Simple and Serene

When the world shut down last spring, I spent a fair amount of time just wondering what it would all mean. With typical worries about my age and the impact on my health, I was more than happy to wait it out at home. As time passed, I joined the ranks of the daily zoomers, literally filling my calendar with hours of meetings each week. I missed the “in person” conferences, but my introverted self was not overly frustrated by the slow-down.

But what I saw happening for the many teachers, parents, and administrators I was working with around the world was different. I don’t need to reflect “out loud” about the chaos and disorder that you’ve experienced or the stress and overwhelm that ensued. Perhaps it was this intensity and how I saw it impacting lives everywhere that caused me to reflect on our Montessori practice. I spent hours ruminating on how we might get closer to Montessori’s vision for peace by finding ways to create a more peaceful approach to the pandemic crisis.

Staring out my window at the stillness around me, save for the birds that seem to never stop moving, I yearned to share the highlights of days in the classroom when I just sat and watched. Those days, the result of careful orchestration developed over long periods of time, didn’t happen as often as I wished, but they were like magic. The children were truly working as if I did not exist.[1] But how could I impart this message to the crazy, disoriented pandemic learning spaces and the teachers who were trying to manage them?

I turned my attention to observation: observation of the classes and teachers with whom I was working. I trained my listening on their messages: both spoken and unspoken.

What I heard from these teachers was a strong, deep need to get quiet. To breathe. And to discover what was needed in this new environment that they’d been thrown into. Many of these teachers were in a panic. They were trying to do what they’d always done, without the environments that made their work possible. They didn’t know what to do, but they knew they had to do something. That was when I began to encourage them to observe.

The Montessori guides in my membership were clear that they couldn’t imagine putting ANY time into that.

“Why not?” I asked. The reasons were many but the most common was their sense that the students would be wild; that the classroom would fall apart without their more-or-less constant oversight and control.

That’s when Dr. Montessori’s quote about children working independently popped into my thoughts. That was our goal, yet these teachers couldn’t even imagine it in their current environment. 

I knew in that moment that I needed to find a way to make stepping out of the classroom possible. I knew that their students would likely not achieve their independence if the teachers couldn’t step out. But I had to find a way to make it simple and serene. I remembered how I had begun to work this out in my own busy life: the brief, but oh-so-yummy, 2-minute observation moment! 

Here’s how it works: You create a serene and inviting environment for yourself, you commit to sitting in that prepared space EVERY day for just two minutes, and you prepare your students with how to allow you to take this time. And then you do it! Every day! Without fail! Keeping it consistent so your students will become normalized to the process.

My teachers tried…with a little suspicion and fear…but they tried it and…Voila! Within a few days, my teachers were discovering a whole new sense of independence in their students, a completely new possibility for completing regular observation, and, most importantly¸ they were getting just a few minutes of serenity into every single day. They were feeling some peace!

One of these teachers had actually chosen to take her 2-minute observation moment at the beginning of the day when students were arriving. (Brave soul!) What she discovered was that within a few days, students were helping each other, they were depending on each other, and they were getting to their work more efficiently and quickly. What a testament to her and to Dr. Montessori’s wisdom about developing freedom independent of the guide.

So it really is simple, possibly not easy, though, to set yourself up for just a brief moment of serenity in every day. Why not easy? Because we will find every excuse in the book not to do it. It’s not easy to let go of the fears we hold…but I encourage you to give it a try! I think that you may find that you’ll get a whole new lease on your teacher life…along with a pleasant dose of serenity and peace.

[1] The greatest sign of success for a to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist." "The Absorbent Mind" by Maria Montessori, Ch. 27, (p. 283), 1949.