Montessori Academy at Belmont Greene
We are so very pleased to Spotlight Bart Theriot. If ever there was a great story to tell about Montessori, it would start here. We’ve known Bart through our involvement with the Montessori Madmen for the last few years, and every exchange we have is absolutely illuminating. Not only are our encounters positive and upbeat, they also point in a direction still to come. In this post, we learn about his school, which is a family tradition, and hear his vision for the future.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: The first thing you should know is that I’m fairly verbose. However, I am told that brevity is the soul of wit, so I will do my best to keep things concise. I am the owner and operator of the Montessori Academy at Belmont Greene. I hold an AMS certification in early childhood and I am a teacher trainer and CFO for the Northern Virginia Montessori Institute. I am a father of 4 boys, a Montessori alumni and I’m also a Montessori Madman. I’m also married to the most amazing woman I have ever known and, of course, she’s also a Montessori teacher. It is also my belief that we can change the world through children by sharing it with them and then getting out of their way.
Q: How about Montessori Academy at Belmont Greene?
A: It’s hard to believe we are celebrating our 15th year! Time flies when you’re having fun. We offer authentic Montessori in Loudoun County, Virginia, for children age infant through 10 years old (lower elementary). This place is and has been a home for my entire family (minus by older brother and younger sister who live in Los Angeles –also Montessori alumni). Over the years our family has grown to include a faculty of master teachers -nearly all of us have been together for more than 10 years. The teachers here are amazing and really are the heart and soul of the Academy. I like to think that it is as much their home as it is mine. This has created a strong school culture, which I believe is fairly unique and makes us an ideal place for children to grow and learn.
Q: We really love your mission – “Meeting children where they are to help them reach where they want to be” – how did you arrive here?
A: One idea that has always set Montessori apart from traditional education is that we seek to conform to the child’s needs, not the other way around. Dr. Montessori was a pioneer of this idea more than 100 years ago. It’s amazing how revolutionary the concept remains to this day. The part about reaching where they “want to be” is actually even more controversial than meeting them where they are. I don’t know that I always understood what following the child really meant, and too many schools out there don’t either. But after 15 years of working with great teachers and observing children’s capacity for directing their own learning, I understand.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori schools?
A: I get excited just thinking about the opportunities available to a new Montessori school and its faculty. If it is done right, that school can change the world. I honestly believe that. For example, I love what you guys are doing at Baan Dek. I have also seen the full gamut of results from new schools that have come and gone. In many cases those results were determined very early in the startup process. One thing that I learned during my time here is that a good Montessori school can be run in almost the exact same manner as a good Montessori classroom.
Q: How about established Montessori schools?
A: Honestly, I would offer the same advice to established Montessori schools, because no matter how long you’ve been around, the best schools never stop evolving. If you haven’t done this, at your next faculty meeting, try to come up with all of the areas where your school philosophy and management overlaps with that of the classrooms. I guarantee it will be an eye-opening experience.
Q: How have things changed since you first got started in the field of education?
A: Unfortunately, too many things about our education system have remained unchanged. However, one positive development is that dads are starting to become a larger part of the picture in early childhood education. I think the Montessori Madmen are an example (and hopefully in some small way, part of the impetus) of this. Perhaps, as a society, we are beginning to realize the importance of the first years of life. I also think that the prevailing winds of public perception are changing as more people (including teachers) begin to question inherent problems within our established educational system. As these trends continue and people begin to search for a solution, I believe more roads will lead to Montessori.
Q: What’s it like to be a part of a family run, multi-generational Montessori school?
A: It took me a while to learn to refer to my mother as Beth, but I finally got over that one. This is not just a business. This school and what it stands for represents our entire philosophy of life. I find inspiration in my work and those around me every day. To share that with my mother, father, wife and children is a gift to which I owe, my mother especially, a lifetime of gratitude. As much as I don’t want to pre-determine my children’s lives, I truly hope that one of them (there are 4 boys so the odds are not bad) will one day take my place.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
A: Having been involved in Montessori since I was a toddler, there are so many Montessori moments that I always have trouble picking one. I can think of one that involved my son, Robin, then about 16 months old. In our Nido, he sat at the tiniest table next to a little friend who was nearly 2 years old. The child had brain and muscle development issues which made it difficult for him to sit up and feed himself. The teacher helped to feed him by holding his fork for him. The teacher left the table to refill a small pitcher of milk and as she did that, the child became upset. He was so close to the food but could not get it to his mouth. Seeing this, my son picked up the child’s fork and began feeding him just as the teacher had done. Empathy is at the heart of everything we hope to accomplish in Montessori. Seeing it on display so obviously and at such a young age was a lightning bolt straight into my heart. I knew in that moment that sometimes the best thing we can do for our children is to step away from the table every once in a while.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
A: Of course, she had so many wonderful quotes. Dr. Montessori had such an amazing way of crystalizing even the most difficult and confusing ideas. I’m afraid my favorite quote isn’t the most glamorous, but it has always provided a direction for me in my parenting and in my Montessori career.
