Tuesday, February 25, 2020

On January 12 and 13, over 75 teachers and administrators gathered in East Brunswick, NJ for the International Jewish Montessori Conference (IJMC). Hosted by Yeshivat Netivot Montessori, participants came from many states, Canada and Mexico). The goal of the conference was to share best practices, provide peer networking, professional development and chizuk.

The first Jewish Montessori conference in five years, “Fortifying Our Roots, Extending Our Branches,” included seminars with approximately 20 subject matter experts, hands-on sessions, group work, peer-to-peer assistance and a celebration of the history and evolution of Jewish Montessori.

“Follow the child” is the cornerstone of Montessori education, expressing the belief that children will succeed and thrive when their individual learning needs are met in a thoughtful, well-prepared environment with engaging, developmentally appropriate materials. Students learn using all their senses to touch and absorb the material. An assortment of vendors of Jewish and secular Montessori materials presented their products in a marketplace. Where else would you be able to get small wooden models of the Beit HaMikdash and keylim that elementary school students can hold and put in order?

Following registration and a warm welcome from the conference committee, attendees went to their first of five sessions covering multiple tracks. Presentations could be selected from topics on school administration, early childhood or elementary education, incorporation of a curriculum of limudei kodesh, or students with special learning needs. Participants were also provided with a way to identify areas they had particular interest in for grouping in the round table discussion.

When asked what she thought of the session speakers, Sulha Dubrowsky of the Hebrew Academy of Tampa Bay, FL, said, “They were amazing, inspirational, and informative as Montessori educators.” Yitzy Mandel of the Montessori Torah Academy of Louisville, KY was thrilled he was able to see a “group of minds and hearts with many decades of experience in Jewish Montessori dedicated to sharing their knowledge.”

The lunchtime presentation included an overview of the history of Jewish Montessori education and the creation of a human timeline of how long people were involved. It was interesting to note that many conference attendees were involved for many decades.

Closing keynote speaker, author Rob Keys, has been involved with Montessori education for nearly 30 years and has written extensively on the topic. Noting that superficial learning is forgotten as quickly as a wave on the sea, he advocates “bringing the child to the universe and the universe to the child.” By appreciating conscious and unconscious methods of learning and personal growth, children are engaged and eager to learn. Setting (and adhering to) their own schedules helps students to succeed, as does having each child creating the appropriate orderly learning environment.

At the end of the first conference day, conferees met for dinner at their choice of one of Highland Park’s kosher restaurants and reconvened for a Jewish Montessori Round Table Discussion session at Congregation Ohav Emeth. Despite the long day, participants were highly engaged in learning from each other. Daniella Adar of Chicago’s Shaarei Chinuch Day School “loved that there were so many like-minded people who came together to share ideas and connect.”

Observation of theories in action was the focus of the second day of the conference. Netivot Head of School, Morah Rivky Ross, started the morning with a session on “How to Get the Most Out of an Observation,” linking various learning attributes to Torah principles and their importance to life. Divided into four groups, attendees then set out to observe the various educational levels and how student self-motivated learning is enhanced at each level.

Attention to detail was evident in each phase of the well-planned conference. Attendees went home with food for thought as well as food packed ‘to go’ as they set off on their trip home with knowledge, contacts, and resources to share with their colleagues. Rav Yitzchok Yaakov Brener of Or Sameaj Montessori, Mexico City said that “the greatest part of the conference was to be able to meet so many experienced Jewish Montessori practitioners and hear [speaker] Rabbi Jonathan Rietti.”

For additional information about Yeshivat Netivot, go to www.MyNetivot.com