Agora and Montessori
I did not use to think about what I wanted to learn at school. The teacher told me what to do and what exercises to do. I then got a test about it and then I would have ‘learned’ it. It was up to me whether I was going to remember it or not. Here at Agora I spoke to a student who wanted to learn to speak French, because she goes on holiday to France every year and she is the only one of her age who cannot speak French. That seems to me the best motivation to learn something!
As far as I am concerned, it is important for any form of education to take a good look at how children learn. Are they actively involved in the learning process? Is there enough room for the student’s own input and needs or is it the teacher who determines what the student ‘wants’ to learn?
In addition, I am happy that schools are increasingly entering the world or bringing them in. Learning does not stop outside the school walls. It is so much more valuable that you develop yourself and learn all kinds of skills. To find out to what extent Agora education overlaps with Montessori education, I compared the principles of Agora (source: Tiles of Agora) with the philosophy of Maria Montessori.
Each child is unique and learns in its own way.
One of the first things you think about when you talk about Montessori education is: Teach me to do it myself. Here it is assumed that a child has the natural urge to research and learn. It is important to respond to the child’s need to achieve optimal self-development. The role of the teacher in Montessori education is also one of observing, to find out what the need of the student is. The role of an Agora coach is very similar to this. At Agora, it is especially not the intention that the coach tells what a student should do. But that the coach asks what he or she can help the student with. Just like with Montessori education, students at Agora work individually or in small groups on material they have chosen themselves: at Agora this is called a ‘challenge’. Maria Montessori wanted children to discover, explore and explore the coherence hidden in the material or in a situation in their own imagination and using their own intellect and that the children make the connection with reality in their own way. At Montessori, adolescents rely less on materials, at Agora students come up with their own ‘challenges’. This does not mean that no material or methods can be used. But that must proceed from the question of a student. Here inspiration is more important than offering knowledge.
‘I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge.’
Every child is entitled to their own learning route.
All students are different. Whichever form of education you use. It can also differ per day, time, teacher or for some other reason, how a student reacts, functions or blocks. According to Maria Montessori, students are motivated by themselves to develop and to learn. The topics of that interest vary from child to child and change over time. She also says that when children are in a ‘sensitive period’, they are receptive to certain areas of learning. How long such a period lasts differs per child. It is up to the teacher to sense this and to deal with it appropriately. This is also the case with Agora. Each student has a personal coach, who learns ‘everything’ about his or her child. This bond of trust gives the student the right guidance and makes him feel safe and supported.
‘If puberty is on the physical side a transition from an infantile to an adult state, there is also, on the psychological side, a transition from the child who has to live in a family, to the man who has to live in society . These two needs of the adolescent: for protection during the time of the difficult physical transition, and for an understanding of the society which he is about to enter to play his part as a man.’
Dr. Maria Montessori
A hundred children means a hundred different learning routes.
As with home education, each child needs a different approach. For example, one needs that there is some pressure on the shoulders from time to time or that clear agreements have to be made and another can use that pat on the head and use that appreciation and compliments. There is a different and unique recipe for each student. Just like at Montessori primary schools, students of different ages sit together in the group at Agora. According to Maria Montessori, this is essential for a harmonious development. As in families, a child is surrounded by older and younger children. Children can then mirror themselves to others. Thus, every child is the youngest, middle and oldest. It is actually interesting to note that this Montessori idea often does not hold for secondary schools in The Netherlands. Children often sit here with students of the same age. At Agora 10-15 Groesbeek, pupils from primary and secondary school even sit together. I would say truly Montessorian. Next year the third group of students will start in Nijmegen, so the annual layers will also mix again.
All students from all levels (vmbo to gymnasium) are welcome.
Diploma guarantee to each student at least based on the level of primary school advice.
At Agora, students of all levels are mixed up. Agora students – and parents – do not think in boxes, but look at each other’s qualities and what they can learn from each other. Ultimately, a student will take final exams at a minimum intake level. It is then based on the advice of the primary school. It is of course possible to take courses earlier or at a higher level. Maria Montessori has never mentioned a diploma guarantee, as far as I know, but I think she would agree with the fact that a student cannot get dumber over the years!
‘My vision of the future is no longer people taking exams and proceeding then on that certification from the secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher one, by means of their own activity through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.’Dr. Maria Montessori
Pupils are coached in their development.
As I described earlier, students have a personal coach. Every day they start in their own coach group. This is the group of students who have the same coach. Everything can be discussed here. In addition, there are weekly coaching conversations to see if the student can go further with his or her challenges. A coach also checks whether a student is developing broad-based enough. Does he or she always choose the same themes, for example all kinds of artistic challenges? The coach can then ask a student to look into the same challenge from a different perspective – or world as it is called at Agora. Due to the unique bond with the coach, there is of course also plenty of room to discuss personal themes. Furthermore, students use a progress and a challenge monitor to keep track of their progress in the challenges and in terms of their skills. How did the collaboration actually work? Or: Have you kept to your planning? Tailor-made programs that provide enough discussion material with the coach, fellow students or parents.
In my view, Agora education fits perfectly with the philosophy of Maria Montessori. There are minor nuances, but there is a lot of overlap. Agora is also based on that investigative attitude of a child. Of course it is up to the coach to give the right direction, without giving the impression that there is steering.
Roelant Wijngaards is a coach at MC Agora Nijmegen.
Everyone is welcome to contribute in any way to our education. It can be by giving an inspiration session or workshop about something interesting or a profession. We are open to all help, initiatives and ideas. Do not hesitate to contact us or to exchange ideas. The learning of the students does not of course end within the school walls. The world is our school!