It's halfway through October, when school routines feel a little more settled and we're starting to feel more at ease. Just as the air starts to turn to autumn and the classroom starts to feel a little less panicked every day, we're hit with the Autumn Rush, that wild time between Parent-Teacher conferences, Halloween and Thanksgiving, when all of a sudden, the routines that we've implemented so carefully and the predictability that we know our classrooms demand is flustered and flittered and messy again.
It's a marathon, hiding inside of pumpkin spice and falling leaves and likely, if you're not careful, to make these days feel overwhelmed and overextended.
Remember: the children are attuned and empathetic to the pace you bring to the classroom. Pay attention to your own energy this month: are you sharing your stress with the classroom? Are you making changes more rapidly than you usually work? Are you taking time to observe, even in the middle of the chaos (especially in the middle of the chaos?)
You are a part of the prepared environment. Take the time to prepare yourself.
- Sit down with a schedule of all the school or family focused events in the next six weeks. What do each of these events demand from you as a teacher? What specific tasks are expected before, during and after the event? Make a list.
- Delegate. As teachers, we are often so connected to our own vision for how events will go that we hold tight to doing them all ourselves. I promise: no one is going to remember whether or not all the eye slots on the pumpkin-themed muffins you've iced by hand are facing the same way. When you look at your list of things to do, figure out which ones someone else can be responsible for. And then trust the people to whom you've delegated tasks to be as attentive to them as the task demands. They may not do it the same way you would have, but if asking for help means you have more time to breathe out and remain centered for the children, the sacrifice is worth it.
- Audit your classroom events against what you believe as a Montessorian. Sometimes we hold on to traditions and events at school because we've always done them that way, even if they're inconsistent with what we say we value. If your school is hosting a Halloween event, have you had a chance to talk to parents about fantasy characters, violence and screen time before they've chosen costumes with their children? If you're preparing special foods for parties, have you looked at the menu against your school's values for healthy children's development? Have you figured out how to engage the children in meaningfully contributing to the preparation for these events, or are they guests at events that have been largely designed by and for parents? If you notice inconsistencies, talk amongst them as a staff. There may be times when choose to continue doing things as you've done them, with a plan in place for how you'll phase those traditions out and replace them with ones that are more in keeping with what you say you believe. There may be other times when a small change goes a big way toward creating a consistent, reliable environment. The children's understanding of how the world works, including how their classrooms work, doesn't change on October 31st. The closer you can connect the activities of holidays and special events to the same patterns and routines that provide reliability and security for the children, the less disruption you'll cause in the children themselves.
- Finally, take time for self-care. The Autumn Rush is a time of enormous outward energy from teachers, from preparing for special events that host parents and children together to prepping all the documentation and resources for Parent-Teacher Conferences. You'll leave it all on the field this season-- make sure you're taking time to get away from your classroom, get into nature, connect with other human beings and make eye contact. You know how to invite a child to stillness in your classroom. Invite yourself to be still, especially on the days when you are feeling the most stressful demands on your time. When you take the time to breathe, to engage in your work mindfully, and to demonstrate compassion to yourself and your community, you model for children far more important lessons than the ones they learn at school parties. And, you make those parties go more smoothly along the way.
Breathe. Settle. Do the work mindfully. Start with a poem.
BY JOHN KEATS
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.