After 28 years in Montessori, in which I have held nearly every type of position, including assistant, lead guide, mentor, school administrator, teacher trainer, and now international professional development provider, I have had ample time for reflection on my goal of bringing high-fidelity Montessori education to the world.
What has struck me as a profound challenge is something Dr. Montessori herself struggled with in the second part of her career, that is, training teachers to implement her method well. What I see again and again, is the desperate need for mentorship for those new to the practice.
Need for a Montessori Mentor
I have helped American public schools that have converted to the Montessori method as well as international schools and one of the core issues that I see regularly is inexperience with practicing the methodology. While good quality training is an essential part of addressing this problem, knowing the “proper” way to give a lesson and the scope and sequence of materials only goes so far. You can drill teacher trainees until they can give and recite the lessons verbatim, but they will still lack the nuances of how to use them effectively to teach children. Furthermore, verbatim recitation often backfires by giving the new teacher the sense that if they only give the lesson in the prescribed manner, the child will get it and their job is done. It’s like believing that if you use the magical incantation correctly, it will have the desired effect.
Isn’t Mentorship Built Into Our Training?
Unfortunately, some of our training programs emphasize mastering the lessons and have teachers build their albums as that is what is easy to teach and measure. It’s as if we are using the traditional education model and adherence to standards to train teachers in a new education model that is about mastery, which is somewhat ironic.
Thus practice of the Montessori Method is nuanced and also requires that a teacher be able to “follow the child.” In other words, they need to be able to observe the child and read what they need in order to give a lesson appropriately or direct them in their behavior. Since every child is different, it is necessary to gain experience working with them to do this well. Developing this sense takes time as does mastery of any skill.
While appropriate adult child interactions is taught, because it is difficult to quantify and measure as well as being time consuming, it is often given cursory attention in training. And without actual children to practice on in the training, it is difficult to master. It is like receiving the abstract idea, but not having any concrete examples.
Hands on experience is a part of many training programs in the form of a practicum ostensibly under the tutelage of a trained teacher, however, many trained Montessori teachers have not received instruction and practice in coaching. It is not that it is a fixed mindset that you have or don’t, but like many skills, coaching is something that takes development and practice over time.
Thus, the process of guiding newly trained teachers could be greatly facilitated by having a well-trained, seasoned teacher who has good coaching skills. Such a teacher could model best practices and help develop them in aspiring teachers. This is why I say that what is sorely needed in many schools I work with is good coaching or mentorship that takes place over time.
What to do?
To address this deficit, I would suggest that training centers provide a new course or courses that provide experienced teachers training in mentorship and coaching, and that this be a prerequisite for being a practicum advisor. I would also recommend that as many schools as possible work with at least one teacher on site to get them trained in this ability, and have them act as a curriculum coordinator and resource within their school.
Additionally, not all mentors are created alike. Specific coaching training such as is offered through the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, and discussions about mentorship such as covered in my article 5 Considerations for an Effective Mentor in Montessori Communities are helpful in building skills and an essential characteristic: humility.
I recognize the reality that many schools that do not have the staffing or resources for such a model and countries in which there are few trained teachers to act in such a capacity nor resources for providing such training. I would ask that schools that can have such a person on staff be willing to help schools that do not, and countries provide opportunities to bring such people to their schools as they have with me. I believe we all want higher fidelity to Montessori as it is what is right for the children and will help elevate the Montessori Method to its highest potential.
So find a mentor, and be a mentor, and you too shall change the world.