By Sharon Vanella, Head of Early School
Recently, the Early School staff had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Montessori Educational Programs International (MEPI) Hands for Peace Conference in Kiawah, SC. This annual Montessori conference brings together educators from around the world for two days of workshops, keynote speakers, and fellowship. For our Early School teachers, it was a time to reconnect with each other and with other Montessorians outside the four walls of our classrooms, reaffirm our love of Montessori philosophy and our reasons for choosing the Montessori path, and to learn from other experts in the field. Workshops offered throughout the conference focused on a wide variety of topics, so we were all able to choose those we found enriching, enlightening, and useful for bringing information back to the classroom and to the Charlotte Prep community.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Catherine McTamaney, a writer, educator, and Montessorian. Before the conference, we read (or re-read) her book The Tao of Montessori, which is formatted in the style of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching, combining themes from the Tao to the philosophy and practice of Montessori education. Overall, the book calls upon Montessorians to reflect on their own practice, challenges them not to forget the joy and wonder they felt during training and encourages them to see the world through the eyes of their students. McTamaney writes, “Montessori lessons are not justified by the steps they include. The steps they include are justified by a mindful purpose and an internalized philosophy.”
In her talk, as well as in the book, McTamaney invited us to renew our purpose as Montessori teachers “to walk the walk as we talk the talk.” The workshops ranged from specific subject areas, such as Sensorial, Science or Math, to topics in Montessori philosophy, such as Independence, to teambuilding or organizational practices. It was refreshing to collaborate with other teachers and professionals who share similar experiences and to trade ideas and strategies. The experiences helped us re-focus and to return to the classrooms to guide the children, as Maria Montessori herself said: “We do not believe in the educative power of words and commands alone but seek cautiously, and almost without the child’s knowing it, to guide his natural activity.”