Our Montessori Mission in the 21st Century

men·tor

ˈmenˌtôr,ˈmenˌtər/ noun

  1. an experienced and trusted adviser.

Synonyms: Advisor, guide, guru, counselor, consultant

In the summer of 2009, my mentor, teacher, and friend, Sister Anthonita Porta, O.P gave a marvelous lecture on Montessori philosophy. I sat with the freshly minted training cohorts, listening intently to her advice and interpretations. I did not know it at the time, but this would be the last lecture I would ever hear from her.

For several days, she talked about what it meant to be a Montessorian. I took notes as fast as I could. “How to prepare the adult self to be in the presence of children….” After 28 years of living Montessori education in my career, every word from her weeklong training spoke to me.

I recently came across my pages of notes from that course and there were two ideas that jumped off the page: the “core of our work” and “inner knowing.”

Sister Anthonia was telling us that as you travel along this path of Montessori education, as a teacher, administer, or parent educator, you would come to an “Inner knowing”. This knowing was what we had to find for ourselves so that we help children to feel it too. It was outside of all the technical knowledge we focus on when we are training and learning about our didactic materials. It was the core of understanding the child, life, and our teaching purpose. The technical part, she continued to explain “can be learned… proper placement on the rug, progression of materials, and order.” Her message was that “what could not be summarized in our lessons plans was the “core of knowing.” Having compassion and loving kindness for the child and of course, the work.

Another critical moment that jumped off the pages of those notes was that all of us, year after year should be asking ourselves a question. A question about something that Dr. Montessori showed us with her groundbreaking (and still relevant work.)

“ Are you true to your beliefs?”

This was the simple question that has guided me and been a part of every school program that I have led and is threaded in every training I have done with teachers. Every decision was made much easier when I asked myself, “does this choice fit into what I believe and live each day?”

The pendulum of education and our work will always swing from one side to the other, but as Montessorians, dare I say, as humanitarians, we must remain in the middle, with our authentic self and our core Montessori beliefs. As I reread these notes almost ten years after that inspiring training, it speaks to a little voice that has been rumbling around in my head. “What is real authentic Montessori?

It is a big question. And I know that the answer has nothing to do with our materials and policies, and everything to do with our beliefs and pulse on the world that surrounds us.

Disruption

Dr. Montessori lived in a world much like ours is today. Things, society, and culture, are changing faster then most people can grasp, could grasp back then. What Maria Montessori did was dare to step outside of the box and use her keen observation and inner knowing to change how we see children. And that changed how they needed to look at learning. Her inner knowing coupled with her technical knowledge guided her to change the world of children’s learning more than 100 years ago.

Today, it feels more relevant and powerful. Work is changing, society is changing, technology is changing, and we need to step back and observe and listen to our “inner knowing.” This is our challenge today and should be our deepest desire as Montessorians: to live our values and to guard the precious beautiful souls that we have the sacred honor of meeting each day.

It is not a coincidence that these notes, and in fact all the notes of my college years taken from the classrooms of Sister Anthonita Portia, my mentor, have been rediscovered. I feel that my longing for authenticity is right before my eyes. The rereading of my core beliefs, passion, and purpose have a message for me some twenty-eight years later. This blog contains my desire for understanding and is dedicated to thinking about what it really means to be authentic from a Montessori perspective. It is my hope to challenge stagnate thinking and offer ideas that will percolate and will spur our understating about how we stay relevant in a word that is changing faster then we can grasp.

I believe that this time in our world, not unlike the disruptive time of Maria Montessori, is ripe with wisdom and direction. And finding those notes from the most gentle of giants among us, Sr. Anthonita Porta OP, is no accident. In fact, it is a continuation of her training, from my notebooks to yours. As a community, we must lift our heads, observe more deeply, and take notice of our “inner knowing” so that we can become the authentic Montessorians we need to be.

Experiencing the Environment

“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” Maria Montessori

It is our hope to share in the months and years ahead the moments and authentic experiences that make Montessori education so important in our world today.

We value your insights and comments and inspirations from the materials that will be unfolding here at Montessori Maven.  Every day is a gift and it our hope to share that gift with you.