Spotlight Sheryl Morris

In our first Spotlight of the new year school year, we're very pleased to introduce you to Sheryl Morris. When we first read her story, we were instantly struck by at least two very interesting, productive lines: 1. Her defiance of the categorization, “If you can you do, if you can’t you teach.” We strongly believe that we need to actively work to overcome this profound misconception about teachers. 2.  As with so many others, her comment that, “I wish that’s how school had been for me,” resonated so deeply with us. We also think many of our readers will sympathize and identify with Sheryl's insights and subsequent path. We hope you enjoy!


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams? 

A: If my family had chosen home schooling for me it would not have worked well. At three and four years old I wanted, badly, to follow my older sisters to school to see what the world had to offer me. In 1954 I walked to a new neighborhood school surely planned on some inspirations of Maria Montessori. The coat hooks were low on the wall, the tables and chairs were all child-sized, and the bathroom facilities were all scaled down. I was thrilled, but that is where any likeness to Montessori stopped. I acclimated to the routine: waiting in lines, sitting in rows, working for smiles and good marks, freezing in place when orders were given and discipline enacted.

It wasn’t until years later I learned about Maria Montessori in education, college courses. As do many others, upon first learning about Montessori methods, I thought, “I wish that’s how school had been for me.”

Flash forward even more years and I’m taking advantage of an opportunity to study for a Montessori teacher’s certificate. What happened in the time all between? I had successes, I made mistakes. The biggest mistake was listening to the bad advice, “If you can you do, if you can’t you teach.” My background includes university classes: French, graphic design, photography, theology, business; and office, computer work: clerical and production, in small towns and the big city (Chicago). On a long quest to “find my passion,” I took wrong turns and eventually began to lament that I’d not done much that was worthwhile. I’d not made any significant contributions or given much back. So, back to the part where I’m studying for Montessori certification (ages 3-6). I found it curious that preparation for the teacher ran so contrary to the preparation for the child; instruction was intense and comprehensive; and then there was the testing. Oddly, I craved more and appreciated Montessori as “Transformative Learning.”

My other successes – they include marriage to a true friend and our cherished son; and now, we have a daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandchildren!

Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color? 

A:  I have a favorite color combination – red and green together in all variations.



Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?

A: Deciding on favorites is difficult for me. I enjoy books and films that shed light on history and the human condition; one example would be, The Brothers Karamazov. Related to education, my favorite book is Nurturing the Spirit by Aline D. Wolf in part because of the full bibliography and recommended reading list.

One favorite film is Life is Beautiful. This is the story in which a father along with his young son are taken prisoner at the end of World War II. As unlikely as it might seem and given the most probable outcome, he is able to protect his son from the adult world and its assault on body, mind, and spirit by turning it all into a game. In the end the boy is saved.

Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?

A: New adventures that capture my imagination involve: 1) More Montessori teacher training! in French this time! 2) Overseeing the design and installations of super-sized Montessori “works” to draw new interest and curiosity at museums, malls, airports, etc. Find my and maybe your inspiration at Rossodigrana.

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies? 

A: My hobbies include reading, hiking, crafting, gardening, yoga, and movies.


Q: Switching things up a bit, can you tell us more about your new book? 

A:  SNAP–Scaffolding for Numerical Synapses: Awakening Curiosity in the Numbers One to Ten is a platform from which adults can nurture their youngest children’s sense of wonder. It began as a year-long project for Early Childhood Teacher Certification awarded by the AMS. While studying Montessori methods, and environments, I was also reading Michael S. Schneider’s book, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science: A Voyage From 1 To 10. The harmony of the two excited me and led me to share what I had learned. Surely, other Montessorians will pick-up on the dovetailing aspects if they want to discover and use some new ways to scaffold what their children are learning.

My wish is to have SNAP easily integrated into any home, classroom or childcare environment and at the same time to bring attention to Montessori.
One review of SNAP called it, “deceptively simple.” We need to be careful not to let simplicity escape us! So I’m thrilled if I can acquaint others with ways to spark young children’s interest in numbers and at the same time enhance a teacher’s effectiveness and help her comfortably achieve daily, monthly, and yearly classroom objectives.

Rather than only looking at the numbers 1-10 in the linear fashion, as we ordinarily do, SNAP is an invitation to observe various expressions of each number, individually, across all subject areas, using all of our senses. It is yet another way to support children as they practice careful discrimination, organize thought, and retrieve information in unique ways.

