Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflection on Managing Information in the Public Montessori Classroom

The following is my reflection on my new learning, following a talk given by Dr. Jan Mallett, Ph.D., Research Assistant of Montessori and Early Childhood Education at Southern Methodist University, at the Dallas Conference of Public Montessori Teachers given at the Meadows Conference Center. 

How Public Montessori and Classical Montessori Interact

A Commitment to Follow the Child
As Montessorians, we share a commitment to respect the work of the individual child--we share a commitment to the work of Dr. Maria Montessori. Three key principles of Montessori philosophy stand out as different from traditional education, as major elements of the Montessori pedagogy:

  • We are committed to whole child education;
  • We are committed to the Montessori prepared environment; and,
  • We bring the child the specially prepared adult. 
In a Montessori setting, adults are trained in the ways we perceive and interact with children and also how we speak about children to other adults in the educational arena. Each of these three elements is going to have its own design for paperwork in data management. We can do all of these while giving honor to the philosophy of following the child.

In following the child, one of our special charges is knowing the child well—proverbially, "all the way down to the child’s grandmother’s shoe size". We laugh, but the more we can know about the child, the better we can serve her. When we prepare for the child, we should consider not only what presentation each child needs next, but we are also considering what the child needs or wants next.

Following the Child in Daily Lesson Preparation

Reflectively, each day, we consider which lessons would progress most organically and individually into the next day, the list of lessons we would mentally and physically prepare for the next day. It would be a different plan from that we are required to submit, but we also have to accept that the Guide knows the children to that degree, that it rests on the adult to give the children exactly the presentation they need that day.

Render Unto Caesar: Following the state curriculum standards

We know, too, as public school teachers, that we are accountable for presenting the TEKS (or whatever local curriculum standard) and all of the campus, district, and state requirements. How can we reconcile having two masters? We have to be able to simplify all of the requirements from outside organizations and create concordances of how we are satisfying outside requirements. We are on the right path with Montessori pedagogy, but we have to be able to justify how we are in good faith are moving through outside requirements while maintaining our primary focus on the philosophy of following the child.
  •   Figure out exactly what the principal wants
  •   Negotiate for simplicity in providing for outside requirements
  •   Routinize providing that satisfaction of requirements
  •   Spend the lion share of the time focusing on the child and what she needs, as an individual

The Prepared Environment

The Class and Casa de Bambini Space

The clutter-free, organized, sequenced environment does make the space easier for the adult to navigate, and it is more inviting for outside visitors. However, the environment is for the child. We do not apply state standards literally to the shelf. The walls should not display the lesson requirements and objectives, as the child needs resting space for the eye. The posting of the lesson objectives and demonstrations of learning does not serve the child; it is for the upper administration. When we must display standards, we display it quietly, small, and at the adult height to minimize and satisfy what may be required to be rendered—but we give this in the simplest, smallest way, only for the adult.

The Requirement of Grading Software

As public school teachers, we are required to give grades, although that is opposed in many ways to our pedagogy. We are a mastery-based pedagogy, not a percentage of mastery and reporting style of learning. However, as a non-negotiable, there is a window of opportunity to make grades scaled in rubrics of mastery by a deadline. We recommend that the teacher records grades daily as a routine, along with measuring routine work monitored perhaps even covertly, on occasion.

The Structure of Personalizing Grades

We liberate ourselves from a static idea of “work” as a single unit of a grade. There will be students who struggle more with committing work to paper, but learning continues. Therefore, the grade measurement might be different for each child. Perhaps, for example, it is a five question oral test for one child quietly at a table. Sometimes it is being able to bring an assembly of objects to the Guide or to another child or to her own map. We do not advocate each potential assignment as a possible grade in the gradebook. As we follow the child, grades must follow a child. In grading, to leave things more open ended for each child, we might say, Botany 1, Botany 2, Botany 3, those are expectations that the child learn three key elements about plants—but those particular lessons might be different for each child. We still may assign a grade for work we expect every child to have finished by a certain time, but there will also be other works with broader categories where the work will vary widely by individual.

The Whole Child

Knowing the child

When meeting with parents about academic progress, take care to record some behavioral and personal anecdotes to share with the parent. When parents are overly focused on grades, we make sure to bring qualitative information about the content of the child’s work. As a recommendation, bring two or three stories of work they do with furthered independence and total development.

The Planner of the Older Child

The child learns how to mention their own time with the support of a planner. Many children coming into the room do not realize that each of the squares in the planner represents a space of time where the child will work on a task. Very soon, the children will be able to write for themselves what they have already done. The most basic way a child would use a planner is in the regular recording of their own tasks. Then, over time, they begin to anticipate what they want to do today, tomorrow, and next week. When the light bulb turns on and they begin to understand that this helps them manage their time, that is when we invite them to the table to begin discussing the idea of a deadline, so that they may grow toward emerging self-mastery. It is a tool for the child. The planner does not belong to the parent, so we do not advocate sending home the planner for the parent to sign.

We speak to children as if they are
the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical
humans on earth, for what they believe
is what they will become. 

