Prepared Montessorian courses empower the adult learner but inspire the mentors, too.
Prepared Montessorian, Higher Ground’s professional development platform for the practicing adult Montessori educator, was recently accredited by MACTE. In conversation with Matt Bateman, Higher Ground’s Vice President of Content, we discuss the content, ideas, curriculum, and intention around Prepared Montessorian. Learn more about the origin of Prepared Montessorian here.
What was the beginning of Prepared Montessorian, and how were the training and programs formed?
At the inception of Higher Ground—when we had nothing but a team and a dream of explosive growth in Montessori education—we already knew that training was an essential piece of that growth. To put it another way, we knew that the quality of the classroom teachers and the school leadership explained the lion’s share of the variance, both of the quality of the education of the student and the experience of the family. The character and preparedness of the particular teacher is as important as the pedagogy and programming, and tightly coupled to both. Training and teacher support is the vehicle by which a whole science of developmental pedagogy gets properly channeled, via that teacher, to a child.
Why is this work of training so important?
There just aren’t enough great Montessori educators. Before we had a single school there was already a well-known dearth of supply; demand for Montessori teachers is growing more quickly than the pool of teachers. And there’s a way that we knew we were going to make the problem worse. We wanted to create many hundreds of new Montessori classrooms per year, within short order. The bottleneck is great educators.
So we started training. Even before we were running formal courses, we were doing “training” broadly construed. Our main mechanism for supporting schools was to give coaching and support, primarily around education philosophy and programming, broadly construed: how to inspire children to choose great work, how to set up a classroom routine that allows for choice and pre-empts chaos, how to get your mindset right around children and education, and how to connect with and support parents.
In recognizing this, do you remember a specific moment when Prepared Montessorian started?
It’s hard, for me at least, to point to a specific moment where we decided to formalize this into a training regimen. A few of us were crystallizing our coaching practices and content into something resembling adult coursework as early as 2017. The result was our first 0 to 3 trainings and also our first international Montessori workshops. Our first efforts gave us confidence and helped us see that our hunches about how to approach training were very much on the right track.
From there, we were off to the races. We iterated rapidly, which our early focus on educator support made possible—and which was necessitated by our growth.
How has Prepared Montessorian evolved since the early days?
We are in the early days! I still see us at the very beginning of this process.
The most exciting thing to me is how much there is to learn about adult learning, how much room there is for us to grow as educators who support adult learners. The apotheosis of an education organization is to turn the same principles we use for our students back onto ourselves, to create a runaway positive feedback loop between our students’ learning and our learning.
What does the MACTE accreditation mean to you?
For me, accreditation means three things.
First, it’s external validity. When you’re doing something radically different in education, it’s immensely valuable to be able to meet or exceed third-party standards. And I think we are doing something different in education, in this case in adult education. We’ve always approached training as very tightly coupled with working in a classroom, on the one hand, and on the other as profoundly philosophical. I think it feels like an on-the-job philosophy degree. This isn’t a total departure from other Montessori trainings, but our own particular concoction probably contains a heightened concentration of these elements.
Going through a credentialing process has a grounding effect; it forces us to be more objective about what we’re accomplishing—which, not incidentally, makes it more approachable to a wider audience.
Second, and relatedly, MACTE accreditation is a value because of the accreditation process, which is demonstrably linked to aspects of training that very much matter. Going through accreditation with MACTE has forced an acceleration of our own learning and delivery around course content, the experience of reaching training cohort, the actual field outcomes, and more.
Last, but not least, credentialing matters for compliance. It matters for us and it matters for our educators, who now walk away with not just a knowledge base but a certificate that transcends the job.
What do you enjoy about your training courses? Why does it matter to you?
I love teaching. All of it: thinking through the process by which one might come to understand something, building connections and relationships with students, and getting to play a small role in helping with that profoundly joyous and life-conducive practice that we casually call “learning.”
And, I love teaching adults. I’ve loved it ever since I was a teaching assistant at a university. In a way, this is a throwback to what I loved most about higher education.
It’s a throwback even in terms of content. About half my courses as a professor were on philosophy and the history of philosophy, and I very much see Maria Montessori as a figure in the history of philosophy. I run my classes as seminars on her writing and use a similar suite of pedagogical techniques to inspire and guide my students in grappling with her thinking.
How is this work different from your work in higher education?
I suppose the goal now is more “vocational” than it was when I was teaching philosophy and psychology courses in a liberal arts college. The goal isn’t a degree in the liberal arts and a broadly humanistic mindset, it’s a training certificate and a competence to guide the development of students of a specific age. But I think I approached my college teaching in a more practical, outcomes-oriented than is typical, and I’m sure I approach my part in education training more philosophically than is typical. So the delta feels pretty small.