Q: How have things changed since you first got started in the field of education? 

A: Things have changed dramatically since I first got started in the field of education. Whole courses are available online! Computers have made it easy for parents, teachers, and school administrators to share information; many parents love getting pictures of their child’s school day and digital cameras make this simple. For teachers and parents who are able to find the time, social networking is a boon to staying aware of what is new – from projects with kids to the accomplishments of various organizations that advance programs of interest. Answers to questions can easily be found online, “Where is the nearest Reggio Emilia school?” Issues are discussed online, “What is the difference between Montessori and Waldorf?”

Q: What's your favorite education related quote?

A: A few favorite education related quotes are:

1) “Aesthetic and moral education are also closely connected with the training of the senses. By multiplying sense experiences and developing the ability to evaluate the smallest differences in various stimuli, one’s sensibilities are refined and one’s pleasures increased. Beauty is found in harmony, not in discord; and harmony implies affinities, but these require a refinement of the senses if they are to be perceived. The beautiful harmonies of nature and of art escape those whose senses are dull. The world is then cramped and cruel. Our surroundings provide us with inexhaustible sources of aesthetic pleasure, but men can still move about in the world as if they had no senses or were like brute beasts looking for pleasure in strong and sharp sensations since these are the only ones accessible to them. Crude pleasures are often the source of vicious habits. Strong stimuli do not, as a matter of fact, sharpen but rather dull the senses, which as a consequence need ever stronger stimuli.” - Maria Montessori

2) “We see no limit to what should be offered to the child, for his will be an immense field of chosen activity.” - Maria Montessori

3) “The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.” - Maria Montessori 

Q: What continues to inspire you about education?

A: I continue to be inspired about education by people. People are actively participating and discussing: nationwide, within states, cities, and individual school districts. Parents are taking classes to learn more about their children, educators are sharing their insights and knowledge with families and communities at large. Speakers, writers, video and film makers, and researchers are adding to knowledge and making it readily available.

The premise that there are still monumental revelations to be made inspires me:

- “The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” -Eden Phillpotts

- “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” -Dr. Carl Sagan

- “Wonderful things for the future may lie waiting for explosions in the inner life, which is hidden from us.” - Maria Montessori 

Q: Lastly, in what ways do you envision the future of education?  

A: I envision the future of education to have greater understanding of what holistic education means and how results can be successfully achieved in any country and within any racial, social, cultural, or economic group. There will be strong bridges between all Montessorians and other holistic methods; a sound balance with regard to the use of technology; no settling for second or third best, no waiting lists, but an authentic Montessori school for every family that wants their children to attend.



Spotlight Dane Peters

We have a very special Spotlight to share with you. Meet Dane Peters, of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori school. It was such a pleasure to discover his background, hear his advice, and learn what might be in store for the future of education. We hope you enjoy!


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams? 

A: Born and raised in a strong family and in traditional public schools through undergraduate work, I have always enjoyed listening and talking to people. Be they friends, children, colleagues, or students, I now know why I stand at the front door of my School over the past 20 years greeting students, teachers and parents. Teaching—no, learning—is the battery that keeps me going, and people are where my power supply gets charged. My life-long learning has manifested itself in many ways; to name a few: learning to fly, teaching, sky diving, being an officer in the Marine Corps, serving as a husband and parent for 40years, writing, blogging, discovering Montessori, serving others, and now grand parenting. 

Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color? 

A: I believe if you view “Crayola Doesn’t Make a Color for Your Eyes” you will see my favorite color. And do treat yourself by viewing this beautiful video.

Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?

A: I love reading. I am never without one or two books in process. I do tend to lean towards non-fiction but read the likes of Ken Follett, John Steinbeck, and John Irving, and I admit that I do have a passion for middle reader books, especially Newbery Medal winners. If you haven’t read Wonder by R. J. Palacio you must. 

There is one book that keeps rising to the top: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Actually, the best way to answer this question is to click over to my blog where I love to talk about the books I read.

I do enjoy watching movies. I often reflect on Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini” starring Robert Duvall and “Pay it Forward,” starring Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey. Both have so many good family lessons.

Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?

A: Writing a book. That way I can pass on my experiences and life-long lessons learned to others so they might have an easier time in life.

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies? 

