June George has many titles around Baan Dek. Head of School, directress, and fearless leader are just a few of them. Our constant inspiration and guide, June founded Baan Dek along with her husband, Bobby George. Together they’ve established the first accredited AMI Montessori school in the state of South Dakota. And we have the feeling she isn’t going to stop there…
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
First of all, I’m from Thailand. I’ve known since I was 15 that I wanted to be a pre-school teacher. I received my first degree in early childhood education from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, and right away went to England to do my masters for educational studies, at the University of Warwick.
“ I always knew a little bit about Montessori, but I wanted to learn more. ”
I learned a little bit about every single theory of childhood education in graduate school. When I was done with my masters, I didn’t want to go home! Suddenly, Montessori came back to my mind. I thought, oh!, let’s check out the training center in London. Luckily enough, the training center closest to me was a school founded by Mario Montessori. I decided to do two years of Primary training. Most of the time, it’s only a year program, but because English wasn’t my first language, I did two years. I was able to do more observation and theoretical training, which was great.
When I grew up, I was always afraid of being a teacher, even though I wanted to be a teacher, because the child’s future was in my hands. It’s such a responsibility. It’s a life. You help them form who they are going to be. I shape them by being a role model.
“ I don’t have a favorite student. Everyone is my favorite, and I love them equally.”
When I work with children, I often think about the cause and effect. For example, if I do this, what will happen, etc. Montessori said her method would require a new kind of a teacher and I try to live up to this.
Q: You have an incredible ability to be totally in the moment, especially when you’re working with children. Can you speak a bit about that?
A: When I work with children, I don’t think far ahead and project the future. I only think about today, and that moment. In every moment I work with children, I strive to be the best person I can be. Whatever I do at that moment is the most important. I don’t think about the past or the future, or I try not to at least!
Q: You provide moments for children to become who they want to become. Can you describe how you focus on that moment?
A: I know that the way I think is completely different than other people, because I only focus on what I’m doing right now. I’m so present in what I’m doing. When I handle working with kids, I usually stick to the facts, which is a more scientific method of working with children than other educators might use.
For example, two children aren’t getting along. I look at the situation as a whole, and separate things into steps, “Why is this happening?”, “What can I do now?”, “How can I help them overcome a problem?”.
I can predict what’s going to happen in that moment by my previous experiences, my intuition, my trust in the child. I know they are humans, and no human wants to be bad. If you know better, you won’t want to be bad. If I walk a child through exactly what happens, I know every child will choose the right way. I don’t tell the child what the right way is, I let them choose.
Q: Where do your strong principles come from?
A: I think it’s the way I was raised. I do believe that you are the product of your environment. My mom was that way, very principled and strong. I specifically remember one time when I forgot to put my laundry away before bed. I was fast asleep, and my mother woke me up to remind me to put my clothes away, and made sure I finished this chore before I could go back to sleep. I was crying the whole time because I was so tired, but this is the perfect example of having high expectations!
Q: What does Baan Dek mean to you?
A: It means people, and culture. Most of all, I believe in people. If you want to grow an organization, the first thing you have to look into is people, the second thing is people, and the third? People. I believe more strongly in investing in people than any tangible object.
Q: What makes Baan Dek culture different?
When you look at our school, you see that it’s full of life, and sincerity, again because of the people. Because we treat them the right way and give them the opportunity to live their dream.
Q: What’s next at Baan Dek?
A: The future. We’ll still be doing the same thing as long as we can; to help people understand and care about early childhood education.
Q: What was it about Montessori that made you want it to be your life work?
A: It just makes sense, and it works! I’ve seen it. I started out wanting to work in a traditional school, and saw the memorization and rote learning component. I observed that it didn’t work. True understanding comes with doing, like Montessori.
Q: A lot of jobs get instant gratification, but we don’t. How are you fulfilled?
A: I know our job doesn’t have a standard measurement, but you can tell when the children that you educate become more thoughtful and capable of making their own decisions, and you know they have solid foundations.
“ You don’t have to give them the world, just the foundation. ”
You know for sure they will use those skills to go places. Montessori believed that you give them enough knowledge to use the skills to explore their world.
