The second annual Public Montessori Unconference is fast approaching!  Register here for the 2015 Public Montessori Unconference

Westminster College’s Center for Montessori Innovation, Salt Lake City, UT

Friday June 26th and Saturday June 27th, 2015

featuring an NCMPS workshop on Assessment and Montessori

Origins of the ‘Unconference’

Public Montessorians once met annually in the 1990s, in a series of national conferences organized by NAMTA and the Montessori Public Schools Consortium, an organization that was a precursor to NCMPS.  (In 1993, 185 public Montessorians gathered in Kansas City!)  But there have been no public Montessori conferences for the last 15 years, although during that time there has been explosive growth of public Montessori.

Similarly, AMI and AMS offer sessions on public Montessori at their annual conferences, but these events only include a portion of public Montessorians at one time.  AMI’s Educateurs Sans Frontières is hosting an international summit on “Montessori Education for Social Change” August 2015 in Thailand, but this is limited to AMI affiliated educators and is likely outside of the budget of most American public Montessori educators.  In addition, many public Montessori schools cannot afford membership into AMS or AMI and do not participate in these group’s conferences at all.  While we ultimately would like to reduce the number of competing annual conferences, there is no other national Montessori event that attracts public Montessorians across affiliations.

In spring 2014, Montessori Madman Daniel Petter-Lipstein urged the Montessori for Social Justice group to harness its virtual energy and start bringing people physically together.  A number of public Montessori leaders including Christie Huck and Nicole Evans of City Garden Montessori (who generously offered to host the first gathering), Sara Cotner of Montessori for All, Dakota Prosch of Oglesby Montessori, and Mira Debs of Elm City Montessori School planned the first gathering over email.

The Unconference is so named because, unlike a traditional conference with pre-arranged sessions, we use an OpenSpace format where we decide the topics and create sessions when we arrive (via a sign-up board) and as our discussions proceed.   As Daniel Petter-Lepstein argued, “We are Montessorians! We just need to “prepare the environment” and “follow the attendees.” The goal was to make the gathering as grassroots, democratic, participatory and low-cost as possible, then see what would happen.  City Garden Montessori hosted the first gathering, registrants paid for food and hotels, and attendees all shared rooms and rental cars.

Impact of the 2014 Unconference

Attendees of the Unconference reflected that the event gave them a greater awareness of using Montessori with underserved populations, made them more aware of other organizations doing similar work, led them to reflect on areas where they need support, and fostered greater links among public Montessorians across the country.

Immediately following the Unconference, we shared about the event with the broader Montessori community with two postings that were published on the NCMPS blog.  Here’s an excerpt shared by participants Kacee Weaver, a curriculum specialist at the Maria Montessori Academy in Ogden, Utah and Jai Brisbon, Director of Lumin Education East Dallas Community School in Dallas, TX.

Kacee Weaver: The discussions that ensued regarding social justice through Montessori education began a paradigm shift that I hope will find its way to our entire public school community…Embracing, supporting and celebrating our unique populations of diversity is truly the most basic Montessori practice. I am so privileged to be a part of this group of professionals, and I’d like to urge all of you not only to invite diversity into your communities but also to actively seek it and celebrate it.

Jai Brisbon: As a member of Lumin Education, a public school in Dallas that serves children and their families from pregnancy to age 9, I face the unique demands of public Montessori, and rarely do I encounter groups of leaders who face similar challenges, or experience similar success with children. This event was the exception! The second day we broke out into discussions with an open invitation to enter and leave conversations at will. This format provided for a fluidity and a spontaneity of dialogue and an exchange of ideas that really opened my eyes to the magnitude of the work ahead for public Montessorians and the ever growing need for space for conversations like the ones at the UnConference. 

Several other attendees recently shared comments on the transformative impact of the Unconference for their Montessori work:

The Unconference was an incredible opportunity to connect with and learn from Montessorians from across the country who are committed to the power of Montessori education to open doors to growth and opportunity for all children. I left the Unconference inspired and thinking about how the rest of the world should know these stories — a central driver for the documentary film “Building the Pink Tower” that my partner Jan Selby and I are making right now.  Vina Kay, Producer/Director “Building the Pink Tower”

It felt like the birth of a national movement. Building a broader and deeper network of Mmontessorians in the public sector is critical to improving public education. I’ve been in continued and deeper contact with other practitioners and advocates over the last year because of the Unconference.  John Carroll, City Garden Montessori Director of Development

Action Oriented Meeting for 2015

For 2015, Nancy Lindeman, Director of the Institute of Montessori Innovation at Westminster College, volunteered to host the event.  Although Salt Lake City is far away for Montessorians on the East Coast, we hope that the location will allow us to connect to the concentration of public Montessori educators in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and California.  Public Montessorians are already asking to host the event in future years at their schools in Ohio, Illinois and Connecticut.

As an Unconference, we work to balance organization with spontaneity. In 2014, participants grouped themselves by topic areas, but sometimes found that they wanted someone with expertise to help frame the conversation, and we listened carefully to the feedback from one attendee to make our meeting action- oriented.  This year to prime our discussion, we are asking attendees to consider “what do you want to share?” and “what do you want to learn?” and asking them to both organize sessions where they are a sharer and attend sessions where they are a learner.

Questions?  Contact montessoriforsocialjustice@gmail.com

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