A guest blog by Ken Healy all the way from Norway:
Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.
When you first consider eating an entire elephant it seems a daunting and overwhelming task and one’s first reaction is: that’s impossible! How on earth could I eat an animal so big? But if you sit back and take one bite at a time you can do it. It may take you a very long time but you will get the job done.
I believe that the same “one bite at a time” principle can be applied to getting Montessori into mainstream education systems “one step at a time”. To try and implement the entire Montessori Method all in one go into a mainstream education system would be like trying to eat an entire elephant in one bite; impossible! For starters, every teacher in the system will oppose you and that is as far as you will get. Teachers, from all backgrounds, take great pride in what they do and for the most part they believe that their way of teaching is just fine and why should they change. You also have the issue of re-skilling the teachers and again here you will meet serious resistance.
Another obstacle is the parents. Many parents say to themselves, “Sure, didn’t my education do me just fine and the school I went to was good enough for me so it will be good enough for my kids”, regardless of whether it was a good school or not. For a lot of parents to say anything else would be to admit that their schooling was not good enough and this does not happen often. The parents who do recognise that their education had its shortcomings have already taken their kids out of mainstream education or at the very least they combat its shortcomings in the home. What we need to do is reach out to the masses.
Change is a tricky thing to manage with large groups of people because individual interests and routines get in the way of the greater good. However, if we adopt a one step at a time approach large change can be integrated into any system or any social structure.
Most schools that change over to Montessori only do so because serious and pressing social needs demand a change from the norm. Or as is the case in Norway, schools are being forced to close by the government unless they change to a speciality school such as a Montessori school or a religious school. Some schools that have experienced dysfunctional social behaviour as a last resort have tried Montessori and found that it worked whilst others have been forced into it by changes in the law and found that it worked. Very few schools have made the leap to Montessori themselves if they were managing fine in the mainstream system and schools that are going from year to year and just about functioning, even though they have major problems, generally do not see the need to completely change their educational system and philosophy. However, many schools do need help and I believe strongly that Montessori is the answer. To win over people’s hearts and minds, a one step at a time approach to introducing Montessori into their school will not scare them and they will not see the challenge as impossible to achieve. First of all, because the challenge they face at any one time is only to implement a tiny part of Montessori. Secondly, you are not immediately throwing aside their existing skills as mainstream teachers and demanding they become Montessori teachers overnight. The “One Step at a Time” approach will allow existing school culture to gradually change over time, giving the teachers, parents and pupils much needed time and space to adapt to new teaching methods and the opportunity to see each step actually work.
How this is done and what parts of Montessori one starts with is a question for the Montessori professionals and I would envisage that it will be different for different schools with different immediate and long term needs.
What we can do is map out the journey that the schools will take, removing any mystery and unanswered questions that people will have. This approach also allows teachers, students and parents who have no experience of Montessori to get a taste for what it is all about. They can take their first bite of the elephant, chew it for a while and then digest it. Now they are ready for the next bite and because the first one was so tasty they will be more eager to take the second bite!
And on and on we go until we have incorporated the Montessori Method and Philosophy into mainstream education. Maybe this last sentence is a little too idealistic but if our goal is “to bring more Montessori into mainstream education” then we will have success and the establishment will not feel that they are being overthrown because they can stop at any time they like. My gut feeling is that if this is managed right neither side will ever really stop. There will be many hurdles to overcome but there will be no dead ends because Montessori does and will deliver results for our children and our teachers today and tomorrow! Montessori achieves results for the real world, this I take as fact. We will be able to show the schools, teachers, pupils and parents tangible results in a short period of time and this will give them the confidence and desire to start on the next leg of their Montessori journey.
There are however some fundamental differences between a mainstream teacher and a Montessori teacher. Montessori teachers do not give lessons or lectures, they make presentations. If we tried to start our process of change from this point I do not think we would get very far as there would be an inherent misunderstanding from existing teachers. Many would not “see” how this works and would not believe that it actually does work. So we start by presenting to them a little piece of Montessori and let them watch how it works in their own school environment. As each presented piece of Montessori is absorbed we move on to the next step. With “One Step at a Time” Montessori there is no need for a giant leap of faith from teachers just a simple desire to improve what it is they are already doing: teaching our kids and preparing them for the world we live in and the world that we will be living in. We have removed the fear of the unknown and we can show everyone involved real results each and every step of the way.
This is a life goal of mine but it will take a great effort from many great people and it will require us to work with individual schools followed by governments when we have some wins to show them.
Maybe this is the first step on a new leg of this great journey that was started at the beginning of the last century by Maria Montessori herself with the ultimate reward being an almighty step in the direction of peace for mankind.
Ken Healy, Waterpark Montessori International, Norway