A Montessori Message from Jen Wyld, Director of Academics

Dear LCMCS Families,

I wanted to take a few minutes of your time and chat a little about our classrooms this year.  For some of you who have previous experience with Montessori (from attending our school, another Montessori school, reading up on our pedagogy or seeing videos), you might notice that things look different this year.  And you are right, it is different this year. 

One of the main reasons is the way we build community in Montessori classrooms.  A unique feature of Montessori is the mixed age classroom, where you will often find a span of three years sharing space and lessons and learning. While it may seem like an interesting quirk of our pedagogy- it is pretty foundational to the way our class communities usually run in a couple of important ways. 

The first is the way that classroom norms and expectations are passed on. When a new student enters a class, as a 3 year-old, or as a first year, fourth year, seventh grader, or just new to our school, they learn a lot about being a part of that class by observing what the other, more experienced students are doing. In Montessori, we believe that humans have some fundamental tendencies (stay tuned for a future family education night on this topic!) and a few relevant ones are orientation – learning your way around a place both socially and physically, opportunities for repetition- to practice something overtime to “perfect” it, as well as a deep need for belonging. 

To belong to this new environment, children will watch those more experienced students and practice the social and intellectual skills, and over time will become those experienced students that new folks look to for their orientation.  It is a cycle that repeats over time.  So, the disruption of a pandemic and distance learning impacted us in some unique ways.  This year, the oldest/most experienced students in any class were only present in person in that class for just over half of a year.  In MAC, due to it only having a two year span, there are no students who started this year with experience in that program, and our Children’s House and Kindergarten classrooms have a similar situation.

A Montessori Message from Jen Wyld, Director of Academics

What this means on a day to day basis, is that there are few students in a position in any class that can model what it is to be a student in that class. This holds in regards to what a work period looks like, how we treat each other, how to handle materials, the flow of the day and week, communication strategies, conflict resolution techniques for that level, and even ways to provide community service to other classrooms or the school.  There are also academic implications as the older/experienced students had less time to see others using the more advanced materials in the different subject areas or see others engaged in “bigger” academic projects that might take more time and energy and effort to bring to completion.  They had less time to be inspired for the BIG WORK we know children and young adults are interested in and capable of.  

In this respect, every one of our classrooms is having to rebuild its culture of work and community.  While this happens, all of our guides are following the needs of the students and meeting them where they are (other central principles of Montessori!) and things may be different – there may be different materials on the shelves as students build up work habits again, there may be different schedules as students build their stamina for a three hour work period, there may be different class norms as students build their skills around self-management and making choices, and there may be different expectations as the students work towards taking on more of the BIG WORK.  

When you add to this the impacts that living through a pandemic has on all students (and all of us really!)- more stress and anxiety, almost 18 months of less time in an academic setting, almost 18 months of being around only small groups of people, and for many, 18 months of not having to share the adults in their life very many other people, this back to school season has been unusual in many ways.  There is also research that has previously been done on how stress impacts memory and learning that has implications for what many of our students were able to retain (or not) from the last year and a half.  (Here is an article from 2017 that talks about how even students who excel at math perform more poorly on tests if they are anxious (https://news.uchicago.edu/story/anxiety-affects-test-scores-even-among-students-who-excel-math)) Researchers have only just started thinking about how to even assess what impacts the pandemic might have on children in school right now.

So, yes, things might look different this year- things are different this year!  The guides here are doing amazing work to support the students as individuals as well as the groups they form as a whole. Montessorians believe that work, particularly work with the hands, helps children and youth develop to their potential.  The classrooms here all offer ways for the students to use their hands and minds and even hearts, to grow themselves and their communities.  I have the privilege of observing in all of the classrooms every week and I see this work happening- both literally and figuratively.  Thank you for trusting your children to the caring and inspiring adults who make up this school and who are working hard to co-create optimal learning environments for all of us.