montessori ed

thoughts from a primary guide

A Montessori MBA

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” Starbucks recently announced that it will offer hourly employees discounted tuition in their first two years of study, and pay the entire tuition for junior and senior years if a worker goes on to complete a four-year degree.” Forbes

I started thinking about online education and I remembered my own graduate school experience at
Loyola University in the Montessori Masters program.   Although these were general requirement courses for any Masters of Education, I remember the comraderie of our shared Montessori background and focus on Montessori applications.

Loyola offers a great program for Masters of Education, but what about an MBA? 

Why would we even want a Montessori MBA program?  Because opening a school is scary.  

I sometimes day dream about the kind of school I would want to open (an all day,  all year multilingual environment with great architecture adjacent to a senior living facility for intergenerational interactions) and then I think about the skills required to open a new school,  or even run an existing school (human resources,  hiring,  firing,  marketing,  budgeting,  admissions,  taxes, and more) and I don’t have any idea where to start.  I am paralyzed and carefully pack away my dreams.

But it doesn’t have to be so scary.   Imagine a cohort of Montessorians taking business classes in which the examples and case studies are all from Montessori and early childhood.   Lessons such as designing a business plan,  or a marketing plan,  or determining where to locate a business,  would all be taught through a Montessori lens.  

The Montessori community could benefit greatly from an online MBA that can be completed from anywhere but is focused specifically on the needs of the Montessori community.  Current administrators could upskill and experienced guides could develop the confidence to spread the Montessori movement to new communities.

Starbucks made its deal with Arizona State University,  which also happens to have the #2 online MBA program  according to U.S. News and World Report.   Maybe they would be interested in a niche market like Montessori,  and it seems to me that NAMTA and MAA might have some interesting input for the program,  maybe they could even provide adjunct faculty.

Written by stanforded

July 21, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Observations about and with Goggle Glass

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I have long been interested in how we learn (to be fair, it is that interest that led me to Montessori ) and I find that a strong model can be a great learning tool.  A model is not the same as a mentor.  A  mentor may observe me working and share insights with me, discuss strengths and areas for improvement, suggest ideas.   A mentor supports my own reflective process.   A model on the other hand is someone I observe because they are more experienced or have natural talent.  A model shows me how they accomplish a task and moves my reflective process in new directions.

Recently I have been thinking about how Google Glass could provide models of the most essential and challenging of Montessori skills, Observation.  What if an exemplary, experienced Guide wore Google Glasses throughout a morning or day and video recorded the experience.  We could then literally observe the day through their eyes (or at least a few centimeters above and to the right of their eyes).  While we would not be privy to their thoughts, we would get an idea of what events draw their attention,  how focused their attention is on the presentation they are giving,  when they look to other adults for support, etc… 



Currently Google Glass cost $1500 USD each and can only record continuously for about 30 minutes.  However, if these ever get cheaper and enough memory gets packed in to record a few hours, I will be asking for Guide volunteers to consider wearing a pair for a day.

Written by stanforded

July 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Thoughts

an outside-in environment

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In thinking about how to improve the indoor outdoor flow of an environment I have begun to consider many other aspects of the prepared environment.

On the one hand I really enjoy an environment that feels like a family home, especially a well converted older home like a bungalow.  However, traditional building structures split the indoor outdoor spaces  more or less 50/50 and often a single or double door is the only flow between the spaces.

I have lived the last 4 1/2 years in Auckland, New Zealand, where the outdoor loving people have evolved a fondness for massive folding glass doors to open entire walls and enjoy the warm temperate climate.  (It it worth noting that bug screens are nearly unheard of in the country and birds often wander into cafes and homes.  The ubiquitous moving glass walls, the popularity of modern and contemporary architecture, and the government mandated  2:1 outdoor : indoor area ratio in early childhood centers, have led me to the idea of an outside-in environment.

What if we surrounded an outdoor area with several small buildings that open completely?  Each small building could be a curriculum area (Practical Life, Language,Mathematics, Sensorial, etc…) and additional buildings could be added for specific functions (snack/lunch/rest area for all day programs, an office, a bathroom block).  Each building might be 15′ (5m) deep and can be equipped with a covered deck.  Most would not require plumbing and only minimal lighting (especially if skylights or solar tubes are used).

