As a Montessori training institute, we deeply embrace technology. This is somewhat controversial. Montessori education and technology have, well, an interesting relationship.
Technology unlocks levels of convenience and connectivity that much of the world noticed (whether we wanted to or not) as we found ways to persist in work and relationships during the pandemic. We felt the power of connecting instantly with anyone in the world and saw how video conferencing could help us communicate with voice and facial expressions that add richness to virtual connections. Even if we can’t touch and feel, it’s close to the real thing. I’m not sure how many people would have enjoyed online birthday parties or yoga classes before we had to, and I’m not sure most people prefer them to “the real things” but they are at least better than not connecting with loved ones or activities at all.
In Montessori training environments, the use of technology is often viewed in a similar way. Many believe that online teacher training opportunities aren’t perfect. The convenience, accessibility, and reduction in cost (as opposed to in-person training opportunities) are tantalizing since so many share the goal of widening the reach of Montessori education, but there remains a common belief that online training reduces the quality of the learning and sense of community that can be fostered in person. And this is understandable. The Montessori methodology invites children to engage and learn with all their senses, so how could one learn to the approach online where smell, touch, and taste are yet to be able to be transmitted online (we’re still waiting for Wonkavision to take hold!).
These downsides are significant enough to prompt many Montessori educators to refuse to engage in online learning opportunities at all.
I think this is short-sighted. Online learning is not inherently worse, it is simply different. And different can be a good thing. What matters more than the medium of delivery is how creatively crafted learning opportunities unfold for adults, and, at the Prepared Montessorian Institute, we’ve implemented tech in ways to amplify the learning, not just be a second-best option in the days of remote everything. Here’s one example:
Classroom Observations in the Cloud
As Montessori educators, we’re constantly reminded of the power of observation. The way we understand children is by observing them. The way we know which learning opportunities to prepare for a class comes through observation. The way we understand our own effectiveness is by observing its impact on children. It’s a crucial skill and it takes practice to become excellent at it.
The current best way to practice the skill is to head into a classroom, find a chair, write down what you see (not what you expect or judgments, but what you actually witness), then later reflect on what it all means. This is an incredibly valuable exercise, and one that we recommend you take to help improve your observation skills. But the circumstances in a Montessori classroom on any given day are unique and unrepeatable. Sure, children in Montessori classrooms everywhere use similar materials and engage in similar ways with their work, but these children, this classroom, this guide, and this day can only happen once.
That’s what makes this exercise limited. As adults, we thrive in a collaborative learning process with other educators. If each of us went into different classrooms, we’d witness different activities and draw different conclusions. Because we’re new to observing and simply trying to get better at it, we wouldn’t know if we observed in the most effective way. Did we choose the most meaningful moments to take note of or see children’s behavior communicating something clear even without words? Probably not. How could you know what the most significant inputs looked like? You could invite another person to observe with you and to compare notes and discuss afterwards – the combination of your perspectives adds up to more understanding for each of you than if you did it alone. But you couldn’t invite 10 or 20 or 100 observers without completely disturbing the harmony of a classroom. That opportunity to draw on the thoughts of a larger group, all of whom have observed the same classroom in the same window of time, is tricky, but with the help of technology, it’s now possible.
Practically, it’s also hard to get into a Montessori classroom. Every time a new adult walks into a classroom with young children, the dynamic shifts, sometimes in just small ways, sometimes in major ones, so when you’re observing, you might not be observing a “typical” day or even an optimal day. And sometimes it’s hard to even find a Montessori classroom that’ll take you without driving far away or joining at an inconvenient time.
At the Prepared Montessorian Institute, we think about these things all the time, and we’re working to remove the barriers that make developing the skill of observation a practical challenge.
So, we’re introducing an opportunity for our learners: a multifaceted virtual observation experience where you can complete some, and eventually all, of your diploma-required classroom observation hours on your own time anywhere in the world but share the experience with a network of colleagues who will also witness the exact same classrooms, children, and moments as you. You’ll observe classrooms, sometimes with the point of view selected for you, inviting you to look deeply at a specific moment in time that is particularly intriguing and other times you’ll observe with 360-degree camera footage where you decide where to look, just as you would in a live classroom, and learn how to notice things when there are so many different places that could draw your attention. Afterwards, you’ll have a group people, all of whom have observed the exact same classroom in action, to talk about it. You’ll learn if you made good choices around where to look, whether or not you noticed subtleties or interpreted behavior in a nuanced way.
We offer this unique observational opportunity for those who join us in our quest to be the most effective Montessori educators we can be. And in this case, the technology piece won’t just be more convenient. And it definitely won’t be second-best. In a lot of ways, it’ll be even better than witnessing life as it unfolds.
Blog written by Executive Director, Joel Mendes.
Want to find out more or experience our learning opportunities? Ask us a question or sign up for one of our courses:
If you are searching for more information about technology and observation in the classroom, check out one of the panel discussions from our Discovering the Child Conference: "Panel: A Birds Eye View on the Classroom" Presented by Rebecca Girn, Rivkah Schack, & Dr. Laura Mazer. Click on the link below to watch: