5 takeaways from my adult learner experience

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Sometime in late summer — when I must have been in an especially energetic mood — I decided to sign up for an introductory class offered by the Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teacher Education Program (CMStep), one of the only MACTE-accredited programs in the country that focuses on Montessori education for ages 12-18.

The course provides an overview of the guiding principles and characteristics of American Montessori Society (AMS) Secondary programs; it’s designed for current Montessori educators, administrators, parents, and anyone who may be considering a career as a secondary Montessori teacher.

The 6-week class was virtual, of course, and it was scheduled to begin the first week of October and conclude before Thanksgiving.

I signed up for a couple of reasons:

(1) My 7-year-old daughter attends a Montessori school that ends its formal instruction at 8th grade. I wanted to explore the principles of a secondary program as a curious parent who embraces the Montessori focus on peace and social justice.

(2) To help be a better team player in my professional life. I find myself joking about how leaders should guide their teams more like Montessori school teachers. I hoped that whatever I learned in this class would also apply to my creative, collaborative work wherever my career leads me.

I didn’t have many preconceived ideas about what I was about to experience … I just thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to squeeze the class work into my nights and weekends, pandemic be damned.

And, whew … this course was way more rigorous than I expected. But it was a transformative challenge.

Not only do I have much deeper appreciation for the life and work of Dr. Maria Montessori, but I learned a lot about online learning.

Here are my 5 big takeaways as an adult learner, which may be helpful as we continue to refine our online courses:

(1) The class was an exploratory “first date.” First, I like the way the entire credential program is structured. This course is one of two prerequisites for their low-residency option. There’s no commitment to complete their full program, which takes two years of virtual and summer on-site coursework. This class is an overview, a place to explore the ideas to see if you want to keep going. Sort of like a first date … to see if this program might be a good fit.

(2) A brief intro to Canvas was embedded in the course. The class started with a helpful onboarding experience for adult learners who might not be familiar with Canvas (including moi!). The course began with a welcome video from our instructor, and an introduction that explained class expectations — including the number of hours each module should take to complete (about 5 hours per week). Our first assignments were really just getting comfortable with Canvas: How to upload a profile photo, how to post in the discussion area, how to navigate between modules. We also shared brief bios so the entire class (30+) could read more about each other.

(3) Learning agreements set the tone. One of our first assignments was to review the class learning agreement and reflect on what we thought was most important. I chose to write about this item: “Do what is necessary to nurture myself, even with the addition of this coursework in my life, so that I might continually renew my relationship to my profession and create the possibility that the integrity of my work might be an inspiration to others.” I thought the second part was really powerful: we may forget that the work we do can inspire others in ways we don’t expect. Just one small action or comment can be a magical moment for someone else. The agreement also encouraged us to plan our time so we could meet the deadlines. I learned quickly to carve out standing times on my calendar so I didn’t fall too far behind.


(4) I could complete at my own pace: The course was asynchronous: I could complete each module as time allowed. There were no live Zoom sessions. And the weekly due dates were really just soft deadlines; the only hard deadline was Nov. 21, when all work must be completed. If we fell more than a week behind schedule, we were supposed to reach out to our instructor and discuss how we would catch up. This allowed me the flexibility to squeeze the work in on nights and weekends. Some weeks were crazier than others.

(5) I could choose my own adventure. One of the principles of Montessori education is to foster self-directed learning and autonomy, and this course did exactly that: For most modules, I could choose which video and/or essay to review from a curated list … and then I could reflect on those materials in essay form (and sometimes, more creative mediums, like mind maps or videos). Two of my favorite choices included this moving blog post about a field trip to Pigeon Key, Florida. And this TEDx Virginia Tech talk about redefining service learning. The key was that I had CHOICES within a structured environment. This very much relates to my previous blog posts about “guided improvisation,” a technique for teaching creative knowledge. (And don’t forget about the “Improv for Creative Teaching and Learning” workshop coming to January in-service!)

I should also note a stark contrast between this class and a couple of cheaper online courses I have taken in the past. The main difference was the constant, encouraging feedback from CMStep Executive Director Katie Keller Wood, who took the time to read all of my submitted assignments and provide personal feedback on each one. She even bought one of the books I mentioned in one of my responses! There were no grades in this class — but knowing she was reading my work kept me motivated to contribute my best, even when I was exhausted.

Finally, I will share my final assignment from the course … my “elevator speech” about how I see Montessorians … which sounds very much like Mandalorians … but whatevs. This is how I want to act when I grow up. My list is a synthesis of so many inspiring readings and videos, which really will transform the way I interact with my own family … and our college family.

A Montessorian listens first.
A Montessorian is filled with wonder.
A Montessorian follows the child.
A Montessorian kindles the flame.
A Montessorian educates for the head, the hands, and the heart.
A Montessorian is ready to welcome with a warm smile or a hot cup of tea.
A Montessorian gracefully fosters community and dialogue.
A Montessorian is flexible, yet enforces the boundaries.
A Montessorian leads with empathy.
A Montessorian assembles superheroes who know their strengths and want to help others.
A Montessorian is reflective and enjoys “solo time.”
A Montessorian is a powerful architect, creating structure and order that may seem invisible.
A Montessorian guides, not controls.
A Montessorian serves, not helps or fixes.
A Montessorian … a true directress … says: “Don’t look at me, look at the way I am pointing.”
A Montessorian learns for life.

“The real preparation for education is the study of one’s self. The training of the teacher is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.”   

-Maria Montessori, Absorbent Mind

— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, November 2020

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About Stephanie

Stephanie SeagleStephanie Ogilvie Seagle has served as Grant Specialist at Virginia Western since 2016, but she prefers her honorary title: “Chief Joy Officer.” Stephanie spent most of her career at The Roanoke Times, a daily newspaper, where she served in various news and features roles including “Shoptimist” shopping columnist. She earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at George Mason University and a master’s of arts in liberal studies at Hollins University. Stephanie is a mom to one human daughter and multiple chihuahuas … and is obsessed with reading nonfiction, Halloween, and crafting glow necklaces inspired by the Mill Mountain Star. Glow Roanoke!

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