Confessions of A Montessori Novice (Posts 1-4)


Originally Posted Fall/Winter 2015/2016

Volume IV – January 26, 2016 – The Path

“Teaching, like any other truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse.  As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students and our way of being together  The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life.  Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.  If I am willing to look at that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge, and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.”          – Parker Palmer, The Heart of A Teacher

As I am sure you have surmised, I have been feeling a little overwhelmed at the task I’ve chosen myself of becoming a Montessori guide.   Some days I see some of the path forward and others I feel like I’ve fallen down some Carrollean rabbit hole with this journey, and could well end up a bit like the Hatter or Hare from staring at the looking glass too long.  That said, I am not alone, and for that I am grateful!

Our second week back from the holiday break we are focusing on the roles and responsibilities of the guide, and I was concerned that with the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to improve in my areas of struggle, I would emerge from this week feeling even farther from my end point, but instead things feel much clearer.  This is in no small part to the realization that I truly am not alone.  I may not have the answers to all my questions, but I do have a great number of companions and mentors and with each of our little lanterns, the path becomes lit, and will become increasingly so, as long as we all keep fuel in our lanterns.  With that, dear reader, here are some reflections how  I plan on filling my own little beacon.

There are things I know help me feel more balanced and centered in everyday life, and I think that some of these things help in the classroom as well.

Taking care of my body is important to every facet of life, and can make a huge difference in how I interact with the outside world.  Making sure I am not overly hungry, that I’m eating a balanced diet, and drinking plenty of water are all essential.  Getting as much sleep as is possible is a high priority (and difficult with a toddler who doesn’t sleep all the way through the night most nights yet). Exercising helps clear my head and my body of discomfort and tension.  It flushes out excess hormones and strengthens the muscles that are necessary for lots of (physical) ups and downs in the classroom.  I also treat myself to a massage once a month, although I wish I could do more, as it makes a big difference.

Just as I feed my body, I try to also feed my spirit, and in the same way that we are encouraged to focus on the strengths of the child, I try to regularly remind myself of my own strengths as a parent and future guide.  I have been (very) slowly integrating some mindfulness practices as well.  I love yoga, both for exercise and meditation, but I have to be careful because of a hip issue, so I don’t practice as much as I would like. Instead I have been trying to take a little time daily to feed the spirit by listening to guided meditations.

It’s also important to take a little time for the things I love outside of learning and parenting.  When I can I crochet or spend time out with close friends I feel renewed in a very specific sort of way, and this renewal must be given some priority.

On of the most important things I can do for myself is to slow down, especially in the morning.  Being deliberate is its own challenge when getting Oscar and myself ready in the mornings, but it makes a great deal of difference in terms of the way I feel the rest of the day.

Last, I have made a practice of taking a few deep breaths as we approach Oscar’s school door, and visualizing a cleansing wave coming over me as I step across the threshold. This wave takes with it the worries of the day and keeps them outside of my interactions with Oscar, the guides, the other parents, and the children as I enter the school.  It doesn’t work perfectly (rather I don’t always let it), but I find it helpful and I hope to continue to use this visualization as I begin my own work as a guide.

There are lots of other things that are important, and while I’m not quite sure yet how to implement them, I do have some ideas.  For instance, I have greatly appreciated all of the experienced guides I know sharing ways they fill their own glowing lanterns when they’re feeling a little off one way or the other while in the classroom, with the children.  I know that I worry about feeling overwhelmed at everything going on, and the idea that keeping a photo of my little love or some treasures from great moments past can make a huge difference in the moment is lovely.  One of my mentors mentioned just this type of treasure once when I was visiting her at school.  She talked about the idea of carrying around a little something that reminded her of her children, and if she was struggling, just touching the little treasure deep in her purse or pocket reminded her of the love in her life and could everything into perspective at times.

I’m grateful to know a good number of people who have been on this path a long time, I think forming these relationships and being open to their guidance will help with the times where I feel like I’m not doing enough to meet the needs of the children in the classroom, or when I am having a rough time centering.  Gratitude and connection are powerful things. Last, I think just keeping a growth mindset, and being compassionate to myself about that growth can make all the difference. <3

What do you do to fill your little lantern, dear reader?

Be well!

-Breana

Volume III – December 15, 2015 – Grateful if Not Yet Graceful.

What a month!! I feel pretty silly for being so impatient, because I really had no idea what I was in for.  We’re halfway through the Philosophy curriculum and taking stop at Practical Life.  I have learned so much, and I’m feeling like I understand Montessori’s writing style, if not always her Discourse (language referring to specific medical or pedagogical concepts that are situated in her place, time, and educational background).

All said, I can tell you it’s been a wonderful learning experience, and that I’m very grateful to have the support of so many awesome Montessorians.  So that’s where I begin.  First, I’m thankful for Ms. A, without whom I might never have discovered Montessori, second for her daughter, also Ms. A, who inspires 15,000+ of us to continue to learn about Montessori every day.  Third, my son’s teachers, who care so much about each and every one of the children and their paths, it’s truly inspiring, and last, my wonderful instructional guides and cohort.  I can tell we’re all going to be quite close after 18 months together!