We respect the child in allowing them to develop their own internal recordkeeping system. It is appropriate to open it at conference time to show how the child is beginning to anticipate their own goals and show the child’s emergent self-monitoring, but we must take care never to weaponize the tool as a rigid, prescriptive task. Occasionally, there are individual children who require more structure and guidance and support in assigning tasks to times, but we are empowering the child to become masters of their own time—we do all we can to enable them to take the power of their own work and visions for learning.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Advantages of Performance Pay for Teachers Vs. Tenure Pay

The following is a brief scholarly analysis of pay-for-performance models of teacher compensation (also called performance pay) versus tenure models of teacher pay, based on USA-American and international implementation. The model has been implemented in Dallas ISD under the name Teacher Excellence Initiative for three years, resulting in increased retention of the highest-achieving and highest-rated teachers. As the area considers the future of TEI, it is important to consider also the research on the subject of educator labor markets in general, for application to this place.
- Jeannot R. Jonte Boucher, M.Ed., AMI

Advantages of Performance Pay for Teachers
It is a fundamental of staffing economics that workers respond to incentive with sharp increases in productivity and higher profits for the consumer-company (Lazear, 2000). In many fields, pay is readily linked to performance. Currently, there is much discussion about the benefits of offering performance pay to teachers, who might yield higher productivity leading to higher student achievement. Economic examination of the field of education reveals multiple advantages to linking increases teacher pay to performance. First, performance pay is less controversial among high-achieving teachers than pay for years of service. Higher-achieving teachers prefer performance pay (Muralidaharan & Sundararaman, 2009).  Additionally, as high-quality instruction delivered by the teacher is the strongest predictor of student success, attention arrives at the labor market for attracting high-achieving teachers. As the most effective teachers will be harder to find and hire, incentive pay makes schools more competitive to hire these teachers (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2010). Finally, as performance pay rewards overall teacher quality, there is a gain to overall student achievement and gross domestic product, providing long-term sustainability to the models (Hanushek & Woeessman, 2010). Therefore, pay for performance models should inform public decisions for a new direction in public teacher pay markets.
Less Controversial: A Quality-Teacher Preference
A series of international studies in Israel, Kenya, and India examined whether teachers prefer performance-based pay systems. While these systems are rare in public systems in the United States, they are found more frequently abroad. According to the research of Pradesh and Muralidharan (2009), there is a positive correlation and causal relationship between teacher quality and the preference for performance pay. In other words, since higher quality teachers overwhelmingly prefer performance pay, offering this pay model would attract better teachers, by measure of student achievement. There is also a possibility that performance models would repel less effective teachers into low- to no-accountability settings in other environments or careers. The main finding from Muralidharan is that over 80% of teachers preferred performance-linked pay. Furthermore, the degree of support relating to actual teacher performance suggests that teachers are self-aware of their abilities. That could mean that with the knowledge that they should be paid better for their ideas and work, more teachers would be attracted to the field.
However, there are some mixed results in the research on increased teacher satisfaction. Belfield & Heywood, 2008, found that teachers were not more satisfied in performance pay settings. As a detail, the teachers in performance pay settings did receive more income over the span of their careers. Additionally, the ability of the teacher to work collaboratively did significantly increase the performance pay. This answers the question of whether single-teacher performance is an appropriate indicator, since teaching should be a collaborative profession. Nevertheless, Belfield and Heywood did not isolate teacher satisfaction by achievement group, so the findings of Puresh and Muralidharan remain: The highest quality teachers are the most satisfied with performance pay.

Competitive Pay Yields Student Success
Under years of experience pay scales, teachers gain salary slowly over time. This is a challenge to fair compensation, because teacher quality shows sharp incline early in the career and a sharp decline toward the end of the career (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2010). This is the opposite pattern from traditional years of service scales, which increases in compensation over time instead of acknowledging that teacher support and ability declines steeply with advanced age. Allowing teachers to earn an amount closer in line with their salaries boosts retention of the highest-quality employees.
Gordon, 2006, writes extensively on how to determine teacher effectiveness, monitoring trends. Since one of the key purposes of performance pay is to retain the highest quality teachers, Gordon examined New York State data to learn about teacher retention, and there was no difference in retention between two-year contract Teach for America volunteers and certified teachers (<0.01 standard deviations). This reflects a crisis of teacher retention, something Gordon proposes could be improved by competitive offerings.
Ultimately, teacher retention would lead to improved teaching, since Gordon observed that teacher’s performance was significantly higher after the first two years—again, that sharp climb. This would validate the findings, too, of Lavy, 2009, who observed that monetary incentives for teachers contributed to significant gains in student success. Lavy compared observing Israeli schools competing for $1.44 million in rewards, given as either more school resources versus paying the teachers that amount cumulatively, and the ultimate comparison found the greater outcome to student success from direct teacher pay, rather than heavily endowed schools.

Financial Gains, not Losses
A common criticism is that school districts cannot afford to pay additional funds to teachers for doing a good job. However, Hanushek (2010) noted that there is a social benefit overall which can be measured in the gross GDP of the place, when the highest quality teachers are retained in the classroom. In this manner, policymakers have the opportunity to offer teachers room for advancement without leaving the classroom. As more effective teachers stayed in the classroom, the community became more measurably prosperous over time. According to Muralidharan, the support from teachers aligns so closely with student achievement levels that it is predictive of teacher efficacy before any other factors indicate the teacher’s effectiveness level. Therefore, teachers who show higher ex-ante support have better ex-post support.
Teacher labor markets receive a great deal of scrutiny, as a large part of many school district budgets. In economic terms, the field of teaching suffers from high turnover and quit rates of new teachers, leading to diminished supply pool. Lowered productivity stems from this initial high quit rate. Belfield & Heywood continued their analysis of teacher pay in terms of personnel policy. The researchers of this 2008 study found that teachers being offered performance pay showed an up to 20% increase in productivity following the measures. Future research should consider the long-term effects of the increase in productivity and labor concerns. As a complex but worthwhile consideration that “if they work harder, the reward for each unit of effort will be reduced, leaving their earnings the same despite more effort” (244). This concern is refuted in Woessman’s presentation in the symposium overview on the subject, 2011. He wrote that long-term equilibrium effects are outweighed by positive association between pay for performance and student achievement.
For decades, pay for years of tenure programs have penalized talented young teachers and rewarded characteristics which are not related to student outcomes, like whether the teacher has a master’s degree (Gordon, 2006). It is time to follow the lead of international evidence suggesting that students with teacher compensation according to performance are more likely to find high performing, successful students. We know, also, that teachers who experience a campus for paid performance also experience a higher degree of support for the program. Expanding pay for performance models will be critical in attracting workers of high quality, who are the most likely to support such a program. Going forward, it will be important to communicate these benefits to labor unions, who might present considerable dissent to unequal pay between workers, should the benefits to student and teacher welfare not be placed centrally in the conversation.

