Kitty Bravo, program director of The Center for Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS), shared how their program has adapted and is coping during the coronavirus crisis.
Tell us a little about your training program and its mission.
CGMS has been offering accredited blended learning Montessori teacher certification programs since 2008. We currently provide every level of Montessori teacher certification from Infant-Toddler – Secondary and recently started our first School Leadership Cohort. Our programs offer the best of both worlds, online, and onsite learning. The majority of our course content is presented within our highly interactive e-learning system. The online learning is further supported by practical experience in practicum classrooms. Weekly Live class via video conferencing provides opportunities for reflection, discussion, and support from fellow learners and instructors. Our residential seminars are designed to give adult learners an opportunity to experience Montessori from the child’s perspective while deepening their understanding of Montessori philosophy and practice. We are committed to creating a collaborative learning community, both online and in-person that produces well prepared Montessori educators and leaders in a lifestyle-friendly way.
When did you realize you were going to have to make changes for your program?
As schools began closing in March, we started to consider the ramifications this would have on the completion of this year’s practicums. By mid-March, we were considering the need to cancel our summer residential sessions. By the end of the month, we had decided to cancel and began planning alternative virtual experiences to support the continued learning of our current cohorts and those enrolling in the summer.
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?
We are fortunate that we already have a well-established online program that can continue as scheduled. That said, school closures mean our learners are not able to practice lessons viewed online and are not able to complete the practicum as planned. This is a big concern because the online work is too abstract without the practical hands-on application that happens in the practicum classroom. We decided that the best plan is to extend the practicum into the fall, in hopes that schools will reopen. For some learners, it means an extension of the course, while others are not scheduled to graduate until late fall or early winter. There are also complications for some adult learners who may not be returning to their practicum schools. We are looking at each adult learner on a case by case basis. We created an alternative virtual final practicum evaluation process for some strong interns who only needed one final practicum evaluation and who were clearly on track with meeting course competencies. This process asks interns to reflect on their practicum experience and then participate in a Zoom discussion with a Field Consultant. The first few Virtual Discussion Evaluations have been completed and proved effective in providing insight into the learner’s progress and readiness to lead a Montessori classroom.
When it became clear that we needed to cancel the residential seminars, our leadership team was in agreement that we need to provide some additional virtual learning this summer, but that it would not replace our residential sessions completely. We value the experience of being together in person, and as such, decided to postpone most of the residential hours to summer 2021. We also determined that some of the content presented in the residential sessions was important for learners to receive before the fall practicums and would transition well to Live Zoom Classes and other online learning modalities.
The special summer virtual sessions will be added to our regular summer online studies and take place during the weeks already scheduled for residential sessions. They will require 2-6 hours a day, depending on the level of study and the length of the session (9 – 15 days). The sessions will include Zoom Live Class with lectures and group discussions, followup work with independent and small group projects, and book study discussions.
We are also hopeful our adult learners will be able to get back into their schools and spend time this summer reviewing course lesson videos and practicing lessons. Looking ahead at possible continuing school closures or return to lockdown at some point in the fall, we are looking at how to ensure sufficient practice happens for all learners before graduation. In some cases it may mean extending the course to allow additional time for practicum experience and lesson practice.
How have things been going with your new changes so far?
The biggest challenge we have experienced is the increased level of support and flexibility our learners need due to their unexpected venture into remote teaching. Our instructors have shown extraordinary patience and compassion, reassuring our learners that assignment due dates can be extended and that we will get them through this unusual time.
We have had to be creative with some assignments. For example, our Infant-toddler learners are required to do very extensive observations on a monthly basis to follow the development of children from birth to 36 months. We have put together a video library with clips across this developmental continuum so this assignment can be completed.
We have found frequent communication with learners and the heads of school has been essential to ease their concerns and let them know changes and plans. Our practicum advisors have continued to meet with interns to support them with remote learning and just to offer encouragement. Our weekly Live Classes have been a lifeline for our adult learners.
Have there been helpful resources for you during this time?
Our faculty has really come together during this time to support our learners and each other, as well as providing support to the Montessori community as a whole. Many of our instructors have facilitated teacher support Zoom meetings to provide a place for teachers to share ideas for remote learning. I am inspired by their commitment to children, families, and the Montessori community. I am also very proud of the CGMS Leadership Team, who always put the learner at the center of our decisions. Their concern is always providing high-quality Montessori education in a way that will enhance our learners’ experience and serve to support their growth and transformation.
Any other words of advice or encouragement you would like to share?
I know the current crisis is forcing people to zoom ahead into virtual learning (pun intended), possibly before people feel ready to do so. I want to assure other TEPs it is possible to provide a high-quality virtual learning experience, but it will require careful planning. It is not practical to think you can just move all of your summer programs online and do 8 hours of zoom lecture and lessons presentation for six weeks. Burn out will happen quickly in that situation, and I am not sure you will get the results you want. Whatever you do, make it interactive. Give them time for offline practice and projects, and then invite them to share. Online discussion can enable you to take learners deep into course topics and can be inspirational. I am hoping this plunge into online learning will give many more Montessori teacher educators an appreciation for the opportunities it holds.