So, I am glad that the first thing that it occurred to me to talk about was my thankfulness, because to be honest, I feel in over my head.  It’s not the discussion groups, the video chats, the videos, the readings, or the level of organization needed to govern all of it.  It’s the spiritual preparation of the teacher.

I don’t feel calm enough, I don’t feel graceful or courteous enough, I don’t feel patient enough…right now….

Spiritual Preparation

I’m trying my best to hold onto the quote Kitty Bravo, one of the directors of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies sent us the week before we started,

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. 
Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.”

Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

…and in the meantime, I’m working toward a mindfulness meditation practice (starting by listening to the audio book of Daniel Siegel’s The Mindful Brain), because I think it might help me live my way to the answers…gradually…someday.  Some of my cohort have given me great mindfulness resources to look into as well.

Mindful

More on the specifics of what I’ve been learning next time, dear readers,

Love, Light, & Grace,

-Breana

Volume II – Oct 23, 2015 – Patience.

Classes Start Monday!

I am beyond excited to start my program on Monday.  My cohort is set, the Moodle (online learning environment) is up and running, and my first exciting class IS….ORIENTATION. :/ (sad trombone). Well, I mean, I know it’s helpful to get to know a program and find my way around the Moodle, but I won’t lie, I’m just itching to get going learning about….well, SOMETHING Montessori!? Spiritual preparation of the teacher?  Language materials? Grace & Courtesy?  I guess maybe this is spiritual preparation in patience?

I thought maybe in the meantime I’d do some preparation of my own learning environment, and for you, dear reader, describe my chosen program in a bit more detail (or you can read the full description here).

I am now a student of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  This program is online, but requires a 9 month practicum and a 2.5 week in-person residency to complete the full certificate.  The program is accredited by MACTE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education) and IMC (International Montessori Council) affiliated.

In order to apply, I sent in my transcripts, letters of recommendation, application paperwork, essay, and tuition agreement.  Once all of those were received, I spoke on the phone with their associate early childhood director, which was informative.  She asked me some about my background, but definitely focused in on my plans for the practicum phase of the program.  She emphasized that it will be important for me to have access to a Montessori environment for both observations and for working with authentic Montessori materials.  

I have been offered to complete my practicum at my son’s school, but we haven’t decided whether or not that’s the best choice for mine and my son’s learning (more on that in another post!).  A week later, I got my acceptance (YIPPEE!), and now the Moodle is open and ready to peruse for my orientation. I am very much looking forward to getting to know my cohort.  Also, I think I’m officially a Montesaur?

Finally, once I was accepted, I received my book list, ordered my books (about $180 including some used), and since then I’ve been twiddling my thumbs… Kidding, I’ve been completing the training in order to be a substitute teacher at my son’s Montessori school and getting my house in order *chortles* for less available time.

Looking forward to next week when I can tell you all about meeting my cohort and the much talked about Moodle!  In the meantime, I’m going to be practicing a very special kind of patience with my own little guy…

How do you encourage patience in your children and yourself?

Be well, dear reader,

-Breana

Volume I – October 2, 2015.

Maria Montessori

So, if you’ve read my blog before, you may have noticed I have the utmost respect for the Montessori Philosophy and Method.  I’ve geeked out on many things Montessori for years, but NOW, dear reader, I am ready to put my money (and time, love, etc.) where my mouth is.  I will be undergoing training to become a Montessori Guide. You may recall that my family and I are hoping to open a community center here in Austin in a few years.  Right now we’re collecting resources and preparing ourselves.  We’d like to have a low-income preschool, social services on a sliding scale, and a space for families to bring their kids to interact.

Eventually we’d like even more, but these first few pieces are already a lofty start, as I’ve been told recently (repeatedly).  One step at a time, and the next step is ME.  Knowing what I already do about the Montessori Method, and how closely it aligns with educational and developmental research and best practices, I feel that it would be ideal for our preschool environment, particularly for the indoor portion of the day (work cycle) at the preschool.  I am also drawn to loose parts play, but that’s another post, and in fact not counter to the Montessori Philosophy. 

I have applied to the Center for Guided Montessori Studies, an online program with a heavy practical component as well as a residency.   The program was recommended to me by both my original Montessori mentor (I did an independent study at a wonderful Montessori school during undergrad) and my son’s Montessori guides, as well as several helpful folks from the Montessori 101 facebook group.  I feel confident that I will be learning what I need to be a successful Montessori guide, and I’d like to document this process for both myself, and for others who are interested in the journey.  I will not be sharing any of the actual materials from the program, but I may describe what I liked about and learned from specific readings and assignments. 

I’ve started with some goals for myself, based on my own strengths and weaknesses:

  • I will take a moment to visit my intentions and goals before entering learning spaces (ex: be direct, show grace and kindness, observe deeply).
  • Relatedly, I will work on being intentional about cultivating a slow and calm presence whenever around children. 
  • Whenever I am learning a new concept, I will make all efforts to practice these concepts both with materials and with children so that I am truly prepared for my practicum and beyond.

I’d love your feedback, whether you know nothing about Montessori, or are a veteran Guide!  

As always, thanks for reading!

-Breana

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