Tuesday, 19 September 2006 22:52 | Written by Tim Seldin & John Moncure
The International Montessori Council (IMC) is a professional association designed to provide specific services and support to Montessori educators and schools. Its mission is to protect the vision and legacy of Dr. Maria Montessori and the Montessori Foundation by making policy designed to promote the essential principles of best practices and authentic Montessori education. Perhaps most important is its inclusiveness. As founder Tim Seldin wrote,
"Any school which identifies itself as being a Montessori school has already begun the journey, even if their current practice seems to be more 'Monte-something' than 'Montessori' in your eyes. Most of the world's schools are authoritarian or benevolent dictatorships run by adults. We have enough people who dismiss Montessori as irrelevant, outdated, as too unstructured, or as too academic. There is no need or call for us to disempower one another because we feel that our training, or our Montessori practice, is more authentic."
While the IMC recognizes the importance of standards of authenticity, more important is the recognition that Montessorians of good heart are on the quest to achieve it.
The International Montessori Council was founded in 1998 in response to the wishes of friends of the Montessori Foundation who saw a need for a separate, umbrella organization to transcend the often isolated, and sometimes rancorous, separate Montessori teacher certification organizations that have evolved in the Montessori community. As a result of this focus, the IMC is decidedly different from other professional Montessori associations in several ways.
First, the IMC was conceived as a council of equals, of professional Montessori leaders, rather than as a support mechanism for a specific approach to teacher preparation. Second, unlike other professional Montessori associations, its membership includes not only individuals, schools, and teacher education programs, but also other professional societies, as well as various regional groups. Additionally, as a young organization unfettered with traditional norms and paradigms, it experiments with adapting the latest technologies and methods to improve the support needed by Montessori educators around the world. Finally, with an ethos of acceptance of all who come as fellow travelers on a path to best practice of Montessori, the IMC does not incorporate guidelines or standards based on affiliation or certification with specific Montessori organizations. Its programs and accreditation consider programs and schools on their merits and outcomes, not their affiliations. This unique collection of attributes has allowed the IMC to serve as a supportive professional network and conduit for the exchange of information between Montessori practitioners whose perspectives may make it otherwise difficult for them to reach out.
The IMC began immediately making its presence felt with members and in the larger Montessori community, publishing the first issue of Montessori Leadership, a quarterly journal for the leaders and board members of Montessori schools. It was first credited as a cosponsor in November 1998 at the Montessori Foundation's conference in Alexandria, Virginia, where the original Mission, Vision, and Strategic Initiatives planning paper was prepared by a group consisting of Jack Lawyer, Jon Wolff, Tim Seldin, and others. In 2003, the organization began issuing a monthly e-newsletter, initially called IMC-ENEWS and renamed in 2007 as Montessori Leadership OnLine.
Under contract with the IMC, the Montessori Foundation provides the staff necessary for the organization to execute its functions. When asked, many volunteers also assist by providing support in many ways—giving freely of their expertise both to the IMC staff and other members.
Bringing members together is some of the most important work of the IMC. The Peace Academy, co-sponsored with the Montessori Foundation, meets each Fall in Florida. Since 2005, a second conference has been held in California in the Spring. In keeping with the IMC perspective that all constituencies in a Montessori community must have a voice for the whole to be healthy, the Fall conference address aspects of Montessori of interest to teachers, parents, students, and trustees, as well as administrators, directors of teacher education programs, and curriculum coordinators of public, private and charter schools. The Spring (West Coast) conferences serve as a retreat for Montessori leaders—a time for discussion and reflection. Representatives of dozens of countries attend both conferences. In 2008 the IMC also co-sponsored and sent representatives to the conferences of the Montessori Association of Australia and the South African Montessori Association.
Since its inception the membership of the IMC has risen from about 200 founding member schools and Montessori leaders and institutions in 1999, to about 500 member schools, teacher education centers and individuals in more than 40 countries. With a large bequest made to the Montessori Foundation in 2007, additional staff members were added, enabling the IMC to embark on a worldwide membership drive.
The Board of Directors is made up of a group of international Montessori leaders and teacher educators who share that vision and a commitment to its promotion around the international Montessori school community. The first governing group consisted of Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation, Joyce St. Giermaine, and Lorin Bleecker. In 2001 Malcolm Roberts and Valerie Robinson joined as well. In 2006 the IMC expanded its governing body to twelve members with a cumulative total of over two centuries of Montessori experience. The Board is self-perpetuating, following the same principles of coherency, consistency, and commitment to the good of the IMC that it promotes as best practice within Montessori schools. Its primary goal is to do no harm, and to serve as a control of error for the entire IMC community. Projects, initiatives, and suggestions commonly come from the membership. Normally before decisions are made, members are invited to weigh in with opinions, questions, and suggestions.
