Universities are beautiful places. They are spaces of youth and optimism set against a backdrop of stately trees and prominent buildings. Yet every summer our campus becomes even more beautiful because of the presence of a hundred Montessori teachers ready to complete their degrees.
At orientation, I asked you to find some time during the session to think; and I provided you access to a prepared environment to facilitate contemplation and study.
Maybe it happened in one of your Special Education classes when Dr. Rolfe or Dr. Epstein presented an idea that unlocked a possibility for a student you know (or soon will meet).
Perhaps it materialized in the library while you were poring over an article for Ms. Haddaway or Father Savard’s class; a question was awoken in your mind and you became a researcher searching for clues, using a methodology that was newly presented to you, but at the same time, felt so familiar.
Or it could be that your mind became settled at Dr. Fenzel’s Mindfulness workshop as we all meditated together, remembering to breathe and remain connected to our thoughts. It is only if we take care of ourselves that we can truly be the transformed adult ready to take on the important work of assisting the development of children.
But likely the moments that matter the most happened over a glass of wine in the Hug Lounge, or an evening study session in McAuley, or while strolling with new friends at the Walters Art Museum. These were intentional settings ready to allow you time with each other and your thoughts.
I hope as you finalize your capstone assignments you will share these thoughts and questions with your professors (Carrie and Jim). It was their intent to allow you to synthesize all of these experiences into a roadmap for your emerging career.
I take special pride in reflecting on your time on our campus, knowing that you have shared an experience that will connect you to our Loyola family and a growing professional network of committed Montessori educators. As I head out to our final picnic together tomorrow at Dean Smith’s, I am proud of all that you have accomplished, and I am humbled by your commitment and your energy.
Tomorrow’s children are in good hands.
Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”
Happy May to all! As the term draws to a close here at Loyola, it is a time to reminisce on how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned, and how our knowledge carries us forward (with some stressful exams thrown in there somewhere)! This month we had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Xin Yuan, a native of China whose Montessori journey has landed her in Ontario. We hope you enjoy her story as much as we did.
Tell us about your background. How and when did you get involved with the Montessori method?
Born and raised in China, I followed the traditional education system in public schools, and received my undergraduate degree in English linguistics and literature in 2008. Before I came to America, I have never heard of the Montessori education. As an English major student, I shared a common dream of my fellow students to explore and live in an English- speaking country for at least a couple of years. I chose to come to America to work as a Chinese teacher for one year. That school happened to be a multilingual Montessori school in Baltimore (The New Century School). I worked with a Montessori trained directress as a Chinese speaking assistant. Until this experience, I never worked with children and never realized how much potential they have and how much they could learn at this age range: 2.5-6 years old. As I worked there, I enjoyed establishing a trusting relationship with the children and being able to assist and help them learn a second language. This learning method is not dry, nor boring, nor dependent on punishments and rewards as means of motivation, but rather based in observing the children’s interests and following their inner guides. Working in a Montessori environment made me want to learn and grow with the children; it helped me to be more creative and encouraging. I loved it! Also, the teacher with whom I worked with, Mrs. Cathy Lawson, was a very experienced Montessori teacher with a caring heart. She inspired and encouraged me to be a Montessori teacher. So, there I was, starting and planning my journey to follow the Montessori path.
Why did you choose WMI as your training site?
Ha, initially I chose WMI mainly because of the convenience of the location. I was working in Baltimore area, and my teacher friends told me that the nearest AMI training center – Washington Montessori Institute has a great reputation; plus, it offered an M.Ed. degree in Montessori Education. So I chose WMI without a second thought. But actually, it was after I finished the training in WMI and started working in other schools in different countries that I realized how much WMI has impacted me and how much I have benefited from it.
Did you enjoy your training, and the intensive session that followed? If so, what were some of your favorite aspects throughout the course?
Absolutely! As an international student, I have to say the first month of study really challenged my English listening and writing skills, because it required fast listening and writing especially for the lectures. Later, when I picked up the rhythm and got more and more comfortable, I started enjoying the course more and more.
