Wednesday, April 24, 2013


In the past two weeks, there have been some really valuable reminders for me that have come from the MTIPS Mentor Transcripts. The ones that have hit me really hard have had to do with repetition.

Here is what was most useful to me:
*Instead of giving a new lesson spend time with children with lessons they've had- so they don't equate time with you only with new lessons.
*Represent things that are not used properly.
*Extensions and sensorial games ARE repetition.
*When a child gives another child a lesson, that is repetition.
*Observation of another child working is repetition.
*Children observing you give a lesson is repetition. 

Especially the last three points have felt like a great reminder of the expansive definition of "repetition" that is happening all the time in the classroom. This vaster definition has really helped me have a better perspective of the learning that is constantly happening in the environment.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Montessori Assistant's Album

This year, our assistant who has been working in the kitchen and garden will be moving into the classroom since our current assistant will be starting her own elementary program. We have begun the training process for our new assistant and it has been going very well!

Our school has several factors which influence the roll of the assistant, and perhaps in small ways challenges the more mainstream AMI Montessori assistant role. The fact that we are a bilingal program, English and Dutch, and that most of our graduating children eventually go to Dutch programs puts a lot of pressure on the children to learn a conversational level of Dutch. Since I don't speak native Dutch (barely non-native Dutch) it is my assistant's responsibility to be the main model of Dutch language in our classroom. This means that the assistant in our room has to be putting a lot of language out there! The best way for this is not only through casual conversation, but through small group lessons and games.

To train our assistants, in the past I put together an Assistant's Album and have been tweaking and supplementing it through the years. I wrote about it some years ago here. One change this year has been that I asked my assistant to make her own write ups of the games and lessons that she can lead. I think it is important for those instructions to be in her own words, and asked her to write the exact Dutch phrases that she will be using with the children.

I was an assistant before I was a teacher and I remember having a very difficult time knowing exactly what exactly my role was. I think that approaching the assistant's role as a clear learning process from the get-go helps me to have a better assistant at my side, and helps my assistant see the importance of her presence in the room.

Here are all the files we put in the Assistant's Album this year for anyone who thinks they might be useful.  To cover everything in the document titled "Assistant's Training Points" took three sessions of two hours each. Every one of them very much worthwhile! Of course a disclaimer, I am not a trainer, and this was not taught to me in my training, but in my years of work in the classroom it has proved helpful to me and to all the (brave) women who have worked with me in my room.

Friday, April 5, 2013


A few weeks ago I was walking on the beach with a friend who is the Principal of a large school here in Aruba. She was telling me about how for the past weeks she had been doing assessment of the teachers at school by observing them and then writing a report on what she saw. Having had specific training, and having been a teacher herself I am sure her reports were very valuable to her teachers. She asked me, "Where do you get feedback from?"

I considered the question for a while, and have pondered it since. I read a very excellent chapter in the book "How Children Succeed" by Paul Tough about feedback and how it is used by a teacher in an inner city school somewhere in the US who is helping to develop some of the top junior chess players in the country. Most of her work centers around feedback- the children play their games, and then they very carefully review their decisions and the outcomes of these.

Clearly, feedback and reflection are paramount to the learning process.

I thought about our situation. Being a one room school, with a staff of exactly four people, and juggling the work of head teacher and administrator- this seems to leave little space for someone to come and let me know specifically how we are doing. However, the more I think about it, the more brilliant and complete Montessori appears to me to be. There are many feedback loops that are intrinsic within the structure of the environment and involve all of the members of the community.

In simplistic terms, the children experience feedback directly from the materials (built in control of error), from natural consequences from the environment including the social environment, and from shared reflection with the adults. Their parents experience feedback  from observing and interacting with their children, and from communication with the school (conversations, conferences, reports).

Teachers receive feedback directly from the children, first and foremost. By observing them we can tell a lot about if what we are doing is working and where changes need to be made. Communication with parents lets us know about how the time at school is influencing a child at home and vice versa. Visits from consultants, if you're lucky enough, are very great feedback. And finally, what has really helped me lately better understand the processes I'm going through, personal reflection. I've been keeping a journal of my own difficulties, successes, questions that has helped me see where I feel I am improving and areas where I need more help. I try to write especially when I have a deep emotion associated to something regarding the work. This process keeps me from acting impulsively on whatever the situation is, and also allows me to leave the open questions at school (instead of bringing them home to mull over 24/7).

As an administrator I get feedback from parents and other teachers. Among the staff, we are fortunate to give ourselves time to observe each other at work (although we could do it more often than we do). I invite parents to help with problem solving, planning, and evaluating where there is space for it.

It is amazing to me that in Montessori there can be so much going on even within a small school community.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Second Plane of Development

A parent from school sent me this blog link, that contained the video above. I've been thinking a lot lately about elementary age children, especially since a parent at school and my assistant are all taking AMI elementary training this summer. What I loved in the article, aside from everything, was this line:

"I knew more things in the first 10 years of my life than I believe I have known at any time since."