Here are a sketches of different arrangements that might be possible.


This arrangement creates a contained courtyard requiring no fencing and clear sight lines.


This arrangement creates a larger central courtyard and smaller private areas in the corners.  This also demonstrates that each building can be individualized with different colors (or even sizes).


This shows a different arrangement with more buildings.

How small each building is depends on the needs, but I envision that shipping containers could be up-cycled.  Here are a few photos of converted container buildings.

Here is a website with additional information about converting shipping containers.

Or some fantastic pre-fab builders are also available such as Wee Houses from Alchemy Architects.

I think the idea has merit and I hope that it will be shared and considered by many.

Written by stanforded

November 15, 2013 at 3:21 am

Building the Pink Tower

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We are all asked, at some point or another, what we do for a living.  Its a fairly innocuous question, generally asked at a cocktail party, or by the person you’re seated next to on an airplane.

In the moment between being asked, and giving my answer (” I work with children in a Montessori environment”), I entertain the modest hope that this time I won’t have to define Montessori and try to encapsulate the essence of the Montessori method in 500 words or less.

I quietly hope for the day when the general public has a rudimentary knowledge of Montessori and the conversation shifts from definitions to discussing the merits and specifics.

Building the Pink Tower is an exciting project to create “a documentary film that will break down myths about Montessori education and promote dialogue about how to honor the developmental needs of children while preparing them for the future. ”

Please, learn more about this project and share the details with others.

Written by stanforded

November 9, 2013 at 2:07 am

Science and Art

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I spent my undergraduate years studying visual arts and socializing with students of science.  Understandably I spent many a late night discussing the differences (and similarities) between science and art.

In an effort to gain more clarity about what I am doing and my intentions regarding this profession and my work with children, I wrote a personal guiding manifesto.  I wrote the following passages about science and art.

I believe that the science of guiding is in the theory of child development, the proper preparation of the environment, and the technically precise presentation of materials.  I believe that one can be trained in the science of guiding in an academic setting.

I believe the art of guiding is in observing children, selecting specific presentations, timing invitations, enticement, and engaging interest throughout a presentation.  I believe the most important art is observing.  I believe that one must master the art of guiding through work with children and that a qualified and engaged mentor facilitates this process.

(read the whole manifesto here)

I think the following passage from Primal Leadership validates my view of the science and art of the Montessori method.

Emotional intelligence … involves circuitry that runs between the brain’s executive centers in the prefrontal lobes and the brain’s limbic system, which governs feelings, impulses, and drives.  Skills based in the limbic areas, research shows, are best learned through motivation, extended practice, and feedback.  Compare that kind of learning with what goes on in the neocortex, which governs analytical and technical ability.  The neocortex grasps concepts quickly, placing them within an expanding network of associations and comprehension.  This part of the brain, for instance, can figure out form reading abook how to use a computer program, or the basics of making a sales call.  When learning technical or analytical skills, the neocortex operates with magnificent efficiency.

…The design of the neocortex makes it a highly efficient learning machine, expanding our understanding by linking new ideas or facts to an extensive cognitive network.  This associative mode of learning takes place with extraordinary rapidity: The thinking brain can comprehend something after a single hearing or reading.

The limbic brain, on the other hand , is a much slower learner- particularly when the challenge is to relearn deeply ingrained habits.  The difference matters immensely when trying to improve leadership skills: At their most basic level, those skills come down to habits learned early in life.  If those habits are no longer sufficient, or hold a person back, learning takes longer.  Reeducating the emotional brain for leadership learning, therefore, requires a different model from what works for the thinking brain: It needs lots of practice and repetition.

Primal Leadership p 102-103

The preparation of the adult is comprehended quickly (with the neocortex) and we leave training (or at least I did) feeling fully prepared and fully equipped to work with children in an authentic Montessori way.