I loved that it combined the lectures and presentations with some fun life skills that could stay with me for the rest of my life (For example, sewing, watercolor painting, material making, etc.). Before, I have never touched a sewing machine. It was during the training I got to learn the basic skills of sewing from Jennifer Shields and I just fell in love with it! By the end of the course, I was able to sew aprons, table mats, pouches, even a pencil bag and some curtains! To this day, I’m still sewing for my class and introducing those works to the children in my class. I remember Janet McDonell sharing a lot of beautiful songs through the course. Singing from the heart is so important for our teaching life, and the singing helped us release some pressure during the training as well.
I also really appreciated the opportunities to observe and practice teaching in different types of Montessori schools in the Maryland and D.C. area.
But what I enjoyed the most was actually after the intense training and following the instructions of the trainers. I found all the theories and presentations were somehow deeply marked into our brains and it made the final oral test a Montessori feast. (Some people might think I’m crazy, thinking of a test as the most enjoyable part, but I really felt that way.) We were so happy to show the other trainers from different training centers what we have learned and accomplished in the past 9 months, and we were sharing our understanding about Montessori education with experienced Montessorians. It was like a brain-storming experience and it was so special. They were there to listen to us, and we were there to talk and blossom for the first time as future Montessori teachers. It was fantastic!
Tell us about life after graduation. Where do you work now? Do you feel that the M.Ed. has helped you in your career?
After finishing the training and the M.Ed degree, I was working under the F-1 OPT visa in a local Montessori school for one year. At the end of the year the school was trying to sponsor me to apply for the H-1B working visa. Unfortunately, that year my case went into the lottery system and it wasn’t picked. So, I applied for immigration to Canada as a Federal Skilled worker. My training in WMI and the M.Ed. degree really helped to add the points up for the immigration. The whole process only lasted for about 10 months and then I got the immigration paper.
I’m currently working in an AMI member school as a Montessori directress in Canada, Ontario, about 40 minutes drive from downtown Toronto. During the summer time, I work as a translator in the AMI training center in Shen Zhen city, China. In China, the AMI training centers are offering the 3 summers’ AMI casa training courses, and the trainers are from different parts of the world. I am honored to work with wonderful trainers: Louise Livingston from England, Ruby Lau from Inida, Teenaz Reporter from India and Cecilia Elguero from Mexico. At the same time, I always see myself as a representative from WMI-Loyola in this big Montessori family.
What advice would you give to individuals considering the Masters degree through Loyola?
The Montessori training and the Masters program are intense and could make this one year go by really fast, but when you are finished and look back, you will feel that all of the hard work was worth it. I benefited a lot from it, hopefully you will enjoy it even more. Come and join this journey with us, and be a Montessorian. You won’t regret it.
Our favorite insight: “Working in a Montessori environment made me wanted to learn and grow with the children; it helped me to be more creative and encouraging.” – Xin Yuan
Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”
This month we hear from Ms. Kelsey Catalo, who is both a Montessori Director and teacher down in the southwest. Kelsey graduated from Loyola in Fall of 2016.
Where are you working now?
I am currently working at Cave Creek Montessori in Cave Creek, Arizona. My parents founded Cave Creek Montessori in August of 1998. Prior to my parents opening their school, my mother had taught Montessori for 25 years and earned her AMI certification. As of 2014, my parents have promoted my sister and I to the position of Directors. In the afternoons, I am teaching in an AMI Montessori classroom that consists of four, five and six year olds. 2017 marks my very first year teaching and I have developed a passion for making a difference with the small group of children with whom I work; a passion that was left undiscovered until now.
What was your favorite part about the Loyola experience? Did you find the Summer Session challenging or rewarding?
Where do I begin?! Do I have to choose only one part?! The students, the teachers, the campus, the city and the education I received from Loyola University were a few of my favorite things! I was inspired to become a Montessori teacher after completing the summer course; something I never thought I would actually build up enough confidence to do! I would say that while the course was very rigorous and fast paced, it was hands-down one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! I was granted the opportunity to learn so much from other Montessori teachers, where they came from and how they ended up on their current paths in life as ambassadors of education. All of my teachers and fellow peers inspired me to always create, learn and travel. My teachers always encouraged me to ‘think outside the box’ and to push my limits.
