For those not familiar with the Montessori philosophy, it was developed by Dr Maria Montessori in the early 20th Century to encourage within each child the ability to work independently and collaboratively in order to fulfil their individual potential.
Each child has the opportunity to develop qualities of self-esteem, independence, self-eliance and self-discipline, and to build the skills of concentration, collaboration, research and rderly work patterns.
“The key feature of it is that it regards the child as the one in charge of the learning rather than the teacher,” Conway says.
“It can be misunderstood easily, thinking that children just are free to do whatever they want, and it’s not that way at all.
“It is very much about the curriculum and the Montessori teachers are trained in this curriculum to make sure that the child is linking with that, but through the child’s own interest and choices.
“And if you provide the right environment, where it’s a prepared environment, and you provide the conditions where the child is able to make choices about the learning, and their interest in learning is reinforced through having a curriculum and teacher responsive to that, then what you have is a perfect equation for engaged learners.”
Montessori East’s cohort of 120 students includes pre-primary (three to six-year-olds) and primary aged children (six to 12-year-olds), is non-denominational, co-educational and supports a multi-age classroom.
Conway’s leadership style is naturally reflective of the school’s core philosophies.
“I do try to be a principal that follows the principles of Montessori, which means if the teacher is in the classroom empowering the learners in the classroom by giving them certain conditions for learning, which are stimulation, prepared environment, choices, a certain amount of independence ... I feel, as a principal, I try to do the same with the teachers.
“That has been difficult at times, because many adults are not accustomed to being given too much of that independence.
“But I have a fantastic staff and I’ve teachers here who have become very much examples of those principles and work well with me, work well under those principles and I feel very empowered by being able to work in that environment where they can explore things that they’re inspired by.”
Conway says feedback, in terms of students’ later success in high school and then university and the wider world is very favourable.
“So we at the school follow students’ progress in high school to see how they are going.
“All of our evidence is mostly anecdotal, but all of it does show that they do very well, they’re very successful.”
“We also have evidence, now that we’re doing NAPLAN, there’s good evidence that Montessori schools do quite well.
“I think for our parents it does give a bit of reinforcement that there are aspects of the curriculum that are covered well, even though it may seem like we’re not as explicit in that teaching.”
Conway says one of the biggest differences in a Montessori school is the complete non-existence of behaviour issues and that his biggest challenge is having parents understand why the school does things the way it does and to get them on board with the approach.
“We’ve had to do so much parent education and we do sessions almost every two weeks, just to keep them informed...
“A lot of it is to understand that if we’re trying to work on a child being independent like you know, carrying their own things and cleaning up after themselves, then they should do that at home also, so that it becomes really a worthwhile experience, for not just the six hours of the day, that they’re here and then they go into another environment at home.”