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Curriculum & Best Practice

by Tim Seldin

The Montessori Foundation is presently developing a new resource to be titled
by Tim Seldin

The Montessori Foundation is presently developing a new resource to be titled "Best Practice."

Dr. Montessori's legacy needs to be preserved in the face of rapid expansion and adaptation in a wide array of situations. We are concerned that Montessori could one day become "whatever anyone does in her name" and the value of the method for children will be lost. Montessori is both a set of practices and a condition of mind. The joining of these two parts is what distinguishes good effective Montessori classrooms.

The idea of "best practice" has the power to promote a higher level of professionalism, because it can engage Montessori teachers in meaningful discussions at a much deeper level, leading perhaps to a better understanding of human nature. It could certainly lead to be teaching practices within a school.

Dr. Montessori's thoughts need to be the core of our work. As Paula Lillard once told me, "If we could just allow our egos to be less dominant and focus on what Dr. Montessori said and did, it would be more than enough to occupy a professional life. It is too bad that more Montessori schools are based less on a rigorous study of Dr. Montessori’s practice and insights than on our competing personalities."

Having said that, I have to gently point nut that much of the Montessori legacy was handed down through an oral tradition. She hesitated to put too much in writing because of her fear that people would mistakenly believe that you could master the skills and develop the profound insights and perspective that she was trying to pass down through independent reading. Much as I treasure the books, I know that they represent only a small and far less than complete collection of her knowledge and practical teachings. Perhaps the fact that she earned her living in part through the operation of personally supervised teacher training programs also influenced her, but there seems to be little doubt of her strong position in this matter.

Dr. Montessori was also very clear about her concerns about well-intentioned people who attempted to use part of her approach, but not all, or those who similarly attempted to blend her ideas in with many others. It seems that she taught through an extended process of lectures, demonstrations, work with associates, and supervised periods of observing and working with children. While there does not appear to have been one consistent model used throughout her career, all Montessori teacher preparation programs during her lifetime were personally supervised by Dr. Montessori and ran for periods of a year or longer. Mr. Joosten's often spoke about the value of taking training several times from different centers, gaining a fresh perspective each time. Hilda Rothschild gently joked that every time she read the Absorbent Mind, someone slipped in new pages that she never noticed before.




We need to always begin by going back to the source. However, we need to do so understanding the limitations inherent in the published literature, and recall the countless monographs, speeches, interviews, recollections of those who worked with her, and other first hand sources of information.

The question is what did Dr. Montessori write, say, or actually do in her schools?

As to the process of compiling a "Best Practices" handbook, I don't see the process as one of simply allowing a simple majority to rule.

The challenge is to get several people working together on a faculty, each coming with individual insights, previous experience, and less than perfect memories and understanding, to wrestle with, define, and hopefully agree on the way specific issues will be addressed at a given school. Since there are no "Montessori Police" to arrest those of us who do not faithfully implement her legacy, we do much better to go through a process intended to refresh our memories, deepen our understanding, and wrestle with legitimate questions of whether or not there is an even better way to address something than what she did.


Five Steps to Best Practice

The Montessori Foundation recommends that schools follow a five-step process in working towards a definition of Best Practice.

1) Define a burning issue in writing as a clearly stated question. reexamine; for example, is there any compelling reason why we must keep our five year olds in the same room as the three and four year o1d?

2) Take a really close look as a staff at what Dr, Montessori said, wrote, or did. Identify your sources. Establish the best reference library that you can get.

3) Turn to the experts, the Montessori mentors in your life, and ask them what they believe to be true. While a David Kahn, Miss Stevenson, Harvey Hallenberg, Celma Perry, or whomever you most respect and admire may not always agree with Dr. Montessori or offer infallible opinions and advice, they are a reasonable and highly legitimate resource.

4) Next, try to find out what is believed to be best practice outside of Montessori. In many cases, we can gain valuable insights by looking beyond our limited community to see what others are doing. Frankly, that's what Dr. Montessori did when she lovingly adopted the ideas and many practices of Jean Itard and Eduard Seguin. Just because it wasn't invented here, doesn't mean that someone else's research is invalid.

5) And, finally, put your insights down in writing, with the commitment to make this become universal practice within your school.

As Albert Einstein said about science, the whole process is a search for what is true. The airplane flies not because we believe it to be true, but because the laws of the universe work a certain way.