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!

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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.

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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.

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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 teacher...is 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.

Spotlight Lindsay Dewald

We had the great pleasure to chat with Lindsay Dewald, from the wonderful blog, Little One Love. We've long been fans of her passions and relished the opportunity to hear her perspective on life, Montessori and more! Oh, and by the way, her photos are so captivating and enchanting that sometimes it's difficult to look away. We've provided a smattering here, but we highly recommend that you visit her site to get the full effect. Enjoy!

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

A: Certainly! I'm a Montessori 3-6 teacher, founded The City Flea with my husband and am a lifestyle blogger at Little One Love. I live in Cincinnati Ohio with my husband and Chocolate Lab and we're expecting our first baby in February! I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2006 with a degree in Marketing and upon graduation moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment public relations. After about a year in that industry I realized my passions lied with children. I had worked for an after school program all through college and knew working with kids was what I was meant to do. I made a career change and began teaching at an enrichment center for little ones in West LA. My husband and I then decided we wanted to try our hand in New York City and made the move across country to NY. I landed a job as an assistant at a Montessori school in Manhattan and the rest is kind of history. I fell head over heals in love with the philosophy, got my diploma and now teach in my own Montessori classroom at a progressive / non traditional school. I could not be happier with the way things fell into place.

I love design, art, coffee, travel, blogging, and being outdoors. I'm looking forward to this next chapter of life as a mother and dream of a simple, happy, fulfilling life.

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

A: This IS the hardest question! I think my favorite color changes season to season. Right now it's mustard yellow.

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

A: I'm sure I do but my goodness it's hard to pick just one! As far as film goes, I'm kind of a sucker for anything Wes Anderson!

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

A: Homeschooling my children while we travel around the world as a family.

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies?

A: My husband and I love to hike and travel, try new restaurants, practice yoga. I also love to write, blog, and take photos.

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

A: Stick to the teachings of Montessori. If there is one pet peeve of mine when it comes to newer Montessori schools it's seeing classrooms that lack proper Montessori materials and teachers who aren't familiar or dedicated to the philosophy.

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

A: My answer would be the same for this one too. It's cheaper (material wise) and sometimes easier (guidance wise) to fall out of the teachings of Montessori but sticking to the methodology, trusting the children, and being committed to Montessori education as a whole certainly pays off. If your teachers aren't Montessori trained, send them to training programs. Ill equipped teachers are such a dis service to the students. Schools need to remember that the system is about the kids. Nothing else.

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

A: Honestly, they haven't much. I'm still on the younger end of the spectrum so for me I haven't seen a ton of change first hand. I've always worked in a private setting but in the public system I've seen lots of friends loose jobs because of budget cuts. It is heartbreaking. Students are loosing out on a wonderful education because of the way the systems are set up. Large class sizes, arts programs being cut, primary focus on passing state tests - it's such a shame and again, it's just heartbreaking for the kids.

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Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: Yes! When I was working as an assistant I can remember watching our classroom environment function like a little community. There were 4 year olds cleaning dishes, 3 year olds weaving, and 5 year olds reading. Just observing such independence, purpose, and confidence in these young children made me fall in love with the philosophy. I get teary eyed thinking about watching my students work with such conviction and confidence. I can remember parents telling me how much their children loved school and would cry during holidays when school was closed. Why can all education not be like this?!

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Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A: "The child is both a promise and a hope for mankind."

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

A: Observing how a Montessori classroom functions. There are many great books and resources on the subject but seeing it first hand is the best way to understand the dynamic environment.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: Seeing growth in my students. Often I'll feel discouraged about progress I'm making with a student then bang, they get it and it's all because of the philosophy. I need to remember to trust myself and the teachings of Montessori. It's amazing what happens when you allow yourself to trust the process.

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Q: How do you feel Little one Love can impact the community at large?

A: Wow. I've never thought about this. The focus of Little One Love is not Montessori but I do try to incorporate it in from time to time. I want people to know how beautiful and amazing this type of education is. If anything, my hope is that I'm able to expose more people to the philosophy. I also hope that over the next few years, with a small child at home I will be able to create an at home Montessori environment that readers find inspiring. I think a lot of the way I live in my life is reflective of the Montessori philosophy which has sort of just happened organically over the last few years. I cherish simplicity, beauty and community. I think those are all things that are a part of the Montessori methodology and making that connection has been amazing for me personally. If people can see that connection then, my goodness- that's the impact I'd like to leave.

