Montessori for Traditional Teachers – What Works
In I 1979 was hired to bring Montessori to a private British-Peruvian girls’ school in Lima. There were no Montessori materials, and the curriculum was set to meet the highest standards of both the British and Peruvian governments. Below are some quotes from the chapter describing this experience as recorded in the book Aid to Life, Montessori Beyond the Classroom:
One of the stories we had heard was about a Montessori teacher who was traveling, with her entire family and a large group of adults and children, from one part of Asia to another, migrations caused by the partition of British India into two countries in 1947. Each night as the travel stopped and camp was set up this woman gathered the children and included them, in all of the necessary and important practical life of the group. They had a purpose, value to their community, a way of learning new skills that distracted them from the sadness of their journey. This was authentic Montessori.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “if this woman could create Montessori in such dire circumstances, I should be able to do something valuable for the students in a beautiful girl’s school in one of the world’s capital cities.”
Our class quickly became notorious for the calm and quiet atmosphere and the fact that some of the girls who had not been so keen on school could hardly wait to arrive in the morning. The head of the school asked me to write a paper on the changes, and then to help the other teachers. Here are some of the headings in the paper: Classroom Physical Space, The Class Schedule, The Role of the Teacher (Support Individual Work; Observe, then Protect, Concentration; Teach How to Make Silence and Control Movement; Teach Children How to Help or Teach a Friend), The Attitude and Actions of the Teacher (See Each Child New Each Day), Teach by Teaching, Not by Correcting, and Modeling of the Adult (from “Aid to Life, Montessori Beyond the Classroom” page 11-26)
Click: Aid to Life
After the AMI congress in Colombia (link at the bottom of this page) I returned to Lima, Peru to lecture at universities for the second time.
The first school was one of the oldest teacher-training universities in the country. At Montericco women, and later both men and women, have been learning to be teachers of preschool and elementary classes for more than 100 years.
Above is a picture of a few of the 250 teachers and professors from Montericco who attended the presentation. All in white in front of me is Susana Chavez, the head of the AMI affiliate society for Peru.
So, after the presentation—full of pictures and video clips of Montessori throughout life, there we stood, three women in their 70’s and 80’s, smiling, hugging, trying so hard to communicate our excitement over the potential of using the essence Montessori homes and in traditional schools in Peru. We called ourselves the three wise old ladies, because sometimes it can take this many years to truly understand the potential of education.
We tried to communicate with a little French, a little Spanish, and a little English. But the understanding, even with the limits of the translators who were university students just as moved as us, was clear. The president of the university, the assistant principle, and I, all shared our understanding of what many teachers around the world over have in common—the belief that education can be much more than an academic curriculum; it can be a way to bring out the very best of happiness and compassion in students of any age.
The professors and several of the teachers said, to use their words, told me, “These things we learned today we can begin to implement tomorrow!”
They were referring to emphasis on observation and working toward an understanding of the individual students (from infancy on), protecting choices of study, respecting and protecting concentration, and providing ways for students to practice helping and giving to others.
To see more about the 2016 trip lecturing at the first three universities in 2016
CLICK: PERU 2016
Montessori for Traditional Teachers – What Does Not Work
Some years ago, there was a publication of support for Montessori in the public-school systems, The Public School Montessorian. One edition was dedicated to reports of the principals of these schools. I will never forget the words of one of these people,
“We have two fully out-fitted Montessori classrooms now, and next year we hope to be able to have two of our teachers take Montessori training.”
This emphasis of beautiful buildings and materials over the very best training of teachers, is one of the elements that does more harm than good. When one settles for quickly-trained teachers over fully-trained AMI (Association Montessori International, created in 1929 by Dr. Montessori to maintain the highest quality of teacher training) teachers, the results in the classroom are not those one expects, what has read in Montessori’s books, and this failure contributes to a misunderstanding of what Montessori can be.
Montessori in the Home – What Works
Learning to observe, and serve, the needs of children from the beginning of life works. Above is is a picture of a video clip that I use in my talks and presentations. It is of a small child carefully watching my hands on the piano keys, and then designing his own work. The video clip can be seen at the link at the end of this section, “Musical Babies.”
During my second work trip to Peru the mother of this child sent me a report of the many things they had learned and were using in their home. Some of these, with no mention at all of Montessori materials, were:
— We have learned to respect Matteo’s concentration and not to interrupt him when he is looking at something or trying to do something.
— We do not look away when there is eye contact and Matteo is staring at us.
— We all have learned to speak his language by repeating his sounds, exactly as they sound. Now we have long “conversations” with him.
— We talk to him gently and ask for his permission and understanding.
— We value moments like changing his diapers and nursing as moments to develop attachment. We do not rush through them but we understand that every interaction is important.
