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Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: West Side Montessori School’s Teacher Education Program

West Side TeamLisanne Pinciotti, program director of West Side Montessori School’s 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.
WSMS-TEP Mission Statement: We seek to prepare adults in the transformative process of Montessori teacher education in order to develop into responsive, sensitive, and knowledgeable guide s who are empowered to lead the diverse communities in which they work.

The overarching mission at WSMS-TEP is to develop and deliver a program that consistently offers a transformative experience for adults to feel empowered to lead the diverse communities in which they work. WSMS-TEP has its roots in Project CHAMP developed by Roslyn D. Williams over 50 years ago. We seek to continue the tradition of meeting the needs of today’s adult learners in ways that help them develop into sensitive and knowledgeable guides for today’s children and families. A focus on diversity/equity is a hallmark of our program and our cohorts reflect this commitment in many ways! In addition to the more general elements of a DEI approach, we also believe that providing options for when and how to afford and engage in Montessori teacher preparation is an important element of an inclusive approach.


When did you realize youwere going to have to make changes for your program?
We began to pay close attention to the situation when our China Infant Toddler cohort was affected due to the coronavirus outbreak when their school closures began in January. We had to make decisions and discuss implications for Intern practicum experiences at that time. We had the advantage of working with these dedicated professionals to learn more about how they handled

remote learning for their children and communication with families. We also had to discuss how we would manage the final field visit that had been planned for March. Much of our remaining work in China is being managed remotely. It all seemed geographically so far away at the time, yet we quickly realized that it was to be a serious situation to manage locally as well. We are grateful to our partners in China for helping us be prepared for the details that we would need to manage just a few short months later. We felt relieved to have already thought through some of the difficult choices and programming revisions that needed to be made.

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 had already applied for online delivery at multiple levels and have a number of classes held online. We also schedule monthly intern Zoom meetings, all of these were able to continue as planned; this continuity provided a sense of order in a chaotic time. After facilitating meetings with interns and field consultants at all levels, the in-person spring seminar was our next big project. We had been sending notifications to students, through email and as announcements in our LMS, as new information was released and asked them to keep the days available as planned. Faculty met and worked diligently at every level to plan collaborative and meaningful synchronous virtual experiences for the students. Early Childhood and Elementary practical exams felt like the biggest challenge, but we were determined to continue with the schedule that interns expected. Practicals were reformatted as oral exams in small Zoom breakout rooms, with faculty supervising and peers providing feedback to each other, randomly chosen by the instructors. Remarkably, students commented that they felt this new process “tested” their knowledge in a deeper way because they didn’t have materials to “lean” on during the exam. This was an interesting comparison for us because this group had experienced practical exams in the usual way the previous November. We also held a 3-hr, all-level Class Leadership workshop via Zoom. The focus of the class was ‘Team Teaching.’ Through the use of breakout rooms, we were able to facilitate whole-group and leveled-group discussions. Again, adult learners commented positively, stating that this session was thoroughly engaging and very useful for our current situation of virtual teaching. Nearly all of the feedback after this spring seminar was overwhelmingly positive; It was such a surprise and the feedback is something we intend to follow up on by facilitating focus groups in June. This group has such a unique view on the training experience; we are eager to hear more from them about their experience of the
in-person and virtual elements over the course of their cycle of study.

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?
So far, feedback has been truly positive, we have been surprised by the students who have expressed that they find watching the lesson presentations by video especially helpful because they can all see the lesson “up close.” This is always a challenge when there is a group of 20 or more in the cohorts. They do, of course, mention how much they miss being together in person, but their comments are mainly about the community aspects, not necessarily the quality of the program. That feels affirming so far and we are eager to continue to discuss how to initiate new cohorts in order to build this strong sense of “cohesive social group” from the outset! Faculty members worked right away to think, plan, and rework sessions, seemingly in “real time.” It is a testament to their dedication and resilience that WSMS-TEP has been able to adapt so quickly to the changing training landscape.

Have there been helpful resources for you during this time?
Weekly collaborations with AMS communities has been helpful as we hear new ideas and share resources. We are taking turns attending as many conversations as possible, but also working to redesign our summer programming to accommodate what will likely be a need to front-load virtual and online experiences until social distancing restrictions are lifted. Many of us are taking additional online courses ourselves to continue to expand awareness and skill of online course development, assessment, and discover new ways to build community and model/promote collaboration. We are doing our best to think ahead, but remain mindful of the fact that we don’t know, and can’t know, what to expect too far into the future. We are all certainly stretching our thinking caps this year!

Any other words of advice or encouragement you would like to share?
We have been in the process of online course development for the past 6 years. It helped us to begin by discussing goals; will online coursework be a short-term solution or a trend you want to continue to develop? In either case, it helps to begin with a tool or two, learn as much as you can, implement it well, listen to your students, then continue to add to your toolbox. Scaffold the process for your faculty and students. It took several years to develop fully online courses in a thoughtful, methodical way since we wanted them to align with our mission and consistent approach to programming at all levels. If you have multiple levels, make certain at least one person from each level is involved in the planning process, it’s important to create consistency within and among levels. Students have a need for an orderly ONLINE or virtual environment as well! Most of all, have fun! It’s been both affirming and exciting to learn new skills and the process feels like a great example of a multi-age approach in our adult ed program. Often, our younger colleagues have much to teach us about technology and we can model for them how to be lifelong learners!