Q: What kind of legacy to you hope to impart.

A: I want to be a genuinely good person. I want to serve, educate, adopt babies, and spread love. I try everyday to just be a good person and my hope is that I can teach these same things to my children. If i'm able to raise good, compassionate, thoughtful kids, I'll feel like I've left the greatest lecacy there is.

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

A: I'm not super positive that really great, beneficial changes will be made. What I hope though is that education becomes more student-led and personal. Really, I wish educators would look at the Montessori philosophy as a basis for the standard of good education. I know I'm dreaming here but when you think of what would make the education system better, most things that would be stated would all be things that fall under the Montessori philosophy. I recently heard this talk from Sir Ken Robinson on education reform and my mind was blown. Definitely worth watching. Anyone who understands the Montessori philosophy will see direct correlations to what he's saying needs to be "fixed" and what Montessori already teaches. Good stuff!

You should definitely follow Lindsay on Twitter: @littleonelove

Montessori For Everyone

In this Spotlight, we were fortunate enough to chat with Lori Bourne, from Montessori for Everyone. Starting out as a teacher, designing and creating her own materials for the classroom, she soon identified a need to offer these services to a wider audience. Hence, the birth of Montessori for Everyone! Lori is "certified in Montessori Elementary", and lives in the "Chicagolandarea", where she homeschools her son and daughter. We hope you enjoying getting to know Lori.

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

A: My name is Lori Bourne and I have a degree in History from Indiana University. While going through college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. After graduating, I got a job as an assistant at a Montessori school and immediately knew I wanted to be a Montessori teacher.

My interests are very much in line with my business - I love to read and learn about homeschooling, education, and parenting. I also enjoy leading a women's Bible study and helping out at my church in the children and middle school ministries.

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

A: I love all shades of green, but celadon is probably my favorite

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

A: I have two favorite books: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I don't have a very favorite movie but all of my favorite movies are comedies, like This is Spinal Tap, Fletch, and Monty Python: Search for the Holy Grail.

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

A: I would love to travel around the world with my family. I traveled a lot as a child and it instilled in me a love of new places and a love of adventure.

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies? 

A: My hobbies include music (I sing and play the piano) and reading (I've read thousands of books), and I have to admit that I love online life - from blogs to Twitter and Facebook to small businesses like mine, I spend a lot of time online reading, chatting, and shopping.

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

A: New Montessori schools need to be run by someone who is Montessori certified. Yes, that person needs to have business and fundraising skills, but if they don't truly understand Montessori, they will not be able to lead the school in the right direction.

If you are going to call yourself "Montessori", you need to do and be just that. Don't call yourself a Montessori school and then bring in plastic toys (in the younger ages) and give out lots of homework (in the older grades), for example. Parents who come to your school for the "Montessori" of it and find something else will end up being disappointed - you are only hurting yourself in the end.

Yes, running a true Montessori school is both hard and expensive, but it can be done.

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

A: For an established Montessori school, make sure the teachers you hire are not only Montessori certified but that they share your vision for a true Montessori school. The teachers will end up shaping most of what the children learn and have the most contact with the parents, so it's very important to hire great teachers.

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

A: In regards to traditional education, there is more pressure than ever before on the schools and teachers for children to "achieve" and to be able to measure that achievement in testable ways. It's a true tragedy for both the children and the teachers. There is little to no emphasis on creativity, learning for learning's sake, and cultivating the curiosity that all children are born with.

In response to this, there are more Montessori schools (and other alternative schools) and more homeschoolers than ever before. It's great that people have options, but sad to see the two sides move further away from each other rather than closer.

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: I absolutely did. I was working as an assistant in a Montessori 3-6 classroom, and I remember one day, early on, watching the children work and being hit with this feeling that this was what education should be like. The specific day I remember, one child was scrubbing a table and another was using an egg beater in a bowl to make bubbles. It was amazing to watch them work on their own.

Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A: "A child's work is to create the person he will become."

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

People who are interested in Montessori should read Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work by E.M. Standing and arrange to observe at a quality Montessori school.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: I am inspired by the fact that the Montessori method is still so relevant, maybe even now more than ever. Current brain research tells us that the Montessori method of hands-on, self-directed learning is the best way to learn. Maria knew that by observing, and now we can prove that by looking at the brain. Amazing!

"The timelessness of Montessori materials". Picture is courtesy Lincolnshire Montessori, used by permission.

