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The Way We Teach: Out of Our Heads

There is chatter as class begins. “Who is leading the discussion?” “Did you finish the analysis sheets?” “What analysis sheets?” “Has anyone ever thought how it would feel to wake up without language?” The student’s face is full of inquiry, and he continues, “Would it be our worst nightmare or a relief…you know…we would be unencumbered by language.” Other students pause and seem to be pondering the dilemma. Rose, the teacher, appears, and today’s session of the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) begins.

Sometimes referred to as both the most challenging and most loved course in the International Baccalaureate Programme, TOK asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know. It is, in the words of one student, “very, very challenging” and also mandatory for all students enrolled in the IB Diploma Programme.

Today’s focus is on language, and the slide projected on the whiteboard reads “Reading critically allows us to recognize perspective.” The questions begin. Rose: “Language is a way of knowing—of sharing knowledge, but how do we get language? What are the sources?” Students respond, “What about body language?” “Language forms the basis of all other ways of knowing.” Rose broadens the frame: “IB started with four ways of knowing; now there are eight.” We make a note to research the ways of knowing and later learn that Language, Senses, Emotion, and Reason are the original four ways and Imagination, Faith, Intuition, and Memory were added later.

Students continue to share thoughts, and then Rose says, “Remember the prismatic qualities of diamonds.” A student responds, “Using imagery with two perspectives—the sparkle from diamonds can be about manipulating light (negative) or about a rainbow (positive).” The discussion moves forward to SELECTION, which now appears on a slide on the whiteboard. We listen intently to Rose to catch the gist: Out of all that could be reported, what has been selected? How do we know we are getting the whole picture when something is reported? Rose’s point, as she hones in, is “You must read critically; if not you can be hornswoggled…always know the sources being used…look for corroboration for what is asserted as being true.” (Our minds stray to the current landscape in journalism and the media, and we decide this lesson is very, very important for young people who will be in charge in fewer years than we think.)

Rose is now on to a new analogy: “When you have your first car accident, your mind will probably go blank. You will need to rely on the perspective of others.” With a look that signals Brain at Work a student says, “Perspectives will come from others in the car, from those ahead and behind, from pedestrians passing by—everyone will have a different story.” The point: accidents, like books, can have many interpretations.

Change in slide: EMPHASIS. Rose begins: “When you read an article what do you look at first?” Answers tumble out. “Headlines?” “The first sentence?” Rose doesn’t hear what she is looking for. “Let me ask again,” she says, leading them to reconsider. “You are short on time…you are in a rush…what do you do?” She scans the faces, and then a student says, “You read the first paragraph?” “Yes!” exclaims Rose, “because what is emphasized there will inform how you read the rest of the piece.” Suddenly a student makes a connection. “In scientific writing the passive voice is used to highlight cause and effect.” A new slide comes up, and the discussion moves to COLORING. We read in the handout about how emotions or values can color the use of language. And about what the choice of words tell us about the perspective of the writer. A lively discussion unfolds, then on to a new focus.

RELATIONSHIP OF PARTS, announces Rose. When you read a news account, are the parts of the story sequenced in logical ways? Or are they arranged to imply meaning through juxtaposition? (Our brains are spinning.) Rose continues, “Is language a form of brainwashing?” “That’s a strong word,” says one student, and another joins in, “But language is a tool and can be used to brainwash—think of articles on Hitler.” Another classmate counters, “But using language simply to convince is not the same as brainwashing.” Yet another classmate finds middle ground: “The goal is to find the balance.”

Time is getting short, and a new slide appears: FRAMING IN CONTEXT. Rose shares two headlines about a single story. The first, “Troops Abandon War-Gutted Iraq,” accompanied by a photo of bombed-out buildings. The second, “Joyous Families Welcome Troops Home,” with photo of family members hugging each other. Studying the slide, a student says, “‘Abandon’—that is a very powerful word.” Another student, “So is ‘home.’” This is “framing,” says Rose, and it can expose bias. She continues on, “What is the deeper message here?” No one speaks up. “I know I ask big questions, and by that I mean questions that can have a lot of right answers.” Silence. Then from a student, “We should develop a healthy level of skepticism and recognize that we can be influenced by what we read and know that we can write in a way to influence others.” Rose smiles.

