From student to guide to advocate, Montessori continues to inspire Higher Ground's Senior Director of School Success
Years ago, Erin Hennigan was a three-year-old boy, working joyfully in a Montessori classroom.
He would engage thoughtfully with the materials, solve conflict peacefully with his peers and believe fully in his capabilities — within the environment and beyond.
He remained in a Montessori setting through sixth grade, at which point he entered into more mainstream education and even aspired toward teaching himself.
“But because so much of my later experience had been in a traditional school setting, I always defaulted to this picture of a chalkboard, school bells, and desks in rows, and that didn’t quite call to me, so I didn’t pursue it,” Erin says.
He also didn’t consider what other teaching opportunities were out there, like the Montessori setting he so thrived in years ago, so the aspiration waited until Montessori came to him.
“I remember seeing an ad for a Montessori teacher training program, and I thought, ‘Wow, I had a really great experience as a child, and I have been wanting to teach for a long time.’ ”
He signed up after the hourlong session, and after nine months of training, he was back in that Montessori classroom once again, engaging thoughtfully with the materials and believing fully in his capabilities — in the environment and beyond.
“I suddenly began to have these conscious realizations about why I was the adult that I was and how connected that was to the experience I had as a Montessori student,” he says. “The way I functioned independently and the way I thought about the world was directly rooted in my Montessori educational experience. It was a wild realization.”
And it reinforced the brash decision he made to essentially forge a new career path.
“Liking who I am as an adult really gave me a high degree of confidence that what I was pursuing was meaningful and right. I knew just how powerful Montessori was as an education reform. I was sold.”
As a Montessorian today, Erin is more than just an alum. He’s an advocate for what he sees as the best education a child could receive.
“There are many ways of giving children content or social curriculums, but I don’t know of any approach or continued experience that could fulfill one’s potential as a human being as much as Montessori,” he says. “Nothing else is as effective, powerful or genuinely holistic in helping people become who they are meant to be.”
He also really believes in the power of a child. Some of the most rewarding years of his career were in the classroom as a teacher.
“The amount of love you get from children is amazing,” he says. “To be so personally connected with them is just incredible, and they always challenged me as an adult, too. They tested the boundaries of my patience and my ability to communicate, plan or reflect. Teaching pushed me day in and day out to continue to develop myself as a human being and be a better person.”
Watching the students develop themselves motivated him, too.
“Some of my most rewarding moments were watching 5-year-olds who had been with me since they were 3 or younger get into some kind of conflict and immediately put into action all the things we had been working to teach them — talking to each other, agreeing on a solution, putting it into play and moving on. This still fills me with so much hope, because I have every reason to believe that those children will grow up to be adults who can do that really well, too, and make the world a better place.”
Just like Erin the Montessori student himself.