Belfield, C. and Heywood, H. (2008). Performance pay for teachers: Determinants and consequences, 20(3), 243-252.

Hanushek, E. and Woessmann, L. (2011). Overview of the symposium on performance pay for teachers. Economics of Education Review, 30(3), 391-393.

Gordon, R., Kane, D., Staiger, D. I (2006) Identifying effective teachers using performance on the job. The Brookings Institute.

Lavy, L. (2009). Evaluating the effect of teachers’ group performance incentives on pupil achievement. Journal of Political Economy, 110, 1286-1317.

Lazear, L. (2000). Performance pay and productivity. American Economics Review, 90, 1346-1361.
Muralidharan K. and Sundararaman, V. (2011). Teacher opinions on performance pay. Evidence from India. Economics of Education Review, 30(30), 394-403
Muralidharan, K. and Sundararaman, V. (2009). Teacher performance pay: Experimental evidence from India. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA
Woessmann, L. (2011). Cross-country evidence on teacher performance pay. Economics of Education Review, 30(3), 404-418.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Classroom Management for a More Peaceful World

CLASSROOM Management
Pre-K Teachers: Beware of Gold Stars
5 ways preschool teachers can reinforce positive behavior without bribes, for a more peaceful child and world
March 22, 2017

As educators, we know students learn better when we inspire good behavior. But how do we get our preschool students to that point? From the plethora of classroom management strategies, it can leave a new teacher dizzy with possibilities for rewards systems and tiered consequences. In his popular books 
Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting, education author Alfie Kohn explores the behavioral science reasoning for avoiding rewards and punishments altogether. Kohn promotes a radical but researched philosophy of classroom management: inspiring the child’s own intrinsic motivation.
We identify five essential strategies for developing intrinsic motivation in the preschool child:
  • Offer specific observations
  • Listen more
  • Guide the child to express feelings
  • Model self-assessment of my own actions
  • Give students opportunities self-assess behavior

Many teachers are already using a version of these principles for improving student behavior—commonly, by offering observation. Here’s how I implement the five key strategies for building intrinsic motivation.
What Should A Teacher Do?
The first principle is to offer specific observation. Maria Montessori said that a child is disciplined when she is a master of herself. The young child develops the capacity to behave through positive social and practical activities. Adults can support the child by offering descriptive observations of behaviors or events. Instead of praising a child with that famous gold star, a stamp, or a sticker, we describe, “You cared for your space by picking up every snip." Or, “You showed kindness when you offered your friend a tissue.” Rather than gain positive feelings from my response, the child associates the positive feeling with the behavior. They will then be more likely to repeat the practice.
The second principle is listening to a child discuss what has occurred. Offering observational language is one way to help the child. Often, staying present while the child considers what happened is enough. Children accustomed to praise will seek adults for validation, a habit which makes independent work and exploration challenging. In the opposite effect, children accustomed to punitive-focused discipline will wait for adult reprimand before correcting misbehavior. Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Desi, educational psychologists on motivation, identified supporting the child’s notion of exploratory and playful joy as a primary intrinsic motivator. As I improve at asking a child what has occurred, then listening, I can lead the child to a habit of reflection about what brings joy.

“You completed many kinds of work today,” I begin, then become quiet. The child fills the silence with a grin of satisfaction. One child commented to me, “Yes, and I feel strong.”
What Does Intrinsic Motivation Look Like?
The third principle of inspiring intrinsic motivation is to guide the child to express.  In our language-rich early childhood environments, we work to scaffold a vocabulary for feelings. We discuss determination, satisfaction, and pride. While other children are at work, planned conversations in small groups allow four or five eager children time to share their own stories. We focus on times they felt an accomplishment or disappointment. Planned social conversations modify the children’s perspectives about justice and kindness over time. We also role-play scenarios. Each week, we plan social presentations on the basis of emerging behaviors, routine themes, and observed needs. In Montessori pedagogy, these presentations comprise a core component of social cohesion, called Grace and Courtesy. Yet, grace and courtesy encompass more than manners. Instead, the practice of grace and courtesy role-play gives children experience considering the feelings and needs of others. 
The fourth principle is to model self-assessment for the child. This principle requires adult vulnerability. The adult narrates a scenario for the child to consider the teacher’s own actions. I discuss what I have seen myself do. Then, I follow with how I feel about it. I close with a comment about what I would do differently next time. For example, when I knock an object over or forget my keys, I narrate a description. Sometimes this is with a group, and other times it is “to myself”. Children are fascinated to see what happens when an adult makes a mistake. Likewise, as I organize my plans and tidy my table through the day, I faux-soliloquize on my pride in finishing my work and caring for my space. They are listening.