This topic seems to capture everyone’s attention. A student asks classmates, “Can I take advantage of you with a single word or a snippet? Or do I need full sentences?” A classmate jumps in with a comment about the role of jargon. Now the synapses are firing. “Hmmmm—math is a language…as is science.” A light bulb: “We’re actually studying language in every course!” The upcoming elections come to mind and prompts one student to note the importance of “reading in depth on both sides of the issue…. Only then can I know what to do.” With impressive insight, a classmate acknowledges that when we read something we are often already predisposed in one direction or another and, therefore, we don’t read as critically as we should.

The class is drawing to a close, and Rose begins to describe the map assignment. We check the study materials and follow along as she explains that students are to pretend to be the president of a European country who wants to do nuclear testing in the South Pacific. “Before starting your testing,” Rose says, “you want to persuade Europeans that testing so far away will not cause damage or harm to Europe. With that goal in mind, how will you design the map you will use to persuade the citizenry?” Seeing puzzled looks on students’ faces, Rose explains that not all maps are geographical. There are other kinds. “Perhaps we want to put the South Pole at the top or design a map to show where people make the most money.” Then she reminds the class what the conversation has been about today: Selection, Emphasis, Perspective, Emotional Coloring, Framing. “All these factors can be applied to designing maps…it depends on what we want the map to communicate.”

Heads nod. Assignment is understood, and Rose suggests we spend time with the students alone to learn more about what they think of TOK. “It’s more challenging than I thought…it’s intense.” “I wondered if my brain would work this way.” We looked confused. “What I mean is I am having to think of so much I have never thought about before.” Another student chimes in, “That’s it…. This class makes us think.” Now we have hit upon a topic of great interest. From the other side of the table, “Even if you are not used to thinking, Rose will pull it out of you. She keeps saying ‘Think deeper.’ ‘Why?’ ‘More!’ ‘Why?’” As though summing it up, a student says soberly, “We think the most and the deepest here.”

And, we think we are finished and begin to close notepads when we hear, “Epistemology gives me an existential sense of dread.” We believe those words never came out of our mouths when we were 15 but we want to know more and ask for an explanation. “It’s the way knowledge is deconstructed—we’re used to how we think, then it all gets deconstructed.” We sit back down and open the note pad as another student begins to talk about “cubes.” “We look at every side of the cube, then we cut up the cube and examine every side of each of those new cubes.” Another summation: “This class moves us out of our own head to question… everything.”

As we leave we’re thinking of Imagination—one of the ways of knowing. This class leads us to imagine what the world will be like when these students are in leadership roles and thinking critically about the decisions that will affect others. Students, we are optimistic.

Rose Barnett teaches Middle School Humanities and Global Politics, another IB course, in addition to TOK and has been at MSR for 7 years.


How We Teach: From Shy to Hi

The two-year old approaches … hand outstretched. We shake. “Good morning,” I say. He moves on—silent. An older toddler and another confident handshake. To my “Good morning” he shouts, “I’m four! I can have gumballs!” A shy youngster emerges from the crosswalk … glides past my outstretched hand. I turn to watch her ascend to Children’s House. She looks back and blows a kiss.

I am standing across from the parking lot on the Lead Mine Campus, greeting children and parents on their way to classrooms. It is an independent day school ritual but at MSR it is about much more—a lesson in Montessori’s “practical life” curriculum, which, even before 8:30 a.m., I am helping to teach by saying “Good morning,” making eye contact, and inviting a child to engage in a chat. This is how we begin our work with children, Montessori writes, “by preparing the child for the forms of social life ….”

When I ask her name, she replies, “I’m named for a flower.” “I carried that flower in my wedding bouquet,” I say. She walks on. I see a young boy out of the corner of my eye. No greeting, just an exuberant “It’s a firetruck!” and his small finger pointing to the design on his shirt. “I like that color of red,” I respond.

