In this post, I’m going to give advice for how to effectively team across your Montessori preschool; and how to develop a team-based problem-solving culture rooted in observation, peace, working in core competencies, and valuing all people on the team.
Problems always seem to come as a surprise just because we can’t predict when they’re coming or which one of our parents is going to present the problem. But we know problems are coming, because life is inherently designed to include problems. This is earth, not heaven; and every human is imperfect. So here is a somewhat long read on how you can begin to develop your school’s problem-solving approach, or at least position yourself accordingly if your school may not have a clearly outlined culture around problem-solvery.
THE TEAM. ‘Everyone’ on the same team in the case of a Montessori preschool includes: all of the leadership, the administration, the lead guides, the assistant staff, and your janitorial crew.
“WHO, WHY, AND HOW” AND BEING IN TRANSPARENT AGREEMENT ABOUT THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS. All people involved in creating a Montessori school experience need to understand this critical piece of the situation: every company or organization has a ‘who’, a ‘why’, and a ‘how’ that drives business. There’s someone who you’re providing service to, why that service is necessary, and how they’re going to deliver your service. The answers to these questions should be transparent; and everyone on the team should be in plain agreement about the answers in order to truly operate as a team.
In a Montessori preschool, the parents are your “who”. They are your main client. Not the children, the parents. What makes me say this? Because the parents are the ones generating everyone’s paychecks. The person shelling out the cash is the client. Therefore, when you conceptualize how to operate as a team across your Montessori preschool organization, everyone must understand that your goal is to provide high-quality educational services to the parents (of children). Does that kind of make sense?
Delivering the actual education to the children won’t be a problem, because if your staff are formally Montessori trained, and if your school is committed to following the Montessori method correctly, the method will work its magic and the children will be educated and transformed by default. Then your client will be happy. It’s like a yoga studio. The yoga will work its magic so long as the students are stretching and breathing. But everyone must understand and agree that we are actually there to provide a service to parents.
Even the teachers must shift their paradigm on this. It literally took me about 10+ years of teaching to realize this myself. Montessori practitioners are in service to the child, and are passionate about children’s rights. A lot of us signed up to work with children and our heart is to serve children. But in actuality the client in a private Montessori preschool is parents, not children. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a lot of us thrive in the classroom because we love working with children; and if we wanted to work with adults we would never have signed up to teach children in the first place, right? Because you can fully be a teacher of adults. College is a thing, teaching foreign languages to adults or dance classes to adults is a thing, but we signed up to teach kids for the reason that kids area our jam.
Well I’m sorry to burst your bubble; but if your heart says your client is children, public school teaching will be a much better fit for you; because in that organizational structure, your paycheck comes from the government, not out of the pockets of parents. In a public school structure, your client actually is the children; and parents are only incidentally and rarely called to participate.
Not clearly understanding the ‘who’ part of the equation correctly has severely handicapped my ability to be a good teammate in Montessori organizations in the past. I stubbornly held this mentality that I was there to serve children, and that dealing with adults was not my problem. I did not go far, I’ll tell you that right now.
The ‘why’ is the children. Every organization or business has an outcome-based reason why any of its clients are seeking out the service. In the case of Montessori preschools, the parent has sought out ‘school’ as a service for their child to receive. Just like a veterinarian’s office has the pet owner as the client but the why is healthy pets; or a mechanic has vehicle owners as clients but the why is cars. Or a zoo’s clients are visitors but the why is zoo animals. We service children because children are the ‘why’. So in terms of your Montessori private school’s ability to effectively form a team across all of the different branches of the organization, you all have to understand why you are there to work together. The ‘why’ bonds the team to their client, and the why bonds the team to each other.
Problems can surface here when leadership clearly doesn’t actually have the same ‘why’ as the rest of us. For some leadership, money is the true reason why they’re there. And that’s sad and dysfunctional. Money should never be why you run a Montessori program; and money should never be calling the shots of what can and can’t occur. If you run a Montessori program well, because you all genuinely care about children, and if you’re creative and resourceful with your heart in the right place, the money will come and your business will thrive without many toxic problems.
When your heart is in the right place, your main problems are healthy problems. Things like logistical issues, building wear and tear, technological hurdles, and natural disasters that your community wants to rally around you to solve. Toxic problems surface when people are not focused on the same ‘why’. These are things like high staff turnover, low staff pay, financial mismanagement, high parent withdrawal rates, and staff-to-staff cruelty.