A: Writing, writing, writing, and working with my hands. I love to do home repair activities. Give me a broken faucet, misaligned molding, or a room in need of a painting, and I will enter into what Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”

Q: Switching to Montessori, what advice do you have for new Montessori schools? 

  • Make sure everyone—owner or Board, head or principal, teachers, staff, parents and surrounding community—understands the school’s mission and Montessori philosophy. 
  • Define the roles and responsibilities of each constituency within the school community, i.e. head/principal leads the operation of the school, Board governs, teachers teach and care for children, parents parent.
  • Have plenty of resources—particularly Montessori resources—available for children, and teachers, and maintain a prepared environment.

Q: With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools. 

  • Make sure everyone—owner or Board, head or principal, teachers, staff, parents and surrounding community—understands the school’s mission and Montessori philosophy. 
  • Define the roles and responsibilities of each constituency within the school community, i.e. head/principal leads the operation of the school, Board governs, teachers teach and care for children, parents parent.
  • Have plenty of resources—particularly Montessori resources—available for children, and teachers, and maintain a prepared environment.

Q: Can you share with us your experience on the AMS board?

A: Having served on 10 different non-profit boards over the past 20 years, three as Board Chair, I have come to appreciate the beauty of boards that run smoothly and follow best practices; as an aside, Dr. Richard Chait’s Governance As Leadership is the bible of good governance. This is where I feel the AMS Board is presently. With a wonderful Executive Director and 18 committed Directors who are dedicated to Montessori education, I enjoy being with these leaders whether we are on the West Coast, or Florida, or New York City, where the headquarters are located. Often when I consult with schools or give a presentation on governance, I share my experiences with this Board and my own School Board as models. 

One of the highlights of this year’s Board work was when the Board met with André Roberfroid, President of AMI, and Virginia McHugh Goodwin, Executive Director of AMI USA. There was no question among those present that it is important for both AMI and AMS to unite behind our Montessori missions and help others understand the benefits of a Montessori education.

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: Ever since I began my Montessori training, the day I began heading Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, I have accepted — no relished — my Montessori journey. The day I began observing my grand daughter’s absorbent mind through a Montessori lens, was a special Montessori moment.

Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A: The quote I use over and over again with parents, colleagues, and adult learners is “I know the children are learning when they don’t know that I am in the room.”

Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?

A: Observing a classroom in action. It is truly magical. My first experience with Montessori education was when I observed a classroom and subsequently sat on the Board of The Cobb School Montessori. Thank you, Mary Lou Cobb.

And, if you cannot get into a classroom, then read Montessori Today by Paula Polk Lillard, or Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, or Jane Healy’s Your Child’s Growing Mind, or Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky, or Drive by Dan Pink. Whether it is a book specifically about Montessori or a book that is inspired by her work, you cannot help but be touched by how her work has endured over the past 100 years, particularly the principles that are forever applicable to today’s child. This is all beautifully illustrated in M. Shannon Helfrich’s book Montessori Learning in the 21 Century.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: Whenever I peek into a classroom at my school and see toddlers or 3- to 6-year olds or middle schoolers engaged in work, I inevitably stare in amazement. This past summer I read Rita Kramer’s biography of Dr. Montessori. I couldn’t put the book down. Amazed by Montessori’s determination and insight into the child, I wrote for Montessori Life “The Child Whisperer.” I believe that it is a perfect characterization of who she was as a human being, educator, and expert in child development. 


Q: How do you feel Brooklyn Heights Montessori has impacted your community?

A: It has become the option of choice for those families who are looking for an education that is not a standardized test factory with a cookie cutter curriculum. And, once you walk through the doors you immediately see and feel a caring staff that appreciate children and guide them using grace and courtesy. A school that respects the child, something we sometimes take for granted in our Montessori communities is a breath of fresh air for many of our families.

Q: What kind of legacy would you hope you and Brooklyn Heights Montessori School will impart to students?

A: A legacy of confidence, a strong sense of self, and the ability to embrace failure as a tool to success. I like to think that Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity” is an excellent vision of how Montessori schools work. Having heard him at both a National Association of Independent Schools Conference and an American Montessori Society Conference, I know what inspires educators; he understands child development and what motivates children and adults. His book The Element stands out as an important book for me.

Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education? 

