Baan Dek

Spotlight Greenspring Montessori School


Elliot Dickson is an adolescent guide at Greenspring Montessori School.

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

I grew up in New England and have been working in education for 16 years, mostly as a more traditional middle and high school science teacher, and for the last three years as an adolescent guide at Greenspring Montessori School near Baltimore, Maryland. After two years at Greenspring I spent the summer in Ohio earning my adolescent certification through NAMTA/AMI. I work with an incredible team and 10 adolescents, 7th – 9th grade. My co-guide and I share much of the work but I am responsible for the humanities and science/occupations work we do.

I have always been interested in science but also love to read, draw, be outside, and get to know new people. My partner is also an educator and we have two children, Eloise (6) and Graham (4) and a third on the way in two months! I’ve been an avid comic book fan since I was 11 and dream of one day writing and illustrating a young adult novel or children’s book.

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

Any shade of blue.

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

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite book; I read across many genres. The book that has probably stuck with me the longest is Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon. I often think about it in my work with families and in my relationship with my own children. It truly changed my perspective by broadening it. My favorite films are all science fiction and adventure: E.T., Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and most recently all of the Avengers-related movies that Marvel puts out. They are my childhood dreams realized.

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

The only adventure I can currently imagine is the new one I’m about to embark on with the birth of another child. Getting to know each of my children, learning about them, and having them teach me continues to be an adventure every day.

Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?

After graduate school I was looking to teach in a school that would challenge me to be a better educator. After 10 years of teaching science, I was starting to question my practice and the constraints under which I was operating. Working in a Montessori environment was exciting because I could focus on the needs of individual learners and form stronger relationships with them. I also loved that every aspect of the community we try and create for our adolescents is rooted in meeting their developmental needs.

Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?

Have faith, let go, observe, and have a mentor with whom you can frequently process your experience.

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Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”

During my first year I worked with a young woman who was very reserved. She rarely spoke and hid half of her face beyond her hair. At an end-of-trimester presentation she shared a poem she had written; she memorized it, spoke clearly and confidently, and quickly had me in tears. In that moment I understood the power of providing opportunities for adolescents to explore and share who they are.

Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?

I wouldn’t call this my favorite but it is one that I return to as a reminder. It is from From Childhood to Adolescence: “The teachers must have the greatest respect for the young personality, realizing that in the soul of the adolescent, great values are hidden…”

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Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?

To be in partnership with their child’s guide and to have patience.

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

For an educator I think it’s just jumping in and fully experiencing it. For a family considering Montessori for their child I think it’s important to observe a functional classroom environment and having the opportunity to speak with the guide before and after the experience. There is so much that goes on that is subtle but powerful but many people view the classroom from their own experiential lens.

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Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

I love to learn and being in a Montessori community challenges me to be a learner each day. I also enjoy hearing from Montessorians who have engaged with this work for 30+ years who say they still haven’t “figured it out”. While daunting, it is also exciting to realize that we are all part of this grand experiment about how to best reach the developmental needs of the children and adolescents with whom we are working.

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

I hope that more and more people recognize that, even though human beings learn in different ways, we all have human brains that have to learn through experience. School, no matter if it serves toddlers or college students, has to offer opportunities to learn through experience. I also hear more and more educators talking about differentiation as a way to truly meet the needs of their students. I see a movement in this direction in which education isn’t the teacher dispensing the same knowledge to all students. People don’t learn that way and I think that notion, even though Maria Montessori knew it 100 years ago, is starting to catch on.

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Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?

I see it as a model that other schools will look to when they want to change the way they are educating their young people. I think the number of Montessori schools will continue to increase and hope that it will be offered more publicly so it is not an experience limited to those who can afford private schools or have access to a charter school.

Written by:

Charlotte Snyder

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