By Jason Phillips
Montessori Dads are the best </ahem… humble tag>. Most of us are familiar with the Montessori Madmen, and about a month ago we shared this nice story about a Montessori Dad who improved a classroom material for his kids’ school. Recently, some of DVMS’s Montessori Dads have been outdoing themselves when it comes to innovation and good work.
Pediatricians Jeff Pernica and David Goldfarb received a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada for their project, “Measuring the Impact of Novel Enteric Diagnostics: How Many Children’s Lives Can be Saved?” You can read more about it in a number of press articles: CBC, Hamilton Spectator, MetroNews, and take a couple of minutes to view their project video:
David graciously found time to answer a few questions about their project, and his choice to become a Montessori Dad:
What motivated the development of your grant-winning project?
Having worked in Botswana for several years, we cared for many children who passed away from diarrheal disease (it is the second leading cause of child mortality in the world). Many children have a cause of diarrhea that is treatable but it can often be very difficult to identify these children using conventional techniques. Using newer methods, we felt it would be possible to diagnose these children at point of care and treat them appropriately.
Can you describe the process of moving from initial idea to project in action?
We made sure to assemble a team of collaborators that would allow us to bring cutting edge, yet feasible technology to the field in Botswana. We are fortunate to have very motivated groups in Botswana and McMaster that want to see this project happen.
As pediatricians, what drew you to Montessori for your own kids?
We were drawn to Montessori for our kids given the freedom it affords students, allowing them to learn at their own pace and driven by their own curiosity.
Keeping the innovation ball rolling, Jared Bennett, 21st Century Learning Consultant for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, was awarded the Canadian Education Association’s Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning for his work developing the HWDSB Commons, a social learning network built using open source technologies (WordPress & BuddyPress).
Can you tell us a bit about the HWDSB Commons, what it is and how it’s used?
The Commons is a social learning network. It is a walled garden to help students navigate social media spaces and grow to understand what it means to be a good citizen in this digital world. It embeds authentic collaboration tools into daily learner practice by collecting the myriad voices of HWDSB staff and students in a variety of public and private spaces, creating a stage where learners publish, and where they may give and receive feedback on the creations of others.
How did the development of the Commons come about, from initial idea through bureaucracy to implementation?
The Commons was born in a Grade 5-6 Gifted class three years ago, in Dundas Ontario. The students that made up that class were from all over the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board catchment. It was my first year teaching the Gifted program, and although I attempt to approach every new class prepared to throw everything out the window based on the differing strengths and needs of each student, the pressure to re-invent my program weighed heavier with this particular group. Technology had always played a part in my programming, and I knew I needed to incorporate new learning tools. I saw the need to find open-source tools we could utilize. The open source movement values collaboration, and creating for the public good, and sharing widely: all values we endorse within the school system. The HWDSB Commons ensures that the students are not the product, being sold to advertisers. It allows us to be responsive to the specific needs of our community, and it connects us with other learners across the hallway, within the school board, and around the world.
In the three years since starting that blogging platform for 25 students in Dundas, this classroom vision has grown into a Board Wide Learning Network. Of course, the pace at which a teacher of 25 students in a classroom can innovate is very different from the pace of change for a board of more than 50 000. It involves a team of passionate people driving the idea into the classrooms, and moving teacher practice forward in multiple ways. To add to that, it wasn’t an easy sale. Actually, there was a year’s worth of insistence.
“Innovation” is quite the buzz word in education circles these days, what does it mean to you?
The idea of teacher as content provider is an antiquated idea, especially with the ever-growing availability of information on the internet, and the always increasing number of ways to connect to that information, work with and produce with it, and to share it. Teachers are becoming more context providers than content providers, which is a considerable shift in thought and approach. It requires a shift, and that shift requires innovation.
How did you come to be a Montessori Dad?
As educators, Montessori is a program my wife and I believe in and that we are fortunate to have available to us in our community. Plus, our son is thriving and flourishing, which makes it a win-win situation for us.
Click here to read the full story of the Commons’s past, present, and future. And just to make sure Jared stays humble, let’s share this too:
But wait, there’s more!
Barry Colbert, Associate Professor of Policy and Strategic Management in the School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Montessori Dad at Dundas Valley Montessori School, recently saw the publication of his book Reconstructing Value: Leadership Skills for a Sustainable World (co-authored with his wife and Montessori Mom, Elizabeth Kurucz, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Sustainable Commerce in the Department of Business, College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph — we love you too Elizabeth, I just needed to keep this article’s focus on the Dads, especially once I came up with the funny title — and with David Wheeler, President of Cape Breton University. Not sure if David has any Montessori connections, but we won’t hold it against him either way).
Barry’s (and Elizabeth’s) work involves solving the “big problem” of “how to create conditions for humanity and other life to flourish on earth, while respecting the earth’s ability to absorb our impacts so that others can follow after us and continue to thrive” (Reconstructing Value, Preface ix). They address the tenuous relationship between business and sustainability issues:
As management scholars, we recognize that the dominant logic and actions of business and business schools…often ignore issues in sustainability, and thereby make them worse. As such, we have worked for the past fifteen years to integrate sustainability issues into management education and practice.
That’s pretty cool Barry! (and Elizabeth, and David).
Your work is at the forefront of a burgeoning field, what motivated you to pursue it?
Elizabeth and I were both working through PhDs in management in the late 1990’s, she in Organizational Behaviour and I in Strategic Management. Her background was in outdoor education, anthropology, and industrial relations, and mine was in organization development, the humanities, and business, so we both had an interest in making organizations more humane places for people, and for encouraging a more harmonious integration of organizations and business with the natural world. The emerging field of business & sustainability was a natural ground for our interests to merge, and in 2000 we met our co-author, David Wheeler, who was a great mentor in that area. The more we researched and learned, the more clearly we saw the issues and challenges. Our work now is focused on helping to develop business leaders who have a deep appreciation for the role and purpose of business in building a sustainable society, fully recognizing that society exists within the natural biosphere.
How is your work being accepted in the larger business education and management fields, are there challenges?
We are certainly not alone in this effort, as there is a growing body of academic and practical work in business and sustainability. That said, it is still not a fully mainstream idea in business education, and yes there are challenges. Most good business schools have courses and programs in sustainability, but there is still the implied notion that sustainable business practice is optional, a path only chosen by a few altruistic companies. The truth of course is that sustainability issues (e.g. water and food security, energy provision, climate impacts, population growth, social equity) form the real operating context for all business and human activity, and business organizations impact and are impacted by those whether they admit it or not. There is still a great deal of work to do to adequately bring these ideas into every field of management, from marketing to accounting to supply chain. Along with the book, we have also just published a journal article outlining the challenges and some opportunities to advance management education for sustainability – to move business schools from being ‘psychic prisons’ that exist to perpetuate a set of taken-for-granted assumptions, to being public spheres of dialogue for asking good questions about what we value, and then practical exploration about how we get from here to there.
Is there a relation between your academic work and your motivations in choosing Montessori ?
We were drawn to Montessori education because its philosophies and teaching methods resonated with our own: learner-centred, problem-driven, pragmatic education with methods that are inclusive of multiple intelligences and learning styles. We encourage our post-secondary students to be critical, independent thinkers, with sensitivity to the broader context, to others’ perspectives, and to our collective well-being. The best we can do is bring out the most that each person can offer, and to make them aware of the challenges we face together – and they will do the rest. We see this happening in the Montessori classroom, starting at age three! So that is easy to get behind.