A: Well, we will all come to embrace creative thinking, choice, exploration, empathy, thoughtfulness, and learn to not get hung up on standardized testing. My short piece “930” explains this further.

Technology is going to have an increasingly larger role in education. I have experienced the evolution of listening to music from a 45rpm record to a vinyl album, to an 8-track tape, to a cassette tape, to a CD to an mp3, to now cloud-based listening, e.g. Pandora and Spotify. I love the evolution of books and newspapers. Begrudgingly, I now accept the ease with which I can read an e-book using highlighting, bookmarking, note taking, see a definition or follow a source all with the touch of a finger.

Classroom learning that was once called online learning has evolved into blended learning, that is some classroom learning blended with online learning, e.g. Massive Open Online Learning (MOOC), will soon be all virtual one day. Although I like to think that the younger ages will always have teachers nearby. When imagining the future of education, I often reflect on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and M. T. Anderson’s young adult book Feed and ask about the latter, “Will it get to that?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Finally, I do believe that Dr. Montessori’s genius will always be with us, because in the end, it IS about respecting the child.

Spotlight Anna Lee

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.

Spotlight Aidan McCauley

We have the great pleasure of introducing you to a wonderful human being, Aidan McCauley. He's also becoming an undeniable force in the Montessori world. As a founding member of the Montessori Madmen, Aidan has a passion and enthusiasm for getting things done. With him at the helm, there's no limit to what can be achieved for Montessori. We really hope you enjoy reading his fascinating story. Of course, the cool part is: it's still being written!


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?

A: First, I'd like to say that I find it inspiring that you find me inspiring. You and June have a creativity, a passion, a work ethic that is unmatched. How lucky is the Montessori community to have the combined talents of Bobby and June being put to use to redefine education? I simply consider myself lucky to be collaborating with you both.

I'll sum up a little about me pretty quickly. I come from mostly an Irish background, big family, Catholic upbringing (Catholic elementary and Jesuit High School) though my parents never really went to mass. They were both free thinkers as I am today. They had us, the children, pay tuition every Sunday at church. My dad would give one of us a check and we were supposed to stick around long enough to put it in the alms basket, the ones with the really long handles that reached everybody. I got to know the ushers well enough so that instead of sitting through Mass...I would just hand them the check and run right back out the big, heavy wooden doors.

I took the exact same approach to school. I learned to "play the game" and to do as little as necessary to get by, all the way through college.

It wasn't until I discovered Montessori through my children that I realized I had been cheated, or cheated myself. I'm making up for lost time now.

Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color?

A: I could easily say RED. I had visions of being a fire fighter when I was five and my name means "fire". But come to think of it, have you ever seen an Indian Paintbrush, the flower that is? That would be my favorite color.

Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?

A: I've always been a history buff, mainly American history. It still amazes me that just over 150 years ago..we were living almost the way we've always lived. From the horse buggy to the moon in 75 years. Are you kidding me? Hold on to your hats, we're just getting started.

I do have a favorite book: "Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. My favorite film: There is no way I could narrow that down, nor would I want you to realize that I really do like "Top Gun".

Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?

A: I spend a lot of my extra time promoting Montessori via the Montessori Mad Men. So, while I can't say there is one adventure that I would drop everything for at the moment, I would say that I am very interested in continuing to take the many little steps necessary to spread the word about Montessori, which by itself is not easy as you (and us Montessorians) know. In fact, my own sister, just this weekend, decided to commit her oldest child, five and half, and twins, age 3 to Montessori. It took me three years to convince my own sister!

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies?

A: I love being a Dad. I enjoy doing things with my daughters. Yesterday, we checked out the renovated Central Library in St. Louis. Going to a library is not my idea of fun, but this place is amazing. It was built in 1909 out of huge granite blocks. Inside, the ceilings are hand carved out of oak, there are alabaster lamps, marble halls and bathrooms. At the same time, it has the modern styling that you might see at Apple headquarters and great color schemes that constantly shift your gaze. If I had gone there as a kid, I might be a scholar today.

Q: Switching to Montessori, what advice do you have for new Montessori schools?

