We're extremely pleased to Spotlight Anna Lee, from Meadows Montessori, in Fredrick, Maryland. We first encountered Anna through her lovely talk on TEDx, which we've posted below. From the very start, we felt her contagious energy and passion for pushing things at least one step further. Now that we've learned more about her and her school, we think you're in for a treat. Enjoy!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
A: I'm a child of public school from one of the best academically scored counties in the country. However, I don't really have any great memories about my actual education. I memorized, reguritated, and passed the test to pass the grade. I wish I loved school the way that my Montessori students love to work. My Korean parents encouraged me to take violin, cello, and piano classes while attending weekend Korean school and Kumon throughout my childhood. My parents clearly wanted the best for me, and I am so incredibly thankful that they tried. What they didn't realize was that what I was really learning from them. I grew up watching them both work hard to make sure my brother and I lived in this specific county to go to these schools. Shuffling to and from classes, struggling to speak proper English, and making sure to make homemade Korean food every night for dinner. I don't thank my work ethic because I'm a Capricorn, but because I am a child of my environment.
I love my work as a director of education. I am able to teach children, train my staff, educate my families, and stay abreast of all the current issues of education in our country. I can sleep well at night knowing that I've dedicated my life to helping children foster their full potential. Essentially, helping to change our future for the better. "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men"- Maria Montessori.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
Hands down, my all time favorite book is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. I may have bought and given away close to a hundred copies of it. I encourage any adult to have it bedside. The film Baraka inspires my outlook on life and travels, I highly recommend it!
Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies?
A: You can find me globe-trotting to an unusual part of the world or wandering around an art museum. My favorite thing to do is laugh and eat sushi (all at the same time).
Q: Switching to Montessori, what advice do you have for new Montessori schools?
A: One word: RESEARCH. In our product driven society, our government wants "evidence of learning." Investing in quality research gains more traction than any type of publicity.To our larger community, we need to place all of our energy and money into research. Montessori teachers and parents have seen it with our own eyes, yet it was because of a leap of faith that parents mostly joined in the beginning. As our evidence of learning spilled out organically without assessments, parents re-enrolled with trust and faith.
Also, new or old, first thing is first: practice what we preach! Montessori's philosophy should never just stop at the classroom door, it should extend outside of those walls and into the staff and administration, and yes, even the owners and board. Montessori teachers all start out passionate and full of rigor. To sustain and replenish this year after year (or decade after decade), it's essential to support the hearts of these teachers. To take the oath to be a Montessorian, it is almost like taking on a lifelong responsibility to constantly defend what and why we do what we do. It never gets easier, or harder... it is just continuous. Montessori has been around for over a hundred years, and yet it is often labeled as being innovative and progressive education to the general public.
One of our biggest pitfalls as a community is that we sometimes become so concerned about where we received our training, who we worked for, how many years we have seniority over the other, or even worse- what organization we're affiliated with. This goes back to practicing what we preach, we need to put emphasis on supporting our Montessori neighbors, and helping them to strive for higher standards. This alone will begin to diminish the misunderstandings that the general public come across as they visit or experience schools that are more hybrid traditional and Montessori programs. It's a harsh reality that most of our schools are businesses, and what tends to steer the ship is enrollment, enrollment, enrollment. How do we make sure that that passionate Montessori teacher has a job at the end of the year? What makes your school stand out from the other three schools in a 5 mile radius? How do we keep the integrity of the Montessori philosophy and methodology in tact as parents begin to challenge your teachers or opt for public school? We all know how we have answered these questions within our own schools.
Q: How have things changed since you first got started in the field of education?
A: A generational shift has been happening. Our mentors and fore(mothers) in our Montessori community who started teaching back in the 60s and 70s are beginning to gracefully retire and leave our field. It's now the responsibility of my generation to keep that flame alive more than ever. With our education system now under a microscope and an emphasis on early childhood education, we can not hide or be ignored anymore.
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
A: The BEST introduction is to go and observe an authentic Montessori classroom. It will astound and educate anyone.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
A: One of my favorite passions in life is to travel and visit other Montessori schools around the world. It's a chance for me to remember that our community extends beyond my city, state and country. I may be in a completely culturally different country, but as soon as I step foot into a Montessori school it feels like home. We all face the same issues of enrollment, educating the public about Montessori, and the pressures of explaining the curriculum to families. Our mission is not a lonely one, and it's inspiring to know that our cause is an international one.
Q: How do you feel Meadows Montessori can impact the community at large?
A: We pride ourselves as an authentic Montessori program, and we can actually explain why. We lend ourselves to anyone in our community who would like to know more about what we do. We're HUGE into parent education and parent involvement. It's the most effective way to spread the advocacy seeds into the public.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
A: A couple of years ago I stepped into a public middle school in a very affluent community just outside of Washington D.C. When I walked in, I didn't find where most would find class pictures and athletic awards behind glass. Instead, there were charts showing how each grade level and race were scoring in Math and Language in this school. Horrified?... absolutely. However, as I walked down to their lower level classroom I found some classrooms tucked away in the corner. The rooms had a different subject areas separated into different parts of the room, a large sink to wash dishes and utensils after lunch, a quiet reading corner, and even a mixed age group of students. Was this a Montessori classroom? Nope! It was the school's special education program. The students here were diagnosed with Autism, Downs, and developmental delays. Once the occupational therapist got wind that I was a Montessori teacher, she quickly grabbed her Mary Poppins' bag of materials and pulled out some old, heavily used metal insets! She said that she's been using them for over a decade to help her students with handwriting. This wasn't an authentic Montessori classroom, but I can honestly say that these special needs students were much more well off than their peers upstairs.
I can not guess what will happen next with the growth of more Montessori schools and charter schools. Our country has already begun to validate and standardize all Montessori schools state by state. Change takes time, and our ideals will be tested when we were to begin the overlap of pedagogies if our community's true goal is to provide Montessori education for all, for free.
We want to thank Anna for this inspirational exchange. We also want to point you in the direction of her highly informative and refreshingly brilliant TEDx talk.