Executive Director, Prepared Montessorian

Joel Mendes


Joel Mendes

Joel Mendes has been in the field of education for his whole career and through his various roles and experiences has become a determined leader in education management.

Mendes earned his Bachelor of Arts in English Education and Literature and California Teaching Credential in English from California State University Long Beach.

He began his own career in the classroom, teaching English, writing, and literature to students of a variety of ages and circumstances, from 6th grade in an inner-city, entrepreneurial-inspired charter school, to high school students in a large public high school, to adults at an international college who were entering the United States and needed to pass English entrance exams to re-enter their professional field away from their home countries.

After realizing that innovation in education takes both the development of new ideas alongside efficiency in school operations and management, Mendes moved into roles developing proprietary curriculum, mentoring teams of teachers, and ultimately becoming the Head of School of a Montessori school for children ages 18-months to 8th grade.

He joins Higher Ground Education in a role where he can provide the support and the motivation to our network of Heads of Schools as they lead their communities.

My Story

Learn more about Joel

  • Tell us a little about yourself.

    First things first, I’m a father. I have three energetic and happy children who challenge me to live a life that I would be proud if they modeled as they build their own. They have three different ways of tackling tasks and three different senses of humor, and I love their uniqueness and how it doesn’t detract from their unity. I’ve got a tremendous partner in my wife as we work diligently to provide both inspiration and direction for each other as we raise our children, and as we’ve grown together, we’ve also grown in our shared vision about the world we live in. We have become colleagues as well as spouses, and in such, have a cohesive and integrated life that I couldn’t love more. We work hard and we find time for the little moments that add up to so much.

  • What inspires you about education?

    Professionally, I’ve been an educator for my entire career. I began with the idea that I was going to replicate everything good about my own schooling experience and enhance it all to push it forward, so I studied to become a high school English teacher. I had visions of having philosophical literature discussions with bright teenage scholars, helping them to see humanity in a new way. I attended California State University of Long Beach and earned a B.A. in English Education and Literature then returned to secure my California Teaching Credential in the field of English Language Arts. While in my credential program, I took an opportunity to teach at an international college where I met adults from over 20 countries around the world who were by in large professionals in their home countries needing to recertify their qualifications in the US system in order to practice here. I know it’s cliché, but I learned way more from them than they did from me, particularly about what their own educational paths where and how they learned growing up. This kicked off a series of experiences that made me realize that what inspires me in education is that there is so much innovation to be had and so many different paths to learning that I didn’t personally experience. I realized that my work is not to recreate or make minor improvements on my own childhood experience, but that it’s possible to reimagine what a childhood could be.

  • How did you discover Montessori?

    Like many others, I found Montessori essentially through my children. I was a teacher myself when my wife became pregnant with our oldest, and it happened to be that I was looking for something more in my own career at the time that we were looking for our son’s first schooling experience. After several interviews and visits to schools for either myself or for him, it became clear that I found what was right for both the first time I walked into a Montessori school with a beautifully prepared environment and patient, graceful guides. I didn’t expect that I’d find the solution to both of our needs in one place, but I did. I then became a middle school teacher at a school that had a Montessori lower school and an upper school moving more and more in the direction of integrating Montessori approaches. From there, I sought opportunities to observe in the early childhood classrooms, to collaborate with the Montessori guides, to read Dr. Montessori’s work and to attend conferences and professional development opportunities. The result was a profound respect for the approach and deep appreciation with the scientific manner in which she developed her understanding of children.

  • How does Montessori philosophy impact your daily life?

    I am simultaneously a Montessori educator and a Montessori parent, and though the two roles take shape in different ways, this means my entire life is influenced by the methodology. I think the most profound way that it impacts me, however, is not necessarily in the way I interact with children (it definitely does do this, of course), but it is in how I view myself and how I take charge of my own life. Ultimately, the Montessori approach offers children the ability to live deeply in the current moment by cultivating opportunities for the children to make discoveries at exactly the opportune time. In doing so, the children have a chance to fully engage, to live deeply in the moment and get the most out of their experience. This is why we see eager children entering deep concentrated states and looking to repeat the same activities over and over again until they’ve reached levels of perfection that satisfy themselves. They aren’t doing things now with the promise that it’ll pay off later for them. They are not going to school now with the express purpose of preparing for the next stage of school. They are engaged in activities because they have a pay off right now, because they actually are curious and want to do the work in front of them. By doing this, though, they in turn actually are preparing for the next stages in their lives. This is how I try to live my life. I am investing in now with the expectation that by living my life to the fullest I actually am ready for whatever comes next rather than sacrificing what I’m doing today with the hopes that it lines me up for something better in the future. For this profound impact on my life, I am forever thankful for the Montessori approach.

  • Do you have a favorite Montessori quote?

    “Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”- Maria Montessori

  • When was the moment you decided to make Montessori your career?

    The first time I saw a classroom and realized that it was what I wanted for my own children. If I felt it was right for them, then I knew I wanted to create opportunities for many many more children to get the opportunity to learn in that way.

  • What have you learned from working at Higher Ground Education thus far?

    Though I hate admitting it, I used to think that the purpose of work was to create the opportunities for me to have relaxation time or pleasure time on weekends and holidays. I thought the point of punching a clock was to earn enough to have time to “not work”. Working at Higher Ground Education has flipped that upside down as I realized that you don’t just need to suffer through every day in order to get to a time outside of work you can enjoy. I don’t find myself waking up wishing it were Friday everyday and I’ve learned that working hard is easier and more meaningful if the work aligns with values and a mission that I personally share.

  • What do you enjoy most about working with your teammates?

    I love that I’m rarely (if ever!) the smartest person in the room. The sheer number of great ideas, innovative project proposes, and amount of creativity to overcoming obstacles big and small is inspiring and compelling. We have an incredible team that has truly deep and wide expertise, but one thing I love is that we’re never, ever going to feel like we have it figured out. We always scratch and claw to learn more and to get better, and this insatiable hunger for getting it right is invigorating.

  • What are your passions, interests and hobbies?

    I am passionate about discovery and what it takes to learn, and to get underneath why it is that humans act in the ways that they do. I am fascinated by the human experience, particularly how it is either different or the same depending on a person’s context or upbringing, and I love finding out how people live in cultures across the world. Because of this, I find myself drawn to maps and geography, biographies of interesting people, and traveling to new places and eating the food there. I also deeply appreciate expertise and love watching top talent do just about anything that they can do masterfully. In this regard, I’m a big sports fan. I love seeing the best in the world perform and make astoundingly difficult tasks look easy. I also love how much analysis and preparation is involved in reaching that level of expertise, so I love statistics, game-planning, and strategy. As a child I could always tell you who the league leaders were in batting average or shooting percentage, and found myself building my literacy through reading the sports pages and building my understanding of mathematics through analyzing box scores and statistics. To this day, I have deep appreciation for baseball in particular because of how much is going on underneath the surface that the average person may not even realize is there. To this end, you can often find me either at the hat store adding to my collection of baseball hats or at Dodger Stadium cheering on the greatest baseball franchise there is.

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