We couldn’t be happier to introduce you to Bettina Tioseco, head of Westside Montessori School in Vancouver, British Columbia. They’re doing some pretty amazing things. Or, as they like to say, they’re a “different kind” of school, operating since 1986. We’ve been following Bettina, and their incredible work, for quite some time, especially through Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, where their posts always liven our day. Her appetite for learning (see Aristotle quote below) is such an inspiration, and we think you will enjoy her Spotlight as much as we do. Here we go!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams? We would love to hear about your time spent in Shanghai and Beijing. What drew you there, and what did you take away?
A: I was born in the Philippines, where my Dad was from. My Mom is from Valparaiso, Chile. Oddly enough, we moved about 10,500 km from both these places to Vancouver, BC because my Grandmother was drawn to the mountains and water of the West Coast of Canada. As a child, my best friend, Nani and I would invite all the younger children in the neighbourhood to come attend our makeshift school in her garden space. Branches became chairs and tables and we brought in our own blackboards and paper and pencils. We laugh that we both ended up becoming teachers.
After my Montessori training, the school I was hoping to work at, where I currently am, was fully staffed and there wasn't a space for me. My trainer was mentoring a local school in Shanghai that was making a shift to Montessori. They sent a teacher to train with us in BC and I was curious. I decided to take the leap and try it for a year which then turned into ten years! I was in Shanghai for six years teaching Casa and then was drawn to Beijing to have the opportunity to teach Lower Elementary. I feel like I grew up in Shanghai, having spent my early twenties there and having had the chance to travel all over Asia as well as to Europe. My Dad liked to joke that when he asked to see my savings from working overseas, that I would show him the stamps in my passport instead. During my last year there, I flew to DC to take a course with Tim Seldin, How to Build a World Class Montessori School. That had always been a longtime dream, put on the back burner while I gained valuable experience. I feel that my experiences, especially at The International Montessori School of Beijing, formed me into the Montessorian I am today. I was surrounded by top educators and administrators, knowledgeable and talented in their craft.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color?
A: The children often like being as fancy as possible, so we teachers like to keep up. I'd have to say Mazarine Blue.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
A: I’d have to say that Pride and Prejudice is probably my favourite book, I come back to it every few years. My taste in films is heavily influenced by my brother, Alexis, who was a film critic and professor. We didn't always have the same taste in movies, but shared a love for Wong Kar Wai and Wes Anderson films. My favourite would probably be, The Darjeeling Limited, because it was the last film we watched together.
Q: Can you tell us about your hobbies?
A: I thoroughly enjoy kayaking, yoga, baking and board games, especially Catan. I also enjoy learning and putting into practice new hobbies, like felting, candle making, French knitting - anything that I can bring back into the classroom.
Q: Switching to Montessori, what advice do you have for new Montessori schools?
A: I would suggest working at great schools and learning from them. There is no better way to learn than by being mentored by great teachers and having the chance to work with them. I would also suggest surrounding yourself with people you admire, respect as well as really like. They are the ones you will be spending every day with and together, will create the atmosphere and morale that transfers into the classroom.
Q: With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools - or schools in general.
A: I believe strongly in Observations and Professional Development. In the words of Aristotle, "He (she) who dares to teach must never cease to learn." We try to observe a few classrooms each year, both traditional and Montessori, and appreciate and reflect on the ideas and inspiration we gain from other teachers and spaces. Our classroom teachers just attended a Tedx Education event here in Vancouver, and the insights and knowledge we have gained is incredible. We were fortunate to hear Dr Adele Diamond speak. She is a world leading Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist and a huge advocate for Montessori. Having scientific research on the effects of hands-on learning on children's executive functions is incredibly affirming for the work we do.
Q: How have things changed since you first got started in the field of education?
A: A lot has probably changed since 1986, when Westside Montessori School first opened.
I was actually still in elementary school in 1986 :) and didn't go into Montessori until about ten years later. Since I began about 18 years ago, I'd have to say that the biggest change is the influence of media and exposure to devices on children. As time has gone on, we have seen that a multi-sensory tactile approach to learning is what solidifies understanding of concepts in our children, especially in math. In the field of neuropsychology, Dr. Steven Hughes and Dr. Diamond have validated what we as Montessorians have known for years: working with the Montessori materials is good for young brains. And more than ever, necessary.
Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"
A: I actually first came to know WMS when picking up my cousins who attended the school. I peeked in the window (which I probably was not really supposed to do) as I was picking them up early for a dentist appointment. At a glance I was mesmerized - the children inside were busy, engaged, productive and joyful. That prompted me to go into Montessori rather than mainstream teaching and I never looked back.
Q: What’s your favorite education related quote?
A: It’s unconventional to take a quote from a TV Show, but something Mr Schuester on Glee once said really resonated with me, "The best teachers don't give you the answers. They just point the way and let you make your own choices, your own mistakes. That way you get all the glory. And you deserve it."
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
A: The best introduction to Montessori is a normalized, true Montessori multi-aged classroom.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
A: Being in the classroom is definitely what continues to inspire me about Montessori. Spending each day with a child and watching them grow during their three foundation years is what it is all about.
Q: How do you feel your work impacts the community at large?
A: One example I can use to answer this question is with six-pack beverage rings. When I walk my dog in my neighbourhood or local trails, I often see one left on the ground. The students and I always bring them into the class and add them to a Practical Life tray. I've heard the story over and over again of children fishing out the rings from their household rubbish or recycle bins, crossing the street to pick one up if they see them, or collecting them at picnics. They know the negative effect these plastic rings can have on marine life and make sure that their families know that it is important to them too. Building awareness and mindfulness with these young minds makes an impact that they will carry with them.
Q: What kind of legacy would you hope to impart to students?
A: My hope for my students is that they feel capable, empowered and that they have a sense of perseverance. I hope that they lead lives that they enjoy and that they are able to grow up to be contented, conscientious and contributing members to their communities.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
A: I felt very hopeful after the International Montessori Congress in Portland, Oregon last summer. There seemed to be a shift in the Montessori Movement, if you will. The vision is to have Montessori not as an option or alternative in education, but as the norm.