“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was. ”
To me, that is the acknowledgment of the importance of childhood. It is a reminder that a child’s most important work is building the adult he will one day become. It is far easier to restrict that work than support it. At some point I realized that because I now think like an adult (usually), at times it may be beyond my capacity to recognize this work. So I use this quote as a reference point to help me walk the line between help and hindrance, trust and doubt.
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
Our good friend Trevor hit the nail on the head. Classroom observation. We Montessorians know what we know. That unduly influences our view of Montessori. So I think that parents are the best resource for determining what resonates best when learning about Montessori. I’ve given nearly 3,500 individual tours introducing parents to Montessori. I cover a lot of ground in Montessori on those tours, but most of it doesn’t hit home until they sit down and become a part of this amazing little community called a Montessori classroom. 30 minutes is all it takes. The experience is worth so much more than anything I could ever possibly say. As is often the case, children make the best teachers.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
A: This may sound a bit strange, but I kind of like that its still the best kept secret in all of education. Granted, that creates its own issues for the Montessori community, but I love seeing the look on parent’s faces after their first introduction to the classroom. I get to blow people’s minds on almost a daily basis. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
Q: How do you feel Montessori Academy at Belmont Greene has impacted your community?
A: Our biggest impact goes far beyond the local efforts at philanthropy and charity in which our children have engaged. Where we continue to make a difference is with the sense of community and the responsibility to each other that our students take with them out into the world. I am also very proud of our impact on the global community, wherein the children have raised tens of thousands of dollars for children in Ethiopa and Liberia. Experiences like that allow empathy to take root and generosity follows.
Q: What kind of legacy would you hope Montessori Academy at Belmont Greene will impart to students?
A: Each of our faculty shares the goal that what we do (and don’t do) here will allow every child to realize their ability to make a unique and valuable contribution to this world –whatever it may be.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
Do you want the pessimistic or optimistic version? Let’s be optimists. There’s a “new” idea out there in traditional education called “differentiated instruction.” It’s the idea that children learn differently from each other and what works for one child may not work for another. That means the default environment in the classroom should be to view each child as an individual…hey, wait a minute, I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before. Anyway, it’s a very difficult thing to accomplish in a traditional environment, but the teachers who can pull it off are actually receiving awards for their effort. Whether the idea is able to take hold remains to be seen. But if it does, it could lead to the drastic overhaul that our education system needs. That’s the future that I’m working toward.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Glass Classroom?
A: Setting up a temporary Montessori classroom in a busy shopping mall? When I describe it to people outside the Montessori world, they look at me as if I’m crazy. No one has ever seen anything like this. I cannot even imagine what it took for Dr. Montessori to pull this off 100 years ago. To me, though, it is just as necessary now as it was then and I hope other schools join in. Why is it such a crazy concept? Because the generally accepted opinion among adults is that, if given the opportunity, young children are naturally pre-disposed to run amok. Montessorians do not believe this for a second. The truth is that Montessori really does work anywhere because it is based upon the innate and fundamental interests of the child.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the Glass Classroom?
A: In my position, I spend a great deal of time raising awareness for Montessori. But my reach generally only extends to the people who visit my school or read my blog posts www.mabmontessori.com. So the glass classroom is a way of putting Montessori out there in front of completely unsuspecting people who don’t know what they’re missing. If one more child enrolls in Montessori because of it, we will consider the event a success. But I believe we are going to accomplish much more than that.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
A: I love the outdoors and as parent especially, I’ve seen more and more how children benefit from a strong connection with nature. I’ve read that if you spend a full week out in the wilderness, your body resets to the rising and setting of the sun. Your senses attune to the sounds, sights and smells that otherwise would go unnoticed. It’s a transformative experience. I can’t visualize anything more specific than that at the moment, but sharing that experience with children (especially my own) is definitely on my bucket list. I hear South Dakota’s nice…
Written by:Bobby George