postheadericon Using Cutting Edge Distance Learning Technology To Enhance And Strengthen The Effectiveness Of Conve

Using Cutting Edge Distance Learning Technology To Enhance And Strengthen The Effectiveness Of Conventional Montessori Teacher Education

By Tim Seldin

The Challenge Of Finding And Preparing The Next Generation of Montessori Teachers

One of the most pressing challenges facing Montessori schools around the world is the shortage of well-prepared Montessori teachers.

It is increasingly difficult to interest prospective candidates in traveling long distances to spend months studying Montessori, only to earn a modest salary.

As a result, with a few exceptions, such as those courses offered by AMI, most Montessori teacher education programs attempt to cover the course of study in Montessori theory and methods, which once took a year or more, in a fraction of the time. In theory, this is balanced by a year of student teaching experience, but in more than a few cases, this experience is far less than ideal, as students end up spending their year in classrooms that do not follow an authentic Montessori model, or in self-directed internships without adequate support

Montessori schools are completely dependent on their ability to find well-prepared and dedicated Montessori teachers. As the years pass, evidence is mounting that modified Montessori is becoming the norm, to the degree that parents are beginning to seriously ask ‘how can we know if we have found an authentic Montessori school? And, as a professional  community, we should ask ourselves what price will we have to pay if we continue to  compromise, conveniently look away, and reassure ourselves that everything is working just splendidly?

While most schools desperately search for teachers who hold a Montessori credential, school administrators increasingly express concern about the wide range of interpretations of Montessori practice that they see among their teachers, as well as poor classroom management skills and limited understanding of the full Montessori curriculum. However, many feel that they cannot ask too much or be too choosy when they need a new teacher. This is a dysfunctional situation and we need to find some new answers.

First Steps Toward A New Approach

I find it interesting that many prospective teachers seem to be asking why they cannot study Montessori by distance learning. Today many people around the world use the Internet every day to shop, find information, and communicate with friends. This has led to a growing interest in online Montessori teacher education programs.

Last year, at our 2005 annual conference, I called on the IMC board to develop a new approach that would combine traditional face-to-face teacher education and the year of supervised student teaching with cutting edge Internet-base distance education. As a result, many of us have spent the last year looking into the question of distance Montessori teacher preparation.

In June of this year, the Montessori Foundation’s Center for Montessori Leadership offered its first course on line to forty-five school leaders. Our participants came from South Africa, Senegal, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Honduras, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, and the United States. The course evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. This term the Foundation is offering two courses online, and we are using this experience, along with our theoretical study of highly effective online learning, to plan for the future.

A proposal for IMC Recognition of Pilot Teacher Education Programs is being developed for the IMC board. Look for more information about this pilot project in IMC-ENEWS and in upcoming issues of Montessori Leadership. In this article, I would like to share some of my own thoughts about the limits and possibilities of distance learning as a potential component of Montessori teacher education programs in the near future.


Distance Learning — Inherent Possibilities

Distance learning Montessori education today refers to a wide range of programs, from those that send students a stack of books to read and a set of assignments to complete, to the use of cutting-edge Internet-based tools to facilitate adult learning, communication, and collaboration.

While the state of the art is constantly evolving, we have reached a stage of technological development where many people in most countries now have high-speed Internet access in their homes, workplace, public libraries, schools, or universities. This, along with improvements in our ability to capture and edit audio and video files, is making it possible for families, friends, colleagues, students, and teachers to communicate face to face or to share recorded video or audio files on the web at very low cost. In some situations, it is even free.

Secondly, there are elements of the best Montessori teacher education programs that can be effectively transmitted by prerecorded means, and shared over great distances, whether as audio files on CDs, video files on DVDs, or by 'streaming' them quickly over the Internet. While they are not accessible to everyone, the growing availability of DVD and CD players and affordable fast internet service in countries all over the globe, make this more practical every year.

In Montessori teacher education, we can easily imagine the use of recorded course lectures, videos of children and guides at work in their classroom, discussions about day-to-day life with children experienced guides, videos of the classic initial presentations of the materials, and recordings of children working with them on their own.

Professionally prepared and beautifully illustrated Montessori albums and other resource materials can also be developed and made available at much lower cost to produce and purchase, just as homemade materials and albums have begun to be shared without charge on the internet today.

The Internet allows for the efficient dissemination of both free resources and a much more efficient and less expensive way for expensively prepared resources to be made available for purchase. Some of the implications for teacher education should be obvious.

Another potential use of the Internet in teacher education is to have student teachers record their classes with a digital video camera mounted on a tripod to review with the faculty advisor who is monitoring their student teaching experience for the teacher education program.  

