How to get closer to true peace in a Montessori School Experience

What actually is peace?

Just as “health” is defined as the absence of disease, “peace” can be defined as the absence of stress, tension, or conflict.  Peace is rooted in real life.  Peace doesn’t mean that everyone is necessarily giving off the illusion of constant happiness.  But it does involve an acceptance of reality for what it is, and nevertheless having a mindset towards feeling contentedness.  It’s desiring to create a low-toxic-stress, conflict-light, better-over-bitter reality.

It’s easy to assume that “Montessori” is synonymous with “peace” by default.  Like (turn on valley girl accent) “It’s a Montessori school, therefore it’s like, always more peaceful, duh”.  But actually there have been many Montessori schools I have worked at in America that are far from peaceful.

How can this be, you wonder? If world peace was basically Dr. Montessori’s top goal in life, that she hoped to achieve through the vehicle of education, how are we so far off the mark?

Here are a 0-3 trained Montessorian’s top thoughts around how to get closer to peace while trying to hold a job or establish a career in Montessori education. Disclaimer: my perspective may very well be heavily biased because I work in 0-3. But if these resonate with other age ranges, great.

1. Accept that a truly “good” Montessori school in America is few and far between. A healthy, genuine, dysfunction-free school is the exception (sadly), not the norm. I think there is something about this country where as a culture, we don’t know how to make our lives not stressful; and that indeed extends to the workplaces we create. We thrive off of dysfunctional realities ridden with drama in this country.  And that extends to our Montessori school cultures and decision-making.

 Every guide hopes we will get hired at a quality Montessori school out of training. But I’m here to advise you to not hold your breath. It doesn’t matter whether it’s super beautiful at first, or if it holds a reputation as the “best” school in your area.  It’s that Montessori schools are reeeeeaaally good at giving off the illusion of peace, especially if you’re just there for a tour or a few organized events.  Schools put on their best performance for tours, interviews, and events.   But that’s not reality.

The reality of how bad some Montessori schools can be won’t surface until after you sign your job contract. And the only thing that makes dealing with all these problems worthwhile is a sufficiently large paycheck, period. That, or being well-resourced in other areas of your life, like your relationships and your stress-management activities of choice.

2. “Stress free” and “0-3 Montessori” is kind of an oxymoron. I recall working in primary being so chill in comparison to 0-3.  There might be peaceful days here and there in 0-3, but by and large there are problems upon problems upon problems.

Gear up to walk into a baby battle every day.  Because the problems will come at you from multiple sources all at the same time, all day long. The children alone in 0-3 will always bring with them an inherent level of problems because they hail from one of the most helpless parts of the  human developmental spectrum. Not to mention,  their little brains aren’t fully developed yet (which makes them unintentionally behave like little illogical jerks at times, TBH). The thing is, you thought the baby’s problems were going to be the only problems you were hired to deal with all day. Wrong.   So, so wrong.  But that requires an entire separate post for me to delve into.

3. Actual peace is not faking peacefulness. Most people don’t actually understand what true peace is.  So there is no way they can create it.  Even though a lot of Montessorians and people these days are on this whole “mindfulness” hype, they still don’t understand true peace. Essentially, there can be an over-the-top pretending like schools are actively practicing peace without ever creating true peace as a culture and an expectation.

True peace is rooted in reality.  And if your Montessori reality is riddled with problems people don’t want to acknowledge, let alone fix,  good luck with that whole peace goal. You can sing all the songs about peace you want, with all the giraffes and peace tables galore. But that all means nothing if your school culture is dysfunctional deep down.

4. Be willing to ask questions.  The creation of peace involves the ability to stop, take something in for what it actually is without your own power trip or bias, and to then ask yourselves critical questions about the state of reality and how you can make choices to fill the gap that exists between the reality of the present, and the peaceful reality people desperately crave. You have to ask yourselves “what problems still exist, and how can we start solving them gradually?”.  Then you problem-solve your way to true peace.

 5. Hire well, because it contributes to peace. And then stay peaceful, so you keep people hired for longer. If your school is constantly turning over staff, that means you have a fundamental peace problem with the culture of your school. In some cases, I’ve questioned whether certain employees at American Montessori schools are downright corrupt or evil-hearted individuals who secretly wantto make others suffer.  That they derive a sick sense of joy in striving to screw others over at their Montessori job.  Sounds counterintuitive but that’s another post in itself, too.

If you thought everyone working a Montessori school was somehow this peaceful angel in an apron drifting about the room, wrong again.  Dead wrong.  People who are fully emotionally unstable, liars, racists, gossips, selfish, lazy, and manipulative have all ended up working alongside me.  Which is why I quit a lot of Montessori jobs. Sorry babies. Sorry baby mamas and daddies.  #iCant. Not even for the babies.  The paychecks aren’t big enough.