In 1998, the late Dr. John Stoops, then founding director of the Council for International and Transregional Accreditation (CITA) urged the Montessori Foundation to create an umbrella school accreditation instrument, independent of any of the existing societies, which would be truly international in mission and vision, and committed to providing not only accreditation, but also direct assistance to Montessori schools in all aspects of establishing and maintaining authentic Montessori programs. The IMC was formed in response to this challenge. A school accreditation committee was founded in the fall of 1998, and at a conference in Crystal River, Florida in November 1999, the leaders of the IMC assembled to read through and edit and an initial draft of the standards handbook, and about fifty schools represented there expressed serious interest in the proposed accreditation program.
The standards were refined by a team that worked over a 4 year period between 1999 and 2002. This group included Tim Seldin, Dr. Paul Epstein, Dr. Stoops, Jonathan Wolff, and Dr. Pamela Rigg. Hundreds of IMC members offered input and helped to share the initial draft. The first IMC School Accreditation Commission (SAC) was formed with Dr. Paul Czaja as its chair. When the SAC announced it was ready to accept applications for a pilot group of schools, ten schools sent applications.
By 2015 the IMC expects to have about twenty accredited schools.
In 2007 the IMC Board approved a proposal to create a Teacher Education Committee in order to foster and develop technologically sophisticated educational methodologies in response to the desperate shortage of qualified Montessori educators worldwide. This initiative is intended not to replace or compete with existing teacher education programs—most of which produce highly qualified Montessori educators, but rather to fill a gap that no other group has sought to address. It formed a Teacher Education Committee under the guidance of Kitty Bravo, and began teacher education in 2008.
Because of the acute shortage of Montessori teachers worldwide and the inability of traditional methods to close the widening gap, the IMC is supporting experimentation with technological solutions to meet the need. The IMC Board endorsed the work of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies in developing internet-based teacher education that can be blended with the traditional face-to-face method or, with adequate provisions for supervision and monitoring, as a stand-alone educational method. The concept includes streamed lectures from the top Montessori educators in the world, live video-conference consultation with supervising teachers, and webcam observations. The pilot course began in 2008 and, at the invitation of the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE), several courses are submitting applications for MACTE accreditation. The distance learning program is quite likely to be the first and benchmark distance learning Montessori teacher education program to be accredited by the MACTE commission in North America. Outside the United States, the IMC itself is preparing to serve as a teacher education recognition body as well. IMC programs will make international-standard teacher preparation affordable to thousands of people for whom such a possibility had been beyond their wildest imagination, and brings the possibility of the benefits of a quality Montessori education to hitherto excluded populations of children.
While the IMC is headquartered in the United States its membership is global. Its policies are drafted with regional perspectives in mind. It has offices in Asia and Africa, and volunteer national representatives in other countries as well. Members of the editorial review committee for its journal Montessori Leadership live on four continents. Discussions are underway to translate IMC (and Montessori Foundation) publications and documents into Spanish and French. Perhaps most important, however, is the structure created for self-governing regional groups to become satellites of the IMC.
The IMC structure is designed to be reproduced at regional (multi-national, national, provincial, or state) level. Connected through the IMC, such autonomous regional organizations may collaborate globally while retaining the close contact permitted by geography and language. The Montessori Australia Council is one such organization. Several other national and regional Montessori organizations are considering converting themselves from IMC institutional members or independent regional professional organizations into regional councils. Geographically-based organizations have been hesitant to establish themselves as regional councils either because the IMC is based in the US or from concerns of divided loyalties with traditional teacher-education-based societies. We believe the international focus and the leader-connection focus of the IMC answers these concerns, and we invite to our council and embrace all fellow travelers.
The regional council is envisioned to replicate the IMC structure, but at a geographical level that makes sense for schools and individuals with the same language, government regulations, cultural perspectives, currency, etc. to be able to support each other with conferences, recognition, materials, and so on. A regional body that embraced the same perspective of Montessori as the IMC could benefit from its expertise and from that of other regional groups. In this sense, the IMC will serve as an established nexus—an interconnecting link—for regional groups that would otherwise either do without the richness of expertise and perspectives outside their domain or make extraordinary, ad hoc efforts to establish such connections with each other such group. The concept is simple: decisions will be made regionally based on principles established internationally. This hitherto unrealized IMC initiative represents one of its most promising hopes: to nurture the impulse to support each other, frequently found in the hearts of individual Montessorians but less often in the organizations to which they belong.
Still fairly young, the IMC represents hundreds of Montessori schools and individual members in more than 40 countries around the world. Because of its global focus, ecumenical approach, deliberate attention to populations less served by the major societies focusing on teacher certification, and enthusiasm for applied technologies, the IMC is often being sought to expand its services to members. Serving a different function from traditional teacher-education-based societies, the IMC has increased in membership and recognition as it provides an increasing array of support services to its members and the Montessori community as a whole.