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On December 3rd, Kitty Bravo and Maha Turner accepted the Dennis Schapiro Award for Innovation in Montessori Teacher Education. The Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE) grants this award annually to a Montessori teacher educator who has been truly inspiring and innovative and brought about significant change. The International Montessori Council (IMC) is thrilled to congratulate Kitty and Maha on this award for their lifetime contributions to the advancement of Montessori teacher education!

Kitty Bravo is the Director of Education with the Center for Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS). She accepted the 2020 award for her work envisioning, creating, and leading this groundbreaking online, low residency Montessori teacher education program, graduating over a thousand educators over its fifteen-year history. CGMS is a MACTE accredited and IMC-affiliated teacher education program.

Kitty Bravo’s acceptance speech

“It is a great honor to accept the MACTE 2020 Dennis Shapiro award for Innovation in Teacher Education and to have this recognition for my work with CGMS and online learning.

An innovator is usually someone with a good idea and I can’t take the credit for the idea of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS). That credit goes to my partners, Marc Seldin, Tim Seldin, and Jon Wolff. It especially goes to Marc, who, as early as 1996, began telling his dad, Tim Seldin, that Montessori needed an online teacher education program. But in 1996, the Montessori community wasn’t ready.

Almost ten years later Tim, Marc, and Jon began to sketch out the plan for the first CGMS online course. Shortly after, the IMC board approved the CGMS pilot program as their first teacher education program affiliate.

But something was missing. When you have three good men working on a project, what do you need? A woman willing to work hard and get it done.

In 2006 I began working with my partners to develop the program. I also began working with MACTE. Being the first teacher Education Program (TEP) to seek accreditation for a program designed around online learning, there was a lot to figure out. Through many phone calls and emails, I worked with the MACTE staff and Gretchen Warner, the MACTE Executive Director at that time to figure out how to demonstrate we met the standards when

our format often did not quite fit into the usual charts. And some things just had not been determined, such as the number of hours required for the face-to-face residential session. I asked on numerous occasions but could not get an answer. Finally, it got down to the wire as we were getting ready to launch, and I called Gretchen. She told me to write a proposal to the MACTE board, and that is how we ended up with the 120-hour residential requirement that we still have today.

We launched the first cohort in the spring of 2008 and, in 2009, became the first blended learning TEP to receive MACTE accreditation. While we were the first to receive accreditation, we were not the first to begin dabbling in online learning. I want to give a shout-out to two people who really were pioneers, Elizabeth Parks from Chaminade and Barb Jens from Omaha. They both had done a lot of work with online learning in their programs and had shared their ideas at a MACTE meeting. Their work was an inspiration and greatly influenced what I did with CGMS.

It may surprise you that I did not come to the CGMS project completely sold on the benefits of online learning. I had no background in distance education and only mediocre computer skills. However, seeing many prestigious universities adding online degrees, I felt like it was an idea whose time had come. Though I will say, not many Montessorians in 2008 agreed it was time, or ever would be time for online Montessori of any kind. In fact, someone once told one of my partners that we and online learning would ruin Montessori.

It is never easy to boldly go where no one has gone before…

Even more than believing the time was right for online learning and that it was important for it to be done well, I was hopeful that this new format could provide an opportunity to enhance teacher training. I specifically hoped it would provide more opportunities for reflection and deep discussion that could support the transformation of the Montessori guide.

Remember, this was 15 years ago, before the advent of Facebook teacher’s groups where you can post a question and, in a flash, have 20 responses from Montessori educators with ideas and support. Our first online cohort was excited to have this new online platform for communication. We were eager each day to get up and check the discussion forums, often checking multiple times a day to see what had been added, what ideas our friends had to share.

Within just a few weeks, I felt our learning community was growing as strong as any teacher ed group I had worked with in a physical space. I also knew it was working to support the spiritual transformation of the teacher, when at just three weeks, one of my adult learners typed into a forum, “This is already changing what I do with children.”

It was also changing what I did with my adult learners. This new format required me to constantly examine teacher ed practices, I had to consider every assignment and all the usual expectations to understand their purpose and determine how they could be adapted to the virtual world.