Q: People inside and outside the Montessori community view what you’re doing at Baan Dek as revolutionary and something special. Why? What is it?
A: I think because we are doing Montessori in the 21st century, and we mix the old with the new. The world is changing. You cannot just stand at your spot, you have to move with the world. I think that when we first started, we believed so much in the Montessori philosophy on one hand, and on the other, we understood the new world order. I think that’s what makes us different. We know how to combine the old and the new. Montessori was designed to do this. If she were still alive, she would do the same things. She was a scientist, everything is cause and effect.
Q: What do you do when you’re not at Baan Dek?
A: Movies, I like horror movies! It’s fascinating. For a good horror movie to be real, you need a lot of thought and knowledge of how to make it real. I also have the dream of opening a Thai restaurant some day!
Q: You’re a role model to the team, so much so that they affectionately call you mom. What does that feel like?
A: If I look at myself 20 years ago, I never imagined I could do this job. I used to sit at the back of the class and no one knew that I existed. But today, running the school and having people look up to me, it’s amazing! It’s humbling, and I’m really glad I can be a role model. I think because I love what I do and don’t expect anything back, because I do it because I want to, not for accolades or money. People can feel that it comes from the heart.
Q: Can you describe your collaboration with Bobby?
A: I’m the left hand, and Bobby’s the right hand. I don’t think things would work if we didn’t have each other. We’re a good team because I’m the bad cop and he’s the good cop, although those roles have changed over time.
Q: Design seems to be an important thing at Baan Dek. Your school is beautiful, as is your website. What role does design play?
A: Design is the environment, and the environment is everything. We’re the product of our environment, and if you have a messy environment, guess what? You’ll be messy too. Clean and simple is what we strive for in our school and our lifestyle.
Q: Switching to Montessori, what was the process of starting Baan Dek like? Any advice to share for new Montessori schools?
“ A: Follow your heart, follow the child. ”
Q: When you think about the future of education, what hopes and aspirations do you have, both personally and for the broader community? For example, will Montessori one day become the status quo?
A: The world is changing. Parents are becoming more educated, and are starting to make different choices than their parents before them. They don’t have to follow the system, and they have alternative ways. The future of education is definitely changing. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’s definitely becoming more in line with Montessori philosophy. I think we are in that future!
Q: If you could do Baan Dek all over again, would you?
A: Totally. Nothing different. You should ask Bobby. See what he says!
Q: Growing pains of a school are hard. What advice would you have for hiring these important people you talk about so much?
A: Don’t give up, and believe in what you do. Don’t compromise. You will know it when you find the right person.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on building a community?
A: You need people who are humble. If you have people who are willing to change, and willing to blame themselves, those are the people that you want. Good listeners, teachable, malleable, and who are able to reflect on themselves. Everyone here knows that they cannot come to me and blame someone else, because I will say back to them, have you been checking in with yourself first? More than likely it’s something they’re doing too.
“ I will never let anyone blame the kids. That makes us different. ”
Q: I think there have been two defining moments at Baan Dek. Opening, and thinking about closing…
A: I never thought of closing the school! Well, actually, we did think of it, because of the way the Montessori community was treating us with Montessorium. In 2010, we decided to use technology to bridge the gap, and as a result we received some unfortunate feedback. I mean, we never wanted to replace the materials in the classroom with iPads, we simply wanted to make Montessori more accessible, so parents would visit their local schools.
We ran into a big big problem with that. The whole world turned against us! At that time, we almost quit. We, as educators, believe that we should be good role models, but the people we kept running into, Montessori teachers, were not good role models. They were really mean. They were vicious. And, we didn’t want to be a part of a community that treated people this way. What would that mean for their students?
But, at that moment, we received a note from Steve Jobs. He said, “I love what you’re doing!” Since that moment, I look at that and look at myself, and tell myself that this is what I want and what I believe. I tell myself I don’t care what others say and think. I know exactly what I want my school to be, and we haven’t looked back. I want to be just the way I want to be.
I found the courage from that experience, from that feeling of failure. I got hit hard and I fell, but I stood up and have been fighting ever since.
“ Some fishermen sit and wait to catch something, but I’m the type of fisherman that will go into the water and catch the fish myself. ”