What Tools Do Students Need?
The final principle of inspiring intrinsic motivation is to lead the child to develop her own compass. Our larger goal in teaching is to prepare the child for life. In discussing character, I reminded students that some days I will be absent, and they will have to decide the right thing to do. Some of the youngest looked nervous. But an older boy piped up, “Yes, but we have an inner voice now!”

We help the child find the internal compass for kindness, gentleness, and responsibility. We support with 
books, songs, and real-life storytelling. We create nonjudgmental space for a child to assess that she could have done things differently. We always support learning how to make one’s own amends. Saving space for social lessons has many benefits in academic areas: namely, comfort with error and confidence with complexity.
When I discuss these approaches to developing intrinsic motivation with more traditional teachers, I hear that the standard fare of stickers and time outs successfully modifies behavior. Children do enjoy treats and goodies as incentives. However, we plant seeds of more in these sensitive, early years. Intrinsic motivation helps children feel confident appraising and monitoring their own behaviors. Critical thinkers approach finding their own solutions. We could go the easier route and tick off a “Good job!” and dole out a prize. Ultimately, behavioral approaches that center intrinsic motivation give the opportunity to present kindness as the child’s native language.
Johnny Boucher is a public school teacher at Eduardo Mata Montessori in Dallas, Texas and a doctoral student of education policy and leadership through Johns Hopkins University by distance. Boucher advocates for high-quality early childhood programs, best practices in literacy, and closing achievement gaps with Montessori approaches for the public sector. Tweet @jonteboucher

Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes (2nd ed.). Mariner Books.

Montessori, M. (2007). Education and Peace the Montessori Series. Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Team Building in Schools: A Collaborative Vision of Education


I noticed the back of a principal's business card. Dr. Nicole Evans of City Garden public Montessori in St. Louis had shared her contact with me, between seminars:

If you want to go fast, go alone. 
If you want to go far, go together.
African Proverb

Dr. Evans, this spoke to me, too. What if we, as schools, could favor being interdependent over being independent? In our story, we can choose now to see the great strength in depending on each other. We can make this choice deliberately. Inter-dependency makes us better able to help those in need among us. We, as educators, have chosen to be part of an interdependent story. What will your chapter be like? What will you contribute?

Our Great Lesson

To unite a campus, here is a key suggestion. We need to unite around our story. Everyone who works in the institution should learn the story of the founding. In Montessori, we share the Great Lessons with drama and reverence, even with a bit of ritual magic. We can share the story of our founding as our Great Lesson, to unite around the Great Story of where we come from. As we struggle with the conversation of how to integrate people into our organizations, we know that people need to know something deeper than where is the copier, what are the dress code rules. We know they need to know our inspirational stories.

Like a Great Lesson, you need to hear it again and again, but you also need to hear it in your bones. Psychologically, we crave to know our origins. We can also tell the children the origin story of our school every year, to invite them to be part of who we are. They also have to feel it in their bones. Whose dream and passion and work became this school?

The Stages of Team-building

Every school is a team and has teams within it. Teaming and collaboration are buzzwords, and they are common phrases in our conversations. When considering if we really know what it means, we have to consider that teams go through stages. Some of the stages will be more helpful than others. In becoming a team,

  • The first stage is the forming stage. This is our honeymoon stage. We explore what we dream, explore each other, and it is relatively easy compared with what happens next. 
  •  When the team gets more comfortable with each other, we enter the storming stage. It can lead to confrontations about vision and personality. Things become more difficult to handle and deal with, like an external threat. Politeness fades. There may be jockeying for dominance. There can be unclear roles or places within the group, as well as unclear objectives. 
  • To move past the storming stage, we can call it the norming stage. This team refocuses on task, mission, and purpose. There is a focus on a more clear vision and work together. 
  • Next, the group can move to the stage of performing. It is a steady state of progress when the team reaches and maintains the optimal level of performance. In a mature way, the family works to resolve disagreements. 


Developing the Foundation 

However, this is not a linear process. Different setbacks and challenges will keep us flowing between different aspects of team-building along the way. As team members, we have a few tasks which will underlay all of our other work:

1.       We have to work to build and maintain solid relationships, in respect, empathy, and trust.

2.       We have to work to communicate, to speak up, clarify, and listen to each other.

3.       We have to work on efforts to support our colleagues and not leave individual s out of conversations. 

For creating a unified school community, look intentionally for the good in your school. Invite everyone in your community to do the same. We discussed the old story of the bricklayer—

One bricklayer complained to the traveler, “This work is toil. Every day, I lay another brick. I will never end my work. It makes me weary.” Then, the traveler went on and found another bricklayer. She was singing.

“Why are you so happy, bricklayer?” the traveler asked.

“We are making a cathedral,” she smiled, laying one more brick. 

When we inspire people to see the larger vision of what we are creating together, the work of laying another brick, or correcting another comma, or carrying another stack of books is no toil. We must stay rooted in the vision together, to make our work light and joyful—so that we can sing.

Recommendation: A gratitude book. Every year, we can take the time to share our stories of light and gratitude. We can create a small book each year of the beauty in our joined vision. Invite submissions from the community, from staff, parents, and students. This is a commemoration of the act of making community together.


Conflict and Peace Agreements

Conflict can be understood as the juncture of opportunity and danger. There will always be stress in our schools, and conflict is a natural result of the stress in our work.