An even more promising possibility would be to have student teachers mount a small inexpensive webcam (a small video camera) in their classroom (naturally, only with the permission of the school, parents, and supervising teacher). Many childcare centers in the United States and abroad are beginning to mount these cameras in their classrooms, to allow parents and administrators to observe the programs from their offices. These video images are not be broadcast openly on the Internet where the public can see them. Parents need a user name and password, and are only given access to observe the live video image of his or her child’s class. Teacher education centers, or teachers themselves, could choose to record and keep a copy of the digital video for later review.  

While many Montessori educators with whom I’ve spoken shudder at the thought, the use of webcams would greatly facilitate the coaching and supervision of student teachers and experienced Montessori guides alike. Considering the importance, difficulty, and expense of providing student teachers with close ongoing support and coaching, the use of classroom video feeds over the Internet may someday become an essential element in teacher education.

While most of us would agree that face-to-face experience in a Montessori teacher education center is an invaluable element in the preparation of the Montessori guide, there are some clear advantages to the use of the Internet to enrich and expand the experience:


• A Recorded Archive of Insight and Experience:  Recorded courses taught by our best Montessori teacher educators would be preserved and become available to a much wider audience in both the short and long term. (Imagine if Dr. Montessori had recorded an entire course on film.)

• The Ability to Review Material At Any Time:  Students in teacher education programs could not only hear and see great presenters teaching their courses, they could easily go back and review these recordings whenever they wish. Especially with DVDs, the use of menus makes it easy to allow people to skip right to specific parts of a film. Imagine a course broken down into subtalks, where students could jump right to the place where the presenter speaks about a given topic.

• The Creation Of Albums That Seem To Be Alive: This ability to set up a menu of topics makes it possible to quickly go to the recordings of teachers present a specific lesson. A second link would allow us to jump to the pages in the album where the lesson is laid out in print. This in turn could work in reverse, allowing the student to jump from the lesson laid out in the album to the recording of the lesson being presented, or a short discussion by an experienced teacher of what to look for when working with this material.

• Lower Cost:  While the cost to produce these materials well would be very high, once created, the cost to make them available would go down substantially in comparison to the cost of delivering the same material face-to-face. Just as digitally recorded music or cinema is much less expensive and much more available than live performances, prerecorded Montessori distance learning would also be possible at lower cost.

• Coaching Student Teachers Can Be Greatly Facilitated: While speaking to someone by instant messaging, email, or even by internet voice or videoconferencing do not have the same impact of being together in one room, they do have great value, and they do work. Today such services are available for little or no cost. This could allow teacher education programs to provide an even higher level of coaching and support.

Peer Collaboration:  Many large international businesses bring teams together in secure online workplaces where they communicate securely, share files, plan, and collaborate on projects. The lively discussions on the several different online discussion groups, such as This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it demonstrates how vital and useful this sort of communication can be to both student teachers and experienced guides. The software used in the best online distance education programs provides many tools to facilitate confidential discussion and to share files, from photos of our classrooms, to yearlong projects and new lessons.

And finally, Cost and Convenience:  As the Montessori movement continues to evolve, many prospective teachers question the cost and inconvenience of spending an extended period away from their employment, family, and friends, to study Montessori education. While those programs that are sponsored by universities and offer a master’s in Montessori seem to attract a reasonable number of graduate students, the majority of new Montessori guides elect to attend programs that are not part of a graduate degree program in education.

Face-to-face programs today run from about 200 hours, or approximately five weeks, of full time study, to programs that require 1,200 or more hours of on-site classes, which translates to either three ten-week summers or eight months of full time study. Logically, longer programs tend to be more thorough, can go into greater depth, and allow more time for students to absorb a philosophy and approach that is probably very different from what they experienced as children.

With a rising cost of living, more families find that they need two incomes to make ends meet. This, combined with the growing demand for more Montessori teachers to staff the growing number of Montessori classes, along with the difficulty of juggling responsibilities to children, spouse, and home, has led many prospective candidates (and the schools which most often sponsor them through teacher education) to seek out programs that are close to home, less expensive, and less demanding (which translate to shorter in length, and organized into academic sessions that are less stressful, such as over a series of weekends). It has also led to the proliferation of many more programs than we ever imagined in the 1970s and 80s.

All of these factors have contributed to the growing interest in online Montessori teacher education programs. The rapidly expanding number of universities that now offer online courses gives this model greater legitimacy.


