1)You want to know what your child is doing. While an observation can give you an insight into your child’s day, it won’t give you the whole picture. We schedule observations for 45 minutes, and within this time, your child is not
going to get through math, reading, writing and cultural works. But, by observing the whole class, you can see what types of work are available to your child. On our observation guide, we ask observers to look at the lay out of the shelves. The work on the shelves is indicative of the curriculum because work is laid out from left to right, top to bottom revealing the sequence of each subject at that particular time. By knowing what “work” your child is doing on the shelf, you can develop an idea of where he/she is in relation to the entire spectrum of ability in the class. This does not reveal his/her aptitude or mastery of standards, just where he/she is at the moment within the sequence.
2)You can observe the social interactions between children and between children/adults. This is often the area that many people remark on because the social interactions are often respectful, but also honest. One of my favorite parts of Montessori is the time allowed for children to develop the ability to honestly solve conflict with their peers. This can be challenging, but instead of the adults swooping in to fix things, students honestly state their feelings and opinions, and then work toward a solution. When adults are the ones fixing the problems all the time, the result can look organized and focused, but the students are not able to discover their own voice and powers of resolution.
3)When you observe you have an hands-on description of why you have chosen to send your child here. One of my favorite Montessorians, Jack Blessington, spoke at a Montessori Head’s Retreat, and the focus of his talk was
honoring Montessori parents because of your bravery. You want something different for your child. When you observe, my hope is that you will walk away with confidence in your decision and an ability to relate to others why you have
made this choice. It is one of the most important choices you will make. Why not see what it looks like and how it works in practice?
4)If you are able to observe in all three age levels(recommended time is 1 ½ - 2 ½ hours), you will be able to see the entire spectrum and how the curriculum works from K through 6th grade. At this time, the entire spectrum of Montessori is not reached in our classrooms because of the nature of our school– taking in older children without Montessori experience, but you will witness a portion of where we will be in three – six years. Observing the whole school also exposes you to the students and teachers throughout the school and to the larger community.
5)Along with your observation, I also suggest watching the videos available through MRX. This will generalize your observation and provide a larger context for your understanding.
6)As you observe, you will invariably make comparisons to traditional education and perhaps to other forms that you have seen: Waldorf, other Montessori schools. It is my experience that no school is perfect, but following your observation, does your comparison still lead you to see our school as the best choice for your child? Why / why not?
7)Lastly, an observation makes real what is still a pre-conceived idea. While working with the teachers this summer, I had to regularly assure them that the three-hour uninterrupted work cycle did not mean that they could not
interrupt the students for a lesson during the morning. As I have said in a few other memos, there are many versions of Montessori out there based on the make-up of the school and the type of school (private, public, charter; small, medium, large; newly begun, long history; credentials of the teachers, etc.). What makes us what we are is based on our being a public charter school, newly opened with an interesting mix of students and with state-certified teachers just beginning their Montessori training. Rather than reading about what
Montessori is in a general sense, I suggest you visit and observe what Montessori looks like at Laramie Montessori School – it is a great place to be.
1)We ask that you schedule observations in advance at least 24 hours. This allows us to prepare the students for a visitor and to prepare ourselves mentally. It is a bit stressful when someone is watching what we are doing. This is true of students and adults alike.
2)We also ask that the observation is made during the morning, unless there are extenuating circumstances. In the afternoons, classrooms have specials and large group lessons. We won’t change what we are doing because of an observation.
3)When you arrive for your observation, please sign in and collect the observation clipboard. On this clipboard are Guidelines we ask all observers to follow, especially the one that asks you to not interact with the children. When you are observing, your presence already changes the classroom, but when you interact with the students, the change is even more pronounced. And if we have several observers and they each speak with a child, interrupting the child’s work cycle, we are allowing the children’s sense of serenity and purpose to be
4)Once seated, there is a sheet with “look fors” that direct your attention to certain aspects of a Montessori classroom. Please read through this and “see” the order, structure, freedom, respect and concentration that exist
throughout the room.
5)The third sheet is not laminated and provides an area for your feedback. We do ask observers to take the time to fill these out during or after the observation. We do read these and share these with the teacher.
6)When your observation is over, either Craig, Bronwyn or myself will come get you, if you haven’t already come to the office. At that time, I will go over your observation notes and answer any questions you had. This short (or long) meeting is important for our benefit because it provides feedback and
closure to the observation. It can be important for your own benefit because questions or concerns can be addressed immediately.