The campus and the city were two equally amazing parts of the program. Exploring Baltimore as a regular local for a month was an experience in itself! I had so much fun being able to travel to places like Washington D.C. over Fourth of July weekend with a few other Loyola students, seeing the Baltimore Aquarium, walking to the local campus coffee shops or taking an Uber to a nearby cafe. All of these people, places and occurrences made my experience at Loyola University a beautiful memory to last a lifetime. I left Loyola with my M.Ed., but I know I came out of the program an overall more well-rounded person.
How does the M.Ed. help with your career goals?
Receiving my M.Ed from Loyola has made a great impact on myself as a teacher, a Director, and overall, as a person. As a Director, I feel one hundred times more confident in my all of my abilities and knowing that my parents’ legacy can live on through the positive impact I make on their school. As a teacher, I have gained knowledge not only about the Montessori education, but research and statistics relating to Montessori, the public school system and special education classes. Through earning my M.Ed., I have become so much more confident, patient, knowledgeable and ambitious. Overall, I can honestly say with utmost pride that I am on a successful path towards my career goals and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Our favorite insight: “I left Loyola with my M.Ed., but I know I came out of the program an overall more well-rounded person.”
Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”
Last week, Jack and I had the pleasure of traveling out west to visit MNW in Portland and SIMS in Phoenix. The first leg of the trip provided the perfect opportunity to check in on some of our alumni! In a small café in Portland, we met up with Emily de Vine to chat about life after school. Emily’s experience is a bit unique. She trained in Primary at Montessori Northwest, but since graduating has worked at Franciscan Montessori Earth School as a Lower Elementary Assistant.
What inspired you to Montessori?
It’s a common story: I’ve always been interested in teaching. I really love the alternative styles of teaching, and I didn’t care for public school systems. I didn’t want to be a public school teacher, so I was looking for other choices. Above the other alternatives that are out there, I really felt pulled to the Montessori system—the scientific background of it, the idea that it’s for each child, and that it’s so hands on. It drew me in.
How do you like being in the classroom at Franciscan?
Well, I trained in Primary, and I work in Lower Elementary. They’re a completely different child, and the rooms are set up very differently. I’m familiar with a few of the items in the room; but usually when a child gets a lesson, I’m getting the lesson too, which is really neat. I love the arrangement, though—the tables of different heights, some of which are for one child, some for many. I love the availability of choices.
Do you wish you had done Elementary training?
Do you wish you were working in a Primary classroom?
Yes—but not yet. I’m excited to experience the three-year cycle in my current classroom. However, I do want to go to a Primary classroom eventually.
It’s going to be an amazing experience for you, because unlike a lot of Primary teachers, they don’t know where the child goes. Many Primary teachers are intimidated by Elementary; when they visit and observe a classroom, they feel like it’s out of their lane. So when you do finally go back to Primary, your knowledge will give you a step up.
Yeah. I’m very excited for that. Right now I see where the children are when they come in, and it gives me ideas for what I could have helped them learn and focus on before the [Elementary] classroom.
What are some of the specific challenges you feel?
I’ve done very little studying of the second plane child, so I look at him or her and have to remind myself, ‘You are not four years old. You are safe; you can do these things.’ I’ve found that I’ve really honed my observation skills because of it! I tend to shy back and wait instead of just jumping in at something that I would have done for a four or five-year-old. It’s a challenge, but also a good growth experience. But another challenge is when a child asks me about a material, and I have to tell them, ‘I have no idea. I have no idea what it’s called, I don’t know how to do it; we’ll have to wait.’
I don’t feel as challenged or intimidated by the materials as I used to. The children and I have built a rapport now. It’s gotten to the point where I can say, ‘I don’t know, we’ll have to wait until Sister [our guide] is out of her lesson to talk about it.’
You attended Summer Session in 2015. Did you enjoy those weeks? Did you find anything extra challenging or rewarding? Do you have a favorite part? Least favorite part?