Storming and conflict are not going to go away in our schools. The first step to resolving it is going to be naming it. The trick is to do it without blaming or isolating the problem. The next step is going to be an engaged conversation in talking about the concern. We have to acknowledge the challenges without letting it pull us apart. 

Recommendation: A peace agreement. Make a peace agreement of a unifying peace vision between members of our community. We can make this agreement together. It can be based on words from note cards of words that motivate our vision, as a group activity. Then, we lead staff through this process to support a vision, which will then be printed at the top of agendas and read it. As a sample-- Know that it has to be customized for each group. This is our vision, and it comes from our ideals.



We will have EMPATHY for each other and be open to seeing and CELEBRATING other’s unique and different perspectives, including cultural ones.

We will GIVE each other the benefit of the doubt.

We know that everyone who is involved in education joins this effort because it is our passion. Adding Montessori means there will be a magnified degree of calling, due to the extra efforts we have invested in being able to guide students in the non-traditional way we do. We will feel conflict, too, when there is a stress in something we care deeply about. It will be a universal part of education. Yet, united around our vision, the labor is easy.

These reflections followed a talk by Jack Jose, head of a Montessori high school in Cincinnati, and Krista Taylor, winner of Cincinnati Teacher of the Year at the American Montessori Society Conference in San Diego, "Montessori without Borders". We have been discussing creating collaborative partnerships with communities: collegiate relationships, volunteer piloting, team building, collaborative staff contracting, and mentoring programs.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Challenging Behaviors in the Montessori Classroom

The following is a slideshow of notes and reflections on student behavior, following conference topics at the American Montessori Society educational conference in San Diego, California, 2017. Discussion continues on why students misbehave and what goals or unmet needs they might have. Presenters launching conversation included Marge Ellison and Darla Ferris Miller.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Hiring, Sustaining, and Letting Go: Staffing Teachers for Montessori Schools

The following is a reflection on a workshop given at the American Montessori Society conference "Montessori Beyond Borders" in San Diego, California, March 2017. The title was "The Employee Life Cycle in Schools: HR Practices in Thriving Schools" by consultant Ms. RB Fast. The following will be most applicable to Montessori environments but can apply broadly to heads of school in similar school environments with a specialized pedagogy. 

When staffing a school, it is rarely on a competency basis that an educator is a poor fit for a school. More often, it is the draw of specific language matching the school culture with the individual. Therefore, recruitment and interviewing skills will be key in drawing just the right match for the school. Onboarding, support, and appropriate dissolution form an important part of the staff life cycle. 

The greatest recruitment resource groups:
  • from NCMPS
  • State Montessori Associations
  • Teacher training centers and Montessori organization:
  • AMI-USA website and local training programs near you
  • AMS website and local training programs near you
  • where schools and individual teachers match together on the site (in development)  

When interviewing, questions need to be tightly aligned to the skills. Questions should be:
  • Tied to desired skills and characteristics
  • Based on past behavior
  • Not hypothetical or vague 
  • Require specific information
Examples of interview questions to avoid:
  • What led you to Montessori
  • Why do you want to work in a Montessori school?
  • How do you follow the child?
  • What do you do when someone gossips? (hypothetical)

Purposeful Interview Questions:
They should be based on looking for a characteristic that you want for a job. Look for specific instances where this person displayed that characteristic. 
  • Tell us about a time when you saw adult behaviors in your school that were not aligned with your understanding of Montessori philosophy. What did you do?
  • Describe for us how you handled a situation in which a parent was upset with you How did the situation resolve?
  • Explain what you have done in the past when a staff member behaved in ways that you found to be inappropriate or against protocol. How did you handle the situation?
  • Tell us about a time when you deeply disagreed with a decision in leadership in your school. What were the circumstances? How did you respond?


Slow down the onboarding process to make the first 90 days supportive and informative. Thoughtful onboarding of new staff members is crucial to their success in the school. What happens after you decide that you are going to hire a new person?
Example, in Dallas ISD, there is a required "new teacher academy" that may or may not be helpful. They will attend staff development before school starts with the other campus staff, which will be more targeted to our type of campus. There are still more specific needs for this new employee.

These are more helpful practices:
  • Give an in-depth tour that includes things like bathrooms, cleaning supplies, and any other logistical information they need to function successfully in the building. This impacts the employee's idea of their own effectiveness
  • Observe for 20-30 minutes at every age level of the school
  • Review the new employee paperwork packet with a member of the office staff. They need to be able to ask questions right there. 
  • Show them the exact evaluation tool and know when to expect evaluation. 
  • Read through the employee handbook and ask questions before signing an agreement
  • Allowing them to meet other staff members in the classroom without children 
  • Review current roles, responsibilities, and daily schedules
  • Review general behavioral expectations and guidance strategies used in the classroom
  • Shadow another staff member working their shift in the classroom so that they can learn on the job and get a feel for their work
  • Formally introduce new staff members to the children
  • Email the staff and parents with a photo and a celebratory welcome of the person that includes a short bio of them
  • If possible, have some sort of event or opportunity for parents to engage with the new staff member and get to know them while they aren't charged with caring directly for children 

Are there gaps in your onboarding process?
  • Paperwork that doesn't get turned in
  • Time for training and observation
  • Frustration frequently expressed by staff 

E.g., It is common in my school for teachers to miss turning in attendance on time. This is typically just a teacher "habit" that has to start early on the campus. Helping new teachers get into the routine will get them off on the right foot. 


