Category Archives: Teacher Insight

John Hunter and His Montessori Message

A chat with Inly’s head of school about student-centered learning, global awareness and the power of experiential education

John Hunter at Inly School in Scituate MA

John Hunter presents his film “World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements” at Inly School on April 9th

When Donna Milani Luther heard John Hunter speak at the Creative Education Foundation’s annual Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) Conference last summer, she was blown away. “His approach aligned so perfectly with ours, and his message was so compelling, that I immediately knew I wanted to bring him to Inly to meet with our school community. And I wanted other teachers and administrators and parents to share in the experience, too.”

John Hunter will speak at Inly on Wednesday, April 9 as part of the Omran ♦ Nelson Speaker Series. For a full description of the event, see the Inly News story:  John Hunter to Present “World Peace Game” Film and Talk on Hands-On, Experiential Learning.

To purchase online tickets visit the Inly Speaker Series page.

Q: Hunter’s talk is called, “The Schools and Teachers our Students Need Us To
Be.” What does this mean, exactly?

It’s about allowing students to guide their own learning, based on their interests. It’s about teachers and schools allowing students to really take ownership. John’s message is that we all need to focus on how students learn best and then thoughtfully prepare the best type of environment for this success. He asks us to ask ourselves: What are our roles as guides for children in this century?

Q: Hands-on, experiential learning is the focal point of his film, “World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements.” Is this a focal point of his talk as well?

World_Peace_Foundation_Inly_SchoolYes. He firmly believes that experiential education is the most effective way for students to learn, and that’s really the premise of this talk. It’s the best proven way to capture students’ attention and extend their learning and their capacity to stay on a task. As educators we want to see students building skills around interest and content, and we want the learning to be rigorous and challenging and fun.

Q: And can it be rigorous enough, this type of experiential learning?

Oh, absolutely. It’s about teaching from the inside out.

I think that people generally will challenge themselves if they feel like they’re learning and growing. Otherwise they just look to the least common denominator. We see that alive in our school every day and you see that in great schools and in great teachers.

Kids will often keep going if inspired. But when they’re led in a direction that’s rote … that’s ‘sorry, you can’t spend any more time on that because our curriculum maps say you have to do this tomorrow,’ and the child isn’t really interested in going there, they’re really not going to learn nearly as much.

So, yes, I believe it can be rigorous and I believe it’s our job as teachers to stay ten steps ahead to be true guides to help students develop.

Can you speak to the Montessori like aspects of his message? Peace studies and global awareness are two themes that come to mind.

Yes, this is very much the type of cosmic education that Maria Montessori cared about. Understanding our place in the world, figuring out that there are pieces that make up the whole, that we’re all part of that in some way and that our job is to find out how it all fits together… It’s all part of the continuum in a Montessori school.

His approach is very much what we do in Montessori—not only in the content delivery but in the content itself.

The entire World Peace Game is also very Montessori in that it is very hands-on and the teacher really steps back and guides the students to solve the problem on their own. Yes, it is a challenge and it’s a big challenge! World peace is not something you can solve in a day. But he has designed something that’s appropriately long enough for 4th, 5th and 6th graders and designed it to capture their attention and to extend their attention—and extend their thinking and learning and processing and their capacity to stay on a task.

These students are the future designers and inventors and entrepreneurs, the ones who are figuring all this out. I think it’s ingenious and it gives me hope.



Inly Faculty Members are Thought Leaders in Massachusetts Education

AnneMarie Whilton's Sketchbook Project

AnneMarie Whilton’s Sketchbook Project

By Donna Milani Luther, Head of School

As Inly’s Head of School, I am often asked what sets us apart from other schools. And while there are so many things that differentiate Inly—from our Montessori foundation, to our family-like atmosphere, to our culture of creativity, to our belief in the potential of each child—our faculty and staff is at the top of the list. Below are two recent examples of Inly faculty as leaders in Massachusetts education—both in Montessori and in Independent schools.

This year, our Middle School teachers, Paran Quigley and Tschol Slade, presented at both AISNE (Association of Independent Schools in New England) and MSM (Montessori Schools of Massachusetts) conferences. In their workshop, “Fostering a Growth Mindset through Critical Self-Reflection,” Paran and Tschol facilitated a discussion about what “growth mindset” for adolescents means. They also explored why fostering a growth mindset is critical to adolescent students (both as individual learners and as members of a broader learning community), and shared many tools that they developed at Inly to help build self-reflective habits of mind and resilience in students. Both workshops were extraordinarily well received and well-attended.

