#EmbraceTheChallenge: Waterford Montessori Academy


Waterford Montessori Academy

Meet 3rd & 4th grade Montessori teacher, Amy Dressler

Waterford Montessori Academy is a K-8 charter school in Waterford that’s authorized by Saginaw Valley State University. The school is a true Montessori school that operates on the philosophies of Dr. Maria Montessori, which includes an emphasis on individualized learning, hands-on education and a focus on each child’s social and emotional development. Check out how they've adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure students get meaningful instruction, at a distance.

Going the distance to help kids laugh and learn amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

If you asked 3rd and 4th grade Montessori teacher, Amy Dressler, what makes her school a unique and special school for students, she would tell you that every educator in their building is committed to the principles of Montessori instruction. What that means is building a school environment that supports the individual needs of each and every learner - academically, socially and emotionally - in a hands-on, engaging way. 

As the pandemic broke, the Waterford team set out surveying household technology hardware, internet access, and proficiency; thinking through special education and intervention support services; confronting logistical challenges; planning a temporary packet-based elementary alternative to cover the initial shutdown and buy time for teachers and support staff to ready themselves for online work. Right away, it became clear that worksheets and packets home to students simply wouldn't be enough to inspire meaningful learning for students, or meaningful instruction from educators. The challenge quickly became building a school community at a distance, where educators connected with students, students connected with each other, and kids could continue experiencing hands-on learning in a new and unique prepared environment.  What emerged was a team of passionate educators translating their instructional style to platforms like Google Classroom, and learning how to weave experiential learning into the digital spae.

In Montessori, we talk a lot about the importance of creating prepared environments in our school. That means ensuring there are things in our classrooms that tie to learning concepts in a real, tangible way. What's been amazing about the transition to distance learning is that students are right now living in prepared environments - their homes! We've had kids who have been planting gardens and preparing seeds as we talk about parts of the seed, we've seen kids create circuitry with mom and dad, then share it on Google Classroom. Even something as simple as baking and using precise measurements is a hands-on opportunity that we've been able to translate into learning during this time. 

- Amy Dressler, Waterford Montessori Academy teacher


As time passed, Amy and the other educators found that not only did distance learning present unique prepared environments, but it also was a window into the real home lives of their students - and that alone was a chance to expand their education community.  

The building of community is the most important part of what we do every day. We've been invited into these students' homes, to become a part of their extended family, to see what they see when they get home from school. We've met parents, siblings, and even pets - and have been able to bring those members into the learning environment to create art, to tell stories, to build rapport. That's a level of relationship building that we simply weren't able to achieve in a strictly brick and mortar setting. 

- Amy Dressler, Waterford Montessori Academy teacher

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And the online learning platform has had even more benefits beyond relationship building for certain students. Whether it was social/emotional challenges, anxiety, or academic struggles in a particular subject, Amy and the other educators have observed positive personal growth in these kids. As Montessorians, Amy reflected that technology integration isn't traditionally a large part of their curriculum, but this new platform has made them think twice about how virtual tools can better accommodate kids with certain challenges. 

Heading into next school year, the Waterford team is confident that no matter what instruction looks like, they will be able to create a strategy that both utilizes a wholesome educational community and uniquely supports the individual learner. 

Education, we know, is more than just a close-ended assignment. That was a huge challenge as we embarked on this distance learning journey, where many of us (myself included) hadn't yet learned how to recreate that special learning environment in the digital space. But I really believe our team stepped up to provide students with academic tools and an emotional support network, and in the process have learned some really important lessons we'll carry with us next year and beyond. 

- Amy Dressler, Waterford Montessori Academy teacher


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