I’m glad that it was intensive and all at once rather than a weekend here, a weekend there, or one week at a time here and there. It was a lot, but I did it immediately following my training year, so I was really still into the intense kind of study mode. It was nice getting to meet other people from the training center that had gone through before me, some of whom I hang out with now, which is really great. So yes, it was so much, so quickly—but we did it!
Talk a little bit about your final project – you wrote about sensory gardens?
Yes. I have a background in Psychology. I’m really interested in the human brain, how people function, how we get along, and what can make us better as Montessori guides. The sensory garden idea was originally for children who have autism or other developmental or sensorial or processing issues. It helps integrate both sides of their brain by touching and feeling things. It’s a friendly environment—so if they eat something, it’s not going to be toxic. It’s meant to be pleasant, not over-stimulating. You can use dirt, wood, stumps, rocks, or water…the goal is essentially to use anything natural.
My paper was really about how important having any sort of gardening is. So even if you live in an apartment high-rise, just having some plants or even herbs in your kitchen window is better than not having anything, because even then you can still get the smell from the herbs, rub the leaves…it gives you something.
Do you have a lot of plants in your classroom?
The Franciscan Montessori Earth School is known for its gardens. We have a gardener and gardening lessons every other week. Each classroom has access to an outdoor corridor where they keep track and care of the plants and flowers out there.
We have a few plants in our classroom. Our kids tend to overwater everything, so we have a lot of flooded plants right now!
Did you have a favorite part on [Baltimore] campus, or was it just getting through it, getting to the end?
I enjoy school, so I liked just being on campus again! When I went away to college the first time I lived on campus and I really enjoy that environment. I like the whole class system idea; you go to one class, maybe two a day, and then you have a break to work on it. I function better that way.
When we were at Montessori Northwest today, a lot of students asked about the final project. Did you find it to be tough—were you working on it during your time on campus?
No, I waited until I got back home. Part of it was that I knew it wasn’t due immediately, so I didn’t need to finish it while I was in Baltimore. I was focusing more on the papers that needed to get done, and then I was focused on getting the articles—the research—in hand before I came home. Other than that, I pushed it to the side for the most part. However, having my topic finalized before leaving campus was imperative. I don’t know what I would have done if we hadn’t hammered that out before.
After attending, do you have any advice others coming in this Summer?
Do your homework! (laughs) Really it’s about making a timetable, a schedule, and sticking to it. It’s only a few short weeks—you have to just dig in.
Our favorite insight: “Right now I see where the children are when they come in, and it gives me ideas for what I could have helped them learn and focus on before the [Elementary] classroom.”
Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”
March is a month to celebrate change and growth, and it is in that spirit that we shine our spotlight on Eric Heil, one of our 2014 graduates. His Montessori journey started early, planting roots that never quite left him.
Give us a little background on yourself. Where did you grow up? When did you decide to become a Montessori teacher?
I grew up in the Napa Valley in northern California. Grape growing and Montessori were integral to my childhood. I was born in Sacramento while my father was studying viticulture at UC Davis, and we moved to Napa shortly thereafter for him to pursue a career in the wine business. It was there, in my hometown of St. Helena, that my mother and her sister founded St. Helena Montessori School in 1981. I was a member of one of the first classes to graduate – I think we were three students. My love for the Montessori approach goes as far back as I can remember. It was so fun to be at school and to learn about things that were fascinating to us as children. We were very independent and extremely interested in the world around us. I attended St. Helena Montessori School from pre-k through 6th grade and then attended public schools through high school. Upon transitioning to traditional public school, I recall being shocked when I found my peers didn’t enjoy school.
After college, I decided to join Teach For America, and that is what launched my career as a teacher. I saw the opportunity to teach in some of our nation’s neediest schools as something I didn’t want to miss. Part of the reason I chose to teach was because I had been inspired by two tremendous teachers as an undergrad – Warren Pulich and Joe Mueller. Warren taught me about birds, and Joe taught me about mammals. Both men were experts at what they did and even as mature adult men, they were still thrilled to share their wonder for the natural world – oftentimes with a zany flair. I taught math and science for two years in the Bronx, New York, but all the while I was in traditional schools, I knew Montessori was a model I preferred.