Now let’s fast forward to 2020 when so many of you zoomed into the world of online education. I know it was challenging, but hopefully, your online work has helped you experience and imagine new ways to reach your adult learners and bring Montessori to the masses. Because, my friends, if we are truly going to have an impact in this world, that’s what we need to do. The world needs more Montessori graduates, and to make that happen, we need more Montessori teachers. Our world needs dreamers, problem solvers, peace makers, and innovators. No educational model does that better than us.

”The world needs more Montessori graduates, and to make that happen, we need more Montessori teachers. Our world needs dreamers, problem solvers, peace makers, and innovators. No educational model does that better than us.”

Innovation is at the heart of Montessori. Our educational approach exists because of the innovative ideas of Dr. Maria Montessori. She was bold and tireless in looking for solutions to the problems of society, especially those of women and children. She continued to develop and expand her educational approach throughout her life, always seeking to make it better, to adapt it to meet the needs of individual children and various cultures.

I believe her mandate to us is to continue to do the same; to constantly examine our practice, expand and adapt to meet the needs of our time and the unique needs of the people of this time. We can only meet those needs if we continue to stretch and grow. I believe this growth does not mean abandoning the core principles of Montessori. We can hold on to the most important principles that are the life and soul of Montessori while also being open to new ideas and adapting to make the best use of the technologies of our time.

One day back in early 2008, just before launching our first cohort, I got a phone call from Denny Schapiro. As always, Denny asked very direct and thought-provoking questions about how we would make this online program work. I remember he asked specifically if we would allow someone to do a practicum in their home without the materials. The answer was and still is no. The practicum experience in a well-prepared Montessori environment is essential for teachers to move from abstract ideas of Montessori to concrete practice and possibly is even more critical when the training is predominantly online.

Over the years, I often think of that conversation with Denny, especially when an unusual practicum situation arises or when an adult learner needs accommodation. We all have these kinds of situations, whether we are a hybrid program or an entirely onsite traditional program. We all face situations where we must find creative ways to make adaptations while still assuring our learners have the experiences needed to become competent Montessori guides.

I so appreciate Denny’s queries. He helped keeping us real. And these kinds of questions are essential as we continue to walk the razor’s edge, remaining committed to fidelity while being open to innovation. Both are essential to move Montessori forward and sustain it for future generations.

I am proud of the part CGMS has played in moving us toward that future. We have tried to set the bar high for Montessori distance education. I trust that many of you will help carry the work even further. As more of you wade into the waters of online learning and as technology continues to advance, I am confident we will find new innovative ways to support the development of our teachers.

I am proud to share this award with my partners Marc, Tim, and Jon. I also share it with Ann Winkler, Kathy Leitch, Lori Karmazin, and Cathie Perolman, who have been with CGMS from the beginning and continue to help us fine-tune and advance our programs. I also have to mention Ellyn and Heather and their admin team, who keep everything organized and running smoothly. And I share this honor with all of the CGMS instructors, the most amazing people that make up the CGMS faculty and staff. This award belongs to all of you, but it will be staying at my house.

I am grateful for the life of service Montessori has provided and for the wonderful community of learners and educators I share it with. Thank you to all for being on this journey with me. Thank you for your important work.

And a very special thank you to Denny’s family and MACTE for the honor of this award.”

Maha Turner, a Montessori early childhood guide with twenty-five years experience at Somersfield Academy in Bermuda and an Instructional Guide with CGMS, is being recognized for founding an international, innovative opportunity for teacher education. Maha’s organization, Maha’s Mission Montessori, establishes schools for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. Her students were her inspiration. As they passionately discussed the Syrian refugee crisis with Mrs. Turner, they encouraged her to “… help them by starting a Montessori classroom and making sure you put in a Peace Table just like ours!”

Almost immediately, the refugee children, all of whom have endured war-related trauma, exhibit significant changes. They find peace, develop concentration, and discover the joy of learning. Over forty-one women who have received their IMC Early Childhood Montessori Teacher and Assistant Credentials are empowered in their community and on the road to independence! Over seven hundred children have benefited from a Montessori education through Maha’s work in the past five years.

Maha’s update on her mission

“I was introduced to Montessori education philosophy in 1991. The concepts I both learned and taught and the results I witnessed in the last thirty years prove beyond all doubt that the founder, Maria Montessori was a genius who understood child learning and development and the importance of collaborative and independent creativity combined with Peace Education. Along the way, I achieved Montessori certification through several training centers, among them New England Teacher Education Center. I earned a Master’s degree in early childhood education and completed doctoral courses in early childhood education. Learning is a life-long journey.

