Montessori “Elevator Speech”

By Sharon Udy – Totara Teacher – Primary

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, we seem to have a conversation along the lines of, “What do you do?” “I’m a Montessori teacher.” “Oh, what’s Montessori?”

When I was a new teacher I would sometimes avoid this by just saying, “I’m a teacher” but I soon realised that not enough people know about this gem we have discovered, so I changed my answer to, “I’m a Montessori teacher” and tried to answer the inevitable follow-up question the best that I could. This is a daunting prospect, as there are so many aspects that could be discussed, but so little time to do it justice. You may only have a minute or two (at most) to give a compelling and clear statement about the essence of Montessori education.

One term for a short explanation like this is an ‘elevator speech’ – so called because the speech can be given in the time it takes for an elevator to go up (ie. 30 seconds to two minutes).

My Montessori ‘Elevator Speech’ has varied greatly over the years and I have given more or less information based on who I am speaking with and the reaction I am getting from them. As a parent of a Montessori child, as well as a teacher, I can now add more to the speech, but the problem has always been how to fit enough in, and what to leave out!

The Montessori philosophy encompasses all aspects of human development. We learn in our training about the four Planes of Development, their characteristics, and how we can meet the needs of each in our learning environments. Then there are the Human Tendencies and how these manifest in each plane of development. This is the incredibly valuable knowledge which forms the basis of our work, but it is far too much jargon to inject into a short speech.

Instead, I talk about the innate curiosity of a child – their deep desire to learn and their endless questioning. I talk about how students in traditional schools often lose this love of learning very quickly. I talk about students in Montessori schools choosing their own work and choosing how long to continue with it, or about our long uninterrupted work cycle and our open-ended, integrated curriculum.

I talk about the three year levels in each class, where children learn from each other and become teachers – where there is no stigma when 9, 10 and 11 year olds have a lesson together because they are ready for it, or it is a topic of great interest for them.

I talk about how traditional schools are only now experimenting with discovery or inquiry-based learning, flexible seating arrangements, individual and small group lessons, personalised learning and learners and teachers working together – these are all integral parts of the Montessori philosophy and have been for over a century!

Have you got a Montessori ‘elevator speech’? What core elements do you include?