On October 24th at 6:30 PM, Ms Hart will be treating us to a hands-on Montessori Parent Education Night. But who is this mysterious Ms. Hart? We had the chance to catch up with her and learn a few things…
About you – Please introduce yourself and your background.
Hello my name is Elizabeth (Lize) Hart. I am happy to be called Liz. I have taught in a Montessori classroom for twenty years.
The first 18 were at Boundary Bay Montessori House now called Boundary Bay Montessori School. The reason for the name change was that the school wanted to do everything they could to attract families to our school and the Montessori method of education. Calling the school a house was thought to be confusing and so changing the name would attract people who were searching for Montessori schools that BBMS was, in fact, a thriving school! The origins of the term ‘house’ was that Maria Montessori’s first schools were called ‘Casas’, and so trying to be true to her ideal the founding parents of BBMS used that name.
Back to me…I discovered Montessori education through a friend of my family who had her child enrolled in BBMS. I immediately was impressed with the classrooms, the teachers and seeing my eldest son, in Grade 3, gravitate towards a puzzle map of the world. Very soon I became involved as a volunteer parent and then a member of the board and finally, after training at Western Montessori College (affiliated with St. Nicolas, Montessori Society in London, England), I worked at Burnaby Montessori School and then a year later began a long term career at BBMS. During my first few years I undertook further summer training with the International Association of Progressive Montessorians (IAPM) at hosted at Tyee Elementary School and BBMS. My trainer was Irma Rodriguez who had her training in Bergamo Italy and the course administrator was Debbie Adams who coordinates the Vancouver Montessori Training for VSB.
What pulled you in about Montessori?
What drew me to both sending my children and learning more about Montessori education at first was the people. Heather Main (now a VSB Counsellor) and Cathy Goss (now an Educational Consultant) were a fantastic team – they were thoroughly steeped in the method and they directed the parent board and school community to create a pretty close to idylic environment.
The population was tiny. There were only 18 students and yet these two teachers were unlimited in their vision and the opportunities that they afforded the students. The materials in the classroom were beautiful and soon after I realized attending the school was a right fit for my family. I then sent my second born to a Montessori Kindergarten so he would be ready for the primary classroom.
He spent the first three months in the practical life section grinding nutmeg. We used that nutmeg in our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie and it was the same taste as the stuff you find in the grocery store (!); I couldn’t help but remind myself that the monthly fees at the preschool were around $200.00 and that in doing the math – that nutmeg was pretty dear! So I found myself becoming more and more curious about what Montessori education was really all about hence my involving myself more deeply in learning about the method.
I understand that you have taught in the Private Montessori system for a significant time. How has the adjustment been moving into the public realm?
First of all it is important to know that although we were what one might think of as ‘private’ school we were really a community school. Everyone did everything in their power to make things work. It did not matter what your background was — plumber, homemaker, dentist, accountant, fisher, project manager, insurance salesperson, or computer technician. All problems of running a school, finding property, building additions, unplugging toilets, fundraising for field trips, renovating, even acting in plays to raise money – all tasks were managed by the parents. The founding parents had petitioned the Delta School District to begin the program but were turned down. This was in the late 1990’s and there was not yet a climate of choice in the public. system. Instead of stopping, the Founding parents went ahead and rolled up their sleeves and built the classrooms. However, we liked to think we were an ‘independent school’ not a ‘private school’. Our primary goal was keeping the fees low to make the education accessible to everyone who wanted to join.
While I worked at BBMS I had the pleasure of sharing what I had learned and what I had developed in my classroom in several workshops in Canada. One of the highlights was being asked by Tannis Fischer to give some ideas to the teachers at Maple Grove. The workshop was held at Ms.Belliveau’s home! Another connection came when teachers enrolled in the VSB program came to BBMS to observe our classrooms and to see what a Montessori Prepared Environment looked like. It was there I met Ms. Bartlett and Ms. Lin. Personally, I always hoped that one day I would be able to work at Maple Grove so the adjustment has been a source of joy and accomplishment for me!
I had managed to work with an B.C. Independent Teaching Certificate with a restriction to Montessori Schools this meant that I could not work for the public system. I was asked to open up a school in Vancouver and when I was pursuing the logistics of this, I came to the decision that I would need to go back to school and get my Bachelor of Education degree. So I did. After a year of teaching on call, I noticed the summer job posting to team teach in the Primary class and was interviewed by Mr. Evans and Ms. Belliveau, and was accepted as a teacher at Maple Grove – dream come true!