The ultimate job of a leader is support for the other work going on. This is where the big work happens. Teachers and staff members at every level need ongoing feedback. Gently mention, in passing, when something is not compliant with regulations and compliance. Feedback should not always be alone in a meeting in an office. Give feedback in the moment along the way, and it will build trust.
How do we balance being likable leaders while still holding people accountable for doing a good job?
TRANSPARENCY AND CONTEXT-- Your staff needs to know where you are, what you are doing, and why you are making certain decisions.
  • The more you share with them, the more they will trust you
  • Suggestion: Put a whiteboard on the office door to explain where you are or what you're doing if you aren't available. Staff need to know that when you're not available, it is because you're working on behalf of them. It might say, Parent meeting, student meeting, if it is sensitive. 
  • When you have to make an unpopular decision, explain the context for why the decision came along that way. Share the broad picture of the licensing, the budget, or the regulation—and include the context of what informed the choice. Give as much context as you can, legally, when it is employee-based. If there is a much bigger, stickier story, contact the school attorneys for advice. 
  • How do you make sure that supporting employees is a regular part of your leadership practice? Put it on your calendar as a regular part of your leadership practice. 
  • E.g., if you are going to be observing Tuesdays and Thursdays, or you would once a month have lunch with them, let staff get used to your presence. Not to coach or evaluate, but to have awareness for the issue myself. Volunteer for a playground shift to see the personalities and challenges staff see. 

For new staff members:
  • Go physically to check on staff members a couple of times in the first few weeks
  • Put check-ins into your calendar if necessary
  • Send a couple of welcome emails
  • Have a system for following up on paperwork for their file
  • Assign accountability for someone in the office for this to someone in the office—Delegate!
  • For the whole staff:
  • Reviews 90 days after hire and annually after that
  • Hold inspiring, challenging professional development
  • Schedule Large-group workshops
  • Send staff to conferences
  • Approach certain staff about workshops you want to send them to for a specific reason—honoring the goals of the staff
  • Regular time off built into the calendar as paid time off 
  • Celebrate them personally and professionally 
  • Hold staff gatherings
  • Give appreciation gifts
  • Celebrate major milestones like birthdays, work anniversaries, marriages, graduations, babies
  • Hold space for grieving employees
  • Ensure 1:1 meetings and support happen regularly for everyone
  • Assistants meet with leads; Leads meet with admin
  • Treat lead teachers as leaders in the educational community 
  • Meet regularly as a group
  • Ask for their input on strategy and major decisions
  • Encourage an open dialogue in which they give you feedback as a leader
  • Communicate weekly with staff via an email update 
E.g., A strength of our campus at Eduardo Mata Elementary, a public Montessori campus, are meeting regularly as grade level teams with admin present. We also have a good open dialogue with the administration. We are used to visits from admin and see admin in a coaching role, and we communicate weekly if not more frequently. An area for potential growth might be more opportunities for 1:1 meetings.

Dissolving staff relationships

Termination of employment should not be a surprise. We keep clear, unbiased documentation of employee behavior in the file. We must follow all employee discipline protocols exactly. We document conversations, verbal warnings, written warnings, performance plans, and time clock activity carefully. Admin will not lose employment claims with proper documentation. Consistency is key; the protocol must be the same for positive employees and challenging employees. 

Develop a checklist of everything that needs to happen when an employee relationship is dissolved. 
What paperwork needs to be filed or changed?

When someone quits:
  • Request resignation in writing
  • Make a plan for telling the children and families and having a proper goodbye in the classroom
  • Celebrate them as much as possible
  • Notify the staff in a way that feels appropriate but make it a protocol to notify the staff of a resignation in the exact same way every time. Do not make it a big deal for some people and not for others. 
  • Transition their employee file from active to inactive. 
  • Use a checklist to ensure you have taken care of all loose ends
  • When you have to fire someone:
  • Have a direct conversation with an appropriate witness. Do not beat around the bush, but very clearly state what is happening as soon as they enter the room and are seated-- E.g., "I brought you in today because I am firing you for being repeatedly late for your shift."
  • Let the employee feel as empowered as possible in this situation. Be willing to talk about the situation a bit more and give more context, and be willing to drop it right there and move forward with the following steps
  • If at all possible, call your lawyer ahead of time to discuss the situation if there is anything that might make it "sticky"
  • If you are in a very small school and do not have a witness on campus, you can invite a board president, a lead teacher of an assistant, or a consultant. 

  • Disable school email address and access to school networks and accounts
  • Have their final check ready to go in 24 hours, or according to schedule
  • Ask if they have personal belongings in the school and walk with them to collect them
  • Escort them out of the building
  • Notify parents immediately and make a plan for how the children will be told
  • Make room in your calendar to meet with parents who have concerns
  • Notify the staff in a way that feels appropriate

More resources
Finding and keeping great teachers, consultancy and downloads, 
Whole-School Montessori Handbook NAMTA
National Council for Montessori in the Public Sector 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Case for Expanding Montessori in Public Schools

The following is an exploration of the viability of Montessori as an option for public school formats: in achievement, in approach, and in transition to other formats. It was submitted as education discourse to Southern Methodist University, at the Simmons College of Education on March 2, 2017 by Johnny Boucher (Jeannot Rene Jonte Boucher), a Montessori primary guide at Eduardo Mata Montessori, a public Montessori in Dallas, Texas.
Advantages of Montessori in the Public Sector
Montessori as a pedagogy originates in Italy in the early-20th century. Following the philosophical design of Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), unifying characteristics of the environments include specialized exploratory materials, student autonomy, and teacher guidance rather than direction. The goals of Montessori include stimulating curiosity, encouraging independence, and following interests. In the context of public schools offering more specialized school options, it is worthwhile to answer community interest in Montessori with data about Montessori as a successful approach. Does Montessori learning positively affects student achievement?

