It's almost Spring, that season when Montessori conferences pop up like daffodils to enchant and inspire Montessori teachers all over the country. And while it can seem like you don't have time to leave your classroom to go to conference, you should, and here's why:
1. You'll learn. Truly, no matter what workshops you take, you're going to learn something. You might pick up some practical ideas. You might be affirmed in your own existing practice. But hearing other practitioners, researchers and thinkers share their perspective and practice for Montessori gives you the chance to strengthen your own.
2. If you're intentional, you might learn a LOT. The most effective professional development is tailored to the skills you need most to improve. Before you register for which workshops you want to attend, talk with your administrator, your coteacher or other knowledgeable observers to your practice. Ask them what areas of your teaching you might best focus on improving. It's appealing to go to the workshops that are focused on the parts of the classroom you love, but challenge yourself to go to the workshops that attend to the parts you don't. Chances are, you haven't been attending there yet.
3. You'll experience the fellowship of other Montessorians. Conference is a great place to (a) meet and celebrate with Montessorians from around the word and (b) fall a little more in love with the Montessorians you have back at home. This is a time to let your hair down in the company of people who, most of the time, on the big stuff anyway, believe all the same curious, atypical, beautiful, idealistic things you believe about children and school. And in a practice as lonely as teaching, every bit of community matters.
4. You'll get a chance to breathe, to laugh and to rest. OK, so maybe you'll be resting sleeping in the same room as one of your coteachers. But still... Conference is a change of pace for our hearts and for our spirits. Make the time for it, and your time with the children may feel less frazzled.
But go mindfully:
1. Bring a list. Conference is like a candy store for materials. You don't actually need them all. The ones you do need, though, you may find for a better cost than if you ordered them later. Take pictures of the impulse materials- those sweet little Practical Life extensions that catch your eye or the counters you are absolutely sure you won't find anywhere else. Bring those pictures back to make sure you really want to order them before you spend a lot of money on an impulse buy. There are a lot of cupboards in a lot of Montessori schools filled with a lot of materials unused by the children but purchased from conference because teachers loved them.
2. Bring your patience. Something will go wrong. Anticipate that the day may be (more stressful/more chaotic/less relaxing/more crowded) than is ideal. Be as kind to the conference organizers as you'd want them to be if they came to your classroom on a day when five hundred new friends were visiting.
3. Bring your address book. You're going to meet amazing people, from the teachers sitting next to you at workshop to the presenters to the vendors in the market hall. Use this as a chance to expand your network of Montessori friends across the country.
4. Come back inspired, but remember the basics: if you find wonderful new practices or materials, remember to introduce them when you have observed the children's development most needs them. Remember that things that inspire you in the middle of the year may unsettle the children. What's refreshing to you may be a scary unknown to them.
5. Share what you've learned: Prepare with your administrators before you go a time when you can share what you've learned with the rest of your colleagues when you return. Do this intentionally, asking before you leave what questions you colleagues may most want you to investigate. Just like in the classroom, you need to know what questions you have before you can observe to find out the answers to them. Go to conference with specific things and be prepared to teach them to your colleagues back at home.
Whether you've chosen a small conference that's focused on refreshing your spirit or a national conference with a hundred topics to choose from, remember that the most important part of conference is what you do with what you've learned once you're back home again. Use this time to breathe and think and reflect. But don't leave conference at conference. Bring that energy, that affirmation and that inspiration back to your classroom with you. The children deserve it. So do you.