Dear Ask a Montessorian, I’m feeling overwhelmed. I know that observation and record keeping are very important, but there is so much to do at the beginning of the school year. I want to start off with good habits. What do you recommend?
My first year in a primary classroom was like my first day at ballet school: stand up tall, point your toes, look up, smile! So much to remember!
Except it was more like: speak clearly, lay out the materials just so, handle every situation with grace and courtesy, track each student’s progress, interpret every child’s unique needs, organize your records, communicate with parents, present at parent education nights, conferences… and follow, follow, follow the child!
Plié and repeat.
It was exhausting keeping in step with a new routine. I began seeking help from other Montessorians and outside resources. What I found most helpful was the power of observation—visiting other classrooms and seeing the examples I wished to be. Much like we remind the children to stop and breathe deeply, as teachers should also take time to sit still and simply notice. The classroom is naturally a busy place, so observation is key. It was difficult to do my number one job of ‘following the child,’ without making the time to watch the development unfolding.
Montessori Guidance: An experienced Montessori guide gave me a great tip: You spend your day tracking student progress, making important notes, and dealing with difficult situations. So, take the time each day, maybe during lunch, or at a quiet point in the afternoon to write down three things that went well for you. It could be something like: “Circle time went smoothly and we arrived on the playground on time today.” Or it could be heartwarming: ”After a challenging morning, Tommy created an apology note and flower arrangement for his friend.” These notes of gratitude kept my spirits up and motivated me to keep conducting observation notes. I soon was able to make the day to day clerical work more routine and easier to manage. The more student record keeping I did throughout the day, the less stress I felt during conference season and parent communications.
Outside Resources: It was in fact, trial and error before I found a record keeping method that worked best for me. What was most helpful was an online system. It allowed me to quickly input student information without taking my attention from the classroom. I could do everything in one place: take attendance, track student lessons, analyze student progress, automatically plan lessons, schedule on a calendar, upload pictures and videos, communicate with parents, generate reports, and file important records. My iPad, smaller than a clip-board, was surprisingly discreet and convenient to use in the classroom. I also took advantage of the resource library which includes hundreds of lesson demonstrations, assistant training and parent education videos. I also used Montessori community-based sites like wikisori.org for lesson extension ideas or to print three-part cards for new lesson ideas as well.
While it may sometimes feel like you are doing a solo performance in the classroom, it is important to slow down and follow the beat of the child. Reminding yourself there are support systems all around you. Most importantly, find gratitude each day for a job well done.
Anna Cook holds her Masters in Early Childhood and Primary Childhood Montessori certificate. She has worked as a Montessori guide in Pittsburgh, PA and Charlottesville, VA. She currently has established a Montessori, home based Toddler program within her community.