Spotlight Kiran Paek
The Montessori World is small, and vast, and touches all corners of our planet. Kiran Paek, Academic Director at the International Montessori Teaching Institute in Beijing, reached out to share her story, and we loved learning about Montessori in China. It is clear from these words, “[her] heart is filled with a deep respect for children.”
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
I have been involved with Montessori education since 1990. As a mom of one boy I started taking Montessori courses offered in New York and completed AMS Early childhood credentials in New Jersey after I had my third child. I remember vividly how much I fell in love with Maria Montessori’s philosophy and method because they were so contrary to how I was raised in South Korea.
The longing to become a professional modern dancer since I was 5 years old came to an abrupt end. A new career as a Montessori teacher began at Princeton Montessori School in New Jersey. Once touched by the Montessori Spirit, nothing has been able to stop me from being so passionate about Montessori education. After over 25 years of teaching at Princeton Montessori directing my own school established in 2007, my focus has shifted from engaging interactions with children to sharing my passion with adult learners.
Currently, I am the academic director of International Montessori Teaching Institute in Beijing, China and a deputy dean of Branch Institute of Montessori Education, National Institute of Vocational Education at Beijing Normal University. I have dedicated sharing my passion with Chinese adult learners since the fall of 2015. I dream that all people in China learn the benefit of Montessori education for their children. I would work hard to raise the awareness of the value of authentic Montessori education in China.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
My favorite color has changed many times over the years. I loved purple, green and blue in my 20s and 30s. Then I began to like blue and red in my 40s. Now, I can say absolutely that red is my favorite!
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
I will become a pilot to fly from one country to another. My airplane will survive through all kinds of turbulence, and I will land in an unknown place. My adventure will be full of surprises, however, it will end with a never ending story to tell. I hope that the adventure doesn’t have to do with Montessori, right?
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
Respect! Child is a person to be deserved respect. The role of Montessori teacher is to become facilitator, helper, observer, motivator, guidance, etc. respecting individual child’s freedom to choose and unfold his/her potentials. My heart is filled with a deep respect for children.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
I congratulate each one of you who become a Montessori teacher. Montessori is a lifelong journey. You took a step closer to your life time of journey as a Montessori teacher. I encourage you to keep the spirit alive and be at peace. Never stop learning anew everyday from children in your care. They are the compass and best teachers for your journey.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
I recall many “Montessori Moments.” I would say that the most recent such moment has to be when I observed one of my practicum student’s classroom last summer in China. Her name is Sunny who owns the school. She was a public school teacher for about 30 years. When she founded her own school, she wanted to build her school implementing Montessori Method. She and her staff worked very hard to follow the Montessori way without a good model school to emulate.
“Once touched by the Montessori Spirit, nothing has been able to stop me from being so passionate about Montessori education.”
After months of their effort, I observed that her class normalized, which they did not realize because they never experienced what a normalized classroom looks and sounds like. When I shared my observation of normalization of the class, Sunny started crying, and everyone in the meeting room joined her sobbing. It was a joyful moment celebrating the hard work. I called it a moment “Touched by the Montessori Spirit.”
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
Please remember to enjoy every moment of your child’s growth. I advise them to read Montessori books, attend parent education sessions, and ask teachers for guidance and advice. In so far as they understand of the root of the Montessori Method, their home environment will be a safe, protected place for their children to become who they want to become. Home environment cannot be a duplicate of Montessori class if your child already attends a Montessori school. The home environment must be an extension of loving, respectful and consistent place for the child.
Q: What is the best way to introduce Montessori to prospective parents?
The children have the right to initiate their journey to find a hidden treasure within themselves. The treasure will allow them to see the unknown bright future. It only can be discovered by their exploration and discovery, which lead them to become who they want to become. Do you want it for your children? Then Montessori is the way to get there.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
Children, adult learners and colleagues keep me in the journey of inspiration to continue to share the passion for Montessori. Montessori is not limited in classrooms. It exists everywhere and every moment if you are a good observer. I am surrounded by the spirit which will never disappear as long as there is a child.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
The vision of the ultimate education has begun in Finland. No walls of classroom. No homework, No exams. Children learn from life experiences using mathematical mind and interpersonal skills. They explore the unlimited possibilities to excel in their talents and interests. The inner drive for peace guides their future in building the world to be a better place because they are guided by their personal experience of the inner peace. Teachers will be a guide, adviser, counselor and facilitator. Students will have a freedom to choose where they want to learn to thrive, immersed in the environments that are carefully researched and prepared to offer the optimal outcomes for each child.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
One research after another will continue to prove the scientific nature of Montessori approach. Montessori movement will inspire many educators who may have opposed due to misguided information about the Montessori Method. Many government officials in many countries who seek the next revolutionary method for education will examine and see the positive outcomes of Montessori education. Montessori will evolve along with the changes in social dynamics. The technology will finally support the maximum outcome of students’ learning. In spite of rapid changes of social media and technologies, the Montessori spirit will persist with respect for the humanity and nature, reminding all human beings that we are all connected in one global community.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in building a high-quality Montessori education in China?
In my view, the biggest challenge in China is the lack of authentic Montessori model schools. I have met not only many enthusiastic adult learners who strive to learn the best practice of Montessori education, but also many administrators who tirelessly maintain the high quality Montessori education.
Yet, in order to build good schools, many more experienced, competent teachers are needed in classrooms and teacher education programs. Often, teachers and administrators overlook the depth and value of experience gained through years of working with children in classrooms. After a couple of years of training or a few years of teaching in the class, many think that they know the Montessori well enough and go on to become administrators, then principals.
“They explore the unlimited possibilities to excel in their talents and interests.”
It is understandable considering that new Montessori schools pop up in every corner of cities at a rapid rate. China is a very big country which I don’t have to remind you. A hundred Montessori schools may be a lot in some countries, but it is not enough to serve the population of new born babies of one city in China. Many schools lack qualified Montessori teachers, and administrators and directors with years of classroom experience. So there seems to be an urgency to move teachers into administrators, principals and directors to lead new schools. But it takes time to build up and maintain a pool of experienced teachers, mentors, administrators and good model schools. And they need to not only grow in number, but also mature in experience.
Good news is that in recent years China has seen the beginning of a number of accredited Montessori teacher training institutes led by experienced teachers who may also help develop good model schools. As with any rapidly growing organization, patience would be an essential virtue in helping lay the foundation for the future of Montessori education in China.
Written by:Charlotte Wood