"The timelessness of Montessori materials". Picture is courtesy Lincolnshire Montessori, used by permission.

Q: How do you feel Montessori for Everyone has impacted the community, locally and globally?

A: I've provided the Montessori community with beautiful, high-quality materials at very reasonable prices, and have given many people information they can use through my blog. I also feel that my Facebook page (14,128 fans and growing every day) is a place where the Montessori community can gather to share experiences and ask questions. I truly hope that I've helped make Montessori for everyone!

Q: What kind of legacy would you hope Montessori for Everyone will impart to students?

A: One emphasis of my work has been to update materials, not just with modern pictures but to correct outdated information as well. Dr. Montessori would not want us using out-of-date materials just because they are traditional. I hope that children today - as they start to become adults who shape society - are willing to make changes to accepted practices when science provides new information.

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

A: I hope that there is radical reform in the United States and around the world, towards student-driven education with an emphasis on critical thinking, curiosity, and real-life experiences over teacher-led classrooms with stiflingly narrow curriculums. I can dream, can't I? ;)

You should like Lori on Facebook and follow her new Tumblr:

Spotlight Dr. Annette Haines

We have so many nice things to say about Dr. Haines. She's an inspiration and a guide to so many. We couldn't be more excited to introduce you to her marvelous mind and her upright, captivating spirit. We hope that the lines of the future of Montessori are drawn by the generous heart of Dr. Haines. We hope you enjoy reading the exchanges as much as we did!

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

A: A bit about myself? Oh my, where do I begin? With a whopping 65 years to recount you really don’t want my memoir here. I was born and raised in the Midwest. Actually, I still live close to where I was born. Dr. Montessori was right about the absorbent mind—we learn to love where we grow up. I was a pretty normal kid and went to public school. It wasn’t until the university that I discovered learning and then I became ravenous to learn everything. I have a bachelors in English Literature, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctorate in Education with an emphasis on “the learner and learning theory.”  

My interests are in conservation of natural resources, children, and animals. I also paint in oils when I have time and have dabbled in stained glass.  

My dream is to pretty much do what I am doing. I am living my dream and I wake up every morning and shake my head and wonder why I am so fortunate to wake up today to another day.

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

A: My favorite color is green.  Always has been.  This summer we had a drought and I painted my nails green.  Then it rained.  Green is life.

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

A: Favorite Book?  This is hard.  As an English Lit. Major I read enough fiction to choke a goat (Spencer, Milton, Dante, Wordsworth, D.H. Lawrence, etc.) and so I spent at least two decades reading non-fiction—which is still my favorite—science, biology and science stuff.   But I find the quality of both fiction and non-fiction has diminished lately and have been having trouble finding anything good to read.  Have you read Sir James Barrie’s Peter Pan?  Three other oldies but goodies might include: 

1) The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain (1999) 2) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes 1976). 3) The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski (1973).

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

A: I have two imaginary adventures and they are antithetical to each other. The first is to have a permanent training center in the South St. Louis near Tower Grove Park and the Botanical Garden where we could have academic and summer courses and maybe occasionally an elementary or A-I course, etc. My second adventure is to move to the end of a long one way road in Montana with my dogs and two (yes, only two) horses…where I would hear nothing but the sound of cawing birds, a gurgling stream and wind in the pines.

Q: Can you tell us about about Red Fox Paso Finos, your horse training, breeding and training facility? 

A: Oh the horses! Where do I begin? My husband and I have been ‘doing’ horses since 1995 when we moved to my parents’ farm in Troy, Illinois. Dad had just died and the place was in shambles.  The fences were falling down and (oh well, I won’t go into all that). Bit by bit we have grown a horse business—breeding, raising, training, and selling Paso Fino horses. We now have a herd of about 30 mostly young horses. We have a full-time trainer and another fellow who cleans stalls and feeds. When I’m not doing Montessori, I work with the horse clients, help them with their horses, manage the property and oversee the operation, which could certainly be a full time job.

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Q: Are there overlaps to your work there, and in the Montessori world?

A: There are many overlaps between my work with the horses and my work with Montessori.  I read somewhere that the IQ of a horse is about that of a normal 4 year old. They have many of the same needs and characteristics. They are emotional learners. They need repetition.  They seek pattern and consistency. They are harmed by abuse and resist being pushed. They love ritual, a constant daily schedule, and patterns of movement that they can count on. Any change causes upset, perhaps even illness. Horses can be therapeutic for the adult humans who work with them but first the adult humans have to control their own movements and their own emotions. I told Bobby that someday I wanted to write a book called Of Horses and Children.