THE LIMITATIONS OF DISTANCE MONTESSORI TEACHER EDUCATION


Direct Experience In A Montessori Classroom: Most Montessori educators would agree that at least one full year’s classroom experience in an authentic Montessori classroom, teaching day-to-day as an apprentice to a well prepared and highly experienced Montessori educator is an essential element in preparing an effective Montessori guide. Even then, most of us would agree that it takes several years of additional classroom experience for most graduates to move beyond their initial focus on the environment and presentation of lessons, to recognizing that the real work has to do with a way of being present with and empowering children within a carefully prepared physical and social environment.

Evaluation Of The Student Teacher Against Specific Competencies:  There are several issues to consider when one looks at distance Montessori teacher education. The one that most people think of when they discuss distance education programs is not so much the delivery of information, but the question of whether the program is simply sending a package of reading material out to its far flung student body, with no more structure than a set of assignments to complete, and a final exam that measures theoretical understanding.

With limited structure, no required and supervised student teaching experience, and less than meaningful assessment of the candidate’s ability to implement an authentic Montessori program with mastery of a thorough set of competencies as a Montessori guide, distance learning programs have thus far generally failed to earn the confidence of the general Montessori community.

At times they have even been dismissed carte blanche for supposedly producing inadequate teachers. From my observation, this has been unfair, just as it has been unfair to generalize about any Montessori educators on the basis of the teacher education credential that they hold.

While programs can differ tremendously in their authenticity and effectiveness, we have to always keep in mind that Montessori guides are more than the sum of what they received from the programs that they attended. Some complete the course, but in the classroom they follow a teaching approach that is quite different from what was presented in the course of study. Others come to Montessori teacher preparation courses with an intuitive grasp of the Montessori approach from years of previous experience as assistants or as former Montessori students.

We have to realize that in general, Montessori certifications lack the characteristics of a brand-name product. You may prefer one brand to the other, or dislike the product altogether, but when you buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks or a hamburger from McDonald’s you know what you’re going to get.

The fact that many schools do not often find this to be the case in hiring teachers is a hot topic that is being earnestly discussed throughout the Montessori community. In the movie Forest Gump, his mother tells him: “Forest, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” That is a fairly accurate description of what we hear from many Montessori school administrators when they are talking about Montessori teacher education today.

The real issue in all Montessori teacher education is whether the credential that may be awarded upon completion will truly represent that this Montessori guide has consistently and reliably demonstrated both understanding of the theory and the ability and commitment to carry it out in the field. All too often, parents complain about the disturbing differences in philosophy and practice that they find from one Montessori school to another, and from one Montessori class to another within the same school.

Many of us believe that the growing variation in the theory and practice found in many contemporary Montessori schools is our greatest challenge as Montessori educators.

In conclusion, there is an ongoing concern about how well teacher education programs ensure that students do not receive a credential until they have demonstrated Montessori’s core competencies.

While one program’s standards may be higher than another’s, from the perspective of the prospective employer, there should be a very high consistency between rhetoric and reality. That is the essence of attaching a brand name, which in this case would be both the term ‘Montessori’ and the particular credential. While student teachers enter programs with a wide range of innate skills, perspective, and values, the function of the Montessori teacher education program should be to evaluate and formally certify that the graduate possesses the specific set of competencies that represent the credential being awarded.

This is equally true whether a teacher education programs offers only a face-to-face academic experience, a mixture of both face-to-face and distance learning, or an entirely distance education model.

In Summary

It seems clear that with the evolution of the Internet, distance learning will tend to grow as one element of Montessori teacher education. Used effectively, it may offer some important contributions to the field.

Secondly, it seems clear that one potential use of distance learning is to extend and enhance contemporary models of face-to-face Montessori education. Being convenient, less expensive to deliver, and responsive to an individual student’s schedule, they can provide online resources that can help students to review and hopefully absorb more completely the key insights and practical elements of best practice covered fairly quickly in most contemporary programs. Added to the ability to use the internet to provide coaching and support, and to provide teacher educators with video artifacts (evidence) of a student teacher’s classroom practice, it seems logical to assume that some programs will soon begin to use distance learning to create more thorough and effective learning experiences in the preparation of the next generation of Montessori guides.

It also seems clear that programs that rely completely on distance learning will continue, and expand. Hopefully, the use of modern distance learning technology and practice will lead to distance learning courses that are more thorough and effective.

Finally, the importance of both the year of student teaching experience under the close supervision of a well prepared Montessori educator, and an emphasis on careful and objective evaluation and confirmation of teacher candidate’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of Montessori theory and to demonstrate their ability to put theory into practice.  



Last Updated (Wednesday, 30 June 2010 10:24)