The “practical life” curriculum is, in part, about helping the child adapt and orient to society, and teaching grace, courtesy, and respect for others, values rooted in Montessori philosophy, is a central focus. Parents who choose a Montessori environment embrace those values, and together, parents and teachers, partner in ensuring that children are “socialized,” i.e., that they know how to exchange greetings, respond appropriately, listen, share, take turns, i.e., how to adapt and work well with others.

I had the chance to learn first hand how well Lower Elementary (LEII) students are progressing in their socialization skills when I received an invitation to tea during the first week of school. Two confident LEII girls arrived at the reception area close to my office and asked to speak with me. When I appeared, they greeted me warmly, presented me with a handwritten invitation, and asked me to join their class for tea at 12:45 p.m. that same day. I expressed concern about not knowing how to find the LEII classroom. Without skipping a beat, one student looked at the other and said, “Do you think we should come back and get her?” The other replied, “I think we could do that right before we begin.” Imagine having the maturity at the age of 9 or 10 to engage, analyze, and problem solve without any assistance from an adult.

Arriving at the appointed time for the party, I saw again the social maturity of these youngsters. They had prepared questions for me, and we embarked on a serious discussion about leadership. For the better part of an hour, the students were quick to pick up on social cues, facile in the give and take of group dialogue, and clever in telling jokes, which added some silliness to our conversation. I left our little gathering impressed with the social IQ of children so young.

“I’d like to talk more, but I need to get to class—I have things to do.” Hurried words from an older elementary student as she rushes off. On the Brier Creek Campus, I see a self-assured middle school student coming my way. “You must be Ms. Norris … We’re glad you’re here. Good to meet you!” A few minutes later a high school student engages easily in conversation and agrees to talk later about an IB course she is taking.

Not only do schools help socialize children but, of course, parents do as well. Well known child psychologist Mary Pipher writes in The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families that beyond caring for the young, parents have two other major responsibilities: to protect and to socialize, i.e., to help children connect to “a larger world of meaning.” [224] She adds that these roles, however, “are often at odds with each other.” We want our children to integrate successfully when they step into college and adult life. And, we want to protect them when we note the collision between values we hold high and those saturating the messages that surround children and young people in today’s media-driven culture.

She turns away at my “Hello.” “So sorry,” says the parent of a toddler, “she’s not very talkative today.” “No problem,” I respond, “Some day she will have a lot to say.”

In fact, we can’t continue to protect our children as they become young adults and move out into that larger world. What we can do, and what MSR parents know well, is provide an environment when they are young that offers freedom within structure, aspiration and challenge, a values-heavy culture, and respect for each child’s unique path to accomplishment and independence. That is, a Montessori setting. In this rich soil, a child develops roots of resilience, self-worth, a lifelong love of learning, and values that have stood the test of time. With those strong roots, the child is free to grow wings and soar.

We will continue to socialize students because we know opportunity awaits those who have both the confidence to be independent and the skills to work with others. A recent study conducted at Harvard’s School of Education and Kennedy School confirms the value of a high social IQ by noting that the job market “favors those who have the skills to be good team players.”* According to the lead researcher in the article, “Technological change is disrupting the nature of existing jobs … ,” and industry is moving more toward “team-based, project-based approaches.”

“Good morning.” High-five instead of a handshake. “Have a good day!” “You, too!”

With roots and wings Montessori graduates are prepared fully to step out, adapt, connect in meaningful ways with others, and greet every new setting with a confident, “Hello, world.” High Five!!

*Source: accessed on 9/16/18

This article originally appeared in our new monthly email newsletter called Spice Box.

Amazon Founder Pledges $2 Billion for Montessori Education

The Amazon founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, and his wife, MacKenzie, pledge $2 billion for a new fund to start Montessori preschools to serve low-income students across the country. This sizable pledge shows his commitment and belief in the Montessori method and is a great vote of confidence in the benefit and impact of this type of education. Mr. Bezos attended Montessori as a child and believes it is what gave him his sense of exploration and focus. It is quite amazing that two of the three largest technology companies in America have founders who attended Montessori schools. The other company is Google! Both Founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin attended Montessori schools. They met while attending Stanford.