The reality (for me at least) is that my training was only the beginning of my preparation.  Every day I struggle to be better, to inch closer to the prepared adult (reeducating the limbic brain).  The art of guiding, the daily emotional realities of stress and frustrations, hopes and dreams, the limbic brain part, is hard.  It may be the hardest thing I will ever do.

The authors of Primal Leadership state that the limbic brain skills are ” best learned through motivation, extended practice, and feedback.”  I have motivation (and I hope we all do) and I have opportunities for extended practice, but I want better feedback. I’m looking for Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.

Written by stanforded

April 25, 2013 at 4:56 am

Researching excellence

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“a significant part of the competence research base we rely on stems from a then-radical proposal made back in 1973 by the late Harvard professor David McClelland.  Writing in the flagship psychology journal, McClelland proposed that if an organization wanted to hire or promote the best person for a specific job, such as a leadership position, it should discard what were then the standard criteria.  Instead of testing people for their IQ, technical skills, or personality – or just looking at their resumes – McClelland proposed first studying employees who were already outstanding performers in that job and systematically comparing them with those who were just average at it.”

Primal Leadership p35

What an interesting proposal.

What if we studied Montessori guides who are already outstanding performers in the environment and systematically compare them with guides who are presently giving average performance?

What hidden truths about guiding would we discover?

What if we did the same research with assistants or administrators or parents even?

And if you are asking yourself why do this research, here is my answer (though it is a rambling answer)

When I played baseball as an elementary and middle school child I had to hit ground balls and run fast because try as I might, I simply could not hit the ball into the outfield.  I was not a particularly athletic child but mostly I had problems with my stance.   I had good form, meaning I held the bat properly and lifted my arms properly.  In fact I committed to memory and relied upon my coach’s tip that the batter can step with his lead foot in a particular direction (towards left field or right field, etc…) to aim the ball in that direction. Nevertheless, I was an average, maybe less than average batter.

Years later after working for the Quantum Learning Network and picking up a few tips on self-improvement, I played a season of softball with a recreational league.  I studied the best batters on the team and realized my stance needed work; specifically I was standing too close to the plate.  When I took a small step back it allowed the end of my bat (larger and travelling faster) to hit the ball and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was consistently hitting the ball into the outfield.  I had become a much better batter by observing better players and learning from their success.

I want to be my “best guide”.  I want to learn from exemplary models and would welcome empirical research into best behaviors.  I don’t want to imitate a master, I want to travel the trails of different masters to find my own way.


Written by stanforded

April 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

Primal Leadership

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I recently read Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee and found it has profound applications in the preparation of the adult for our work with children.

Consider these passages ( where the word “leader” appears in the original text I have substituted guide, other substitutions are also in italics)

Great guides move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great guiding works through the emotions.

No matter what guides set out to do—whether it’s creating strategy or mobilizing children to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if guides fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.

While most people recognize that a guide’s mood—and how he or she impacts the mood of others—plays a significant role in any environment, emotions are often seen as too personal or unquantifiable to talk about in a meaningful way. But research in the field of emotion has yielded keen insights into not only how to measure the impact of a guide’s emotions but also how the best guides have found effective ways to understand and improve the way they handle their own and other people’s emotions. Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the environment sets the best guides apart from the rest—not just in tangibles such as better education results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.

This emotional task of the guide is primal—that is, first—in two senses: It is both the original and the most important act of guiding.

Leaders have always played a primordial emotional role. No doubt humankind’s original leaders—whether tribal chieftains or shamanesses—earned their place in large part because their leadership was emotionally compelling. Throughout history and in cultures everywhere, the leader in any human group has been the one to whom others look for assurance and clarity when facing uncertainty or threat, or when there’s a job to be done. The leader acts as the group’s emotional guide.

In the modern organization, this primordial emotional task—though by now largely invisible—remains foremost among the many jobs of leadership: driving the collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing the smog, created by toxic emotions. This task applies to leadership everywhere, from the boardroom to the shop floor.

I am enthralled by the idea that there is neuroscience research into specific emotional intelligence skills that we can developed and strengthened to better guide a group.

Written by stanforded

April 10, 2013 at 7:35 am


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