The Association of Montessori International/USA annually offers what is known as a Montessori refresher course. Each year the course takes place in a different city; this year's event was held in Austin, Texas. As an assistant, I was fortunate enough to attend various refresher courses over the years and always took so much away from the experience. This year, I was able to attend my first course as a Primary guide, and again, the experience proved invaluable. Each time I go, I have the same internal conversation with myself; I think about the meaning of the word refresh: to give new strength or energy, to rejuvenate, to revitalize, restore, to revive. I wonder how traveling great distances, sitting in lecture sessions all day for many days, then traveling back in just enough time to make it to work the next morning could lead to me feeling refreshed. Yet, each and every time, that is precisely how I have returned - refreshed, renewed, and filled with gratitude to have had such a lovely experience.
The transformative experience begins upon arrival. This year, after landing and gathering my bags, I boarded a shuttle bus bound for the hotel that was hosting our event. I shared the shuttle with fellow Montessori teachers, as well as two of the speakers who would be giving lectures over the weekend. The shuttle was filled with talk of the weekend, how travels had gone thus far, which lectures those onboard were looking forward to attending, and, of course, listening to the presenters going over their topics. When we reached the hotel there was great excitement as I recognized more and more familiar faces. As the evening progressed I had the opportunity to spend time with women who have been at the forefront of Montessori education for the last 20+ years. I listened, enraptured, as they caught up with each other's current work and spoke of their various early experiences with Montessori. There was a story of the very first time one of the women had seen a Montessori classroom in action and how it brought her to tears. I am always amazed by that; everyone always remembers in great and profound detail the first time they step into a Montessori classroom. They spoke of the importance of gentle precision in the classroom, and I eagerly soaked up their words and wisdom. They spoke about their love and passion for Montessori taking them all over the globe, and I internally wondered if someday I might travel to India or Amsterdam with my work. What a gift that time with them was.
Early the next day, I headed out to attend an all-day lecture session on how the Montessori environment supports all kinds of learning needs and styles. Allison Awes spoke to us about finding empathy with children who may be experiencing specific learning difficulties, and the best ways to support them. That night our keynote speaker, Dr. Ross Greene, gave an amazing talk- Collaborative and Proactive Solutions: Fostering the Better Side of Human Nature in Kids and Adults. He spoke extensively on fostering empathy and working proactively and collaboratively with children to solve problems. I spent the next two days immersed in the gentle words of Uma Ramani as she gave her absolutely beautiful presentation on cultivating discovery, persistence, and problem solving in children. She spoke with such grace and passion, giving us much food for thought on presenting math in the classroom environment. She shared a wonderful Ted Talk with us that I would encourage you to watch and to share with your children: Math is the hidden secret to understanding the world by Roger Antonsen (Antonsen, 2015). Just prior to flying home, I attended a workshop on fostering empathy in the classroom through music.
What an amazing weekend. The feeling of being surrounded by so many people who have dedicated their lives to the same common cause is indescribably inspiring. I arrived back in St. Louis late in the day and drove straight to OakHaven. I helped Beatrix get all settled back in (she is SO happy to be back with the children!) and worked to get the room all ready for the children to return in the morning. I am thankful to have had another amazing refresher experience, I am looking forward to reading back through all of my notes and reflecting on all I took in, and I'm already looking forward to Phoenix in 2018!