“Dear Ask a Montessorian, I’ve been teaching for five years with roughly the same staff. Next year, two new leads and one new assistant will join our staff, and they are trained at institutes that are quite different than mine. We’ve already had a few conversations that start with, ‘in my training, we don’t…’ and I’m worried that we’ll have more differences than likenesses when the school year begins. What do you recommend to not confuse fellow staff, students and parents this year?”
I recall in my early years as a Montessori teacher how I was confused and stressed about how teachers from different training institutes implemented Montessori in the classroom. I would compare our practices, constantly looking for answers. I often asked myself, ‘are they right, or am I?… Is my training superior or inferior to theirs?’ I used to review my Montessori albums and ask others from my training about this, seeking clarity and affirmation that I was ‘doing it right.’ Gradually, though, I began to understand how to adjust my thinking and avoid being judgmental. I learned to explain and demonstrate practices as I understood them, and I became more willing to ask about the rationale of others.
I have had the opportunity to work in many different countries, and with teachers who have been trained from various training centers. Fostering a Montessori approach in the classroom takes a lot of practice, no matter the country nor the training institute. I have observed even how the Montessori approach is adopted to suit the culture and religious beliefs of the students based on their country and region. All of the Guides I’ve worked with have been well versed in Montessori philosophy, despite differences in training.
It’s important to discuss with co-teachers and colleagues the differences you observe, not to point out differences, but to seek clarification and understanding of their rationale. Share ideas and collaborate with colleagues to improve and enrich the environment and your students’ experience. We as teachers are there to foster excitement, curiosity and the child’s love for education. Being flexible and open to doing things differently in certain circumstances, you will find, will be necessary. I once took over a Children’s House class and most of the children were in their second and third year. The previous teacher had a very different training than mine, and as you might imagine, the children were accustomed to her methods and routines. If I had immediately imposed lessons in ‘my way,’ the children would have been quite confused. I had discussed this with the outgoing teacher and learned about her philosophy, practice and routines. I liked some (and frankly disliked most) but I had to be flexible for the benefit of the children and their expectations. I had to take small steps, slowly and gradually introducing change with as little disruption to the children as possible.
As Montessori teachers, our goal is to provide a peaceful learning environment. We take much time and effort to prepare the environment for learning. With this in mind, isn’t it an advantage to get ideas from other Montessori teachers? We follow the same philosophy and have the same goals, but may take different paths in presenting and sequencing lessons and choosing various programs. For example, one school or training may present cursive first and another, manuscript. One might utilize a different language program than another. This doesn’t mean that if you only have experience in one that you cannot understand, adapt to, or even adopt, another.
Create a co-teaching relationship with colleagues. Embrace new ideas and intentionally incorporate them in your classroom. Be open to look and listen. Find a balance that suits your classroom. Use observation, inquiry and different techniques to help children who might benefit from it. In this way, be truthful to Montessori while following the core principles. I even invite teachers from other classrooms who have different training to come and give a presentation to my class. This way even children understand that the same concept or activity can be done in more than one way.
Welcome new staff members and share and learn from each other. If changes have to be made, make them gradually, so that children are able to adjust and there is little burden on parents and other staff. Be excited to have new staff that will bring with them their own training and new ideas.
In my experience of working with these differences, I have gained immense satisfaction and knowledge throughout the years. I have become more confident to work in any Montessori setting. I have learned to accept changes and to be able to use variations that suit the children I work with. In fact, I get very curious and excited to see things done differently. My passion for teaching and Montessori has taken new horizons with this new outlook. There have been times I have tried giving a certain lesson to a child several times with no success. I have watched my colleagues do the same lesson a bit differently, this time with success. It didn’t matter who’s training was ‘superior’ in that moment– all that mattered was that I was following Montessori principles and that the child learned the lesson, rendering him more independent than before.
My advice is to show respect and seek to understand when things are done differently. Don’t let little differences stand in the way of the growth of the children, the school and yourself. We are the instruments that help mold the formative years of life of the children we work with. Let’s make it a happy and peaceful environment for them to grow and flourish.
Shyamini Monaco is AMI certified with over 20 years of experience in Montessori education. She has taught in Dubai, UAE and Milan, Italy prior to moving to the United States. Shayamini currently serves as Children’s House Lead Guide at Renaissance Montessori in North Carolina.