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“Montessori was made for times like this,” said Patty Sobelman, Head of School at Pines Montessori School. Montessori schools worldwide have shifted to what is now our new normal by being adaptable, practical, pragmatic, and humble.

If any educational model is adaptable and flexible, while still holding onto its truth and central core, it’s Montessori. It is our global community, our individual schools, and each one of us that carry out this work—a work that has been gifted to us because we stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before us. We serve children and believe in their fullest potential. We work together to help them lead authentic, meaningful lives with compassion, confidence, integrity, and a sense of awe. We do this because we believe we can spark a global revolution of kindness, justice, and love.

We have all had trying times over this past year and a half, with seasons of worry, fear, and uncertainties. This has led us to places we didn’t think we would go with children, parents, and families having to address trauma, worry, anxiety, sickness, and death. This was not in our training!

Yet, when presented with our realities, how do we stay true to our philosophy, keep our schools healthy, foster community among families, cultivate a growth mindset, and serve the child who is before us? I posed these questions to our school and many other schools across the country. The answers were beautiful, honest, vulnerable, brave, and diverse.

Many outstanding schools are doing such creative and wonderful things while staying the course, being authentic in their practices, serving their specific community needs, and retaining dedicated faculty, staff, and families. For this article, I chose to highlight three schools with just a glimpse into what each has done and is currently doing:

• Stepping Stones Montessori School in Grand Rapids, Michigan

• NewGate School (Lab School for The Montessori Foundation) in Sarasota, Florida

• Pines Montessori School in Kingwood, Texas

Elizabeth Topliffe Head of Stepping Stones Montessori School

“Stepping Stones Montessori School maintained and fostered teaching teams, while increasing the number of classroom environments. Faculty, staff, and parents worked together to create classrooms that would give the children the opportunity to thrive each day. These prepared environments remained beautiful, while adapting to a new health standard. Among these standards were: fewer students in a room; improved air filtration; plenty of time outdoors; and removal of other impediments. Through it all, they remained true to their mission statement.

The students are doing well and are thriving. That is our center. Our work is part of something so much bigger than us, than this year, than the students right now, etc. It is about today AND tomorrow. Our work helps our students become themselves. Therefore, our work affects every single person with whom our students will ever interact over the course of their lives. Imagine that! How we treat a child today will affect who they become, their future colleagues, partners, children, friends, and communities. That is why learning in person is so important. All the precautions we take are worth it.”

Patty Sobelman Head of Pines Montessori School

“Pines Montessori School intentionally replanned all the yearly school-wide activities. As the community is an integral part of our school, we did not want to cancel these anticipated and beloved events. Instead, we adapted them to meet the restrictions and needs of the times. The school moved many events outdoors with masking and social distancing. They limited the number of masked participants indoors by setting staggered start times. Transparency and open communication became key to building trust. By hosting recurring ‘Full Family Zooms,’ our school community was free to share their experiences, ask questions in real time, see other friends and families, and support each other during times of uncertainty. These family Zoom calls, along with all the adaptations made, still allow us to connect with our entire community.

We benefited physically from large open classrooms, which made six-foot distancing possible. Individual tables were ordered and assembled for each student. Our outdoor spaces were adapted to allow more health and fitness activities and to provide more spaces for collaborative/group work and lessons.

Teamwork has always been our model. Grouping students and teachers into separate cohorts across all levels became vital. The teaching teams in each environment worked together as support systems. The teaching faculty’s emotional, mental, and physical health became an everpresent reality and is now part of our culture rooted in patience, respect, and grace.

Montessori is our operating system. It is the way we speak and think and feel and see things. When we are intentionally connected to what we know, at our core, is true, answers to seemingly unanswerable questions appear.

What remained true for us is that nothing is more important than creating a space for the social and spiritual health of the child, their families, and their teachers. We recommitted ourselves to grace and courtesy in the fury of confusion, stress, and sadness. We created space for the child, the adult, the parent, the teacher who was not yet there. We reminded ourselves daily that Dr. Montessori lived through two World Wars and the Spanish Flu Pandemic… we got this!”

Jennie Caskey Elementary Guide, The NewGate School

“While the physical changes occurred on their campus, the staff dove deeper into the work necessary for the spiritual and emotional health of the students.

I decided to focus on ‘individual choice’ and ‘joy in learning’ as my tenets. I decided to focus on mental health and compassion over academics for the year and go with the flow.

This year we’re moving back into some of our old routines, but with a focus on respect for each other and safety in body and mind. It’s a contentious time, with mixed information and strong feelings everywhere. My goal is to bring my students the same joy with as many experiences as I can pack in, while trying my best to support them as they navigate some new and confusing experiences after a strange year.

We work outside to have the chance to see each other’s faces, limit group sizes, mask up indoors, and bring in our puppies for ‘emotional support’ whenever we can. Sometimes, I’m not sure if it’s staying true to Montessori as much as it might just be that we need to stay true to ourselves.”

Tanya Ryskind Head of The NewGate School

“The NewGate School enlarged its outdoor classroom environments by installing outdoor coverings throughout its two campuses, built new areas for outdoor exploration, and provided the children with more purposeful outdoor work: gardening; outdoor activities; and cooking. All the classroom environments underwent physical and student population changes as well.

The reason for these changes is because we have noticed that children need more connection to a safe and ‘womb-like’ environment. We wanted to ‘quiet’ down the world for them. We also wanted to give teachers an opportunity to really bond with the children.”

None of us should walk alone. We are journeying together. Let us share, collaborate, be inspired, take care of ourselves and one another. To sum it all up, as our Upper Elementary guides shared with our staff, “You know who is going through a lot right now? Literally, everyone! Just be kind.” •

David Rotberg

David Rotberg is a Lower Elementary Guide at Pines Montessori School in Kingwood, Texas. David is also a faculty member for The Center for Guided Montessori Studies, serves as an accreditation verification visitor for the IMC School Accreditation Commission, and is a presenter at Montessori conferences.