What’s an Affinity Space?Washington Montessori School
New Preston, Connecticut

In a Montessori classroom, educators maintain a careful and thoughtful balance between individuals and the group as a whole. Rather than privileging one over the other, we create a space where the collective experience is heightened and strengthened by the individual contribution and identity of each child. In a recent Cherish and Change meeting, one parent described the school’s approach in this way: “an unconditional positive regard for children is assumed.” This struck every one of us as a precise and accurate description of the foundation of a WMS education.

The goal of a Montessori classroom is not simply to protect the rights of each child, but rather to create an environment in which the whole becomes greater than the sum of its members.

To put it most simply: a classroom is transformative for all when each individual is fully the person he, she or they are meant to be.

As Montessorians, we understand the constant ebb and flow of a child’s development. As children move through the planes that Montessori herself described so beautifully, we watch their skills grow. But we also see each child develop a sense of individual and group identity. That identity is both rooted in personality and in the social identifiers that shape us all. I am not just Launa — I am also a cisgender, middle aged married white woman and mother who experiences the world — and is experienced by the world — through those lenses.

Over the course of my life, for as long as I can remember, I have been navigating all of the parts of my identity. Our children are constantly doing the same.

Affinity spaces are places where people who share a similar identity, background, or experience can gather and learn in community. They are different from classrooms, congregations, or school communities because they are places where people talk about one aspect of their identity. For example, WMS recently started an affinity space for parents of neurodiverse learners — children who learn differently or experience the world in atypical ways. When that group gathered in the Community Room, it was a rare opportunity for parents who have a common experience to share resources, approaches, and tools with one another.

Another affinity space has formed in our middle school. Middle School students who identify as girls have chosen to meet on a regular basis to talk about what it means to be an adolescent girl. This group is lightly supervised by a caring adult, but dreamed into being and facilitated by girls themselves — yet another example of student leadership at WMS.

Affinity groups may form to drive change, to provide a space for brave, open dialogue, or to solve problems. In the case of the two affinity groups that have formed this year at WMS, interested people have set aside time and space. We use meeting norms to guide our conversations, but leave space for individual members of the group to share their needs and experiences.

An affinity space convenes to meet a need felt by the members of that group. The American Montessori Society has convened a number of Affinity groups for educators: one for Spanish-speaking Montessorians, another for anti-racist white educators, one for Montessorians of color, and another for LGBTQIA+ educators. These groups use the Montessori framework to gather and learn in community, with the goal of strengthening all our classrooms.

As a member of the WMS community, do you experience the need for an affinity space? If so, let’s talk! And if you have questions about affinity spaces more generally, come visit so we can talk. My door is always open.

#WMSHeadofSchool

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