Several years (and schools) later, having moved to Washington DC, I decided to finally take the plunge and do the Montessori Elementary Training. It was like coming home. I was encouraged by my aunt, who had originally trained as a Montessori teacher in Bergamo, Italy, and by my mother who still runs the school they started. Having personally taught in several types of traditional schools, both public and private, I realized oftentimes traditional schools can work against the child and actually thwart his development. Montessori had been such a key part of my upbringing (and is such a beautiful and organic approach to begin with) that taking the training was almost something I couldn’t avoid.
What were some of the factors in your decision to study at WMI, specifically?
I decided to study at WMI primarily because it is an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) training institute. AMI was founded by Maria Montessori and is the institution she designed to train teachers, accredit schools, and perpetuate the insights of her method in their entirety. In addition to this, WMI is located in the DC metropolitan area, where I reside. Finally, the reputation of the teacher trainers at WMI was very strong. Dr. Kay Baker was at WMI when I first grew interested, and my aunt strongly encouraged me to take the elementary training from her. It was an added bonus that Janet McDonnell was teaching Primary there, as she had taught my cousins in southern California. I attended an open house at WMI and it was a terrific experience. I met the trainers, saw the pristine and inviting classroom environments, and even met Trevis, one of my future fellow trainees. WMI is the oldest AMI training institute in the country and had a terrific reputation – I found it exceeded my expectations.
Tell us about your experience (highlights/challenges) in Baltimore at Loyola over the summer. Was it difficult to complete the capstone in such a short amount of time?
There were definitely pros and cons to the summer program. For me personally, living in DC all summer and going to Baltimore for classes was a bit of a challenge, but the commute was also a time to decompress, and catch up on the news. Most of my classmates lived on or near campus, and that seemed to go well for them. Having the all-Montessori cohort in our classes was a definite highlight. We met Montessorians from across the country and had courses which were more or less tailored to the Montessori approach. This greatly enhanced the benefit of the general education coursework.
It was an intense time of study and research, but I was more interested in being immersed in the content and finishing in a short period of time rather than prolonging the process with a part-time program. The capstone paper we wrote was a very rewarding undertaking. I was able to conduct a thorough literature review on a topic that interested me (Nature Deficit Disorder), and then synthesize my findings in a scholarly paper. The research class and capstone paper helped us to think beyond the soundbites and headlines involving issues in education and gave us the ability to think for ourselves and undergird our understanding with evidence from the scientific literature. Overall, the capstone program was arduous, but I found the level of difficulty to be appropriate and not overwhelming.
Where are you now? Are you facing any challenges in your career?
I am currently teaching at The Heights School, in Potomac, Maryland. I love the school and find working there to be very fulfilling. Of course there are challenges – teaching is inherently challenging. I have had experience working with children in Mill Valley, California and in Monterrey, Mexico. I was a homeroom teacher in a public middle school in the Bronx, New York and have worked with inner-city youth in Washington DC for about 10 years. I teach in an all-boys independent school and no matter where I have taught, I find that children have the same basic needs. They all seek to understand the world around them and want to know how they can play a meaningful role in society. Teaching can be exhausting, humiliating, and hidden. We spend a lot of time preparing our classrooms, thinking about the children and what each one needs, and then giving lessons throughout the day, and we handle a fair amount of abuse. It takes a toll.
It is poetic justice that I have to deal with a rowdy group of nine to twelve year olds each day because I wasn’t exactly a model student myself. I probably caused several teachers headaches back in my day, so now I get to be on the receiving end. However, as you mature as a teacher, you realize that the goal is to have your students become active themselves and progress on their own. Montessori would say that the teacher can be inspired by the thoughts of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That is how we have to approach our students: this isn’t about me, it’s about the child.
Do you have any advice for current students in our program?
