Reflections on the Challenges of Managing Settings Today

In recent years we have witnessed a significant interest in Montessori education and the expansion of the Montessori provision both by individuals aspiring to set up their own nurseries, and also from nursery chains wishing to extend their portfolios of provision.  At the same time, it has been increasingly difficult to find experienced and/or newly qualified Montessori trained staff for the existing and new settings.  Many nursery leaders have employed qualified practitioners with generic early years training in order to meet the requirements of the adult child ratio under the EYFS regulation.  Others have resorted to engaging unqualified but interested individuals, in the hope of offering them appropriate training. In all these scenarios the quality of the delivery of the Montessori principles and pedagogy remain at the heart of the discussions.  We also know from conversations with friends and colleagues that none of these options offer an easy path to maintaining quality provision for our youngest children and their families.

In our next Webinar for Leaders and Managers, Molly Easton from Bardfield Montessori will share her experiences of starting a Montessori day-care provision whilst herself extending her professional training with Montessori qualification.  In this blog I reflect on some of the challenges and would like to offer a few ideas for consideration.  In all these scenarios further training will be required – be it in-house, offered by consultants or Montessori colleges.

Ideally we should start with considering the key Montessori values. 

  • Believing in the child’s capacity to learn from the environment prepared with the children’s needs and interest in mind.
  • Trusting children’s ability to choose from the environment and engage with activities which are relevant and nurturing to them.
  • Offering freedom with responsibility within the work-cycle, engaging in freely chosen activities, alone or with friends, inside or outside as the norm of daily life.
  • Being guided by curious, observant and respectful adults who are committed to ongoing learning and who do not interfere with the children’s flow of engagement.

Most of these values have become part and parcel of what is considered today to be good practice. They are not necessarily unique to Montessori educators only.  Many of them can also be observed in parents’ relationships with their children, and are the reason why some parents choose Montessori settings.  Yet teasing out what they really mean to each one of us and how they are manifested in our daily practice is easier said and done.  Considering the highest levels of commitment to these values how do we help others in understanding them and how do we ensure they are evident in our daily work? How do we find the means of communicating them to our colleague in a respectful way allowing them to express their beliefs, ideas and questions?  Creating trusting and respectful teams which foster the shared values of the setting is the key beginning.   But it also means returning to the shared values regularly and encouraging each member of our team, irrespective of their level of qualification or role in the setting, to contribute to reflecting on how these values are visible in their daily work within the setting – with colleagues, with children and their families.

And then, there is the more technical element of our practice!  The use of the Montessori activities and the need for consistency, offering children opportunities for independence and exploration of the activities.  How do we manage in settings where we work with practitioners who have no training and also those who have been trained by different colleges not only in the UK but also abroad?  This will require further opportunities to get together and engage in demonstrations, discussions of why and how the activities are done and to allow everyone to feel not only familiar but also engaged with them.  There is much to be learned from each other – and it requires time to be factored into the weekly routines of the setting , timetabled and paid for time for all the staff.

You may feel that these suggestions are too ambitious and challenging in the present day climate when we are all so tired from the restrictions of the pandemic and the continued struggle with low pay, underfunding of the provision and lack of opportunities to progress within the limited organisational structures of our nurseries. Yet the children deserve the best of us, particularly today. There is also strong evidence that settings that articulate their values clearly, both to staff and parents, and offer well defined and structured professional development tend to do better not only with Ofsted but also with their parent relationships and staff retention.  

I believe that this engaged approach works, and if you feel a little daunted by the prospect, do join us on Tuesday 18th May to share in Molly’s experience. Register here.

You may also benefit from the online Coaching Course offered by Elizabeth Slade and delivered through the Montessori Society starting in January 2023.  I attended this year and appreciated the structure of the course as well as the many very useful resources shared.

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