— Rather than providing a lot of baby toys we now know that simple objects we have at home are the best toys. We realize that he wants to handle and explore the things he sees other people using
To read the blog post of this experience, and more of what one mother and father learned, go to:
CLICK: Musical Babies PERU 2016
Montessori in the Home – What Does Not Work
Just as with the example in the Public School Montessorian report above, there is today a common idea that setting up a Montessori environment with many “Montessori” materials” in the home, like that one would find in an infant community or primary or elementary class, will create a true Montessori education at home. Nothing could be further from the truth. What often happens in this situation is that parents get upset because the children to not play/work with these expensive purchased materials. Why would they? Children learn from watching others and if they do not see other children playing/working with the materials, what is to inspire them? They want to be able to learn to do what they see others in the home do.
I once saw a YouTube assessment of the value of purchasing Montessori materials for age 0-3, “The best thing is that there is good resale value, even if you don’t find the materials being used in your own home.” And so, someone else will purchase them, and perhaps resell them eventually.
Montessori in Montessori Schools – What Works
Yes, the materials and the environment are very important, because in Montessori the learning does not pass from the teacher to the students. Instead the teacher puts the student in touch with the environment and facilitates auto-education through constant observation, 1:1 lessons, and adjusting to the needs of each student. This happens when the training of the teacher is the most important element in the Montessori school.
The path to become an AMI Montessori teacher trainer takes ten years after graduating from university, including graduation from an AMI course, five year full time teaching, three years full time working in a teacher training course, and research papers. It is constantly being assessed and updated to keep up with modern times. The trainers give refresher courses for teachers which is very valuable to keep the practice authentic in Montessori schools.
Montessori in Montessori Schools – What Does Not Work
Again, the emphasis on materials quick, short, or online teacher-training courses over knowledge of the human development, is obvious everywhere today. As I mentioned above, Dr. Montessori founded AMI in 1929, because, just as is happening today, imperfect, and compromised Montessori teacher training and classroom practice was spreading, the results of “Montessori education” inconsistent or nonexistent.
Today this is happening via the internet; self-proclaimed experts advising others often causing more harm than good. Books being published that are basically the teacher-training albums, but separated from the requirements of a teacher-training course, they are only books. Any wise person knows that reading something in a book is insufficient if one actually wants to learn a subject.
Although some of the information being spread this way is helpful, there is no way for the general public to know the difference between what will improve the lives of children and what will cause problems.
Earning an AMI Diploma
There are many projects that can be done by an AMI diploma holder—helping teachers of all kind improve their practice, birth preparation classes, lectures on Montessori, helping in orphanages,guiding homeschoolers, sharing Montessori ideas with traditional teachers. All of these can be helpful.
But keep in mind the difference between an AMI diploma and a diploma issues by an AMI teacher who has not graduated from the AMI Teacher-training program, a multi-year intensive training equal to a PhD. If you are interested in real AMI training, be sure that your teacher trainer has been certified by AMI.
Teaching Montessori is one of the most challenging, and rewarding, professions in the world, when it is done well.
For information on AMI training centers, teacher-training courses, and other helpful information:
Is a little Montessori better than none?
I used to think that “a little Montessori is better than none.” But now, after seeing the results of a wide variety of teacher training courses all over the world for over fifty years, I know that it depends on just what the “little bit” is.
Using the Montessori ideas presented in this blog post—learning to observe children, learning to respect choice and concentration, valuing authentic teacher training over the collection of materials and beautiful buildings— are the “little bits” that work. But compromising on teacher training is the “little bit” that is harmful.
Certainly, everyone understands the desire to reach many more children, to provide Montessori to those people who could never afford to take an authentic Montessori teacher course. And it can be helpful to learn what one can, however one can. But it is very important not to lose sight of what Montessori can be, a fulfillment of Montessori’s desire to reveal the true potential of the human being and the natural result of creating the best society possible.
I have been writing about Montessori for more than fifty years now and am so pleased that my own books are helpful in this regard, without their attempting to substitute for real teacher training. But there must always be a clear distinction between the kind of teacher-training constantly improved by AMI, and the many non-AMI certified teacher training. That way everyone can benefit.
Final Experiences in Peru
Before leaving for home I was able to fulfill a dream of actually seeing the inside of the cathedral on the main square of old Lima.
As you know from reading my blog, I am always interested in the art, old and new. The 400+ year-old Spanish-inspired architecture is beautiful, and the street murals are as interesting as those at home and I think this is a wonderful international movement.
Since my visit to Machu Picchu I have become more and more interested in learning about the Inca’s and other Latin American ancient cultures. Above are two distinct images of one of the Incas, whose feet were never to touch the ground when traveling from one place to another.
To see more about this painting, see the bottom of my last post, from the AMI Congress in Colombia last month.
CLICK: AMI CONGRESS
For more information on books, and more:
CLICK: SUSAN’S HOME PAGE