A: I'm not in a position to give advice, but I do have a couple suggestions. Developing relationships with the broader education community is critical for exposure and growth. Every Montessori school collaborate with every other authentic Montessori school in its area. The schools that only have primary programs should be very active and aggressive in recommending Montessori schools with elementary programs. We should remember that we are not competing against each other's Montessori schools. We are competing for a much bigger piece of the pie...the piece of the pie that represents the over 95% of children who are still attending traditional schools with traditional teaching methods. Collaboration among local Montessori schools will attract many more children to Montessori. That..and if you are a school of over 100 students, hire a full time PR/Marketing/Advertising manager to engage the community. To have the story to tell that is Montessori is a PR manager's dream!

Q: With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools.

A: Yes..and same answer. It's all about the promotion of your school. It's all about giving as many children as possible the opportunity to attend an authentic Montessori school.

How have things changed since you first experienced the field of education?

A: Well...back when I was in kindergarten..(just kidding). Have you heard of 3-D printing? We have the technology to print not just words on paper, but to print stuff! Look it up. It's ridiculous. What are the implications of this? What are the implications of being connected to billions of people through the internet? What is the capacity, or is it limitless, of our collective consciousness? Who really knows the answer to that? We, more than likely, cannot come close to even imagining the potential of the present moment we're living in. What I do know, is that what is important today in education is no longer just the "content" of what we learn. Having schools that stoke curiosity, that respect the individual development and pace of learning of each child, that offer opportunities to collaborate among diverse ethnicities and ages all day long, every day are no longer a luxury, they are a necessity. Here is my latest Montessori tag line:

Get Prepared. Get Montessori.

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: My Montessori moment came at a parent education night when I first began to understand the many levels of learning that are happening with the Montessori materials. It took me two years with my daughters in Montessori before I began to understand what it was all about. This realization inspired me to pick up Trevor's book, "Montessori Madness". We talk about great first lines in books, "Call me Ishmael" for example...but Trevor's first line takes the cake: "I pooped in my pants in the third grade." If there is anyone who has not yet read "Montessori Madness", do yourself a favor and read it today.

Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A: "Peace" tends to be a loaded word today, because we each have different experiences of and reactions to it. Often our idea of "peace" is created by superficial and random circumstances or shaped by what our culture thinks the definition of peace is or should be. However, if we look to nature itself to find evidence of peace, you will discover the true origin and potential for it. The ecosystem we are a part of on this the very definition of peace. That being said, my latest favorite quote is one that AMI used on their holiday card: "Peace, we may say, is not a national attainment of man, it is rather a real work of creation. The same forces that create the world are those that will give it real peace".

Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?

A: "Montessori Madness", first the fast draw, then the book, both by Trevor Eissler.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: The gift that it gives to every child who is lucky enough to get it, which is perhaps the realization of perpetual possibility and the confidence and ability to contribute his or her talents for a greater good.

Q: What kind of legacy do you hope to impart?

A: Easy. Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, "Success", sums it up:

To laugh often and much to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child a garden patch or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?

A: The future of education is Montessori.

Spotlight Michelle Lane

When we firsted started Baan Dek, we contacted Michelle Lane for advice. We had followed her pioneering work, and knew she was the type of advocate for education that we wanted to chat with. She was so helpful & thoughtful in her responses. Needless to say, ever since, she's been an inspiration to us. A pioneer in the field of "Montessori and autism", we couldn't be more pleased to "Spotlight Michelle Lane". We hope you enjoy the interview. There are some real gems!


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?

A: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. My mother was an immigrant from Jamaica and my father is Canadian with his background being British and Irish. I was raised believing that we are all equal and to be considerate of others. When I was 19 I started working in the field of autism after graduating from University with a Bilingual B.A. (French and English) in psychology and sociology. During my years working during the day with children with autism, I also worked as a musician during my evenings. I went back to school briefly to start my social work degree when my mother turned me on to a Montessori teacher program at Sheridan College in 2000. I had gone to a Montessori school as a child and I was very interested in continuing my own education on how to work with children. In 2001 I earned a scholar's award and graduated from Sheridan College with an AMS Post Graduate Certificate in Montessori teaching for ages 3-6.

During my years working exclusively in autism I was fortunate to be trained in ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) from the Ontario government. Upon receiving my Montessori certificate I returned to work in autism. I could no longer continue doing the traditional therapy as I had been doing to date. I started designing a program that blended both ABA practices with the Montessori curriculum. In January of 2003 my mother passed away. This pushed me to start my program sooner (I felt that life was too short to wait for anything) and in September 2003 the Toronto Montessori School for Autism was created.

