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On a Montessori Mission with Beth Phillips

TeachHUB Interview


Montessori SchoolsMeet Beth Phillips, an author and active Montessori educator.


With over 20 years experience in the Montessori classroom, Beth shares some insight into the Montessori movement, how it is shaping education today and other school issues she's passionate about.

How did you get involved in the Montessori movement in education?


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I became interested in Montessori when I began to look for schools for my daughter who is now a mother of a Montessori daughter herself. When I enrolled Katie in the Grosse Pointe Academy Montessori preschool, I soon realized I wanted to work there as an assistant so that I would have the same schedule. After being an assistant in a 3-6 class, I left to work at a school near my home.

I soon discovered that this school was not really a true Montessori school and no one had any Montessori training. It opened my eyes to what the difference was between a 'mock-Montessori' and a true Montessori environment.  I found a training center and began my first training program from MWEI via correspondence. Once completed, I wanted a better training because the long distance approach was just not cutting it for me. I decided to attend the training program at Meca-Seton.


What are common misconceptions about Montessori schools?


There seem to be two common misconceptions about Montessori schools.

  • The first one being that we are overly permissive and laid back, allowing children to do what they want which creates chaos.
  • The second one is the idea that Montessori is overly structured and that children have no creativity or imaginative outlets.

Both are so far from the truth and so opposite, yet that's what I hear from people who don't know the truth, either too much or too little of what children need.


How do you answer common criticisms about Montessori schools (that teachers are too hands-off, it stifles creativity or that students aren’t prepared for the homework requirement in public school)?


First, I would tell them to visit a good Montessori school and spend some time observing the children and teachers as they interact. This will allow them to see that we are loving, supportive adults who adore children. 

To answer the question about homework, I would have to say that a child who attended a Montessori school will usually take on most challenges. Also, I would have to say that for the school I work at we have considered this issue carefully and we do try to prepare the parents and the children for responsibilities of homework and assigned work.


What techniques successful in Montessori schools can teachers in any setting implement?


I think the structure of the school may not allow for implementing Montessori techniques. There may be techniques we know will work in any setting but the reality might be the school system will not allow for the teaching method to be used. I believe all school systems could take in the principles of the Montessori Method and it would benefit both the teaching staff and the students. Of course I believe this to be the case. Whether or not they truly could do this is another story.


On your facebook page, you address the concept of adult bullying. What is it and what do you propose teachers do about it?


Adults who bully are those individuals who feel a need to control a situation by demanding their way is the only way. Sometimes this means they want their child to be given 'special privileges'. Others want to change school policy or even core concepts of the philosophy . When they are causing disruption to the peaceful nature of a Montessori school, I think it is important to decide if this person can be reasoned with in the long run. Sadly, if they cannot, then they need to be dismissed along with the child.


What was your most memorable moment as a teacher?


It is a story about a little boy who had no language at all.  He didn't make any words up until he was around 4-41/2 and was having a hard time working with his friend using the brown stair and pink tower. His gestures were not getting him what he wanted. I watched him go over to the "peace rose" and get it. He kept making eye contact with me and smiling. I was thinking 'oh, maybe he will say a word' hoping this would be the day.

He went to his friend, turned and smiled at me, looked at his friend before making a very stern look and hitting him over the head several times with the flower. He looked up at me so proud with a big smile. All the while his friend was saying "he hit me with the peace rose, you don’t hit with the peace rose". But he was so pleased that he did what he thought would communicate to the child his feelings. I loved that boy more than my life at the moment because although it might not be how we use the 'peace rose', it was communicating in the only way he could.


You published a book of children’s stories with the goal of developing children’s imagination. How are these different from other children’s stories?


They allow for listening without many pictures. They give the child an opportunity to think about how the environment of the story feels, tastes, smells, sounds and looks. They allow for the reader to stop and ask questions and discuss the story.

You can really listen to the child's concerns over some topics or their questions about others. They can be read multiple times because of the open endings the child can develop a story of their own. They allow for art work. There are so many ways to use this book and the stories in it. If you are imaginative yourself you will discover new ways to utilized the book.


Describe your teaching philosophy is one sentence.


I can give you one word; LOVE.

Are you a fan of Montessori education? Share your viewpoint in the comments section!

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