How Managed IT Firms Support Montessori Schools

Montessori schools have been less willing to embrace technology compared with traditional public schools.

Montessori schools have long prioritized student independence, exploratory learning, and peer-to-peer collaboration, all of which have been viewed with varying degrees as incompatible with widespread technology use. Students who sit passively in front of a screen watching an online instructional video, for example, aren’t engaged in the type of hands-on learning that’s a hallmark of the Montessori method. Such online resources can also vary dramatically in quality. Without teacher support, students may inadvertently access low-quality online content that doesn’t align with broader Montessori values. At the same time, too much teacher intervention would subvert Montessorian’s belief in the power of student-directed learning. The fact that Montessorian methods are most often used with younger students compounded–and combined with–the need for teacher support has ultimately stifled widespread adoption of technology resources. While there are undoubtedly limited uses of technology in Montessori settings, these schools have primarily chosen not to adopt, for example, 1:1 student-Chromebook ratios, online instructional platforms like BrainPOP and Newsela, and other technology that has become commonplace in traditional public schools.

The pandemic forced Montessori schools to integrate technology into their regular instruction.

COVID-19, however, forced Montessori schools to pivot quickly. No longer could these schools eschew technology in the name of student independence or exploratory learning. Instead, the pandemic demanded Montessori instructors embrace technology to provide remote instruction. Rather than playing with blocks in a classroom with ten or twelve other students, Montessori pupils were suddenly without their peers, isolated along with their other family members. Particularly for younger students, the shift to remote instruction proved challenging: far from the self-directed learning at the heart of Montessori instruction, these students required the intervention of their parent or guardian to log in to their computers, access online instructional platforms, and communicate with their teacher and peers. The tension between student independence on the one hand and the necessity of parent or family member support on the other underscores the difficulty of translating Montessori instruction to a remote environment.

The pandemic also revealed the disparities between Montessori students within a given classroom. While some students likely had internet access long before the onset of COVID-19, others who lacked such access were quickly faced with the prospect of “losing out” on remote instruction. Depending on the individuals with whom students lived, other families found navigating online educational resources difficult and effectively learned how to navigate remote learning tools alongside their pupils.

Content management systems can allow older Montessori students to collaborate with one another.

Faced with these tensions, Montessori instructors nonetheless found ways to use technology in ways that, while not traditionally thought of as Montessorian, could still accomplish at least some of the model’s goals. One such example is the use of content management systems. These systems–such as Google Drive–allow instructors to organize content online for their students, who can then access and navigate different pieces of instructional content as needed throughout the school day. Rather than direct instruction, these platforms allow students to pick and choose which instructional models they’d like to engage with and even collaborate on shared documents.

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Older students, for example, might choose to collaborate on an essay or conduct a science experiment together via Zoom. Younger students might video conference with one another to brainstorm an idea for a class play whose script they then upload for the rest of the class to view. Similarly, as students begin to upload work to the platform, teachers can review and provide feedback on students’ work products, intervening only when necessary. In this sense, the content management system operates as a “stand-in” for the traditional classroom in which one would find blocks, art supplies, and other hallmarks of Montessori instruction. Forced to stay home because of the pandemic, students could use the content management system to explore and engage with instructional resources in an online setting.

Online instructional platforms can similarly allow Montessori students to work at their own pace.

Online instructional platforms also provided Montessori students with opportunities to engage with instructional content at their own pace. These online resources span multiple subject areas, including math, science, reading, and writing, and differentiate instruction based on student understanding in real-time. For example, while two Montessori students might begin the day working on the same online math module, they may end the day at radically different points in the content’s scope and sequence. With online instructional platforms, such differentiation is often the point. By adjusting instruction in real-time based on student understanding, these platforms provide the type of individualized, student-focused instruction at the core of the Montessori method.

At the same time, Montessori education places a premium on the intentional selection of classroom materials. While a student might, for example, find online math or language arts flashcards entertaining, these activities could just as easily be done in an in-person environment. Therefore, the crucial challenge for Montessori educators is sourcing and effectively monitoring high-quality online instructional resources that add value to, rather than simply replicating the in-person classroom experience. Because of their capacity to differentiate instruction in real-time–often with engaging storylines, animations, or other uniquely online features–online instructional platforms offer one potential solution to the unique challenges of remote Montessori learning.

Montessori teachers can also use data and assessment systems to intervene only when students need extra support.

But how were Montessori teachers able to monitor student progress in a remote environment? Montessori guides would likely quietly rotate around the room to observe student learning, ask probing questions, and potentially intervene to help students as needed in the traditional classroom setting. Central to this pedagogical model, however, is the student’s independence. The Montessori instructor shouldn’t intervene to re-direct student learning to a “more productive” task. Instead, the job of the instructor is to reinforce the student’s own chosen learning, providing guidance that will support the student in engaging with instructional content of their own choosing.

In the remote environment, however, in-person observations of student learning are necessarily limited. Sure, the teacher could theoretically observe student learning via a webcam or other video-recording device. Still, this process would likely prove awkward, technologically difficult, and ultimately misaligned with traditional Montessori instruction. Data and assessment systems, when used in a limited way, may have provided a solution for at least some Montessori teachers. Once students engaged with a particular assessment or content module, the teacher could evaluate the student’s work against a particular Montessori standard and intervene only when the student truly needed help. A targeted video conference, socially distant home visit or another COVID-safe intervention method could allow the teacher to guide the student toward mastery of a specific instructional concept and offer the teacher a temporary way in which to observe student learning.

Managed IT providers can provide training and troubleshooting support for Montessori schools that want to integrate technology into regular instruction.

As Montessori students return to classrooms, however, many Montessori schools may want to maintain at least some of the instructional content made available remotely during the pandemic. To do so, they–and particularly new staff members–will need training on commonly used online instructional resources and how those resources can be used effectively in the Montessori setting. Here’s where managed IT providers come in. By working closely with school leadership to identify the program’s instructional goals and pedagogical model, managed IT providers can craft Montessori-appropriate training for the school’s staff members, setting them up for success as they attempt to integrate technology into their post-pandemic instruction.

Managed IT providers can also assist Montessori partners with the daily troubleshooting that inevitably accompanies regular technology use. Rather than spending their time figuring out why a particular piece of technology isn’t working, Montessori instructors can rely on managed IT providers to rapidly identify and solve their most common technology issues, allowing instructors to keep their attention where it should be: on their students.

Similarly, Managed IT providers can help Montessori school leaders identify high-quality online instructional resources they can use with students across age groups. Rather than wading through thousands of online instructional offerings of varied quality, Montessori leaders can rely on their managed IT provider to know the lay of the land and recommend resources that align with the school’s instructional model.

At CTS, we help schools, including Montessori schools, use technology to accomplish their unique missions.

At CTS, we’ve worked with more than sixty schools across the United States to align technology and instructional programming. Schools new and old, traditional and progressive, can all benefit from effective technology use. By partnering with CTS, these schools have learned how to use technology sustainably so that it doesn’t compromise their unique mission or displace the teacher-student relationship from the center of instruction. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your school accomplish its unique mission.