While testing Montessori outcomes empirically is an expanding area for research, it has been a highly desirable and high-tuition pedagogy primarily in the private sector since the early 20th century. Toward evaluating Montessori suitability for private schools, three key consideration comprise an argument for expanding Montessori schools in the public sector: First, public schools would benefit from incorporating more Montessori schools, as Montessori students demonstrated broad gains in all academic and behavioral gains when in these programs for early childhood (Ansari, 2014). Moreover, Montessori methodologies represent an epitomizing form of constructivist education, since the pedagogy values independent inquiry with specialized materials and teacher as guide rather than center of focus (Mallett, 2013). Finally, when Montessori students go on to other formats of learning, Montessori students demonstrate more academic successful than other students, even to high school (Dohrman, 2007). As an aside, when examining conflicting research about the success of the method, evaluators must weigh the purity of the implementation and specific community needs (Chattin-McNichols, 2016). Considering these three considerations, therefore, Montessori pedagogies should inform public decisions for a new direction in public education. Montessori should be a high consideration in any development of school learning innovations and personalized learning formats.   
Gains in Broad Domains
Previous research into the benefits of Montessori early childhood preparations examined differences in success between conventional and Montessori programs. Some initial inquiry has been made controlling for socio-economic status, but no other research has yet been published monitoring gains between demographics of at-risk groups. The significance of controlling for SES lies in the general affluence of private Montessori populations. Ansari’s study of Miami School Readiness examined the gains of low-income Latino and Black children enrolled in two different types of Title-1 public schools. The schools are either Montessori or conventional programs. Results from 15,000 students revealed early childhood programs with Montessori supported broad gains against all academic, socio-emotional, and behavioral domains. This is a strong indication that Montessori could be preferable as a foundation for many populations.

It is worth noting that all children did not benefit equally in Montessori programs. Latino children began more at-risk yet grew above national averages. Black children exhibited strong gains but slightly greater gains in conventional programs. Initial hypotheses related to the home language’s interactions with the effects of Montessori individuation. As the  largest study regarding Montessori pedagogy. the difference in the success between different minority groups in Montessori is surprising. Researchers suggested that the difference in success implies the need for openings of schools to be sensitive to the background of the population. In areas where students are acquiring English, Montessori may be more valuable, due to possible connection between Montessori and dominantly Latino bilingual campuses. The whole-child value of Montessori shows in the success across all academic, socio-emotional, and behavioral domains. However, it is additionally successful with Latino populations of language-learners in educational settings. As dual language campuses remain another trend in school innovation, the racial disparity in results could be an indication that Montessori could be an especially valuable overlay with dual language programming.
Constructivist Learning Leading to Academic Achievement
Mallett noted that across the span of elementary public school format possibilities, the United States employs numerous educational representations of early childhood education. The constructivist approach to early childhood education is illustrative of best practices based on current theory. Though the Montessori Method is aligned with research-based best practices espoused by constructivism, there are relatively few public Montessori schools currently in the United States. Mallett provided a direct comparison between the academic outcomes of public elementary school programs which implement the Montessori Method and those which implement a more traditional approach to early childhood education. The focus of this study is the academic achievement outcomes of Montessori public school students as compared to similar non-Montessori students. The findings indicate that Montessori students make gains over time, surpassing peers. While the gains Mallett found were small in effect size, she observed gains in all domains.
This might be attributed to the findings of Pate (2014), who observed physical activity in preschool children, comparing  Montessori and traditional preschools. As movement drives the child’s construction of learning, children attending Montessori preschools were more active than children attending traditional preschools. Adopting the Montessori system may be an important strategy for promoting physical activity as a support for learning in children. In another manner of speaking, when young children move while learning, engagement and retention of learning is generally higher. Also, Montessori multi-sensory approach to learning format is a key characteristic of the method, for example, in the large sandpaper letters for tactile tracing, instead of handwriting worksheets.

Although it is not directly discussed in Pate’s research on higher degrees of concentrated movement in Montessori classrooms, the greater movement can contribute to higher quality of life for children. Pate’s researchers monitored 301 children in 9 Montessori and 8 traditional preschools in Columbia, South Carolina. In detail, physical activity was measured by accelerometers attached to children on weekdays during preschool (In-School), non-school (Non-School), and all day (All Day). With implications for obesity, attention, and behavior, the findings also suggest a higher quality of life for students who engage in so much concentrated movement, as part of their learning. The multi-sensory constructivist approach invites further possibilities for research in Montessori methods for use in remediation of special needs such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and low-vision and hearing impaired environments.
Lasting Gains
Dohrman studied how students would go on to perform after having attended public Montessori programs. The formats of class rhythm can vary significantly from traditional classrooms, in that the teacher is understood as a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage”. Most presentations are given as 1-1 or small group, and students explore presented materials and activities in uninterrupted work cycles of at least three hours. With the qualification that Dohrman’s research represents the experience of a single school system, this study indicates that a program such as Montessori, with a rigorous set of principles and practices, can be implemented by a major urban school system with a high degree of fidelity to these standards. Furthermore, Montessori schools and can achieve equal or better outcomes than are achieved by a conglomerate of other school programs. It is a common concern that concern that Montessori programs ill-prepare students for the competitive environments they face in high school. As a major difference between single-grade classrooms, Montessori programs deemphasize competition between peers intentionally, through multi-age environments where individual differences in ability add to “social cohesion”, or community feeling. Dohrman’s results provide compelling evidence that Montessori students go on to be highly successful in other spaces. Despite having spent the first five years of elementary school in a classic Montessori school environment, without tests, grades, homework, or standard lectures, the Montessori students were doing as well or better than the control group that presumably had those traditional features.

