Kyla Chen is a Virtual Lead Montessori Guide with Guidepost Montessori's Virtual School, currently teaching from Asia. In this Q and A, she tells us how she got started in Montessori education, how she keeps her students engaged during virtual instruction, and offers advice on how to help your child transition from in-person teaching to remote learning.
Could you tell me about your experience with Montessori and what led you to work in a virtual school setting?
I first learned about the Montessori Method when I was working at an international Montessori school in Hong Kong. I witnessed first-hand how quickly the children I worked with were learning and growing. My experience there inspired me to become a Montessori Guide—I wanted to bring this method of teaching to more children, because I saw how much they benefited from it.
In the winter of 2018, I began working as a Guide with Guidepost Montessori at the Columbus Square location in New York.
My pivot to becoming a virtual Montessori Guide happened the same way a lot of abrupt career shifts did in 2020: the global pandemic precipitated many school closures, which prompted us to think about how we could safely deliver lessons to our students remotely. Luckily, Guidepost already had the resources in place via its Virtual School. I transitioned to working as a Parent Concierge in the spring with Guidepost’s Virtual School, and in July, I started work as a full-time Virtual Lead Montessori Guide.
Teaching virtually wasn’t what any of us had anticipated at the start of 2020, but it’s worked out well. An advantage we have is that the Montessori Method has always stressed the importance and value of the home environment—now, we can just emphasize this more. And technology makes it so much easier to connect with people from afar. I’m happy to say that since the pandemic hit, we’ve been able to offer a high-quality, virtual Montessori education to even more students.
What are some of the highlights you’ve experienced since you joined Guidepost’s Virtual School team?
The biggest highlight for me has been observing how children are still able to learn and grow socially, emotionally and intellectually, even from a distance. There are a few concrete examples that come to mind:
Sometimes I’ll be having a snack with my students (during our virtual snack time) and I’ll see one of them has learned how to pour themselves a glass of milk, or cut up a piece of fruit. I
Another time, I overheard a child who didn’t speak any Mandarin at the start of term beginning to recognize characters I’ve been teaching them about.
Once I received a video from a parent of their child retelling a story I had told to the class earlier.
All of these examples were special for me because it’s proof that the work I do and the lessons I’m teaching are having a positive impact. It’s even more fulfilling to see that happening when I’m isolated from my students. To know that I am still able to contribute to positive learning outcomes is a highlight for me.
One of the biggest challenges with virtual education is keeping students engaged. This is especially true for young learners. What kinds of things do you do in order to help students stay focused while they’re learning from home?
This is definitely an on-going challenge, but since I began teaching virtually, I have found a few things that help.
Emailing a to-do list in advance is a huge help and time saver. I love doing this. It helps families prepare any learning materials they’ll need for the lessons in advance. The parents appreciate it.
Providing mindfulness brain breaks is another one, either through doing practical life activities or music movement. Any kind of movement, actually, is helpful. It’s easy to get stuck sitting in a chair all day, staring at a screen—and that’s not conducive to learning effectively.
Finally, I really enjoy adding the personal touch to my lessons. Children love seeing their names in presentations, so I always try to do that when I can. It also helps them pay attention; they’ll perk up when they see their name.
How do you foster social interaction and collaboration amongst the students in the virtual community?
Even though Virtual School reduces opportunities for in-person interaction, a key part of socialization that we don’t always talk about is how to listen and express yourself in a group. And I find virtual learning is a great time to practice these skills.
We have a set of grace and courtesy rules that can be taught and learned virtually. These include things like raising your hands before speaking, waiting for someone else to speak when it’s not your turn, knowing when to mute or unmute yourself.
As far as activities go, I’ve provided several stimulating discussions that encourage interaction and debate. During these discussions, students have the opportunity to answer teachers’ questions and also to agree or disagree with their peers.
What is one piece of advice you have for parents of students in our Virtual School?
A common challenge I see families having is getting their children to take virtual lessons as seriously as in-person ones.
We can address this by thinking about learned behaviors. It’s common for a particular behavior to become associated with a particular environment. Take the gym or the kitchen as examples. We’re conditioned to work out in the gym and eat in the kitchen—we've trained ourselves to associate those two behaviors with those environments.
For children, they’re rarely conditioned to learn at home. So, what I suggest is to mark out a space at home and transform it into a prepared learning environment. Tell your child that when they enter this space, it's time to behave as though they're in class. I find that this helps them take learning at home more seriously.
Guidepost Montessori’s Virtual School delivers an engaging online learning experience for students aged 0 to 12, developed and facilitated by Montessori trained Guides. Click here to learn more and register for a free info session.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.