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Kathy’s Insights

Insights on the Montessori method and Early Childhood Education from Dr. Kathy Roemer

A Match Made in Montessori

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In continuation of my series interviewing our teachers, I would like to introduce Elizabeth Powell. Elizabeth is one of our early childhood teachers at our Twin Parks Riverside Campus. Read on to learn more about Elizabeth.

In Elizabeth’s own words:

I was born and raised in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and up until just last week this was my parents’ home, until they moved.  I am the middle child, I have an older brother and younger sister. I spent all of my schooling and extracurricular in that town until I went to college.

For my undergraduate degree, I studied at Misericordia University, formally known as College Misericordia in Dallas, Pennsylvania. I graduated in December 2004 with a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Studies.

In July 2007, I graduated from Christopher Academy Teacher Education Program with my 2 1/2-6 training from the American Montessori Society.

My graduate studies were done at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii, I graduated in December 2008. I graduated with a Masters of Education specific to Montessori Education. In July 2015, I graduated from Princeton Montessori School’s Leadership Course.

I often feel like I have been in school for my entire life, which is probably why I love being a teacher so much. I remember growing up and always playing teacher with my friends when we had our play dates. Now being a teacher myself, I can see that everything my mom did for us growing up and preparing us for life was always the Montessori way.  She prepared our environment and we thrived.

I met my husband in Jersey City at the Montessori school where we both were teaching in 2011. We just got married in August, 2016, and we live in Jersey City with our pit bull, Blade. In our free time, you will find us volunteering for various organizations such as Liberty Humane Society and Rett Syndrome, Girl Power 2 Cure.

Elizabeth and Brendan

Elizabeth and Brendan

What influenced you to become a Montessori teacher?

My mom was a Montessori teacher and I remember going with her when I was little to take her classes. I also got to go to school sometimes in her classroom after I was done at my school, so I was able to see her teaching and working with her students. I remember my mom bringing home the tying frame so that I could learn how to tie my own shoes.

Who were your childhood heroes?

Definitely my big brother, he was always there to make sure I was safe, except for the time I had to get stitches when we were home alone and did not listen to the rules my parents left for us.

Who do you consider your role models?

My parents, they have just entered retirement and they are happy and healthy. They raised my brother, my sister and I and a lot of our successes can be attributed to what they did for us growing up.

Do you find working with Early Childhood children rewarding? Why?

Absolutely! Everyday is a new learning experience and being able to be a part of a child’s milestones in life is the best feeling in the world.

What do you hope to share with your students?

A love of learning and to always keep trying even if things are difficult.

Elizabeth with one of her students.

Elizabeth with one of her students.

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Emotional Agility

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When we face times of concern, or issues beyond our control, we feel emotionally drained. For the past many months we have all been exposed to a lack of kindness and humility due to the Presidential election cycle and its media coverage. For me it seemed to be a war between the states, with some friends and family members entirely disagreeing with my opinion of how the election should turn out.

For those of us with young children in our homes, or who work with young children, understand that children are listening even when you think they are not. They also read our non-verbal cues really well and they quickly pick up on our feelings. In all times of stress, upset, or anger, we need to be particularly careful with our interactions around our children. Sometimes we may be animatedly talking on the telephone and not realize that little ears are hearing every word!

If the election resulted with your preferred candidate winning, your family is probably gleeful and celebrating. But what do we tell our children after an election when the results are not what we expected and we feel unhappy and/or depressed?

Dr. Ali Michael, wrote a great article for the Huffington Post, titled, “What Do We Tell The Children?” Her first message is that we tell them that we will protect them. Children who feel safe from harm are emotionally ready for other challenges that the world has to offer. Sometimes we need that kind of emotional agility, too.

Just as we teach children to feel it, show it, label it and watch it go, we need reminders ourselves. Dr. Susan David wrote a book, Emotional Agility, which outlines ways for us to “get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life.” Dr. David draws on extensive research and decades of international consulting. Basically, we can all thrive in an uncertain world by becoming emotionally agile.

As I read the book, I can think of several people I want to share it with – including all of you!

Watch this video to see Dr. David talk about Emotional Agility.

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Encouragement vs. Praise

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When I was raising my children the go-to experts at the time said to accentuate the positive and go heavy on the praise. Of course we wanted our children to know that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. Too much praise didn’t exist. We thought we were demonstrating our 100% support and this enthusiastic, positive praise would not spoil our children.

I did notice that children quickly learned to expect praise. If clapping or exclamation did not follow their attempts to perform daily activities, they became anxious and sort of obnoxious doing it over and over again until an adult noticed. What message did this give to children about their self worth? Dr. Stephen Hughes shared that some children develop narcissistic tendencies when they were exposed to constant praise.*

After learning about Montessori and the difference between praise and encouragement, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, I had different thoughts about how to be my children’s best advocate. How do we give children credit for a job well done and help support a positive self-esteem if we don’t talk about what they are doing? This is where encouragement comes in.

Encouragement is the action of giving someone support, confidence and hope. Encouragement makes someone more determined, and is the act of making something more appealing. Encouraging statements are specific to the accomplishment to give focus to the exact behavior. You can offer support by noticing the details of children’s efforts and shows that you are paying attention.

For example:

Instead of saying “Awesome!” you can say something specific, such as, “You washed your hands without being told to.” Or “You did it yourself!” or “You listened very carefully.”

Instead of “Your painting is so beautiful, I like it” say “You used a lot of colors in your picture, tell me about it.”

Jane Nelson, of Positive Discipline has these guidelines for those who want to change from praise to encouragement. She suggest keeping these questions in mind.

  • Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
  • Am I being respectful or patronizing?
  • Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?
  • Would I make this comment to a friend?

