Crafting Innovative Approaches for the Future of Montessori Education
From teacher recruitment and retention to policies and regulations that hinder the Montessori pedagogy, Montessori schools and educators face many challenges today. Innovative and sustainable pathways must be uncovered to continue moving the Montessori Movement forward.
This report explains eight potential ideas and initiatives developed by 40 Montessori educators under 40 years old who AMS and AMI-USA brought together during the U40 Montessori for the Future Summit in June of 2023. First, significant challenges impacting Montessori education are shared through relevant research and literature. Then the proposed initiatives generated during the U40 Summit are explained.
This report concludes by suggesting ways Montessori educators and organizations can work together to build on the proposed initiatives and strengthen the Montessori Movement.
Challenges in Montessori Education
Montessori education has a positive impact on both academic and non-academic student outcomes when compared to outcomes from traditional educational methods.1 Yet, its success often relies on the fidelity of implementation.2 At the same time, the fidelity of Montessori education is impacted by several external challenges.
High-stakes testing, lack of support from leadership, federal and state regulations, issues with funding, and a lack of trained Montessori teachers are all significant challenges Montessori educators face.3 Beyond these challenges, Montessori educators must also navigate a world much different than the world from over 100 years ago when Montessori education first began—and find ways to adapt while staying true to the Montessori philosophy.
How can these challenges be addressed when teacher turnover is high?
Many teachers left the education field in the 2020-2021 school year. 1 in 4 teachers left, up from 1 in 6 teachers leaving in years before the coronavirus pandemic.4 While there is a lack of national data among private schools and Montessori-specific schools, we know that many teachers, not just Montessori teachers, leave the field of education because of high stress, emotional exhaustion, workload, and lack of resources and support.5 In many countries, almost half of new teachers leave the field within the first 5 years of teaching.6
For Montessori teachers, the mismatch between the pressures and demands pushed on them, and the principles of Montessori pedagogy leads to high-stress levels.7
Further adding to teacher recruitment challenges is the limited data available on recent Montessori teacher graduates’ race and ethnicity. There currently is not a coordinated national database among private schools and Montessori-specific organizations, making reviewing data such as this problematic. However, aggregate data from the Integrated Postsecondary Degree System that is self-reported by teacher education programs or reported by programs that receive federal student financial aid in the United States shows approximately 65% of teachers who earned their Montessori degree or credential in 2022 were White, 15% Hispanic or Latino, 5% Asian, 4% Black or African American, and Multi-racial, American Indian, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders made up the remaining 11%.8
A recent survey showed that while teacher morale is rising, it is still relatively low. EdWeek Research Center surveyed nearly 1,200 teachers and found teacher morale nearly doubled in 1 year—from 12% to 20% of teachers reporting they are "very satisfied" with their job.9
The proposed initiatives generated during the U40 Montessori for the Future Summit built on the momentum of rising teacher morale. Beginning with connection in community with each other and deep reflection on the challenges Montessori educators face today, groups shared their experiences and brainstormed ideas to develop potential new initiatives.
8 Potential Ideas & Initiatives
Idea #1: Accessibility of Montessori Teacher Training
This idea started with the simple yet powerful question—what should Montessori teacher training look like now and in the future? Walking through each training phase, from the application process to post-training, the group explored many different ways training programs could (and should) actively seek to support and develop more accessible pathways for Montessori teachers to obtain their Montessori teaching credentials.
At the core of the brainstorming sessions stood two key insights:
- Intentionality - identify Montessori teacher training deserts, meet the teacher in training "where they are," honor community voices, and require training program equity audits.
- Transparency - sliding scale fees, alum ambassadors as mentors, more AMS/AMI integration of programs, and honest, non-competitive partnerships with schools, universities, and other teacher education programs.
Idea #2: Casa dei Adulti/e
What do adults in Montessori communities need to keep them evolving and supported? Using a mind map process and moving from the problem to a product, this group focused on teacher support, retention, and recruitment by examining the needs of adults in Montessori communities. Together, they created Casa dei Adulti/e, a commitment to the development of the whole adult in Montessori communities.
Problem: Low Montessori adult retention rates
Solution: A cultural shift in the Montessori movement toward support for adults
Information: Teacher attrition data/research
- What supports do Montessori adults need?
- What are the career pathways needed for Montessori adults?
- What opportunities already exist for Montessori adults to build community?
- Do Montessori adults' support needs change over time? If so, how?
- Form an adult retention committee
- Collect more data
Product: a proposed Casa dei Adulti/e
Idea #3: Innovation within Curriculum, Schools, and Systems
Defining innovation as "forwarding the movement through positive change," this group examined how national Montessori organizations such as AMS and AMI-USA could support innovation within curriculum, school models, and systems.
They began with a critical question in each of the three areas:
- Curriculum - Does our current curriculum reflect the needs of students in today's world?