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Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori schools? With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools. 

A: The advice I would give to new schools (and old schools) is to follow the ‘album’ for the corresponding plane of development and follow the AMI Guidelines for School Recognition. These are not easy things to do; they separate the good schools, the good programs, the good classrooms—real Montessori—from the rest.

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

I began in education in the 1960’s and the big thing was Bloom’s Taxonomy. Nothing has really changed in traditional education in the last 50 years, but they change the jargon of the latest, greatest thing. First it was outcomes based, then it was assessment based, then it was researched based…Come on. None of this really has anything to do with what you do on a daily basis with a child. That’s why I am a Montessorian.

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: I have had many “Montessori Moments.” I won’t bore you with them all.  But I think the most important realization was when, as a young teacher, I went back to the training center to begin Training of Trainers and, still teaching, tried to do what the album said, down to the tiniest detail, in my presentations with the children. Now that was an epiphany.  If you do that, you will have just amazing success.

Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A:  My favorite quote comes from a little pamphlet called “Peace and Education.” In it she talks about how our age represents a time of crisis…a period of passage from one era to another comparable only to the opening of a new biological or geological period in which new conditions of life will be realized which have never existed before. The natural boundaries of mountains, deserts and seas no longer limit man, “now that he can fly over them.” (1975, p. 30) In this new age, she says, “laws and treaties” will not be enough; the limits will have to come from within.  For this, we need a fundamental change in education, for —

-the child who has never learned to act alone, to direct his own actions, to govern his own will, grows into an adult who is easily led and must lean upon others. (1975, p. 23.)

And then there is good stuff in the 1946 Lectures.  For example:

Just imagine what a society would be like that was quiet, a society without movement. Think what would happen if all men stopped moving – if only for one week. What would happen? Everyone would die. It is not a question of social life, but of work. It is not a question of individual gymnastics. If the whole society of men all over the world made nothing but uncoordinated, jerky movements they would die in a short time. All their energies would be consumed for nothing. 
Society is a complex arrangement of individuals, each of whom moves differently from the other. Keep in mind the construction of the world – each organism moves to suit its own purpose. Imagine what it would be like if all the plants stopped moving. There would be no more fruit or flowers – there would be too much poisonous gas in the air. If everything stopped – if the birds remained motionless in the trees or if the insects fluttered to the ground and remained still, if the wild beasts did not move through the jungle or if the fish stopped swimming in the water – what a terrible world it would be. 
Immobilization is impossible. Nature gives a useful purpose to each animal. This is the philosophy of movement: all life is movement. Each organism has its own movement for its own purpose. The creation of the world is a harmony of all these purposeful movements. 

The whole series of 1946 Lectures probably constitutes my favorite quote…I love every sentence.

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

A: The best introduction to Montessori is as a parent. Young parents are in a sensitive period and open and looking for ideas that resonate with what they are experiencing. My first introduction to Montessori was as a young mother and it was like a conversion experience. I did not need to understand it with my head; I immediately understood it with my heart.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: What continues to inspire me is that it works today just as it did over 100 years ago and the children continue to reveal themselves in the same way as they revealed themselves to Dr. Montessori.

Q: How do you feel that Montessori can impact communities?

A: Montessori can only impact communities when it impacts more children and families. It must not remain a fringe phenomenon. Nor can lousy Montessori speak for the method. It must be good, quality, authentic Montessori and this must be available for everyone, everywhere. What a pipe dream!

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

A: I don’t know. Sometimes I get weary and depressed. No one seems to ‘get’ it and public education seems to keep spinning around in the same old circle. Private schools like yours will have to continue to be the model for the time being, if only to hold on to the idea long enough for it to replicate and spread.

Q: Lastly, do you have another "worn littles suitcase, zipped and locked with a tiny padlock", like The 1946 London Lectures by Maria Montessori, which was just recently published?

A: Actually, I do.  It is the 1946 London Lectures of Mario Montessori, which I envision to eventually be a companion volume.  Dr. Maria Montessori and her son Mario worked together and both gave the course.  Without Mario’s words, Maria’s are still incomplete.  I have been trying to persuade the family to publish the 1946 Mario Lectures but up until this point they have been reluctant to do so.