Annemarie Whilton's Sketchbook Project Drawing 2

Annemarie Whilton’s Sketchbook Project

Inly art teacher, Annemarie Whilton, is leaving her mark in the art world. She has joined The Sketchbook Project, a crowd-sourced, global art project and interactive, traveling exhibition of handmade books. The mission of this project, organized by the Brooklyn Art Library, is to allow anyone to be able to participate in art and to create a collection of work that represents the current state of artists worldwide. Annemarie is scheduled to be a part of the Northeast tour and she’s promised to keep us posted when The Sketchbook Project’s funky van comes to town!

In addition, Inly head librarian and literature specialist, Shelley Sommer, presented a workshop at the MSM conference called “Essential Books for the Montessori Classroom.” Shelley discussed how the Montessori classroom is a unique environment and the classroom library is an ideal space to reflect Montessori values. She explored which picture books promote peace, global awareness, and a generous spirit; the best read-alouds to inspire compassion and curiosity; and she taught participants how a well-chosen picture book can support curricular goals and inspire students. She also shared a collection of essential picture books that enrich any classroom.

As many of you know, the expectations of an Inly teacher are very high. They must be trained observers, keenly attuned to each child, and facilitators who encourage their students to find their own solutions, rather than tell them the answer. They also must strive every day to educate and challenge the whole child. As Maria Montessori once said, “the [Montessori] environment must be a living one, directed by a higher intelligence, arranged by an adult who is prepared for his mission.” Inly teachers are most definitely prepared for their mission and it is a joy to witness.

I’m thrilled that our faculty members are not only enriching the Inly community but the greater educational community as well. There is a great deal of intellectual curiosity that is fostered in an Inly classroom each day and it’s wonderful to share this passion with the rest of the world.

Author of "Montessori Learning in the 21st Century" speaks on brain development and education at Inly School

Montessori Learning in the 21st Century


large_open_bookIn honor of International Montessori Week, this month’s Parent Insight Event featured M. Shannon Helfrich, globe-trotting Montessori trainer and author of Montessori Learning in the 21st Century: A Guide for Parents & Teachers. Helfrich spoke to a group of 50 parents and faculty in the Inly Library and made plenty of time for questions and answers. Drawing on her 40 years of experience in Montessori education as both a teacher and teacher trainer around the world, Helfrich provided valuable insights into Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy on education and the modern brain development research that supports it.

Brain development research and Montessori education

Shannon described Dr. Montessori’s early interest in brain development. In 1896, when Maria Montessori became the first female to earn a medical degree in Italy, knowledge of the brain and brain development was crude in comparison with today’s standards and technologies. So it is even more amazing that Dr. Montessori’s philosophy, which was based on her own observation, has found scientific validation nearly 100 years later.

In her book, Shannon takes these current neuro-scientific findings about the brain and parallels them with direct quotes from Dr. Montessori, providing perspective on the basic elements of child development. She said that her hope is for parents to find the book to be a great resource for supporting their children’s development in life and in the home.

Montessori at home and at school: Connecting the dots

Throughout her talk, Shannon’s passion for Montessori was clear. Stating that Montessori is “a way of living, not just a classroom philosophy,” she stressed that understanding of Montessori principles can help parents be more successful and confident in supporting their own children at home.

While she doesn’t recommend that parents create a Children’s House classroom in a child’s bedroom, she did say, “As parents, we need to become as mindful as we can be about what we can do to support our children at home.”

About the author

Shannon Helfrich is an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) teacher trainer, examiner and consultant, training Montessori teachers in the United States, Australia, Thailand and China. Shannon currently divides her time between the International Training Center of Montessori Education of China in Hangzhou, China, and the United States. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Related links

Preview Chapter One of Helfrich’s book on the New Sage Press website.

Why Montessori Education?

Montessori at Inly School

Montessori at Home: Practical Tips for Toddler, Preschool Children and Parents blog post on Inside Inly.

Montessori Kids at Home blog post on Inside Inly.