- School models - Are there sufficient pathways for alternative schools and guide training?
- Systems - How can current systems better support schools and guides, and what new systems do we need?
Solutions for these three key questions included increased support for action research focused on equity, using a 21st-century lens to examine Montessori curricula, providing additional credential options (e.g., homeschool teaching), and new pathways for Montessori teacher credentialing.
Idea #4: Redefining Normalization
Centered on the idea that "the current definition of normalization perpetuates systems of white supremacy and ableism," this group explored a revamped definition of normalization to make it an achievable reality for all students. The group began by reviewing AMS and AMI-USA's current definitions and then interviewed other participants on their ideas of normalization. Some insights from other U40 participants were:
- A normalized child is "a child who knows what they want to learn, where to learn it, and who can help when they meet a roadblock to learning." - Elementary Guide
- Normalization occurs "when a child spontaneously abandons negative behaviors in exchange for positive behaviors such as pride in their accomplishments, empathy, helpfulness, and happiness for the accomplishments of others." - Primary Guide
Next, the group offered a new definition that includes six qualities of a normalized student.
- A normalized child is a student who flows through their environment and within their community and who works with intention per their developmental needs. There are 6 qualities of a normalized child: flow, ingenuity, grace, courageousness, self-comfort, and integrity.
Finally, the group suggested an observation tool that can be used to "identify grows and glows" of students and a self-evaluation tool for students to utilize.
Idea #5: Montessori Adult Learning Cycle
This group examined the scope and sequence of Montessori adult learners and teachers to build opportunities that will inspire and retain teachers in the field. Their product: a resource outlining predictable experiences, milestones, and needed skills of Montessori teachers from training onward.
During a brainstorming session, the group identified four stages of a Montessori teacher's professional journey:
They invited participants to participate in a survey to gather additional information on their journey as a Montessori teacher. Finally, they developed a proposed framework for a community of support for Montessori teachers.
The community of support includes research, mentoring, advocacy support, community outreach, materials/content creation & design, long-term coaching, short-term triage support, and leadership training in pedagogical alignment, coaching, and administration.
Idea #6: Montessori Outreach Foundation
Group 6 built on earlier conversations regarding parent and family engagement and sought to make Montessori research and resources accessible to anyone and everyone.
In doing so, they developed an idea for Montessori Outreach Foundation - an online platform that serves as a parent and caregiver resource, sharing accurate information and bringing awareness of high-quality Montessori education to all families, regardless of prior Montessori experience.
The result of their brainstorming included ideas such as:
- Free access
- Research library
- Meet the needs of parents
- Data mining
- Intentionally reaching all demographics
- Search optimization
- Assessing Montessori myths
The ideal platform is an online prepared environment for families and would support advancing the Montessori movement.
Idea #7: Montessori Unlimited
Offering better comprehensive benefits may be a way to retain more teachers. This group explored how improved comprehensive benefits for Montessori educators might be provided—their idea: Montessori Unlimited, a collaborative effort to create a professional employment organization (PEO). The PEO would give purchasing power, similar to Fortune 500 companies, to smaller organizations. Under the PEO, payroll, human resource services, workers' compensation, 401K, and healthcare could be covered.
Group members spent their time ideating and actively making phone calls to payroll and human services organizations to learn how to make Montessori Unlimited possible.
Brainstorming sessions considered many points:
- Brokers in all regions
- Financial capacities
- Marketplace prices
- Coverage amounts
- Western & Eastern medicine practices
With a small yearly membership fee that is less expensive after Year 1, Montessori schools could join Montessori Unlimited to support their teachers better.
Idea #8: Magnifying Montessorians
This group wisely stated, "The work that needs to be done to overcome hurdles cannot be achieved in silos." In fact, their work together inspired them to take a deep dive into how stakeholders might use their power, funds, and roles to be agents of change while centering Montessori pedagogy to address policies, practices, and institutions that undermine the sustainability of education as a whole.
Beginning with a long list of stakeholders with interest in Montessori education, the group brainstormed potential next steps it might take to "magnify Montessori" voices in policies, practices, and institutions. From making noise in advocacy to building strategic partnerships outside Montessori spaces, they aim to uplift Montessori education to advance as a movement.
Their presentation also allowed others to weigh in on how to create a robust "Montessori table" with a diverse group of agents of change. Suggestions from participants included practical life lessons on public speaking, building relationships, and grant writing professional development for teachers.
Strengthening the Montessori Movement
Common themes through the ideas developed at the U40 Summit are teacher support and innovation within Montessori pedagogy and curriculum. Montessorians at all levels can strengthen the Montessori movement through these key thematic areas.
National Montessori organizations can support teachers by improving accessibility to training and offering new and creative pathways to credentials. National organizations can fund increased action research opportunities focused on equity and support a thorough examination of Montessori curricula using an equity and 21st-century lens.
