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Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teacher Education Program

Katie Keller Wood, program director of Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teacher Education Program (CMStep), shared how their program has adapted and is coping during the coronavirus crisis.

Tell us a little about your training program and its mission.
Our program prepares teachers for careers in Montessori education at the secondary level. We only offer one level of credential; we’re passionate about secondary students and teachers!

When did you realize you were going to have to make changes for your program?
On March 2, when I read the news that there was evidence of COVID-19 community spread in Seattle, I realized that this was going to have implications for all of us. On March 26, I met with our cohort directors to think through our options and plans, and by early April, we let our adult learners know that we will not be meeting in person for summer 2020 training.

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?
Although spring is a more quiet time for our training program, we had to make plans for the summer. To do this, we had to think through our different groups of adult learners: new applicants, those in process, and those who are wrapping up the practicum. Each group needed a different plan and separate communications. We have been very cognizant that while the current situation is unprecedented, our job is still to prepare teachers for long careers, and this is their only secondary training. We were clear on one thing: we were not willing to move training online or to distance learning if we didn’t feel that our learner outcomes will be robust.

We are incredibly grateful that we started in 2018 preparing for a low-residency path to the secondary I-II credential (utilizing more online coursework) to launch this summer. Because we have already spent over 1000 hours in preparation for our low-residency launch, we have thought hard about pieces can go online with fidelity and (perhaps more importantly) which pieces we feel are essential to preserve as face-to-face experiences. We’ve learned a lot about best practices for online learning and course development. And we’ve gotten good feedback from adult learners from some of our early course modules. So while we will not begin high-residency training this summer for any adult learners, we are thrilled to still able to enroll new learners into our low-residency option, if that’s a good fit for them.

For those adult learners who have started training already, but have not yet started their practicum phase, we decided not to move our Curriculum Development course online. This means for a small group of our adult learners, there will be a longer gap between the start of their training and the start of their practicum. While that’s not ideal, too much of this course for us fell under the category of “essential face-to-face experience.” Without these experiences, we did not feel these adult learners would be fully prepared to begin the practicum phase. So while these adult learners will be delayed a year, we’ve decided to add in monthly Zoom sessions, including both structured presentations on various topics, and unstructured “bring your questions/problems” that model an “unconference” or “open spaces” approach. These sessions will provide a vehicle for regular contact with and support for these few adult learners in the coming year, and we look forward to staying connected that way.

To make a decision about how best to wrap up our current cohort, we looked hard at each adult learner in progress. Because we provided Zoom training for this cohort in September, lessons on Canvas (our LMS) last summer, and they’ve had a lot of practice with both, we feel confident that this cohort has both the tech access and the tech skills to make distance learning possible for this summer. Because this group has already had two practicum site visits and has been in monthly contact with us since September, we have a strong sense of their understanding and skill levels as secondary Montessori teachers. After reviewing files for each adult learner in the cohort, we feel confident that we can provide the final pieces of training and support needed to each one of them, so that these adult learners will graduate as fully competent, caring, and qualified Montessori guides.

How have things been going with your new changes so far?
We’ll find out, but our feedback from online coursework so far has been really positive and helpful. Our returning cohort, while sad to miss being together in person, has mostly expressed support and appreciation for our decision making, rationale, timing, and communication. We remain open to all feedback; our adult learners often provide the most helpful insights!

Have there been helpful resources for you during this time?
Our team. I’m grateful to work with an incredibly dedicated network of secondary teachers and trainers. I’ve also appreciated the support that the American Montessori Society (AMS) and MACTE have shown to TEPs in this time. AMS is offering so many resources and supports to schools, teachers, and TEPs, and MACTE’s communication throughout this time has been both clear and helpful. It’s amazing to have such supportive people just a phone call away, especially when I know both offices are also working remotely and often asynchronously.

Any other words of advice or encouragement you would like to share?
No, but I’m happy to be a resource. We all do better when we all do better!