Believing in Innovative Educating
By Monica Van Aken, Ed. D, Head of School
This past year has been one of tremendous change in the world of schooling. Desperate for change, experts in educational reform have been rigorously examining the highest performing schools in the country, many of them private schools, to find out what makes them work. One important theme of high-performing schools, including Milwaukee Montessori School, is that we continually evolve to address the needs of our students for today’s world. Schools have always been cornerstones of tradition, but Maria Montessori challenged the status quo in 1900 in Italy by insisting that schools should adapt to their contexts, whether in climate, dress, behavior, language, or culture. When free of bureaucratic restriction, we can try new processes, develop curriculum, and navigate quickly toward desired outcomes. Perhaps because of this, we at Milwaukee Montessori School find ourselves well ahead of the curve in addressing the three recommendations emerging from recent studies.
The first recommendation is that all schools must focus on early-childhood education. Over one hundred years ago, Maria Montessori developed what is arguably the best educational pedagogy and curriculum ever made for very young children. Her focus was innovative in that it was intellectual. If students were acquiring language, they could acquire the correct academic language, such as “Antarctica”, or “triangle,” and if they were learning to speak, they should learn the correct letter sound, which leads to early reading of words and numbers. Her prescience led her to conclude that early education that was developmentally appropriate, rigorously intellectual and academic in content would benefit children for a lifetime, something proven many years later.
The second, and perhaps most challenging dictum, is the need for schools to transform a one-size-fits-all model into a framework that personalizes instruction. Many schools claim to personalize instruction, but MMS classrooms are founded on a long tradition of mixed-age groups, small lesson sizes, and teachers trained to individualize the lessons they teach. Every student in our school is working on lessons toward mastery; they write, read, and perform mathematics operations, but at unique times and at their own pace. Truly individualized instruction is not simply students working on different pages in the same math book, but students receiving different lessons, completing different problems, and receiving feedback exactly tailored to the goal of mastery.
Finally, schools are being urged to prepare children to live in and contribute to a system based on personal ethics and mutual responsibilities. One example of how we are doing this at MMS this year is that we are working intensively with your students to become environmental stewards, learning about how to protect precious resources as our fresh water in the lake and make ethical and morally responsible decisions to share our resources fairly and justly.
We have been working together for many years to make MMS a model for relevant, inspiring, and effective education. While other schools begin to formulate a plan for aligning themselves with proven practices, Milwaukee Montessori School is already immersed and skilled in them. But we will not stand still. We plan to continue to surge forward and break ground on new, profound learning opportunities, just as Maria Montessori did in her time and place.