So, you want to go to Harvard?

Well according to their website, here is how your application would be considered.

In their admissions process, they give careful, individual attention to each applicant. They seek to identify students who will be the best educators of one another and their professors—individuals who will inspire those around them during their College years and beyond.

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
As life-long learners and mentors of their younger classmates, MSR students are routinely fulfilling this role. Everyday in our multi-age classrooms, older students collaborate with younger students, reviewing lessons with them as needed. The idea is that the older student is much more approachable for the younger student, and younger ones learn by example from classmates they look up to. Further, older students benefit by reinforcing the lessons they are teaching. Teachers guide older students in their roles as mentors and help build pride as they take on ownership of not only of their own education, but also that of their classmates.

Harvard asks … “Have you reached your maximum academic and personal potential?” “Have you been stretching yourself?”

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
MSR challenges students to reach beyond themselves as teachers help identify topics in which students have increased ability and interest and then guide them to delve more deeply into the subject. In our Upper School, the International Baccalaureate Programme (IB) challenges students academically with a curriculum that is becoming the gold standard for university admission, while engaging students socially through its Creativity, Activity, Service program called CAS.

Harvard asks … How have you used your time? Do you have initiative? Are you a self-starter? What motivates you?

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
Our students take the initiative. Whether it’s starting a club, organizing a community service experience, or exploring a career path, they are intrinsically motivated to take charge of their education. Students begin using a daily planner as early as first grade and are held accountable for their work through this tool. They are encouraged by teachers to cultivate that internal motivation, to do their best work, and to find personal pride in a job well done.

Harvard asks … Will you contribute something to those around you?

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
Students at MSR learn from an early age to give back to the community, whether it’s their very own classroom or in another school in need on the other side of the world. Community service is sewn into the fabric of an MSR education from the earliest years and is a requirement in Middle and Upper School.

Harvard asks … Do you care deeply about anything—intellectual? Extracurricular? Personal?

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
Our students are taught to think deeply about meaningful topics, to develop empathy in order to learn from others, and invest in passions that move them on a base level.

Harvard asks … What have you learned from your interests? What have you done with your interests? How have you achieved results? With what success or failure? What have you learned as a result?

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
As our students follow their passions and interest, they traverse the bumpy landscape of learning guided by expert teachers who allow them to stumble and fall and are there to encourage and teach them how to bounce back. They learn so much more than students who never get the opportunity to develop resilience.

Harvard asks … In terms of extracurricular, athletic, community, or family commitments, have you taken full advantage of opportunities?

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
Our entire culture is built upon being involved and that includes taking part in a diverse array of extracurriculars, athletics, and community opportunities.

Harvard asks … “What about your maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, warmth of personality, sense of humor, energy, concern for others, and grace under pressure?

Here is The Montessori School of Raleigh’s Philosophy:
As our students complete their education at MSR, whether it is Montessori, IB, or a combination of both, they have acquired skills as agile thinkers, poised communicators, gracious collaborators, and engineers of authentic and fulfilling lives.

Are MSR students prepared for Harvard? Of course … and for anywhere else they choose to go.

10th Annual Miners Golf Tournament

Join us for a great cause and some amazing golf on the beautiful Bermuda greens of the Heritage Golf Club. Enjoy a day of golf and support The Montessori School of Raleigh in the 10th Annual Miners Golf Tournament. Last year we had 47 parents, grandparents and friends of MSR supporting us in tournament play. Together with 6 sponsors and 21 area businesses graciously donating prizes, we were able to raise over $6,300 for the Miners Athletic program.

Event Date:
October 22, 2018
Registration 11:00 a.m.
Lunch 11:30 a.m.
Golf 1:00 p.m.


Event Location:
Heritage Club
1250 Heritage Club Avenue
Wake Forest, NC 27587

Courtney Nutter, Athletic Director
919-848-1545 ext. 253

Happy Birthday Maria!

