Dear AIMS Community,
Throughout the last century, Montessorians have focused on educating the human potential and growing peace one child at a time. Together, our AIMS community began 2022 dedicated to continuing our mission-driven momentum amidst a climate of continued uncertainty. We set our intentions on nurturing educator spirits, strengthening our schools, and creating a more just world through our important DEI work. Last fall, AIMS Board members met to strategize and set the annual agenda and our top priorities for the year. The opportunities to amplify the impact of accessibility to Montessori are ample. Through recruiting, training, and retaining faculty of color, increasing awareness of Montessori, and expanding social justice and anti-bias efforts, many more students and families could benefit. AIMS continues to foster quality in Montessori education across Illinois through our annual conference, networking, advocacy, and regular updates to our community. Focusing our efforts is essential. Our key priorities for 2022-23 include:
Connecting Our Regional Montessori Community
Being part of a worldwide education movement feels amazing, but especially during the pandemic, it can still feel lonely at times! As we navigate a third school year impacted by COVID, AIMS continues to create opportunities to cultivate camaraderie and mutual support amongst our colleagues. These include membership meetings, special topic meetings, and a virtual conference that reached 700 educator attendees, including parents. AIMS offers platforms for teachers and administrators to grow, learn, and share.
Montessori Policy and Advocacy
Active engagement in policy work at the state and national levels directly impacts our collective ability to operate and fund quality, diverse, and inclusive public and independent schools for over 25,000 students across the state. Most schools have few resources or training in policy advocacy, making this coordinated work critical to the success of, accessibility to, and representation in our schools. For the first time ever, AIMS has earned seats on multiple advisories, advocacy, and working groups within the state. In June of 2021, AIMS Executive Director, Denise Monnier, was appointed to the Governor's Early Learning Council (ELC) to help implement the recommendations from the Governor’s Early Childhood Funding Commission, which will help shape early childhood education in Illinois in the coming years.
In close collaboration with our national advocacy partner, MPPI (Montessori Public Policy Initiative), AIMS has also been making unprecedented headway on several key issues: gathering critical data about our Montessori communities; DCFS licensing including childcare exemptions; child care licensing options; ensuring Montessori teachers have been included in grant funding and training opportunities; advocating for Montessori Administrators credentials; and inclusion in the Excelerate QRIS/Gateways quality rating improvement system. It is through these steady policy efforts that we can create change, enhance quality, develop talent, and expand the reach of Montessori education. You can learn more about our progress in the AIMS Policy Briefing 2022.
Montessori as a Driver for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
As our nation continues to reckon with systemic racism, oppression, and injustice, AIMS embraces our responsibility to advance inclusive, proactive, and responsive schools. In addition to advancing meaningful change via policy work, AIMS offers professional development to enhance cultural competencies, create networking opportunities, and foster authentic, comprehensive inclusivity in our schools.
The annual AIMS conference is our central vehicle for professional growth and networking. The conference has grown over the past 10 years, offering top-notch presenters and creating a platform to share our effective practices and cultivate community. Key focus areas of the 2022 conference included sessions on public and private sector accessibility to Montessori education, teaching social justice in the classroom, inclusion in Montessori learning, the importance of trauma-informed instruction, and diverse representation at all levels in our schools. AIMS has invested in keeping the conference open for the last two years, overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic, and keeping that connection and support for our community as we head towards an in-person event for 2023.
Growing Montessori Leadership
Montessorians must be grown and mentored over time. Nationally, teacher preparation programs and schools have been suffering critical declines. Teachers of color are already underrepresented in our school system. The Economic Policy Institute summarized the teacher shortage crisis. Between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016, the share of schools that reported being unable, or having difficulty filling positions amounted to 46% percent. Interest in the teaching profession has declined while pandemic-related resignations and early retirements have increased, impacting the operational capacity of schools and the labor market. Between 2020 and 2022, this trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic. According to research by the Rand Foundation, in 2021, over 25% of teachers were considering leaving the profession. Women of color and young mothers have been impacted at especially high rates. Our Montessori community reports feeling these staffing constraints deeply. This is a crucial time for Montessori to adapt, survive, and thrive through concentrated efforts in recruiting, training, and retaining new teachers and administrators.
AIMS has gathered input from community members to identify strategies to address this critical teacher shortage. AIMS members can anticipate upcoming “employment rebranding” initiatives, as well as the prioritization of recruiting and retaining diverse talent. This year we will be highlighting employment strategies for schools, amplifying employment opportunities on the AIMS website and at the conference, and exploring leadership training options.
Fostering Organizational Sustainability and Engagement
Your membership and engagement matter! In order to continue and expand the impact of AIMS and Montessori education in Illinois, we need your participation. There are many ways to advance our collective work. This includes continuing your school membership, participating in advocacy work, board or committee service, attending events, and sharing our work. Medium to longer-range goals includes broadening our community over the next few years to better engage schools across the state, expanding faculty networking and leadership opportunities, and even engaging families in Montessori parent education and advocacy work. Our first parent engagement was our AIMS conference keynote presentation for educators and families, Hunt, Gather, Montessori Parent, presented by Michealeen Ducleff.
Opportunities for volunteering and community engagement:
Robyn McCloud-Springer and Denise Monnier