Spotlight Samantha Cedarleaf

We couldn't be more excited to introduce you to Samantha Cedarleaf. Here's her biography: "I'm an AMI-certified primary directress. I run a little Montessori school in a big city."

Yes, we know, her biography hooked us too! Now, for hook, line and sinker. Location? Where else, but Brooklyn, NY. We have a feeling that Samantha is just getting started!

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

A: My Montessori journey began in 2004 when my family helped start a Montessori school in Kampala, Uganda. We were in the process of adopting my little brother and we met a woman who had been trained in the Montessori method in London. I had a vague idea of what Montessori was but didn't really learn more until 2008 when I got more involved with the school in Kampala.

I realized that I needed to be trained so I took a correspondence course with the North American Montessori Center and received a primary diploma from them. When I did more research about Montessori I heard about the AMI and a woman named Lynne Lawrence. I heard about her work with Montessori schools in Kenya and Tanzania and decided that I wanted to be trained by her.

I moved to London and was part of the 96th course at the Maria Montessori Institute. My dream is to help spread AMI Montessori to Uganda, but in the meantime I'm living and working in Brooklyn. I started a little school with just a few children in my neighborhood and I love it!

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

A: I can't pick just one! Can a sunset be my favorite color?

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

A: My favorite children's book is Miss Rumphius. I get choked up every time I read it. And I have too many favorite movies. "What About Bob" and "Waiting for Guffman" are in my top 10 for sure.

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

A: I would love to be working in East Africa helping people start Montessori schools and training programs. It would be amazing to be a part of something that could transform the lives of so many children!

Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies?

A: Since I started my own school I spend most of my spare time working! I make a lot of materials for my class, and I love to write and illustrate reading booklets for my students. I also love to explore the City but I don't cross the bridge to Manhattan as often as I'd like. When I do, I often take a sketchbook to the MET and draw for a few hours.

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

A: I'd say that the most important thing is to find parents who are excited about the Montessori method. The first year is really challenging for all sorts of reasons and if you can eliminate the challenge of convincing skeptical parents, then do it!

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

A: Since I'm only in my second year I'm not sure I'm the best person to give advice on this. But the biggest lesson I learned from last year is to communicate with parents, but not to overdo it. I've found that parents don't necessarily want a minute-by-minute log of what their children did at school. They just want to know their children are happy and learning.

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

A: I'm still a rookie so I'm not sure! ;)

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment"?

A: I think the moment I was truly convinced that Montessori is the BEST and ONLY way to educate young children was the first time I observed in the Children's House at the Maria Montessori Institute. I really couldn't believe my eyes.

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Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A: The first quote that ever struck a chord with me is from the Discovery of the Child: "She cannot understand her apparently passive role, which is like that of an astronomer who sits fixed at his telescope while the planets go spinning around. It is very difficult to assimilate and to put into practice the idea that life and all that is connected with it go on by themselves, and that it must be observed and understood without intervention if we wish to divine its secrets or direct its activities." 

And another favorite is from the Absorbent Mind: "The teacher of children up to six years of age knows that she has helped mankind in an essential part of its formation. She is happy in the knowledge that in this formative period, they were able to do what they had to do. She will also be able to say, ‘I have served the spirits of those children, and they have fulfilled their development, and I kept them company in their experiences.'"

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

A: I think there are two important ways to get to know Montessori: The first and most profound is to see Montessori children in action. Nothing can compare to it! The second is to read about it. E.M. Standing's Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work is an excellent introduction. 

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: During my training I was really into the theory of the Method. I wasn't concerned so much with the practical details. But when I opened my school I was forced to really dive head first into the practice. I was amazed to see everything that I had read about happening before my eyes. The method was materialized right in my own classroom and it is every single day. 

Q: How do you feel your school has impacted your community?

A: I feel like I've found a great group of families who are excited and passionate about their children's education. We're becoming Montessori evangelists to our little neighborhood in Brooklyn!

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

A: My greatest hope for my students is that they would grow up to be compassionate, independent, and thoughtful contributors to their families, then to their neighborhood, then to our city, then the world.

Transient

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

A: Just from my interactions with parents in my neighborhood I've sensed that people are no longer satisfied with the status quo. I know several people who have pulled their children out of public schools and are beginning to educate them at home. I hope that this dissatisfaction will lead to a revolution in how we educate our children. I think we need to return to the most important factor in education, the one that seems to have been ignored the most -- the child.

You should follow Samantha on Twitter: @verymontessori