About the health of professional relationships in Montessori classrooms

Healthy, caring adult relationships in Montessori Schools is a thing that every Montessori workplace should prioritize and strive for.  Just to have a legitimate professionally aligned vision shared between Montessori co-workers or co-founders can create an amazing work experience that honestly, can be hard to come by.

Even though Montessori educators are trained in training centers which are what I like to call the  “shangri-la dream” of Montessori education, when us guides step out into the “real world” of Montessori schools, I often hear of and experience relationship struggles between the adult Montessori co-workers.

If you had a moment to browse the link posted above,  it’s worth mentioning that I’ve actually visited the school featured in the Flux Magazine article.  I intend on writing an entire separate post about it.  I can attest that Mo’o School in Oahu, Hawaii is AMAZING.  They basically operate at training-center caliber, the children are doing amazing work, and the staff are absolutely lovely and good at what they do.   So what the article has to say about their work relationship values certainly felt true while I was visiting.

On the topic of fostering positive work relationships at Montessori jobs, here are some things that help foster healthy, caring adult relationships in my personal experience.

~ Regular and ongoing staff meetings that are well-focused on problem-solving and cultivating the will to care about our work.  Having staff meetings promotes positive relationship between people.  It allows people to put struggles out in the open and work towards fixing them together. It allows staff to connect on an adult level when we aren’t working with the children; and it gives everyone a chance to communicate and work on being a unified front with a unified classroom vision.  People who get along well are people who connect regularly.

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~ Have a dedicated, inviting space where staff can eat lunch in the company of other human beings; and allowing staff to take lunch break at the same time as each other.  This may sound so dumb. But a lunch time gathering space promotes positive relationships between people.  And I think Dr. Montessori would fully agree, based on the extensive family-style community lunch that often occurs in a Montessori classroom.  People need to dine together for a sense of community and social connectedness.

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~ The more people on the staff who posses a clear understanding of the Montessori philosophy, the better. Ideally, the staff will have a true love for the philosophy and for kids; and the school will have trained administration and as many trained guides as possible on staff.   The philosophy is the reason us Montessorians can go to refresher courses and make a million friends and professional connections instantaneously– we’re all obsessed with children, and we’re all passionate about Montessori education.

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~ Make it clear in the school culture that as staff in general, we’re all subject to the same rules and the same treatment.  No particular person is irrationally worshipped, and there is no one in particular who is treated more “special” than everyone else.

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Let me address this more deeply because this was a huge problem at a former job of mine.  

First of all, let me just put it out there that aaaaaaall the staff know when someone gets preferential treatment.  We all know when the administration is rolling out the red carpet for a certain someone.  We all know how when the rest of us ask for things we need, the answer is always no. But the moment that special someone sits in on our meeting or asks for the exact same thing, it somehow happens.  We all fully know that the special someone our job worships can literally have the power to reverse staff ideas that we brought into fruition at the school before the said someone ever even arrived.  And I’m sorry– wtf kind of bull is that?!  We’re not stupid, and we’re all paying attention.

Secondly, there is no reason anyone should be worshipped by the job and treated like they’re some sort of diety, unless there’s a legitimate reason.  Which is that the person is the owner, a Montessori trainer, has worked at the job for like 20 years, or perhaps has a Ph.D.

But I once worked somewhere where there was this one chick without AMI Montessori training,  no master’s degree, no business degree, no relation to the family who owned the school, and had zero credentials to validate receiving any form of preferential treatment, got hired in the position of “school AMI support person” , whose job it was to make sure we were all implementing authentic AMI practices in our classrooms.  LOL, what?

~ A school (and classroom) with clear “corporate” policy in writing fosters stronger staff relationships, because there is no wishy washy inconsistency of expectation, and everyone knows the rules of the game in case people try to break them.  Which they will, I assure you.  If people don’t want to play by the rules at work, then they can choose to work somewhere else.  It really is that simple; and that principle is actually based on a critical Montessori tenet called “freedom within limits”.

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Work culture is a real thing.  Strong businesses are strong because they have strong, clear work cultures.  Clear policies and objectives should exist at all Montessori school workplaces; and administrators and leads should uphold the policies firmly to keep everyone aligned to the culture of the job/ classroom.   If admin said no flip flops at work, it means no flip flops for anyone at any time.  It doesn’t mean the secret queen of work  gets to wear flip flops whenever she wants, while the rest of us have to sit there at the all-staff meeting and hear the boss rant about how we should all be wearing black dress shoes to work so that we look like  a Macy’s customer service rep.  (LOL, true story).

~ It’s helpful for relationships if you outline your individual classroom ground rules–for staff–  from day one.  You can only expect admin to do so much in terms of school ground rules and school culture, which may be out of everyone’s control. If you’re not the owner, it’s not your school at the end of the day.  But if you’re a lead, you do have some control over setting the tone in your individual classroom.

 

You can make it clear what your expectations are, and you can even create your classroom culture together with your team.  Maybe every fourth Wednesday of the month you all dress in fun coordinated outfits, just because it’s fun.  Maybe every 3 months you bring in an appreciation treat just because you like to love on others by giving.   Maybe every winter you have a cookie recipe exchange.  Your classroom ground rules let everyone know what your classroom vibe is from the get-go, even if it stands apart from the general school culture.

~ Create a very clear understanding of everyone’s roles.  Leads are leads, and in AMI situations, assistants are assistants (hear ye, hear ye! Assistants are NOT the lead, LOL. See standards below, from AMI, not from me).  We are all there to perpetuate a pretty clear vision outlined by AMI, which involves a distinct hierarchy of roles. The administrative team also has the job of supporting teachers in the classroom, too; not just working from the ivory tower and bossing us all around.  This critical exchange of support between admin and teachers should not get neglected… unless you want your work force to resent you, that is.

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~ Hire people on classroom teams that vibe well enough.  For me, the more laid back my assistants are regardless of their age, the more I can relate to them on a human-to-human level, and the stronger my team tends to be.  I know myself well as a teacher and professional; and I know what kind of people are synergistic to who I am as a leader.    We all want to feel comfortable doing our jobs, and enjoy being at work, where we spend more of our waking life than we do anywhere else.  So if admin can tap into people who click, and put those people on the same teams, the school culture will thrive.

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~ Avoid the unspoken popularity contest at work.  The unspoken popularity contest is actually highly detrimental to a positive, caring atmosphere between co-workers at Montessori schools. Just because we work at a school doesn’t mean we’re still in school.

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~ Administration should have some social wherewithal, and try not to put people together who would clash in any way. This isn’t the same as putting people together who vibe– this is avoiding personality clashes.  Very different.  Personality clashes can and absolutely do exist between certain children in the room.  And they can exist between staff, unbeknownst to staff.  Certain temperament combos don’t always pair super well.  Like two strong personalities; or putting a weaker assistant  with a lead who works best with strong assistants.

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~ Ideally let leads interview and choose their own assistants whenever possible.  This works so much better than randomly assigning people who are stuck together like it’s an episode of The Real World.  Remember how that season played out?  LOL.

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~ Show consistent and ongoing staff appreciation.  Don’t just batch it all on staff appreciation day.  Don’t just leave it to birthdays where every birthday celebrant gets the same generic “gift”– cheap cup cakes and a card all staff are forced to sign.  Authenticity of appreciation and care shows.  If your team gets recurrent but random appreciation just because everyone deserves it, (like rare but anticipatory 10-minute massage days for all staff a few times a year), we feel the love.  And we like work better.  This is based on the principle of intermittent reinforcement.

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