One of the primary purposes of Montessori education is to create a better world for humanity. In 2016, I made a conscious decision to use the knowledge and experience I acquired to assist those in the world who had lost all of the things many of us take for granted. We all hear news stories about refugees or forcibly displaced people in distant places around the world, but we rarely know their real stories and the horrors they have experienced. The compassionate among us tend to donate to the known charity organizations hoping that we can contribute to their plight in a meaningful way.

I began my new journey by traveling to Jordan and then South Turkey bordering Syria to assist the Syrian refugee women and children sheltering in mass tent camps, escaping their country’s devastation and persecution. This was a shock for me to see firsthand how desperate humans become when they have lost their entire existence and only have a few clothes and cooking utensils as comfort. Their immediate concern is shelter and survival; educating their children is a distant luxury in these conditions.

As I got to know the refugee families, I learned of the injustice and corruption that is a massive part of life for many people on earth. Sadly, power is the common corrupter in human society, and it is typically the poor that pay the price through persecution due to lack of resources, eventually becoming politically expendable. Education is the only tool that can eventually bring justice and equity to those that do not have a voice, perhaps not in the current generation but in the future.

With the welcomed assistance of the Center of Guided Montessori Studies; I have managed to train multiple cohorts of refugee women (mostly widowed) in both Turkey and Jordan by using their education material. These documents needed to be translated from English to Arabic. Fortunately, I was introduced to a skilled English to Arabic translator living in Germany who completed the huge task of translating all the resources to Arabic. The adult students subsequently completed their course and have taught and provided for their own families. They are now helping me to train more refugee adult students. I have opened Montessori schools in Jordan and Turkey with the help of donor friends that I am forever grateful to. Those schools were used for the adult students to complete their practicum phase. The school in Jordan is running itself with the help of UNICEF.

Presently, I have two schools in Turkey, one in Istanbul dedicated to the Uighur orphan refugees. They have suffered severe oppression at the hands of the Chinese and have emigrated to Turkey primarily from the North-Western region of Xinjiang. The horrors of their treatment have been well documented and personally verified. In addition to Montessori education, we also provide meals for the children at this facility. This school has two Montessori classrooms, which need to upgrade, their worn materials.

The second school is based in Nizip, South Turkey, near the refugee campsites that closed a couple of years ago. Earlier this year, we entered into a long-term agreement with the local authorities to secure a permanent 4-story building. The facility required significant upfront renovation to convert to a functional school assisted with generous private donations. One classroom is fully equipped and operating as a Montessori classroom for children between 3 and 6 years old. We are in the process of equipping two more Montessori classrooms in the building to make three classrooms. One room will be dedicated to infants and toddlers, 0-3 years old. Additional floors are used as after-school facilities and summer camps, where Arabic, English, and Turkish are taught. This project serves over 500 children between the ages of 0-17, and the demand continues to increase. The region of Nizip lacks Arabicspeaking schools, so there is a desperate need to expand this education project. The local government recognizes the value and importance of this project and has waived lease fees to acknowledge the structural renovation completed. However, the ongoing expenses of this institute will continue to be contingent on the support of valued donors to maintain the operation of the building and employment of the dedicated teachers.

Additionally, transportation to and from the school in Nizip is needed to ensure the younger children have access to early Montessori education. Turkey is a very cold country, and it rains a lot during the winter, making attendance very difficult for young children. We are trying to obtain funding for bus transportation.

Refugee or displaced children with learning disabilities do not always receive sufficient support from social providers. In our Montessori classrooms, a few children are in dire need of weekly speech and physiotherapy, which is currently unfunded.

While we are extremely grateful for significant individual contributions to get these projects initiated, we kindly ask for any denomination of donation to meet our projects’ ongoing needs in Istanbul and southern Turkey.

Currently, I am training a teacher cohort in Yemen’s war-torn, impoverished country. So far, we are meeting virtually and hoping to start a Montessori classroom for their practicum phase.

I share a charity site with two American friends at the URL below. Any support you or anyone in your network can provide towards the continued proliferation of the Montessori philosophy amongst those who are in the greatest need of peace and education is truly appreciated.”