6. Hire as many Montessori-trained staff as you can, and let the teachers lead the school reality. Every head of school should accept a key critical truth: technically we don’t neeeeed you. In reality, every trained Montessori guide is qualified to theoretically run their own classroom if they have the space and the funding to get off the ground, and some basic financial literacy (which anyone can get by reading a Dave Ramsey book).  So if you are a head of school, it is wise to operate from a servant-leader perspective with a ton of humility.  Because without the Montessori teachers, you don’t have a Montessori school to run. And if your school requires a head of school at all, that means it’s too big for you to run by yourself.  Without those trained guides, you have no job.

7. Know and understand the goals of Montessori education. And then live it out through your professional work.  No joke, the peaceful schools I can recall all had the habit of initiating program creation out of the mind of a Montessori professional who is experienced for the age levels that they chose to serve.  This practice reduces a lotof problems that are created when an untrained person is entrusted to run the show.  That is not to say that being Montessori trained is the golden ticket to peace though; because I know a person or two who is allegedly Montessori trained and fell short in other ways that dragged the peace-o-meter way down.

8. The administration needs to be compassionate, yet strong and consistent in upholding school policy.  There is basically a Montessori administrative trifecta that is required for success: compassion, strength, and consistency.   There are three things that destroy peace in a Montessori school.  One: administration who are jerks with no soul.  Two: administration who lack the backbone to face problems as they arise, and who have the humility and/or the commitment to solve school problems. Three: when the administration is wishy-washy in upholding policies. Either you have the policies and they apply to everyone and every classroom, or your policies are a joke and in reality it’s mayhem everywhere.  A school with lots of stress, disorganization, and unsolved problems is not a peaceful school.

9. Pull in enough money, and steward it appropriately by taking care of your people. Did you think peace was free?  Did you think Montessori education was free?  Well it’s not.  It literally costs money.   That’s actually why we’re all here working at Montessori schools, actually.  Because parents need to go away and make money all day long, and because the staff has bills to pay.  So if you often find yourself saying “we can’t afford that” or “there is no budget”, if your staff are underpaid, staff quit all the time, or staff don’t get health care or retirement benefits, it’s probably an accounting problem.  Because we all know how much Montessori tuition costs at private schools.  And it is $$$$.   So the money must be managed to take care of your team, your classrooms, and your school, or everyone will stress out. Money may be the root of all evil, but enough money is most certainly a potent fertilizer for peace.

10. Get over the whole AMI-AMS battle. It doesn’t help anyone.  A lot of AMS schools won’t hire AMI people or have this unspoken insecurity or beef with them.  The AMS people often assume AMI people think they know better than everyone around them, when what they know is just different.  And it sucks for schools that have a thing against AMI guides because a lot of AMI trained guides are exceptionally trained to do phenomenal work in the classroom.

AMI guides are easily disappointed by getting hired at AMS schools and realizing it is not at all like what you were trained to expect; and maybe upon realizing you’re getting hated on at work.  But the truth is, there just aren’t enough AMI schools to hire us all.  So you have to just get over it.  Did you want a paycheck, or not?

11. Boundaries maintain peace. Part of peace failure is that schools have wild expectations of staff, and don’t establish appropriate work-life boundaries. The teachers are working their butts off round the clock, during off hours, don’t get real lunch breaks, don’t always get school holiday breaks, barely go pee, and are being emailed and texted all the live long day.

Let people breathe.  How can people bring peace to the table if you never let them be? Montessori guides and assistants are human beings.

Another boundary issue is when administration or staff doesn’t know how to maintain appropriate boundaries between their personal lives or families, and professionalism.  Professionalism in the Montessori school is its own blog post.  But when it’s time for work, it’s work.  People can’t be taking every little thing personally. At the same time, the policies and expectations from a school should apply to everyone equally.  There is no space for favoritism, people being grandfathered in via family ties despite a sore lack of qualifications, etc.   We don’t care who their dad is.  If you can’t do the work, it just creates stress.

 12. You can feel a lot more peace… with less. Of all the most peaceful schools I can recall, the key theme is that they are small and minimalistic in every possible way they can be.  There is a minimum number of students enrolled in classrooms. There is minimal staff hired.  When I felt the most at peace working in Montessori, I worked the shortest work day I can recall.  There is the correct materials purchased for each room, and there is no excessive, unnecessary stuff all over the place or hidden in storage.

Too many schools also seem to think that growth is the answer. It’s not.  What you need to do is learn how to create true and sustainable peace and exceptional functionality in one small Montessori school.  And if you truly succeed at that, you’re golden. That alone might be enough.  Then maybe, maaaaybe you slowly grow bigger for one reason only: in order to meet the community need for more childcare.

Many schools balloon like a mega-corporation opening multiple dysfunctional campuses that all suck.  Multiple campuses that no one can manage effectively is not the way you want to go.   They are all ill-supplied, filled with toys more than work, have ugly things instead of actual beautiful Montessori materials, have dirty carpet, or feel like the 1990s because you spread your budget too thin and grew too fast (1890s, very Montessori. But 1990s= funds mismanagement).  What you don’t want is multiple campuses that are all a joke of a Montess-sorta.  Does that sound peaceful to you? Nope.

There is simplicity and peace in having less to manage and less stuff to clutter up your peaceful vibes.

Peace on, Montessorians.

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