Looking Ahead to Fall 2020
Adaptation to the environment is the first necessity
—Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures.
Last Wednesday, NCMPS convened public Montessorians to share their ideas and plans for the fall. Schools are both immersed in the current work and turning their attention to the conditions for re-opening, As one participant offered, “the conditions are too uncertain to have all the answers now, but now is the time to be sure we have all the questions.”
More than 100 people took part in the call, almost all from public district, magnet, and charter schools across the country. We split into seven breakout groups for a conversation framed by the developmental core of Montessori education: the interactions between the child, the adult, and the environment.
Learnings from the last eight weeks: It’s all about relationships
We asked participants to share what they had learned so far. Rather than focusing on platforms such as Google Classroom or Seesaw, or resources as the Smithsonian or National Geographic, participants shared the importance of cosmic education and cultural studies as the most engaging subjects for distance learning. Math and reading could then, with some effort and creativity, be embedded in those lessons and work.
What was most often and most fervently reported, however, was the importance of interpersonal relationships. Teachers’ strong relationships with families and children have been crucial for successful distance learning. And, glimpses into children’s homes, with cameo appearances by grandparents, pets, siblings, parents, and other family members, have made these connections deeper. More time to connect with families (many of whom now have a better understanding of Montessori),getting to know children’s thought processes better, and learning about their students’ home experiences were widely seen as the most important outcome of the distance learning experience.
Unfortunately, some families, often those with the highest needs and the least access to online learning, simply “dropped off”. Teachers and administrators shared both heartbreaking and heartwarming stories of driving by homes, reaching out through friends, and searching food service lines to reach every child and family. We are part of a tireless and remarkable community.
Looking Ahead: The Child
Here the main theme was again relationships and community. For a successful return to school in the fall, schools will need to first recognize that children (and adults) have experienced trauma and disruption and will be returning with heightened levels of anxiety. They may be concerned about their physical and emotional safety, as well as the disruption of their own learning experience over this time. We already know that safe, comfortable relationships have to be in place before learning can happen, and this will be critical in the fall.
Somewhat ironically, distance learning has already laid the groundwork for this attention to personal connection. Teachers may maintain connection over the summer or begin the year with virtual meetings to build connections, set expectations, and process concerns and anxieties. We know that children are adaptable, and that they will respond well to clear, direct, empathetic communication. Montessori teachers know how to do this. There was a strong consensus that, now more than ever, strong social-emotional foundations will need to be laid before more conventional academic work can begin.
Looking Ahead: Adults
For teachers, staff, and families, relationships will be key as well. Many schools plan to survey or speak with individual families to assess their situations and needs and do their best to meet them. Online family engagement and education can begin now and in the summer with new and returning families and continue as re-opening approaches.
In the meantime, schools are paying extra attention to end-of-year conferences and transition meetings. Some schools are sending families summer boxes with curriculum, supplies, and materials.
Looking Ahead: Environment
Government mandates and guidance will set many of the parameters, but the scenarios schools are preparing for include: a full return to school, fully remote school, some kind of blending or staggering, and rolling closures.
To accommodate physical distancing, schools are considering offering am and pm sessions or creating an alternating schedule where students switch between half at home and half at school. In this latter scenario, teachers might combine classes and team up with some in school and others, perhaps those at a higher risk personally, remote. Children could have lessons on face-to-face days and work with adapted materials at home on the off days. Where schools have leeway to make their own decisions, we heard practitioners committed to meeting family needs–recognizing some families may be able to accomodate an alternating schedule, others may need a full school day, others may not want their children in school at all due to elderly family members in the home.
Schools are considering the challenges and social-emotional effects of physical distancing, especially for younger children. Curbside drop-off and extended use of outdoor spaces were mentioned. Grace and courtesy along with practical life activities can support both distancing and cleaning.
Everyone is craving clarity and, yet, in this fluid situation, most administrators spoke of planning for multiple scenarios, waiting until fall to make decisions and, even then, staying nimble to be responsive to changing circumstances.
David worked in private Montessori for more than twenty years as a parent, three-to-six year-old and adolescent teacher, administrator, writer, speaker, and advocate. In 2016 he began working with the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. David lives in Portland, Oregon.