I stopped working as a professional musician at this time and used my love of music through teaching the students the piano. We started with 6 students our first year and moved to approximately 20 students in all.

The school was small but the accomplishments of our students at the time was enough to earn me a Premier's Award in 2005 for creating the program blend. In 2007 we became a registered not for profit charity and changed our name to The Lane Montessori School for Autism. That same year I got married and was blessed with a three year old stepdaughter. My husband and I had our second child together in 2008 and in 2009 we had our third child. Even though I tried to continue running the school we needed more support financially as well as more trained staff on the blended method. It was with great sadness that in 2010 the board of directors decided to close the school.

Currently I am a very happy mother and wife and find great joy in watching our children learn and grow as this is a very precious time of their lives. Presently I work as a French immersion Montessori teacher in order to be close to our two boys and continue to write books, manuals and lecture on school breaks on the Montessori/ABA blend.

It is hard to say what my dreams are now. I was very happy when I started the school and felt that creating the program was the best thing I could give as my contribution to society. Otherwise my dreams are to continue to have a rich and full life with my family while I continue to share my knowledge on Montessori and autism with others. Currently I started working on my Masters of Health Studies part time as I love to learn.


Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color?

A: Blue

Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?

A: I have not had a lot of time to read books for leisure over the last few years but one of my favourite books a long time ago was The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. I was reading this book when I was creating the school and it gave me great comfort as well as expanding my ability to create. Currently I am reading a book that one of my closest friend's gave me called Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.

As far as a favourite movie hands down it is a French movie called Jean de Florette based on a book by Marcel Pagnol and directed by Claude Berri. This movie came out in 1986. It stars Gerard Depardieu and has an equally wonderful sequel called Manon of the spring. It is about the struggles of a family that move into a new town in which they live and a natural spring. It is a film that looks at humanity and the lack thereof. I have yet to see a movie that has moved me as much as this film.

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies?

A: My hobbies currently center around taking my children to school and extra curricular activities. Otherwise I enjoy grabbing a coffee with a friend, play dates with the kids (that really is a play date for the mommies), and of course making time to go to the movies or have a nice quiet dinner at home with my husband once the kids go to bed.

Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?

A: To be honest I feel fulfilled with my current adventure(s) and the one's I have had to date. Other than our school closing I am quite happy.

Q: Switching to Montessori, what advice do you have for new Montessori schools?

A: Have a realistic budget. I say this only due to my experience, I started my school too early and borrowed a lot of money instead of saving up and ensuring a safety net if things happen (i.e. parent can't pay bills, funding does not come in etc.). It is important to have people that are passionate about the Montessori program as well as good business management. In addition continue professional development of staff, have team meetings and parent courses on Montessori. The team has to be unified in the school. This is best for the running of the school and for the student's happiness. I was very fortunate that in our Montessori school for Autism all our staff were for the most part very passionate about the school and the students.

Q: With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools - or schools in general.

A: If you are an established school continue to invest in your staff. I have seen this in schools where turnover is high. People need to feel appreciated and heard. At the end of the day this is a management issue.

Q: How have things changed since you first got started in the field of education?

A: In Toronto we have a decent public school system and over the last few years they have introduced full day kindergarten. This has affected many regular Montessori schools as they struggle to keep parents in a program when there is a 'free' program elsewhere. It is much more difficult to do a traditional Montessori school for new schools that fall under the day nursery act and have to follow other criteria set for daycares that interfere with the vision of the Montessori method. A lot of schools have had to close or are not offering a true vision of what Maria Montessori wrote about.

Also there are some very good autism classrooms in the public school sector that have recently been set up here in Toronto. This is encouraging as most families cannot afford private schools.

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: I have had two major moments. The first was during my training to be a Montessori teacher and I had my most influential moment during when I realized that this program could be adapted to children on the more severe end of autism with the use of ABA methods. This moment ultimately changed my life.

The second was when we changed Toronto Montessori School for Autism in 2004 to be an ABA/Montessori program instead of an IBI (Intensive Behavioural Intervention) program. IBI is a specific method within the ABA umbrella. It is fast paced and requires a lot of work from the instructor/teacher. We found that the natural work cycle of the child (rolling out a mat, taking the work out, putting it away etc.) was so important to our students and when we allowed for this their confidence really improved dramatically!! It was a true moment when I knew that moving towards Montessori's vision when the children were ready was a true gift for our kids.


