A Visit from Marta Donahoe
By Heather Gray
Teacher preparation, training, accreditation and continued professional development for the educator are at the foundation of an authentic Montessori classroom. Montessori’s vision of the teacher is multi-faceted, and, like the method itself, holistic in nature. The teacher is one who is at once “precise like that of the scientist, and spiritual like that of the saint. The preparation for science and the preparation for sanctity should form a new soul, for the attitude of the teacher should be at once positive, scientific and spiritual.” (Montessori, 1917, p.68).
Well-prepared teachers at all levels must dive deeply into the philosophical and practical realms of the method, working as a technician to carefully prepare the environment, create beautiful and intricate materials, and execute expansive lessons at precisely the right time. A teacher is also a scientist: researching and analyzing content, observing children, documenting growth, and using her data to experiment and illuminate that which was previously unknown. And, finally, according to Montessori, the well-prepared teacher is spiritual like the saint, tending to the socio-emotional needs of each individual child, gracefully and often benevolently carrying her or himself through the environment, developing deep and meaningful connections with each person in his or her path and helping to cultivate beautiful relationships between people. Michael and D’Neil Duffy speak to this essential element of the Montessori teacher in their book Love of Learning: Supporting Intrinsic Motivation of Montessori Students:
“What makes our science different from the science of an astronomer who studies the stars, a geologist who studies rock formations, or a biologist who studies living organisms is that we are not separate from the object of our study: the emerging spirit of a human being like ourselves. This creates a truly spiritual element to our role.” (p.19)
On Monday, January 7, the staff at Walnut Farm welcomed Marta Donahoe. Marta is an accomplished educator and Montessorian; she founded the first public secondary Montessori in the country. In 2013, Peter H. Clark Montessori School was named in the top three high schools in the country in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top. Marta is the recipient of the Living Legacy award from the American Montessori Society this year; we were blessed and honored by her visit to us at Walnut Farm.
Early in the morning, all of us gathered together in Primary C. for Marta’s workshop. The day was one which somehow seemed both very long and very short. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown writes,
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
During our time with Marta, we were encouraged and inspired to do this with one another. Conditions were set for us to share with, listen to and support one another in ways that allowed for the vulnerable parts of our spirits to come to the surface. Marta shared with us about teachings on Mindful Education and Montessori’s concept of the Spiritual Preparation of the Teacher. Throughout the morning, she guided all of us to be still and centered, arriving many times over in the present moment. She helped us to wake up to the wonder of our own beating hearts and the awesome world around us. She gave us tools to openly and honestly connect and with ourselves and communicate with one another. She summoned courage in us to open up and speak our own stories, and made plain the fact that “you can’t help but fall in love with someone else when you know their story.” I sat across from a colleague who vulnerably shared about an educator’s life; we both wept when reflecting on the subtle, heartfelt offerings and sweet rewards bestowed by children.
Through the wisdom she shared and the interactions she guided in the safe space she held for us, we were reminded of the commitment, courage, and depth of each person on staff, and the incredible privilege it is to work with, connect with and learn from and with one another. In turn, we were given a compendium of tools and a foundation for paying this visit forward with the children, families and school community. Many of the teachers chose to write about Marta’s visit in this newsletter, and I have already witnessed examples of some of the ideas she taught up put into action with one another and children in the classroom. It is my hope and belief that the gifts we were given during her visit will be paid forward many times over in our current work here and into the future at Walnut Farm.
Brown, Brene (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden Publishing.
Duffy, M. & Duffy, D. (2012). Love of learning: Supporting intrinsic motivation in
Montessori students. Westminster, MD: Parent Child Press.
Montessori, M. (1917). Spontaneous activity in education. New York, NY: Frederick
- Stokes Company.