It has been a year since the world took a turn that no one was expecting nor for which anyone was prepared. In that year, as educators, we have scrambled to stay true to who we are while still meeting our students’ and schools’ needs. Throughout this upheaval, this global chaos, I have reflected a good deal on the exceptional works I read during my time in TIES. I have thought about chaos theory, quantum physics, neurophenomenology, and a lot about the prepared environment. As educators, we were constantly reacting to factors and decisions beyond our control. Our prepared environment altered to an almost unrecognizable state as we continually looked for the end of the chaos. Recently, I accepted a position at a completely virtual secondary Montessori school. I find myself asking, what if the virtual environment could be a carefully prepared environment, instead of a bandage on a bad year? What if it was the key to connectivity between students who would otherwise never have an opportunity to collaborate? In what ways could I harness the strength of digital tools in the service of Montessori instead of avoiding it as if it were another plague?
As a parent of five children and a guide to middle school students, I have shunned media as a type of enemy to my children’s focus and concentration. In my mind, it has been the thing that keeps them from connecting, from getting out into nature, from taking on the task of creating a more peaceful world. Yet, I am growing to feel that this stance is perhaps not the most beneficial. What if instead I embraced technology and modeled a healthy use of it? What if I prepared the virtual realm carefully as I would design a physical space and created a space for healthy and meaningful connections? Students are going to be connecting virtually in various ways. We can either choose to be there, too, or not. It is a practical life skill that we have the opportunity to learn to do well. Mario Montessori spoke of being thankful for the advances in technology that allowed communities to flourish, individuals to have more time connecting and less time at monotonous tasks. Perhaps there are gifts like this in the virtual realm.
I have thought about how TIES has modeled this beautifully for us. The fully online element of TIES opens up the world of Montessori to more people than it would be able to if it were only in a physical location. For this, I am forever thankful. A master’s degree in Montessori Integrative Learning would not have been possible for me if it were not for TIES’ carefully prepared online environment. As with any environment, there are challenges to embrace and adjustments to make. When we prepare the environment, we invite our students to a well-laid table, a table where everyone has a seat. Each co-learner has space and time to build something that is all their own. Every time we take on the work of preparing an environment, we do sacred work. We do not have to merely survive. We can model for students acceptance for what is, connect with those near and far, embrace the challenges and the gifts that the season has presented us. May we use all the tools at our disposal to continue to prepare environments in classrooms worldwide, and now in classrooms with no walls at all, that defy space and time! A virtual Montessori classroom is a quantum classroom! The possibilities are exciting and endless.
Contributed by Emily Fowler
MS Guide, AMSSI/II, M.Ed. Integrative Montessori Education, and MMUN Certified
Emily Fowler is a seasoned home educator to her five children and a Montessorian at heart. She holds a BA in History from the University of Memphis and is a graduate of TIES. When she isn’t pouring over Montessori philosophy, she can be found reading French history books at the beach with her amazing and supportive husband, Peter, and her constant inspiration, her children.