts as a teacher, mentor, coach, and Coordinator of Teaching and Learning. In addition, she consults for public Montessori schools across the country and is a frequent presenter at regional and national Montessori conferences and contributor to Montessori and non-Montessori publications. Elizabeth received a BA from Wheaton College and earned her AMI Elementary Diploma from the Washington Montessori Institute, and her AMS Administrative Credential at the Center for Contemporary Montessori Studies.