Happy 148th Birthday to Maria Montessori! Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father, Alessandro Montessori, 33 years old at the time, was an official of the Ministry of Finance working in the local state-run tobacco factory. Her mother, Renilde Stoppani, 25 years old, was well educated for the times and was the great-niece of Italian geologist and paleontologist Antonio Stoppani.

In 1906 Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of a group of children of working parents in a new apartment building for low-income families in the San Lorenzo district in Rome. Montessori was interested in applying her work and methods to mentally normal children, and she accepted. The name Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, was suggested to Montessori, and the first Casa opened on January 6, 1907, enrolling 50 or 60 children between the ages of two or three and six or seven. And the rest is history. Thanks Maria!

MSR is Now Offering the IB Program

We are thrilled and proud to inform you that the International Baccalaureate (IB) organization has authorized the Montessori School of Raleigh to offer the IB Diploma Programme beginning in Fall 2018. MSR will become just the third independent school in North Carolina – and the only one outside of Charlotte – to offer the prestigious IB Diploma.

As an IB World School, MSR is now part of a global community of institutions committed to developing knowledgeable, caring young people ready to negotiate successful futures and make contributions resulting in a more harmonious and peaceful world.

Obtaining IB authorization is a difficult process that takes three years. Candidate schools are evaluated in great depth to ensure that the proper structures and processes are in place to proficiently run the Diploma Programme. That comprehensive review explored MSR’s philosophy; school organization; leadership and structure; resources and support; curriculum (collaborative planning, written curriculum, teaching and learning, assessment); and faculty and staff training to ensure we meet the extremely high standards of the IB. The review culminated with an on-site visit by an IB Verification Team that met with our students, teachers, parents, Board members, and administration. We would like to commend our educators, administrators, students, trustees, and families for their active roles in reaching this notable milestone.

On our Brier Creek Campus, the new Upper School building that will house our Montessori and IB Programme is well underway. When the project is completed this fall, it will mark the culmination of six years of work and many millions of dollars of investment in MSR – beginning with a new performance stage and soccer field, followed by a new regulation gymnasium and administration building, then the renovation of the Watson Fine Arts Center, and now a beautiful new Upper School for our children. We thank every member of our community for the support and hard work it took to get us here.

The positive impacts of the IB program on the MSR community and our students will be immeasurable. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is among the most-recognized and most-respected college preparatory programs in the world and is a robust pathway to the finest universities. Graduating classes of our Diploma Programme students will go on to engage in meaningful study and work to enhance social, cultural and economic environments locally, nationally and even internationally – engineers of authentic and fulfilling lives.

SummerScape 2018 was fun for all!

SummerScape is MSR’s summer camp program. Many students return to our campus for week-long camps designed for those who love sports, crafts, cooking, or just plain old summer fun. MSR strives to make SummerScape a continuation of the Montessori experience by providing a creative, safe and fun environment.

Click the links below to see the catalog from SummerScape 2018 with full schedule and camp descriptions. SummerScape 2019 descriptions should appear on the website sometime in late January and registration usually opens the first of February.




  • June 11 – 15 SummerScape Week 1
  • June 18 – 22 SummerScape Week 2
  • June 25 – 29 SummerScape Week 3
  • July 2 – 6 NO SummerScape 4th of July Holiday
  • July 9 – 13 SummerScape Week 4
  • July 16 – 20 SummerScape Week 5
  • July 23 – 27 SummerScape Week 6
  • July 30 – Aug 3 SummerScape Week 7

Click here to read our Refund Policy.

Book Fair was a BIG Success!

The annual MSR Book Fair had the Watson Fine Arts Center hopping with students and parents shopping for some outstanding reads. We were honored to partner with Quail Ridge Books who year-after-year provides us with a wonderfully curated selection of books for all ages! In addition, we also collected gently used book donations for the Durham-based Book Harvest. (Book Harvest provides books to children who need them and engages families and communities to promote children’s lifelong literacy and academic success.) Last year, we sold close to $13,000 worth of books and raised over $2,700 for the school.

Scott Reintgen, author of the best-selling Nyxia series, visited the Brier Creek campus. He shared his young adult sci fi/fantasy novel with the Middle and Upper School students and discussed his writing process.