Now, for an opposing study, the research of Hsin-Hiu P & Sham’ah M. (2014) suggested Montessori students did not perform as well. They examined whether children in Montessori schools perform better in the achievement tests, from a Taiwanese perspective. Montessori is promoted as an international teaching method, with the headquarters in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Annual conferences of Montessori-credentialed educators meet in various continents around the globe. The findings suggest but there is a need for sensitivity in observing that results have been different in varying populations, perhaps because of unknown cultural factors. The study examined 196 children in first, second, and third grade. They were evaluated based on their scores in the Elementary School Language Ability Achievement Tests and the corollary exam for math. Students who had Montessori experience had a significantly higher score in language arts in all three grade levels. In math, first grade students scored higher but not second and third grade students. However, in social studies, students who had received Montessori education did not score significantly higher than the non-Montessori students. There was also no significant difference between the number of years spent in Montessori programs and students’ language arts, math, and social studies test scores in first, second, and third grade. In expanding access, as discussed previously, it will be a concern to maintain awareness of possible conflicts in the culture. Yet, even considering the lackluster success of the Montessori group in Hsin-Hiu’s appraisal of Montessori success, it is important to observe that the Dohrman study also found little differences between students who had received Montessori preparation in early elementary, but the differences in independence and self-regulations showed more clearly by high school. Therefore, it is possible that the children in Hsin-Hiu’s research would have demonstrated more advanced gains at a later check-point. Additionally, approaches to Montessori must vary to degrees by culture because of the adaptability of the pedagogy to local character; Montessori literacy given in England would differ from Montessori environments in Italy, because the complexity of English orthography will require greater emphasis on literacy games bringing out, for example, variations on vowel digraphs. Confounding results invite more research into the nuance of lasting gains in Montessori, by culture.
The Importance of Evaluating Montessori with Controls
In the public sector particularly, it will be important to deescalate the emphasis on high-stakes testing to implement Montessori with fidelity. There is tension between district and campus requirements to demonstrate success principally with test scores and the whole-child perspective of psychological wellness in the child leading to achievement. Metrics which evaluate Montessori success should consider the social-emotional outcomes and executive function gains—not just test scores. Implementation must be guarded for purity and support; materials are more expensive, staff are less readily available, and parents require education about the approach.

Montessori is still quite rare in the public sector. Out of the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector’s 4000+ list of Montessori schools in the USA, NCMPS maintains a list of only 500 public Montessori schools. Since the origins of the method come from Dr. Montessori’s work with disadvantaged children in 1907 in Italy, this leaves many wondering how best to deliver Montessori to public schools and disadvantaged populations. Chattin-McNichols provided an ethnographic, qualitative summary of difficulties observed in Montessori schools, or uniquely challenging to public Montessori schools. Most germane to expanding Montessori will be the discussion of whether the method is more successful. In weighing at-times conflicting research, Chattin-McNichols reminded evaluators of the large number of schools set up as “Montessori and…” another method and questioned how those needs could be met by exclusive Montessori. Beyond discouraging an overlay of another program, fidelity to the classic Montessori model has an impact on success. Finally, high-stakes testing remains a threat and interruption to the prepared Montessori environment. Districts must commit to minimal disruption of Montessori and to establishing campus permissions to deviate from other district testing models, schedules, and miscellaneous requirements. Administration will need to be well-educated in granting autonomy to Montessori spaces from many of the common practices associated with conventional, high-stakes testing environments. Maintaining purity in classic Montessori offerings will conserve resources and generate results more similar to the high-achieving studies.
As a result of gains in all domains in early childhood, constructivist learning and academic achievement, and the lasting gains of Montessori background, Montessori is a measurably strong alternative to traditional, conventional education methods. Furthermore, intangibles such as the role of the teacher as guide and the student as the constructor of their own learning contributes to student happiness in such environments. In giving communities more choice in the style of education offered to parents, this leads to more community engagement and public school satisfaction. With consideration given to individual population, Montessori should be considered a valid school option within the public sector, in new school planning.

Ansari, A., & Winsler, A. (2014). Montessori public school pre-K programs and the school readiness of low-income Black and Latino children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(4), 1076-1079.

Blank, J. (2009). Situated in school scripts: Contextual early childhood teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(2), 251-258.

Chattin-McNichols, J. (2016). The Hard Work of Public Montessori. Montessori Life, 28(3), 34-43.

Dohrman, K., Nishida, T., et al. (2007). High school outcomes for students in a public Montessori program. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22.2(Winter 2007), 205

Hsin-Hiu P., Sham’ah M. (2014). Do children in Montessori schools perform better in the achievement test? A Taiwanese perspective. International Journal of Early Childhood, 46(2), 299-311.

Pate, R. (2014). Physical activity in preschool children: Comparison between Montessori and traditional preschools. The Journal of School Health, 84(11), 716-721.

Zieher, A. K., & Armstrong, J. (2016). Teaching in a public Montessori school: contexts, quandaries, and thinking schemes. Person-Centered & Experimental Psychotherapies, 15 (1), 37-54.