Maintaining Community from a Distance
Montessori teaching is a calling that demands self-care. We are intellectually engaged long beyond after the children have gone home, analyzing our observations, preparing lessons, maintaining the environment, and active models whenever they are present, scientists, servants and saints. It's exhausting. And self-care matters. Finding time for yourself, for restoration and quiet, matter.
So does finding time for community. We don't grow out of our need for other people, even in quarantine. We don't reach some point in adulthood when we are happily islands unto ourselves, even in a profession that expects us to spend so much time as one of a very small number of adults in the room, and not to talk to them very often at that. Indeed, the child-centered nature of most Montessori classrooms can leave teachers needing more adult contact at the end of the day, not less.
As you're thinking of your need for self-care, don't overlook the restorative powers of community. These days especially, find the ways to connect, with eye contact, with live communication, with other adults. On the days when you're feeling the most overwhelmed by this work, reach out to others to step away from your classroom prep, get off campus from your school, and go to be together. And just as you would suggest for parents, leave the agenda for the conversation behind. Just pay attention to each other, offering each other a genuinely curious spirit and eye contact. We don't always have to talk about work. It's ok to leave it back in your classroom sometimes.
These times off campus shouldn't be rare, but they also don't need to be the only way you connect with other adults. We know the children need their time together, and we are no different. We enjoy the same benefits the children do when we come together without an agenda: a sense of belonging, of contribution and of meaning. And even though you might not be able to be at the same table, find a place to picnic or a way to connect over food. Because sharing a meal necessarily requires time when your hands are busy and your mouth is closed, connecting with your colleagues over food also allows for a different pace to your conversations. There's less stress about filling the silent spaces. It's ok just to sit quietly with each other and enjoy a piece of fruit.
Food might feel rushed during the busy-ness of the school day. Make it a priority during school to slow it down, to eat mindfully and to invite your colleagues to share together. You might not need it every day, but you can create sustaining connections, the kinds on which you'll rely on the hardest days of teaching, by protecting regular times to simply be with each other.
We are moving through difficult times, and moving into new ways of being with each other and being of service to the children. But our basic human need for community, to be in a space where we feel known and seen, even behind our face masks, has not gone away. As you're designing all your new protocols to make sure that the children's community is as healthy as possible in these new times, be sure to remember to give yourselves the same.