Montessori schools can provide more comprehensive benefits to current teachers, dedicate intentional efforts toward the development of the whole adult, and strive to understand the entire career journey of a Montessori educator.
Montessori educators can recommit to "the internal self-preparation that is an inherent part of the work" 10 to support innovation in classrooms, schools, and the broader Montessori community.
Montessori families can learn more about the Montessori way of learning and living.
Montessori students can continue to show up each day with curiosity, ready to be welcomed and loved by the adults in their environments.
Yet, the Montessori Movement cannot be strengthened by working in silos. As many of the participants of the U40 Summit recognized, Montessorians from all levels within all national and international Montessori organizations must collaborate to continue moving Montessori education forward.
- J. J. Randolph, A. Bryson, L. Menon, D. K. Henderson, A. K. Manuel, S. Michaels, D. L. W. Rosenstein, W. McPherson, R. O'Grady, A. S. Lillard, "Montessori Education's Impact on Academic and Non-academic Outcomes: A Systematic Review", Campbell Systematic Reviews, 19, (August 2023)
- A. S. Lillard, "Preschool Children's Development in Classic Montessori, Supplemented Montessori, and Conventional Programs", Journal of School Psychology, 50(3), 379–401 (2012)
- J. Begin, "Montessori Early Childhood Education in the Public sector: Opportunities and Challenges", NAMTA Journal, 39(2), 61-90 (2014).; C. R. Block, "Examining a Public Montessori School's Response to the Pressures of High-Stakes Accountability", Journal of Montessori Research, 1(1), 42-54 (2015).; H. E. Gerker, "Making Sense of Montessori Teacher Identity, Montessori Pedagogy, and Educational Policies in Public Schools", Journal of Montessori Research, 9(1) (2023).; A. Murray and V. Peyton, "Public Montessori Elementary Schools", Montessori Life, 20(4), 26 (2008).
- A. A. Grant and A. Brantlinger, "It's Tough to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future: The Difference Between Teachers' Intended and Actual Retention", Teaching and Teacher Education, 130 (2023).
- C. J. McCarthy, "Teacher stress: Balancing demands and resources", Phi Delta Kappan, 101(3), 8-14 (2019).
- W. Admiraal and K. I. K. Røberg, "Teachers' job demands, resources and their job satisfaction: Satisfaction with school, career choice and teaching profession of teachers in different career stages", Teaching and Teacher Education, 125 (2023).
- K. Brown, "Montessori programs in urban public schools: Policy and possibilities", EDCI Policy Brief, Urban Education Collaborative, (2016).; H. E. Gerker, "Making Sense of Montessori Teacher Identity, Montessori Pedagogy, and Educational Policies in Public Schools", Journal of Montessori Research, 9(1) (2023).; A. Murray and V. Peyton, "Public Montessori Elementary Schools", Montessori Life, 20(4), 26 (2008).; C. Scott, "Un-"chartered" Waters: Balancing Montessori Curriculum and Accountability Measures in a Charter School", Journal of School Choice, 11(1),168-190 (2017).
- Integrated Postsecondary Degree System, https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds
- EdWeek Research Center, "Is teacher morale on the rise? Results of the second Annual Merrimack College teacher survey", https://www.edweek.org/research-center/reports/is-teacher-morale-on-the-rise-results-of-the-second-annual-merrimack-college-teacher-survey/2023/05#:~:text=As%20schools%20emerge%20from%20the,by%20the%20nonprofit%2C%20nonpartisan%20EdWeek
- O. Christensen, “Proving Montessori: Identity and Dilemmas in a Montessori Teacher’s Lived Experience”, Journal of Montessori Research, 2(2), 35-48 (2016).
About the Author
Heather E. Gerker, (she/her) is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati, where she is studying educational policy and serving as a teaching assistant for research methodology courses. Formerly, she was a Montessori Early Childhood teacher, a Montessori teacher educator, and a Montessori teacher education program director. AMS-credentialed (Early Childhood). Contact her at email@example.com.
Other contributors to this report include the following U40 event participants: Sara Adams, Sarah Aitken, Natalie Anderson, Bridget Barrett-Parker, Emily Barrick, Myriam Barros, Tessa Benner, Kelly Brown, Savannah Calaway, Emily Clark, Mary Da Prato, Lauren Davidson, Patrick D'Hoostelaere, Julie Eitzen, Hannah Ewert-Krocker, Leslie Handy, Amanda Hollick, Shamika Johnson, Corinne Kasura, Vicki Kline, Ashley Marshall, Kandace Miller, Adriana Mojica, Chelsea Montgomery, Gus Moore, Micaela Murphy, Greta Nagel Collins, Bria Pleasant, Matt Ripley, Emma Rodwin, Katie Sala, Aref Salam, Katja Samati, Aish Sami, Monique Shen, Daniella Sloan, Caitlyn Solomon, Neha Vaze, Heather White, and Jing Zhang.
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.