Michela Castellarin is a Montessori expert who has been working within the international Montessori community as a lecturer, academic tutor and accreditation officer over 20 years. Along with a few longtime colleagues, she co-founded Collaborative Montessori, a company providing consulting, accreditation and training services for Montessori educational centres and environments around the world. Ms. Castellarin recently visited Bloom to assess Children's House and the lower primary classes for accreditation, and graciously accepted to do this interview.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a Mum first and foremost, although my girls are now adults. I’ve also recently become a teacher again for children in the nursery and in year one (age 6), which is a wonderful return to my origins. I have been a teacher trainer for about 20 years and have recently joined forces with some colleagues of mine that have also been in the Montessori educational world for many, many years, and we have formed a new company called Collaborative Montessori. Although we are in different parts of the world, we meet up once a week and discuss a way forward and how we can serve the Montessori community to the best of our abilities.
Can you tell me a little bit more about Collaborative Montessori? Why did you choose that name?
We felt that everybody who is in the Montessori world is genuinely there for the same reason, which is to hopefully fight for a better educational system for the children, so that every child around the world will have the opportunity to be in Montessori education. Therefore, competition should not find space in our work and should instead be replaced by collaboration. At Collaborative Montessori we work in partnership amongst ourselves; with schools; with the wider Montessori community; and with different training centres so that there is a feeling of unity rather than separation. And I hope that through whichever service we provide - whether it is accreditation, training teachers or supporting schools - people can feel that we want every stakeholder that has a say in the child’s life to collaborate together.
What drew you to Montessori in the first place?
So I got into it thanks to my two girls, because they were in a nursery at that time that changed into a Montessori setting. Although I am Italian, like Maria Montessori, I had never heard about her nor about her approach and so I had to get trained to acquire a Montessori qualification. I still remember the moment I sat in that training centre and I heard about the philosophy and about how the teaching method benefitted the children. And I knew, in my heart and soul more than in my mind, that that was the system that would care for every child. The reason it resonated so much with me is that I was a lost child in the Italian educational system where my opinion or whether I was happy or not, didn’t really matter...as long as I could read or write or do some addition.
Every single Montessori setting is very different because of the country that it is in, the people that make up its community. What is particular about our school to you? What has stood out as unique or something you haven’t seen before?
Somehow - although I’ve spent most of my time in the school - it has been getting to know Bloom’s founder, Maëlys, that made everything so special. I have the utmost respect for her and I am in awe of who she is and what she wants to still achieve. I am in awe of her resilience, of all the fights she had to go through in order to realise her vision of a better educational system for her own children, and subsequently, for the wider community. I think for me, in the two days that I was here, that is what made my journey as an accreditation assessor very, very special.
When you are accrediting a school, what do you look for?
I look for the relationship between the teachers and the children, and the relationship between the teachers themselves. I think only a child who is emotionally stable, a child who feels safe and happy, is ready for learning. So if there is a sense of safety, a sense of being comfortable, and gestures that show me that there is a loving relationship between the teachers and the children, then I know that it is a good school. So I look for that first. And then I look at the Montessori materials and whether the children are using them to the maximum of their academic and creative potential. But I look for the tiny little things as they often tell us so much. I also want to hear the voice of the child...I wait for them to tell me something...and they always do!
They always do? You engage with them?
I wait for them to come over to me, and somehow they always do. Not all of them, of ocourse… But the children in P1 (grades 1-3) today came and told me their stories. They were curious about who I was, where I was coming from and what I was doing in their space. And then I find out what they like about the school...
Thank you very much.