8th – 12th March, trainers from IMTI attended the AMS Annual Conference in San Diego, USA, then paid a visit to Ms. Sandra Lee, a instructor at IMTI, and her institute in Boston from 13th—15th.
It all started from my training program at IMTI last summer. Dr. Montessori, with her innovative educational philosophy and method for natural connection with children, has always been an idol to me. By autumn last year, a friend of mine who’s also a Montessori teacher invited me to attend AMS 2017 Annual Conference with her when she was preparing for it. I was quite interested by this idea and talked about it with several colleagues at IMTI who, impressively, thought it would be an amazing chance. Encouraged by their enthusiasm and expectation, we started the preparation: schedule setting, registration, visa application, flight booking, hotel reservation, and schools visits plans….
Early March this year, we arrived at USA, and on 7th, we reached San Diego, a coastal city with mediterranean climate and military significance from its location being 20 km away from the border of Mexico. As the host city of the Conference, San Diego embraces over 3000 Montessorians from all over the world. Despite the first time attending the conference, I felt a sense of belonging, then excited, proud, and happy with all members at AMS community. The calm and peaceful manner of some senior Montessorians further encouraged me that a Montessori teacher is a profession with happiness and life-long commitment.
The Conference, for the first time, started to provide Orientation in Chinese and simultaneous interpreting in Chinese and English from this year for the growing number of Chinese participants. From this, we could see the development of Montessori in Chinese community and Chinese Montessorian’s increasingly important role on international stage. In the opening ceremony, Ms. Alice Renton delivered a speech about the development of Montessori education in Latin America, presenting a relevant topic, especially to our Chinese Montessorians, about how different cultures integrate Montessori education and localize it to fit their own environments. When a New York Times journalist was talking about on “Why your student should care the world and change it?”, I started to reflect on our own practices. I believe that children should first build an international view and keep working for improvement, and in this way, they could have the ability to care and change the world. For educators, we need to practice what we preach and educate our next generations with words and deeds.
The lectures provided on the Conference were diversified in topic and rich. A dozen of different lectures were available during every 75 minutes session. Such abundance of choices made it difficult for us to determine which one to attend, as every topic sounded like so interesting and useful. To solve this problem, we decided to cooperate by each attending one lecture and sharing information among the group. School visits, students’ artwork show, teaching tools exhibition, and updated academic achievement exchange were also organized by the Conference. In sum, I would like to share a few of my ideas about the Conference.
1. After years of development of Montessori education in US, a well-developed and in-depth understanding has been established in both theory and practice in US education community.
2. We should combine teaching with nature and everyday life. Including natural factors in classrooms is an example for children to experience the nature, such as one of the Montessori classrooms was equipped with a big cage of a parrot in it.
3. Teaching should be designed with openness and flexibility. For example, the artwork of Sistine Ceiling Frescoes in Vatican presents arts, history, architecture, social network as a whole; and the theme event of the Day of the Dead allows children to have a better and positive understanding of death.
4. Arts (music and painting) should be part of Montessori teaching. For instance, painting class is designed to show children how to use tools, colors, different painting techniques, and the harmony among various works; while music classes present the cohesive effect of local culture, music, language, and body movement.
After the Conference, we flew across USA from the warm San Diego to the then cold Boston to visit Ms. Sandra Lee, the instructor at IMTI, and Harborlight Montessori, the school she works at. Unfortunately, a storm prevented our first day plan, so we went on a storm-tour to Harvard and MIT instead. The next day’s schedule was also affected by a power failure as a result of the storm. The school day for students was cancelled but not to us who were excited to visit the school and classrooms. By the time we arrived, Ms. Lee, the school Principal, and the academic director were already waiting at the hall. I was particularly impressed by the following about this school:
1. Respect and freedom. “Respect” points to mutual respect to teachers and to children. Just like one painting work named “Only One You” hang in the hall, the unique personality of each teacher and child is respected by AMS. In Montessori schools, teachers have the ability to design their teachings and classes, as long as the school rules and regulations allow.
2. Classes from preschool education to middle school are available. Harborlight Montessori has 5 kindergarten classes for children aged 3-6, with one Chinese taught, one Spanish taught, and three English taught. Ms. Lee prepares her classroom well-organized and –arranged with teaching tools, offering children chances for interactivity. We were impressed by the children yoga, math teaching tools, and language teaching system provided there. It’s a great pity that we only had half day of visit, which is too short to explore more details.
3. Care and attention for children with special needs. In the reading room, we were surprised to find some specially designed small-sized folding chairs. Ms. Lee told us they were for children with ADHD during circle time activities. Also unique is Ms. Lee’s innovative use of cotton bookcover as leg sets for binding ADHD children’s knees while allowing their hands to move freely inside. She also employed baby chews sticks to allow ADHDs to bite when they feel like to talk or hurt others. All these creative methods highlight the Montessori philosophy of “guiding instead of forbidding”.
4. About Ms. Lee. What impressed me most was Ms. Lee herself. As a doctor graduate in USA, Ms. Lee still works as a teacher and instructor. In a society where most well-educated people seek for more financially awarding careers, few would devote themselves to teaching. Ms. Lee, however, is one of the few who teaches other educators to stay true to our commitment and responsibility.
It is a hard-won chance to visit Harborlight Montessori, but also a hard experience because of the storm. We learned a lot from Harborlight and are sure that there is more to expect and explore for our next visit. We set off back on 16th March across the North Pole and arrived at Beijing on 17th.
Monk Tang Xuanzang spent 17 years tramping over hill and dale to learn Buddha doctrine from the west. Compared with that, our tour to AMS Annual Conference for a dozen of days was just a start to a long journey of Montessori education practice. From my perspective, to have lectures from scholars and visits to schools will deepen our understanding, inspire new ideas, and learn from good experience. When we return to teaching at our own schools, we still find the need to combine those new ideas and knowledge with our social and cultural environment, children’s situation, and our education system.
We are always on the journey!
Article by Ms. Chen Li, teacher at DePan Education, IMTI Program 2016.