"The child's development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behaviour towards him. We have to help the child to act, will and think for himself."
Cardiff Montessori High
Our world has, and is rapidly changing and progressing. Yet our educational models have struggled to keep pace with this change. We believe a better approach to education in the 21st century is needed. One that can truly prepare students for further studies and life beyond school. Montessori education is recognised as one of the most advanced educational approaches in the world.
Many of us have become accustomed to what we think secondary education "should" look like based on our own experience. Most people can relate to the numerous pitfalls of the traditional secondary model but have not been able to conceive an alternative for their children. Here at Cardiff Montessori High we provide an approach to enable children to gain not just academic excellence but wider skills essential for life after school. Three key aspects to our programme enable us to accomplish this: farm work, business enterprise and mentorship.
We believe students need to achieve the qualifications required to access further education. However, these qualifications should not limit what they need to study and learn. Schools should not be like a factory line. Not every child needs to leave with the same "knowledge". We want our students to excel in achieving their GCSE's while still being free to explore and delve deep into areas of interest. This allows them to discover their strengths and passions and share their interests and expertise with one another to form a learning community. Each bringing new information and their own unique skills to the group and collaborative projects.
As a group, students must learn to draw upon each others' strengths and skills to work as a collective, taking responsibility for certain areas and delegating to one another appropriately. Every member of the community must have the opportunity to shine and provide a valuable contribution. These are the skills they will need in later work. Perhaps more importantly, these are the skills they will need to navigate healthy relationships and develop a strong sense of belonging. Everyone matters and everyone is valuable.
One of the questions we are often asked is how can a group of 40 students allow for the same social skill development as being in a large school of several 100? Our students will get to know each of their peers. In a smaller group, they must learn to work with and get along with everyone. This approach is key to social skill development. Our staff are also trained to be present when needed and fade away when not. Across the school the focus is on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. We achieve excellent behaviour by ensuring students recognise that such behaviour is both to their own benefit and to the benefit of their community.
All teenagers will face challenges and conflicts. By having a smaller community, this ensures these do not go unnoticed and that our staff can intervene to guide students to resolve them as they arise. This approach provides the blueprint for students to understand how to develop and foster healthy relationships. This skill will serve them well beyond their life in school.
Understanding the adolescent
Montessori recognized that that are 4 stages (often referred to as planes) of development. The first plane (0-6 years) is one of self construction, where the child is saying to us "help me to do it myself". The second plane (6-12 years) is the one in which moral reasoning is developing and the child is asking us to "help me to think for myself". The third plane child (12-18 years), is now undergoing social construction. Much like the first plane child they want to do things for themselves but this time what they seek can be articulated as "help us to do it for ourselves". Unlike the first plane child they now want to do things with their peers and to achieve their aims as a collective.
In the 6-12 years they have learnt through the Montessori elementary program how society works and now they need to experience it. Secondary is where they take the 12 years of construction and experience they have had and enter with it into the next phase, leaving childhood behind as the birth of the adult begins.
Montessori recognizes that this is a time of fragility as great changes in the physical body as well as mental and cognitive functions are taking place. They need independence from the family unit, while still requiring support from an adult guide who understands and loves teenagers. They need experiential learning, to be able to design projects and run enterprises instead of rigid lessons. They must learn how to work as part of a group and discover what are their unique capabilities and how they can contribute to their community and the world around them.
It is that deep understanding of child development that underpins the methodology in all classes throughout the school. Many have said that Montessori did not develop one method of education, but four. The way we teach and the way we interact with the students is different in each of the four planes of development in keeping with the developmental needs of the child.
"Education should not limit itself to seeking new methods for a mostly arid transmission of knowledge:
its aim must be to give the necessary aid to human development.”