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Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: Chestnut Hill Montessori Teacher Education Program

Marjorie Horton, program director of Chestnut Hill College Montessori Teacher Education Program, shared how their program has adapted and is coping during the coronavirus crisis. 

Tell us a little about your training program and its mission.
The Montessori Teacher Education Program at Chestnut Hill College, located in Philadelphia, offers Montessori Early Childhood training. Students can earn a Master’s degree in Early Education with a Montessori credential or a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Studies with a Montessori credential or can take the Montessori courses for non-credit. We are affiliated by the American Montessori Society and have been offering Montessori training for over 45 years.

When did you realize you were going to have to make changes for your program?
Following the orders of Pennsylvania’s Governor Wolf, on Wednesday, March 15th we were instructed that all professors and instructors were to deliver courses online for the next month beginning immediately. We were halfway through the Spring Semester when this occurred. This semester the Montessori Program is offering four courses – Everyday Living/Art (Practical Life and Art), Math, the Seminar Course (Classroom Leadership and Parent Involvement) and the Practicum. By now, we’ve just passed the first month and realize that we’re going to finish the semester online and begin the summer courses online also.

What types of changes have you had to make to your program due to COVID-19? What were the considerations you had to make when deciding on these changes?
Because we are in a “hot spot”, the campus has closed and we are to shelter in place. That last day, we gathered up Montessori materials for Math and took them home. The College quickly agreed to our subscribing to EdVid’s online curriculum demonstrations that can be viewed by students in their homes.

We were familiar with the excellent materials that can be printed out from the Montessori Print Shop and so faced this uncertain reality with some resources in hand.

How have things been going with your new changes so far (unexpected challenges/consequences, surprising benefits, etc.)? What type of feedback have you received from your faculty and adult learners?
Our instructors are also teaching full time in Montessori schools and so at the same time, they are also being asked to develop online sessions for the children they ordinarily would teach at school plus take care of their own children at home. They have been stretched thin. In addition, we soon realized that our adult students, most of all, needed reassurance and so we’ve fallen into a routine of providing demonstrations of Montessori activities, and sending reading assignments, pictures of materials, activities for discussion, references for webinars and instructions for material making online. We use our weekly Zoom meetings primarily for listening to our students concerns and triumphs and trying to answer questions about almost anything.

Have there been helpful resources for you during this time?
EdVid’s curriculum demonstrations are of excellent quality, but about half the time they are not similar enough to the presentations we would have given face to face. However, they were good examples as to how make presentations online. Our instructors soon began to make their own presentations and upload them to YouTube so their adult students could access them. From the beginning, we said that anything we produced for the adult Montessori program could be used by our community Montessori schools. So, with a combination of EdVid videos, our own YouTube videos and student made materials from the Montessori Print Shop we have cobbled together our academic courses.

We were soon overwhelmed by emails – coming and going – so we’ve uploaded course information into a Google doc.

Our students definitely appreciate the effort their instructors have made to continue their academic courses and maintain the quality of the program. What we all miss, is the easy give and take of discussions about the activities and how they play out in a Montessori classroom. When almost everything has to be written, discussions are short and it’s difficult to communicate the flow. What our students have told us is that they like the videos because they can go back and watch them over and over. They’re hoping they’ll stay online forever. This week, we have begun to explore giving short lectures online so that there is more interaction about what happens when these activities actually take place with real children. So far, this is a positive step, but initially, it seemed as though meeting the emotional needs of our students was all we could try and do.  Chestnut Hill College has also approved holding three Saturday sessions, after the campus is open again, to bring the students and faculty together so that students can practice with the materials, ask questions and request presentations.

Any other words of advice or encouragement you would like to share?
Our instructors are superheroes along with the special people whose contributions we depend upon. We’re so appreciative of their willingness to go above and beyond. We are also thankful that no Chestnut Hill Montessori instructor or student has yet to become sick with COVID-19. We are hoping and praying that this will continue. We are also thankful that MACTE and AMS has given us flexibility to make changes in the way we deliver our courses so we can use our energy to keep going. It’s our hope that you all will remain safe and healthy and we will see each other again face to face.