Q: What's your favorite education quote?

A: There are many but I will share this one from Maria Montessori. "The real preparation of education is a study of one's self. The training of the something far more than a learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit." Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, p.131)

Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?

A: For me it is being a student (as a child). If you do not have that opportunity learning about Montessori from qualified individuals or seeing a true Montessori school and the children in the environment, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing how happy and confident the children are while they are learning at their own pace.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: Right now it is seeing how my children are flourishing in the program. What is beautiful about Montessori is that you can continue Montessori philosophy in the home as well. It is a mindset of developing a love of learning. This is empowering and inspiring.

Q: Can you share your thoughts on architecture and Montessori?

A: I do not have much to say on the subject. My father who is a retired architect may have some thoughts. What I will say is that we used my father's services in developing floor plans for our schools to ensure the proper flow and use of space. My father has designed other schools in the past and we have a design for the Montessori School for Autism with an integrated program that we had always hoped to implement in the future (before the school closed).

Q: We're very interested in hearing how you pioneered Montessori and Applied Behavior Analysis for children with autism.

A: As mentioned above I started the school when my mother passed based on my experience in ABA and blending the method with the Montessori curriculum. You have to be able to take risks and so I trusted my gut that told me this was a good blend. I put all my knowledge at the time into opening the school and training staff. Many people thought I was crazy to leave the government as we had decent and relatively secure jobs. It was something that I had to do, I can't explain it but something inside kept pushing me forward even though it was difficult to start the program. I had concerns that it may not be well received in the Montessori community but was very happy when I learned that it was the Montessori community in Toronto that had made the Premier Awards Council aware of my work and thus led to my receiving the Premier's award in Ontario.

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Q: What is it about Montessori that compliments approaches to educating children with autism?

A: The Montessori curriculum is based on the sense training curriculum that Edouard Seguin developed when he started the first school for children with severe mental challenges in 1839 in France. Montessori created her method based on her interpretation of the work of Seguin and his teacher Jean Marc Itard. She further refined her method based on her observations and assessments when she worked with the children of the State Orthophrenic Institute.

The curriculum is based on hands on didactic materials that have a control of error and specified sequence of steps. Applied Behaviour Analysis and more specifically IBI is based on teaching children using a specified sequence of steps. The Montessori curriculum adds an extra level of concrete teaching that has decades of research. In my opinion it is a perfect match. The philosophy of both methods differ somewhat but have the same goal in wanting to see a child become independent.

Q: We just realized that your school closed a few years ago. If you're able, can you tell us more about this?

A: I mentioned this earlier that I had two children back to back while trying to continue managing three locations and staff. We could have continued to keep the school but then we were faced with a new tax called the HST which would have increased tuition for our parents dramatically. Also, it was difficult to find funding for the Montessori ABA program. One of our sites received some funding but it was still a struggle for many families who did not qualify. One to one programming with a psychologist, therapist, data collection etc. is very expensive even though we were a charity. Also the economy at the time did not help as many organizations were unable to donate. All of these issues led the board to vote to close the school.

Q: How do you feel your work has impacted the community at large?

A: I am truly happy that people still contact me for help with training all over the world. When our school closed I felt heartbroken, truly, as I had put my heart and soul into the school and my family comes from modest means. The fact that my program continues to exist around the world by individuals who have implemented my manuals and books makes me feel as though my work has meaning for the community at large. When you have an idea it is wonderful to see it grow into fruition, we never always know in what way the vision will be, we just have to keep moving forward and I have been fortunate to see my vision move forward in a positive way.

Q: What kind of legacy would you hope to impart to students?

A: This is a difficult question to answer for me as I am not sure if you mean the students that were in our school or adult students that I teach. For our students that were in our program I hope the legacy would be that they know when they are taught differently and with care from their teachers and parents that they are able to achieve things they may not of thought possible. As for adult learners, I hope to provide hope for teachers that struggle with children on the spectrum in their schools as well as providing hope for families who have children on the spectrum. Too many families are struggling to find a good program for their child and the Montessori/ABA program that I created has a full model of one to one therapy all the way to inclusion in a typical Montessori environment, which is the goal.

Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?

A: I hope that more educators will work together to create inclusion models for all children and meeting the specific needs of each child. It is through working together that we will be able to create peace within our children and hence more respect and kindness towards one another.