Giving children external physical rewards like stickers, toys or treats for doing well or meeting expectations only lasts for a few moments. Encouraging children for their efforts and being helpful develops intrinsic motivation. This is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Intrinsically motivated children are able to delay gratification, persist, and helps them to become life long learners.

Research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Columbia University, has now proven what Adler taught years ago. Praise is not good for children. Dweck found that praise can hamper risk taking. Children who were praised for being smart when they accomplished a task chose easier tasks in the future. They didn’t want to risk making mistakes. On the other hand, children who were “encouraged” for their efforts were willing to choose more challenging tasks when given a choice.Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets is fascinating. Please watch her video about the effects of praise.




* Dr. Stephen Hughes, November 2, 2016, presentation at Resurrection Episcopal School, New York, NY.

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From India to NYC: A Montessori Teacher’s Story

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Isha Joshi came to visit me in my office 2 years ago.  A colleague at the American Montessori Society office, Abby Kelly, told Isha to come and see Twin Parks Montessori Schools and to talk with me. She told me the story of her journey to becoming a Montessori Teacher. Isha’s passion for learning about Montessori and her desire to be a teacher inspired me to support her efforts by hiring her as an intern in our school. I have never regretted my decision to add this remarkable women to our community. Isha is kind, generous and a good friend to all. Read on for more about Isha’s story.

Isha Joshi in her Montessori classroom

What influenced you to become a Montessori teacher?

Being an educator and a parent I had always heard about Montessori Philosophy. Moving to New York gave me an opportunity to learn and experience it. Learning more about Montessori Philosophy, and its methodology and to obtain Montessori Credentials was one of the factors my husband and I had when deciding to move to New York. Montessori helped me rediscover my inner self and it has been a life changing experience as an educator and as a parent.

I moved to New York City with my family in September 2014.  I immediately associated myself with the American Montessori Society. Despite my teaching experience of a few years, I had never seen a Montessori class, this was my first experience in a Montessori classroom as an “observer”. I experienced something special: I stood in a Montessori class looking at the red and the blue rods thinking about the purpose of those vibrant, colorful segments on different sizes of the rods. Then I saw a child polishing a shoe, and then my eyes moved around and I noticed a child carrying the Pink Cubes from one end of the classroom to the other end. I wondered, what was the need for the child to carry the work from one end to another. There were many questions popping up, many unanswered. I wanted to find out how it worked, I wanted to learn more about Montessori philosophy, method, and its approach. I was eager to learn how it could make such a difference to children’s lives, how it could brings joy to learning, what is freedom within limits, what is freedom of choice, why a teacher is called a directress in Montessori, what the teachers role as an observer meant, why would a teacher step back rather than intervene in a child’s learning? That moment and those unanswered questions drove me towards learning more about Montessori.

The fundamental basis of Montessori philosophy is so powerful that it provided a sound satisfaction to my teaching needs. I was able to find in it an approach that strengthens my teaching fundamentals significantly. This has resulted in my growing interest and utmost faith in Montessori teaching methods.

Who were your childhood heroes?

I don’t recall idolizing any particular hero during my childhood. However, I was always inspired and motivated by my parents who have always gone out of their way to support me, to teach me to be truthful, to differentiate between right and wrong, and to be emphatic towards others. They have always been by my side during difficult times. My childhood was also influenced a lot by my teachers, friends and relatives who helped me find my place in a closely knit society that is diverse in culture, traditions and values.

Who do you consider your role models?

I have always emulated those women who have excelled in their lives and have reached to the top of their carrier ladder with their grit, determination and sacrifice. For instance India’s first woman Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the creator of the Montessori Methods of Education –Dr. Maria Montessori. All these women have one thing in common and that is that they have inspired millions of women and men, including myself.

I have also been inspired by my ex- colleague Matti Turri, a Montessori teacher, with whom I did my internship. Her guidance drives me to make efforts to reach my full potential. I have also counted on the support and love of both my husband and brother who have held my hand in all of my actions. I, myself, hope to someday become a role model to someone!


Odd and Even numeral work with students

Isha working with the Broad Stair with her students.

Isha working with the Broad Stair with her students.

Do you find working with Early Childhood children rewarding? Why?

Yes, I do think and feel working with early childhood children is rewarding. I love to be with children as each day brings a new, unexpected moment of inspiration and joy.  It is incredibly inspiring watching them work, learn and grow. It gives me great pleasure observing the child immensely pleased, peaceful and rested after the most strenuous concentration on tasks they choose to independently do.

I enjoy the early childhood phase of development. I learn so much from this age group. I love communicating with this age group, I love to see and understand how their young minds work. This age is an age of little thinkers and philosophers. I celebrate their success and achievements whether they are large or small. I feel that being a Montessori teacher is a mesmerizing, privileged experience to observe and support the inner self of the child and celebrate each moment.

What do you hope to share with your children?

My efforts are towards sharing Maria Montessori’s vision of a peaceful world by providing the opportunity to the children to experience and practice respect for humanity. Children have to be prepared to serve their community and learn to contribute to a larger common good. I hope to support the child’s natural curiosity, the inner thirst of the child who is passionate about the world around him. Love, compassion and passion are important in facilitating the child’s learning and development process.

Each child is unique, they have different inner sensibilities and potential. I hope to fulfill the  individual needs of each child by paying attention to their sensitivities, capabilities and by providing them with the prepared environment according to their specific needs.

Anything else that you would like to share?

I am a passionate baby Montessorian. I was born in India, in a small town called Dehradun near the Himalayan foothills. I traveled around the globe from one part to another after every few years due to my husband’s profession, a serving Diplomat who is presently working with the United Nations here in New York. I am glad to be a part of the Montessori world where I can imbibe and spread Maria Montessori’s philosophy and methodology wherever I go.





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Kathy’s Insights