Montessori: The Secret Is Out

Last week my daughter reached an important educational milestone. She walked out the door of the classroom where she spent the last three years. She hugged the teacher that has consistently lit her path since she first dipped her toe into formal schooling as a newly-minted three year old in 2010.

To many, she graduated from kindergarten. To those of us fortunate enough to have discovered the magic of Montessori education, she completed her pre-primary three year cycle. In the fall she will begin her next three year cycle with a new teacher, in what traditional schools would break down into grades 1-3.
In the dual worlds where I live – part Montessori mom and part education innovation advocate – it’s been really exhilarating to see these worlds begin to collide.
Last year, I wrote about the Top Five Characteristics Connecting Montessori Education & The Digital Learning Movement.  In that article, I highlighted overlaps that might surprise those that think Montessori education is grounded more in tradition that it is innovation. Among the connections between Montessori education and the shift to digital learning: individual learning progressions, competency-based learning, elimination of grade and age restrictions, formative and ongoing assessments, non-traditional teacher roles and global perspectives.
This week, I was thrilled when a Getting Smart colleague shared The Single Most Innovative Concept in Education Is At Least 100 Years Old. In it, the founders of Baan Dek, a montessori school in South Dakota,  write: “This is exactly why the promises of technology are so exciting. Not only does technology offer the potential of limitless scalability, to a degree never before seen, it also offers the hope for personalized learning opportunities. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the ‘adaptive learning’ movement has unknowingly adopted many of the core principles of the Montessori approach to education.”
Get ready Montessorians, because your secret is out.
Reflecting on the impressive personal and academic growth that my own daughter has experienced in her Montessori classroom, it’s easy to see the benefits of an educational philosophy that placed her at the center – every lesson of every day.
Personalization works, my friends. And we’re only just beginning to see the potential of this realization at scale.
My family is fortunate because we live just blocks from Xavier University – an institution with a long and rich history of training montessori educators that graduates enough montessorians to staff a range of public and private K-12 montessori schools in Cincinnati.
There are examples of outstanding schools built on montessori principles that are doing exciting things with learning innovations and technology like Acton Academy.
Sara Cotner recently founded Montessori For All – an organization that is hoping to expand access to montessori education for public school students – whose flagship public montessori school will open in the fall of 2014 in Austin with plans for another in San Antonio.
In 1936, Maria Montessori famously wrote, “Within the child lies the fate of the future.”   The future she imagined was one in which the Hoover Dam was a modern wonder.
Not far from a century later, we are only just beginning to discover the potential of the innovative teaching practices of one ground-breaking educator who was looking for ways to serve the needs of Rome’s children of poverty.
Public Impact recently gave credit where credit is due, noting in A Better Blend that “Of course, the idea of student ownership over learning pre-dates the digital age; it has been central to the educational philosophies of Maria Montessori and many others for decades.”
Quite often I’m asked for the proof that the more personalized environment we advocate for really “works” – I always enjoy the the curious looks I get when I tell people we’ve got evidence dating back to the 1930s.

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Stephanie Sandifer

Ditto and Amen! to everything you said! I am also a Montessori parent (my 5 year old twins enter year 3 of "Children's House" next year and their 3-year old sister will join them as she enters her first year in "Children's House" at their PUBLIC Montessori school) and I am a long-time advocate for innovation in education. In fact, just today the Houston Chronicle ran an article on a new middle school opening in August -- and for the past 15 months I have been a core member of the design team for the school (more here: but original article is behind paywall). My experience with Montessori (as a parent, frequent volunteer at my kids' school, and chair of my kids' school's PTO tech committee) most definitely influenced quite a bit of the brainstorming and design of the learning model for the school.
Maria Montessori was so far ahead of her time...
On a personal note -- congratulations to your daughter! Although, if you are anything like us, I am sure it is an emotional time as you and your daughter say goodbye to her teacher. You so accurately described Montessori when you used the word "magic," and in our experience we have found that the magic creates a strong and nurturing community of people (adults and children) who deeply care for one another throughout their journey over the years. :-)

Carri Schneider

Thanks Stephanie for your hearty "ditto & amen!" It's obvious in your response that you are passionate about montessori education and have channeled that passion into helping the school grow and thrive. And, wow are you right about the emotional transitions along the journey. I'd love to connect by email, as my daughter's school is about to undergo a large expansion & I'll be serving on the advisory committee. You can reach me at [email protected] Be well, Carri

Aidan McAuley

Fantastic blog! We could not agree more. Cheers to you!


