Not Just a Trip
Every year during Presidents Day weekend, I take a trip to a different city. And no, I’m not one of those spontaneous people who throw a dart on a map, though that would be fun. Instead, I just follow my passion! AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) holds an annual refresher course each Presidents Day weekend. In years past, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Austin, to New Orleans. This year’s city: Seattle.
And this is not just a trip. Far from it. This is an event that hundreds of us (1,304 this year to be exact) look forward to all year. I have heard my fellow Montessorians describe the experience as “a re-inspiration”, “a re-energizer”, “food for my soul”, “the boost I need every year”, and this year a friend of mine told me: “I go to other conferences for my business, but this is what I do for my heart.”
So even after a whirlwind of a travel day (showing up at my airport only to learn the flight was rerouted to a different airport, then landing in one airport only to learn all my rideshares had landed in yet a different airport), I still couldn’t feel anything but excitement when I arrived at the hotel Friday evening. You could just feel the “Montessori-ness” in the air!
The title of this year’s seminar was Montessori and the Power of Nature. A fitting title seeing as how we were in the rain capital of the US. And the keynote speaker was a perfect start to the weekend. His name is Richard Louv, and he is the author of several books, including Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. You often hear about the importance of exposing children to nature, but his work is really something else. He even launched a movement to connect children, families and communities with nature. After listening to him, you understand nature is not something out there in the wilderness; we all are nature.
The main event takes place Saturday and Sunday. Courses are divided by groups: assistant teachers, lead teachers and administrators and then by the age teachers work with, from infancy to adolescence.The main topic for my level (Primary) was The prepared adult: poised between what is and what is possible and was lead by Connie Black, AMI trainer, consultant and lecturer. I absolutely loved this topic and found it greatly relevant. I feel as teachers, and in general as adults, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the way our responses, actions, preparation, self-understanding and self -knowledge can support and influence the child. In order to educate and support the child, we often focus 100% on the child’s issues, behavior and responses. However, we would be surprised with the results we can obtain by also considering our own responses and behavior.
When the main talk ended at 5 each evening, that’s when the real fun began. Over dinner and drinks, I had the opportunity to talk with old friends, former classmates from when I took the training, colleagues from previous schools I taught, and of course every year I always look forward to meeting new people. After learning so much in the seminar, it’s then so inspirational to talk to other Montessorians and learn about their new projects (schools, consulting, trainings). And one thing that becomes abundantly clear each year is that this is a highly supportive community. You often find someone that can advise you on your own challenges, and you can also be that person who guides others.
And Seattle ended up being as beautiful as I have heard. I didn’t do much of the tourist activities, but I did experience great food, enjoyed a lovely night walk through Pike Place Market, had a beer at the Seattle Beer Company with some friends, and found great souvenirs for my family.
Another part of the weekend I love is the presence of Montessori vendors. You can find anything from classroom materials and home furniture, to toys, books, and clothes. This is also a great opportunity not just for the traditional vendors, but for new authors and inventors who are developing interesting concepts like toys to develop motor skills, or booklets that show the toilet independence process step by step. Some of the new groups I saw this year included a company that is developing a curriculum for public Montessori education, and another that is working on bringing Montessori education to less privileged areas of the world.
I read on the official AMI site that the purpose of the refresher course is to “encourage teachers working with children to deepen their understanding of Maria Montessori’s ideas and to allow them to re-examine the essential aspects of their work in the light of its main objectives.” I can really see how this objective is fulfilled every year. It’s only been a couple weeks since I came back from Seattle, and I have had multiple colleagues sharing with me the work and changes they have made in their classrooms and in themselves inspired by the refresher course. I also noticed an immediate influence in my role as consultant. One takeaway that really resonated with me is just one small phrase, but it carries a really big meaning: When we say “that child is looking for attention” what we really need to understand is “that child is looking for connection.” And this beautiful and simple idea has been making its way into my work a lot lately.
There is no doubt this is an amazing experience, and even when 1,304 is a large number, there are many teachers who aren’t able to attend. AMI is aware of this and has responded by creating a scholarship program, of which I was fortunate to be granted one this year. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I hope as a community, we keep finding ways to eventually have every single AMI teacher in the country attending this event.
One of my favorite memories from my time in Seattle came on the final night. I was having one last drink with four other friends, when one of them made the fun observation that not one of us was born in this country. We were from Colombia, Guatemala, France, Mexico and Spain. And we spent hours laughing and talking and sharing our personal journeys, our experiences that led us here, and reflecting on all we were taking from the weekend to continue bettering ourselves and contributing to our community.
Definitely not just a trip.