Now the adult himself is part of the child's environment. ~ Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
Have you ever noticed how sensitive children are to inconsistency between their parents? It is not different in the classroom. The most difficult year that I had in the classroom was the result of being at odds with my teaching partner. He and I saw things differently, from how to approach the academic work to how to develop relationships with the students, and even what our roles were in the classroom. It was the most stressful year I experienced as a teacher. The conflict not only affected us, but the children. They received different messages from each of their teachers, which created an environment rife with confusion, manipulation, and disrespect.
I returned the following year, and my teaching partner did not. This is often the result of a divided teaching team. A good friend of mine once said, “Experience is not the best teacher, it’s the only teacher.” I think he was right, and I was not going to let this experience go to waste. Over the summer, I reflected on how profoundly the adult interactions of the previous year had affected everyone in our classroom community, and how this came to be. My teaching partner had not been given a job description by our head of school, and was unclear on his role in the classroom, and I avoided this conversation which caused a lot of conflict later on. Our ongoing communication had been weak and inconsistent. We had not been on the same page when it came to modeling, routines, expectations, procedures, discipline and following through with the children, and our lack of effective communication made it worse. We didn’t take the time to communicate and solve problems together and ensure our interactions with the children were consistent.
I knew that my most important task going into the new school year was to develop a strong working relationship with my new teaching partner and form a real partnership. I decided that I would spend most of our teacher prep-week in August on this effort, planning and communicating with my new colleague, rather than on planning lesson plans and preparing the classroom. So, I spent time over the summer doing the work that I normally would do during prep-week. I wanted to make sure that had the time to become a team and to create clear routines, expectations, procedures and communication channels.
The results of this investment in communication time with my new teaching partner, only three weeks into the school year, were dramatic. Because of our effective communication, we were consistent in our approach to the children. The children picked up on this, and there was a sense of security that permeated the room. The children started immediately settling into their work, following classroom ground rules, helping one another, and interacting much more respectfully. There were, of course, a few bumps, but my anxiety level was so much lower than at the same time the previous year. When we ran into a problem, we had a way to solve it. My colleague and I were on the same page, and I started looking forward to coming to work every day!
The Key to Consistency
In some instances, an inconsistent teaching team (assistant or co-teacher) may just be the result of a bad fit, resulting from different paradigms of the children and the classroom. Adults who just see things differently, and therefor behave differently. This can be remedied by a more careful hiring or classroom placement process for staff. However, many instances of inconsistency between adults are driven by lack of clear communication in the following areas of the structure of the classroom:
- Roles and responsibilities. Who is doing what, and how are decisions made?
- Ground Rules and Routines.
- Approach to discipline
What would it look like, if all the adults in a classroom were clear on their roles and responsibilities, developed the classroom routines, expectations and procedures together with the children, and practiced the same consistent approach to classroom discipline? The answer is obvious. But how do we get there?
Communication Game Plan for Head Teachers
While there is no “right answer” to how to facilitate communication between adults, here are some suggestions that may help to achieve a higher level of communication and consistency. While these plans might seem a little formal, that is intentional. Communication between adults is essential to creating a consistent, predictable environment for the children, which supports the development of their self-regulation. Communication time is often the first thing to get rescheduled in our busy calendars, but it should be the last. For communication to remain high and fluid, it takes time and intentional effort.
- Take some time over the summer to do work that you normally do during prep-week. Focus your prep-week efforts on planning ahead to solve future problems with your teaching partner: plan out transitions, routines, communication, and Positive Discipline tools.
- Meet weekly and protect your communication time with your teaching partner.
- Create a weekly agenda. Stick to your agreed upon agenda. Acknowledge that it will be difficult to stay on the agenda because you both have so many common, daily experiences that can fill up the communication time (funny stories about children, frustrations with parents, etc.). Some agenda topics to consider:
- Child concerns
- Parent concerns
- Upcoming schedule and lesson plan
- Field trip plans
- Routines and transitions
- Choose one Positive Discipline tool to review each meeting.
- Use a composition book or other communication log to record daily communication (pick-up and drop off instructions by parents, logistics, reminders, agenda items for your weekly meeting, etc.). This helps keep communication fluid and thorough throughout the week.
- Consider a separate monthly one-hour meeting to discuss more significant behavior concerns and use the Mistaken Goal Chart to create strategies to support the students and teachers.
Ensuring that adults are on the same page is essential to creating a secure environment for children. When children feel secure, they do better (and adults do too)! That year ended being one of my favorite years in the classroom. A far cry from the year before. I had learned one of the most important lessons of my teaching career: The environment begins with the teacher. 
“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate.” Haim Ginott
Until next time…
 Nelsen, Jane, and Chip DeLorenzo. Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom: Preparing an Environment That Fosters Respect, Kindness and Responsibility. USA, Parent Child Press, 2021, page 81-84