The “how” of our industry is the Montessori Method. Since our ‘how’ is the Montessori method, the same list of “everyone’s” on the team, from the leadership down to the assistants and maybe including the janitors, must also understand that the principles of the Montessori method (which are things like order/environmental organization, peace, respect, safety, dignity/welfare/freedom/progress of people, and beauty) are going to factor into “how” we all work together and how we deliver services to our client.
EVERYONE NEEDS TO BRING PEACE TO THE TABLE, FIRST AND FOREMOST. Firstly, just because a parent surfaces with a problem it does not mean we always have a code red on our hands. Furthermore, the Montessori method is over 100 years old, people. So there could literally be a book written already called “common problems you can expect while running a Montessori school”. Leadership and teachers should really be able to lightweight predict what kinds of problems are likely to surface.
Don’t always be so quick to act like a building is on fire just because a parent is dissatisfied. Remember, money is not the ‘why’, the children are the ‘why’. So if the children are not in immediate danger right now, everyone must remember to calm down before you can dive into problem-solving effectively. Parents are just bringing a concern to your attention because they are negatively impacted by the effects of said concern. People will always calm down as soon as they are reassured that their problem is swiftly being addressed, that they are heard, and that they are in fact, valued.
You can even go so far as to make it a regular practice in your school’s teaming culture to check in and take a ‘peace temperature’ of everyone before you proceed to solve a problem together. The more peaceful and stable everyone feels during problem solving, the better everyone can think and problem solve productively. People can literally be reminded that they are safe, they are blessed, and mostly all is well. We just have this specific problem to address right now. You can even get a read by asking ‘how big does this problem feel for you right now?’ Frantic, threatened, or afraid people don’t think clearly, don’t hear and process effectively, and certainly don’t do their best work. So step one in your school’s problem-solving and teaming culture should really be to actively, explicitly calm ourselves down.
HELP PEOLE FEEL SUPPORTED. Secondly, if the parent comes to the teacher or to admin with a problem, and the problem they are reporting is not completely irrational in nature (most parents have very reasonable problems, but there are the rare but predictable parents who try to march into the school making irrational demands), the best way to deal with it is to swiftly, supportively, and lovingly side with the parent. They are your client. Reassure the parent that you are going to swiftly operate in the best interest of their child, cue them in on the realistic logistics of carrying out their service request, ask and thank them for their patience as you do your best to serve them alongside the whole school community, and then rapidly help them solve whatever problem they feel needs solving. Just because everyone is sided with the parent never means you are going to turn around by default and blame someone else. On that note…
SQUASH VICTIMHOOD AND BLAMING–IT’S NOT ME VS YOU, ITS US VS THE PROBLEM. It is not a ‘teachers vs admin’ war. It’s not a ‘teachers vs parents’ battle. It should be everyone teaming together to solve the problem within their reasonable scope of professional competency. Admin should be happy to take over solving parent problems while using (and trusting) any helpful feedback from the teacher. That way, the teacher can stay in his or her core competencies, which are educating, preparing the environment, and creating curriculum. If admin does not trust the teacher’s feedback, then everyone on the team (parents, or admin) should go observe the child for themselves. It is no secret that the Montessori method values observation very highly. And that is because our ultimate goal is to liberate the child; and to be free you need trust! And remember, the values of the Montessori method are dictating our ‘how’. So if you are in favor of the Montessori method, everyone should be extended liberty within limits.
TACKLE MISTRUST WITH OBSERVATION. If at any point any branch of the service provision is mistrusting, or if the client (your parents) are mistrusting, observe! Allow people to see for themselves. Shutting down observation freedoms is never a good sign. Everyone on the team should feel free to observe the children and see for yourselves at any time of business operating hours what is actually happening inside the classroom. Teachers should be encouraged to observe each other. That may not always feel comfortable for teachers, knowing that anyone can come observe you at any time. but it truly comes with the territory if you want to deliver Montessori services authentically.
There are always ways to maintain safety while allowing free observation. Put security codes on school doors, make sure your observers sign in and out, and forewarn teachers to expect a visitor today and maybe ID them. Owners and heads of school should always make it an annual practice to observe every classroom in your school from start to finish once per year. If you have too many classes to personally observe each classroom once in a school year, your company might be too big.
Montessori was designed to be a “glass classroom”. Maybe not with a glass bathroom, lol, but the rest of it could and has been literally displayed in the town square for anyone to walk up and see. Montessori is a very transparent method because Dr. Montessori knew in her heart that what she was doing was good and right. And when what you’re doing is good and right, and especially if what you’e doing is revolutionary in a positive way, you want others to see.
I hope these ideas start to help the way you partner with your Montessori preschool team and your clients. Stay tuned for part 2, coming next week!