Enjoy your days of training! I know it can be overwhelming, but I encourage you to pour your heart and soul into preparing yourself as a teacher. The AMI training is rigorous, but it is a thing of beauty. I spent numerous all-nighters (and none due to procrastination), but I don’t regret a single moment of all the work. I recall so many moments: painting charts (preferably with friends); doing illustrations; redoing illustrations; soaking up the lectures; and endless hours of write-ups—it was all so worthwhile. I would do it again. If you are feeling down and need some inspiration, call up some fellow trainees and go out and unwind. Better yet, if you have time, go observe in a Montessori classroom. You are getting a top notch preparation for a simply sublime line of work. Finally, I would encourage you to join the new group we have founded – WMI Alumni & Friends. Graduates of AMI and other teachers in the area are here to support and assist you. We look forward to meeting you and are happy to share our experiences.
What’s one thing that not many people know about you?
I studied the nutrition of the southern sea otter while working at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. This was a dream of a job – collecting prey specimens along the central coast of my native California, and then conducting analysis in the Nutrition Lab of the National Zoo. I probably dreamt of working in a zoo from the time I was in Montessori primary, and the dream came true. The one regret I have is that I turned down a subsequent job offer to study Weddell seals in Antarctica. I was back in the classroom by then, and it seemed a bit too out there to spend several months on the fast ice for “perhaps a small stipend.” Maybe one of my students will end up in McMurdo Station and he can tell me all about it.
Our favorite insight: The research class and capstone paper helped us to think beyond the soundbites and headlines involving issues in education and gave us the ability to think for ourselves and undergird our understanding with evidence from the scientific literature. -Eric Heil
Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”
Director Jack Rice reflects on his trip to NYC last weekend, where he presented on teacher leadership at the 2017 Montessori Model United Nations event.
I was honored to be given the opportunity to speak to teachers and parents at the Montessori Model United Nations event held in New York City last week. My topic was teacher leadership; which was the epitome of preaching to the choir. Leadership coursed through the event, from the teachers who led the not insignificant charge to make MMUN a reality for their students, to the Session Coordinators (senior students who led the simulations). Then there were the students themselves. My favorite part of the event was watching the students in committee sessions organizing themselves, discussing issues and caucusing with representatives for other countries. I was inspired by the ability of the students to build consensus and solve problems. On the last day, the students left the Marriott at Times Square and embarked on their final destination, the United Nations building, to complete their tasks and to finalize their resolutions and commitments.
Overall I was struck by the size of the event: over 150 schools were represented by students, teachers and chaperones from around the world. It is experiences such as MMUN that all children should have; a student leaves feeling a deeper connection to all nations and to humanity. They also must realize that the Montessori movement is huge and global; perhaps they were told that already, but five days in New York with a thousand of their brothers and sisters from around the planet must drive home the point.
I have always felt that Education was much more like farming than manufacturing, and as I boarded the Amtrak back to Baltimore my thoughts were with the MMUN and what fruit may come from the seeds that were planted at the event.
It is not difficult these days to find an educational pundit, someone with myriad solutions to dubious problems, garnered from a lifetime of barely understanding what is actually going on. I prefer the practitioner.
So when Dr. Mark Lewis and Melissa Mulieri invited me to speak to Loyola’s Elementary Education Capstone class on the topic of Montessori Education, I jumped at the chance to share the story of Dr. Montessori’s life and work.
The conversation did not disappoint. The questions from the group were topical and profound. In a group of teachers I feel at home – because the conversation always flows to what is developmentally appropriate for students and the higher purpose we strive for as Educators.
It reminded me of two moments.
The first was at McGill University in Montreal on the first day of my own education capstone class. One of the professors told us, “soon you will join the ranks of teachers, and in so doing you will call amongst your colleagues some of the finest people in the world.” I remember few direct quotes from my University studies, but that one has stuck.
The second was at the Toronto Montessori Institute where I was welcomed into a new community of educators and invited to share in a journey of rediscovering the child. It’s a quest of which I am still in pursuit.
So thank you, Dr. Lewis, Ms. Mulieri, and students. I wish you every success in your careers.