Twin Parks Montessori Schools (TPMS) are in a mode of continuous school improvement. Once an accreditation cycle is completed, the strategic plan incorporated and the recommendations from the visiting team of educators in followed, we begin the process all over again. TPMS is accredited with the American Montessori Society and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. We compiled two self-studies, which involves a thorough examination and documentation of the schools' governance, curriculum, fiscal and personnel policies, facilities and health and safety practices. Throughout the self-study process I remind our various work groups that this is not my self-study, but theirs; this is an opportunity for teachers and administrators to represent Twin Parks, using their collective knowledge and observations about who we are, and to have their voices and passions heard. We reflect on and write about the characteristics that made our school unique; this moves us from regurgitating “Montessori-ese” about what Montessori teachers do and what our environments provide to digging deeper into the heart of our work and what our programs mean to the families we serve.
We examine the organizational health of TPMS. A school does not grow in a tidy, linear fashion. Like relationships among people, schools can be messy and frustrating as they develop, change, and blossom. Our school has three campuses, which means three groups of teachers and administrators. At various times during the year, these groups share professional development opportunities and our administrators meet to discuss and plan for our future. Dr. Brené Brown writes, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship” (2010, p. 19). Our teams of administrators, whether they focus on admissions or on curriculum programs, must share objectives and must really trust one another.
Each section of our self-study leads to reflection on what we do well and what needs improvement. We focus on three major aspects of our school that we determined needed improvements: student programming and curriculum, professional development for faculty, and building community within and outside of our school. These objectives were written in our strategic plan, which clarifies our primary goals and keeps us anchored, preventing too much valuable time spent on tangents. Communicating this focus and timeline requires reminding everyone about what is really important and what connects to our mission. How many of you have learned that most teachers and parents have to hear what leaders are communicating at least seven times? The key is consistency over time.
It is essential that our employees understand our primary focus and be given a reasonable timeline to complete their work. Just as our students need repetition in their work to internalize concepts, our teachers need to hear the same message in a variety of ways from a variety of people over time to achieve success.
In our school community, accountability can be a challenge. In an educational setting that serves young children, most of our teachers are compassionate, nurturing, empathic, and gentle. Teachers with these traits have a hard time holding each other accountable for the daily work of a school without guidance from a coordinator or director. To assist with this, my administrators and I disseminate the message that holding people accountable means that you care enough about them to understand they maybe defensive regarding their insufficiencies. As Brené Brown says, “One of the greatest (and least discussed) barriers to compassion practice is the fear of setting boundaries and holding people accountable” (2010, p. 16). Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity and are able to accept others for who they are while holding them accountable for their behaviors and work habits.
Work on our self-study is rewarding in many ways. It gives purpose to our conversations about our future. It is a difficult process but very rewarding in the end. It also reminded me of Dr. Ned Hallowell’s message about innovation: select the right people for the job and give them responsibility; strengthen the connections of people on the teams; make time to play; deal with frustrations and grow from them; and use the right rewards to help people shine and want to excel (Hallowell, ).
The final phase of the accreditation process is hosting a team of education peers at our school for several days. Visiting educators become a part of our community and daily school life during their visit. They validate that we do what we say we do and they will find evidence of our self-study document in our work at our school. The team also enjoys learning about what makes us unique. We look forward to this visit with pride for the opportunity to display our school and demonstrate what we do in our classrooms and in anticipation of the recommendations the team offers that will help guide us into our future. TPMS has already begun collecting materials for our next visit in 2019.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Hallowell, E. M. (2011). Shine: Using brain science to get the best from your people. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.