What is it that you like best about teaching the primary grades? What is the most challenging thing?
What I like best in fact love the most is the complete delight primary students have with everything they learn. It is like they are eating cupcakes! They beg to use the 100 board or whatever material they are learning – rocks, scientific method, virtues, patterning, writing, art, cleaning the room – it is all what they do and in their domain. This age group are tenderhearted and they become deeply attached to their peers and even the teachers. Occasionally I am called “Mommy” which shows me that they are calm at heart and feel confident in their environment and the expectations that come with it. The challenges are doing the best you can for each and everyone of the students. It is during this stage of development that the children learn that the group comes before the individual. It is a bit of a balloon pop and as a teacher we have to balance this push of adapting to a ‘system’ with a lot of gentle management.
What is your favourite Montessori material and why?
Hands down my favourite material is the checkerboard. It is such a blend of art, geometry, mathematics, order, awe and fun-ness.
You teach kids a variety of non-intellectual pursuits. Values, Growth Mindset, Mindfulness – what drives you to do this? Do you see positive results immediately or is this more of a long-range vision?
I actually don’t teach values – that comes from the child’s parents and home-life. I can reinforce the value of school and the importance of sport and play, but what I teach is virtues. It is a very common thing to think of values and virtues being the same. I am a virtues Facilitator and I have introduced this to kids in the regular classrooms and Montessori kids. It is something that I teach when I am a teacher on call too. I have also taught it to teens and adults. By teaching virtues I encompass the varied aspects of the Growth Mindset and Mindfulness(Mind-Up) programs. The virtues of resilience, persistence, creativity and determination are all virtues specific to Growth Mindset and mindfulness in itself is a virtue too.
The Virtues Project™ was introduced to me by Cathy Goss (my teaching partner of 18 years). She learned of it from its originator Linda Kavelin-Popoff who lived on Saltspring Island with her husband John Kavelin. They created cards, which encompassed definitions for each virtue based on the 6 great religions. These cards defined the virtue and gave an indicator of how to practice the virtue. They developed a method, and offered training in their method. They also published a Family manual and an Educators manual. Cathy and I took the training on a professional development day. Typically after attending a workshop or training a teacher comes back to her classroom and determines how to apply what has been learned. What I have done that is unique to me is to ‘montessori-ize’ the process of teaching the virtues to young kids.
Why the application of the virtues appealed to Cathy and I in our classroom was that it resonated with the Montessori philosophy of educating the ‘whole’ child – physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual.
One of Maria Montessori’s direct aim for her students was that they become citizens of the world, that they be the instruments of peace. One question posed by Montessori as the final outcome of the Timeline of life is ‘what is your cosmic task’? In this second part of the timeline lesson the students learn that each and every part of animal life contributed to the development of civilization and so as a gesture of gratitude Montessori students needed to figure out what their contribution to society would be – hence what is your cosmic task? This was a question posed to the intermediate group of students! When I asked my own kids that question they did not have a clue what I was talking about. So Cathy and I set about deepening our students self-awareness so that they could know themselves well. We hoped that by the time that question came at them they could have the depth of spirit to be able to think about their contribution.
Do you think Montessori is a good fit for every family? Explain.
I think Montessori is a good fit for everyone. It is based on respectful interaction. It emphasizes learning from whole to part – The universe, the world, the continents, the nations, the community, then you. I l like that the subjects are integrated, that there is a psychological element to teaching and learning. I appreciate that it is a method of education that requires commitment and will on the part of families to understand Dr. Montessori’s philosophy, the ideal of the it and where their child is in their development within it. I like its notion of generosity. I like that it is driven by the idea of inherent potential in everyone.
You will be leading a series of Parent Education workshops starting on October 24th at 6:30 PM in the library. What will you be discussing and what do you see parents getting out of those sessions?
The first workshop is an overview of who Dr. Montessori was, what her philosophy is, how the method works and where we at Maple Grove fit into this approach. I see parents solidifying or gaining a deeper understanding of Montessori Education.
What is the thing that you most wish parents would do to support you and/or their child?
I feel like the parents of Maple Grove support me, and their children, my students. I appreciate the well-established boundaries that are in place, which create a trusting environment and a safe workplace. If there are any ideas parents have or ways in which you would like to see more involvement please don’t hesitate to discuss with me or send me an email. If there is a will there is a way to continually bolster our Montessori community.
Thank you for Ms. Hart for her amazing and complete answers and her willingness to be so candid. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for October 24th!