Inly Elementary Students Work with Water in a Hands-on Way

In Lower Elementary’s “Work of Water” the students in grades 1–3 learned how they directly affect the water around them. With help from the North and South Rivers Watershed Association and the Scituate Water Treatment Plant, the students got hands-on experience of how everyday things — like showering or driving a car — play a role in how the water changes now and in the future.

Click on the video to see the “Work of Water”

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Team-building in Phys. Ed. Class…A Cornerstone for Life!

By Cathy Harder-Bernier, Inly Physical Education Instructor and Athletics Director

Recently, Inly’s phys. ed. classes featured the building blocks and skills needed to learn how to work as a team.  From a developmental perspective, younger children are simply not ready to work or play as a team.  So, Children’s House preschool students first spent time working with a partner and trying to “Crossover” on poly-spots and a balance beam.  It was hard!  Then, they stretched their efforts to work with three people as they played “Ants.”  One or two students from each class were class leaders who organized their class’ efforts; I am proud to say that each class was able to complete their challenge!

Lower Elementary students (grades 1–3) tried their hands at “Titanic”—a game that includes both partner and small group work, as well as some whole-class teamwork.  It’s a really challenging game—especially for this point in the year when their group norms are still evolving.  I loved how the children stretched their team-building capacity while playing!

The students of the Upper Elementary classes (grades 4–6) played the age-old favorite “Capture the Flag”—a game that involves both strategy and team-building, not to mention the skill of problem solving.  I am sure the Middle School students had a good week at their internships off-campus, but I am equally sure they will be disappointed that they missed the chance to play Capture the Flag…a class favorite.

Working as a part of a team is a skill that Inly students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  Our tight-knit community, as well as some intentional PE instruction, really helps to foster team-building.  We will be building teams here at Inly throughout their academic and social-emotional careers!  It doesn’t get much better than that.  🙂

The New Guy's Perspective on Faculty Day

By Tom Layman

When friends and family asked me what I did on my second day of work I ran down a few of the highlights for them. Let’s see, I visited the alleged grave of Mother Goose, I checked to see what flags were hanging in the Old North Church, and I ate my first cannoli (yes, my first cannoli) on Hanover Street in the North End.

Each time I told the story and set the scene I got the same response.

“Where are you working again?”

As a relative outsider to Inly School and the Montessori style of teaching, I needed to find out why the school decided to bring the faculty back together this way. I’ve seen—and been a part of orientations for school and for work—but this one stuck out to me: in a very good way.

“I deeply believe that for a team to work well together, to function together, a number of things have to happen,” Donna Milani Luther explained on Thursday. “One is that people need to get to know each other. For us, it made sense to get to know each other in the context of our curriculum, so faculty can also say, ‘Oh I learned something about American history and I can use that in my classroom.’”

The day started with a trek on the Freedom Trail up through the Boston Common and ended at Café Vittoria in the North End. In between we saw the Granary Burial Ground where many American Patriots were laid to rest. I didn’t know that Sam Adams and John Hancock ended up feuding with each other towards the end of their lives, as Mr. Higgins, our tour guide, pointed out—with a chuckle—that they were buried on opposite ends of the grounds.

I’ve never seen the Old City Hall and where Boston Latin School was founded. (Has anyone else notice how much nicer the older version of City Hall is compared to the new one?)

On our way to lunch at Pizzeria Regina, we got to stand on site of “The Big Dig” and see “Old Boston” and “New Boston” as we walked through the site of the old overpass. It was poignant to go from seeing things built in the 1700s to seeing the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge Zakim Bridge, a structure built 300 years later that pays tribute, in name and design, to the colonists who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

After lunch, we were split into teams and challenged with a historical scavenger hunt through the North End.

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From the looks on everyone’s face, they all enjoyed the good time. I’m also positive that everyone enjoyed the cool setting of Café Vittoria for some cappuccinos and other Italian desserts.

But this day was about getting the teachers and staff back into the swing of things. It was about having fun and also learning a thing or two, and if the scavenger hunt worked out the way Donna planned, then the students will reap the benefits of it.

“Having the teachers experience something first hand as opposed to just making it up for the students is really important,” Donna said. “Then we can model it. We can remember how enthusiastic we were on the scavenger hunt and then bring that same enthusiasm when we make an assignment for the students.”