Acknowledging the past as we look towards the future

By Amy Kirkham

As we come to the end (of this part at least) of restrictions and ever changing requirements due to the Covid19 pandemic, we pause and look back — to acknowledge the events, challenges and achievements of the past two years — as we also look forward to 2022.

SMTC, along with many other Training Centres, with the approval of AMI, adapted courses with a mixture of synchronous (face-to-face online mainly through Zoom) and asynchronous (do it in your own time within a certain time frame) learning. The Orientation Certificate (previously called the Assistant Certificate) courses for the following age groups; 0–3, 3–6 and 6–12 years were offered in this format with the added benefit of also making these courses more accessible to those who were in different locations.

“We are currently in our second week, and the course has surpassed all expectations with the breadth of content and depth of understanding… Many, like myself, would never have been able to do the course if it had not been offered online.”
(Kathy, 3-6 Orientation Certificate participant, June 2020)

Leveraging technology

The online courses covered the same content and had the same requirements and expectations, however, scheduling became more creative! Even the nine hours of observations were still completed with recordings made available to those who were in lockdown and had no access to children in a particular age group.
This also had the added benefit of adding to the richness of discussions as in some cases all participants had seen the same footage.

Personally, I believe the observations completed during the course have been one of the most beneficial aspects of the training. Watching a range of different children and ages all work tirelessly and autonomously, and seeing them make informed and independent decisions affecting themselves and their environments has been extremely rewarding. I look forward to continuing this in the future both with my children at home and at school.
(Dave, 3–6 Orientation Certificate, March 2021)

The last 3 to 6 Diploma course ended in between different lockdowns and the current course also began during a lockdown. Some things made the transition to online learning relatively easily; for example theory reviews, theory lectures and discussions are just as effective – and perhaps even more effective delivered via Zoom. Time was factored in for guided reading, some recordings were made available which could be revisited and regular face-to-face sessions on Zoom also helped to keep everyone connected. A “blended approach” was taken, again with AMI’s support. Flexibility was built in without compromising standards and quality. (You may want to also read the post graduation reflection of a student who completed the Diploma in January 2021)

Some aspects of the course, however, can’t be effectively done remotely – it’s very difficult, for example, to practice work with materials if you don’t have access to them! Placements with children in environments also needed to be completed – and this was possibly one of the biggest challenges to work around with many students needing to defer this until they were allowed back into environments.

So, what have we learned from this experience?

We discovered that blended learning is more than possible and expands on the range of resources already offered to students.

“For some teachers, blended learning is describing what they’ve been doing successfully for years: that is, using a range of resources and activities to provide individualised, student-centred learning experiences for their students. The real difference today is the unparalleled access to the internet with its rich sources of information and services and more importantly, the connectivity it offers students and teachers, particularly the ability to create online communities and support networks.”
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, VIC

AMI was already exploring—and had piloted—blended courses pre pandemic and this approach has now been added to the range of other course formats including full time, part time and modular.

Perhaps in line with Montessori principles, we need to think of the addition of ‘blended learning’ as really being ‘flexible learning’.

“Central to flexible learning are learners and their needs, and the educational services on offer should allow them to decide for themselves what, when, how and where they learn.”
‘Facilitating flexible learning by replacing classroom time with an online learning environment: A systematic review of blended learning in higher education’; Educational Research Review, Vol 34, November 2021 

We are pleased to be able to offer a broad range of courses in the new year here at SMTC. We aim to continue to explore, together with AMI, the possibility of offering more courses with the same standards and quality to more people and thus also reaching and benefiting more children.