Happy to find your blog. After reading the above, and then your "Top Five Characteristics...." post, I offer the following: it seems that you are saying that Montessori and Digital learning are achieving similar things, and that Montessori should let parents know this (so they will be less concerned about the lack of "digital" in our approach). I wouldn't want us to confused two things: using digital media/tools as a means to an end and using them for their own sake. Your point addresses the first: that the use of digital is being employed in order to achieve the things that you describe (which Montessori does in other ways). This is fine, but it seems to me that the reason why digital is so embraced by parents and the culture is BECAUSE it's digital. They want children to be exposed to digital as young as possible, as if this is clearly and necessarily better (and without negative implications). In other words: just b/c we can demonstrate that our approach is ALSO achieving the ends identified by the use of digital doesn't mean that we'll quiet the cry for "more digital!" by parents. They want it for the other reasons, not b/c it does what you say it does (though it does).
Is my point clear?
You are quite correct, but I don't see us calming the digital demand with this info. That doesn't mean we shouldn't out it out there, we should, but we should not have expectations that are misidentified
I say this b/c your comment about how Montessori isn't grounded in tradition ONLY and not concerned with "innovation" sounds like you're trying to make a point that is different from what you go on to say. The logic doesn't hold up. The five things you nicely define are true, but they don't make Montessori "innovation oriented", other than very tangentially.
NOW, I do think that we can make a strong case for how Montessori environments support innovative thinking, and actually do this BETTER than anyone else. But how we achieve this is different from these five things.
You can find some of my own ideas on this and other topics at

Carri Schneider

Thanks for your comments Mark.
I appreciate you sharing your interpretation of the piece. It's always so interesting to me to see how different people approach this topic based on his/her own set of experiences. For example, it has not been my experience that parents are crying "more digital" in our montessori community. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. In my experience, explaining how high-quality digital learning shares common goals as montessori education often opens minds to the possibilities of technology to complement the personalized learning already happening in a montessori environment. I've also found that most Montessorians, particularly those I have interacted with as expert trainers in montessori education, often speak to the misconception that Maria Montessori was not "innovation-oriented." In fact, most credit her as being one of the greatest innovators in the history of education and refer to her as an advocate for children gaining experience with the modern tools of the day as a part of their education in "practical life."


Mark, I take it you are into a jargon debate. Kudos, Carrie! It's about time conversations are open on Montessori and digital pedagogy.

Lynn Smith

Wonderful post on Montessori and innovation. At first glance it does seem that the two worlds collide. However upon further reflect, it makes perfect sense that there is a synergy with the collision rather than a crash! I love your line about student ownership predating the digital age. This type of training is nothing new - it just makes sense. In this face-paced and ever evolving, tech-based world we need to continue to nurture self-motivation and give our kids the tools and the confidence to operate in the world in which they live. Thanks for a great read!


Thanks for the kind words & comments Aidan, Anna & Lynn.


Stephanie- I'm glad you wrote this. My only confusion or concern is the connection between personalized, individualized learning and technology. Traditional schooling, focused more on "teaching" and "instruction" than on "learning" (a subtle yet fundamental and critical distinction between Montessori and traditional/conventional education) thinks that technology is the key to changing education, and talking about how tablets etc can support personalized/individualized learning misses the point when they don't actually understand what learning IS and how it occurs. Thus, the tablet revolution will fall far short and end up in the heap of "innovations" that end up just being fads. Until the system is truly uprooted, surface tinkering will be just that.

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