Disclosure: This post was written and sponsored by Montessori School of New Orleans.
How Montessori Middle Schools Honor and Empower Adolescents
“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.”
Dr. Maria Montessori | Education for a New World
Who Do I Want To Be?
When I tell people I work with middle schoolers, they typically respond with something sarcastic like, “I’m so sorry!” or “I’m terrified of my kids getting to that age!” If they hang around to ask me why I like this age group so much, I explain that middle schoolers are figuring out who they want to be. They’re developing political opinions; they are fiercely passionate about justice; they are creative and have the capacity for incredible things. This is the season of life where kids are deciding: Am I smart? Am I important? Do I fit in? Are my ideas worthy of sharing?
Where Do I Fit In?
Traditionally, middle school programs in New Orleans are included at the end of elementary school, or perhaps the start of a high school program. The Montessori School of New Orleans is a program that focuses solely on adolescence, as young people are learning how they fit into the world. Many parents are familiar with Montessori preschool programs, where children choose their work and learn from multi-sensory materials. While the philosophy is the same in subsequent grades, Montessori middle schools are structured in specific ways to honor and empower adolescents.
What Makes a Montessori Middle School Program Unique?
- A supportive, democratic community: Daily community meetings serve as a space for students to make decisions cooperatively, share what is going on in their lives, and solve problems big and small.
- Outdoor education: Whether students are using the local ecosystem for stem activities, taking a trip out of state, or just learning to practice mindfulness under a tree, nature is an extension of the Montessori classroom.
- Service Learning: More than just showing up to do service hours, Montessori middle schoolers spend time in their community, building relationships and addressing the needs of others.
- Parent education: Through book clubs, speakers, and supportive dialogue, MSNO works with parents as a team.
- Multi-age classroom: Multiple grade levels learn in one community, allowing for students to progress at their own pace. Students serve as mentors and leaders.
- Classroom environment: Designed to encourage curiosity, independence, and freedom of movement, environments respond to the developmental needs of the middle school student.
- Non-traditional scheduling: Students have blocks of 2-3 hours every day to do independent work, fostering focus and executive functioning skills. Students work at their own pace in a flexible, homelike environment.
- Thematic Curriculum: Montessori middle school teachers teach all subjects through unifying themes, with a focus on finding patterns and critically analyzing information.
- Personal Reflection: Through daily mindfulness and introspection, adolescents develop a healthy self-image and learn how to cope with challenges.
What About High School?
The Montessori middle school curriculum is a rigorous, high school preparatory curriculum, used throughout the country. Our team has helped hundreds of students successfully matriculate to high school of their choice. Montessori middle school graduates are thriving in public, charter, and private high schools.
Choosing a school community is one of the most important decisions a parent can make, and we would love the opportunity to talk to individuals interested in learning more about the Montessori School of New Orleans. Please visit the website, nolamontessori.org, or email us at [email protected] to schedule a phone call or coffee date to learn more.
Would you like to learn more? Our Open House will be held at Revelator Coffee, on March 18th, located in the American Can shops at 3700 Orleans Avenue starting at 6:30 PM. We hope to see you there!
About the Author
Rachel Cole is a Montessori educator whose passion is middle school. As a young teacher in New Orleans, Rachel quickly realized she was eager to find a model of education that would empower and honor the spirit of her students. This search led her to Montessori. Rachel taught at the Montessori School of Fort Worth, where she established a brand new middle school program. In addition to learning their core subjects, her students spent time starting their own businesses, serving local refugee families, hiking in Jackson Hole, farming in Arkansas, and exploring passions ranging from Mandarin Chinese to meditation to knitting. Rachel is a systems thinker with a natural ability to create a responsive and welcoming school culture. Rachel served as an administrator and instructional coach at Audubon Charter, overseeing grades six through eight. There she lead a team of ten adults and 150 students, redesigning the middle school program to implement Montessori practices in a public setting. Originally from Princeton, NJ, Rachel is a first generation college student, graduating cum laude from Tulane with a BA in English Literature. Rachel received her Montessori certification from Houston Montessori Center, and went on to earn her M.Ed in Montessori Integrative Learning. Rachel resides in Gentilly with her husband and two kittens. In her free time, Rachel can be found reading in a coffee shop or running in City Park.
My daughter was a student of “Mrs. Cole,” She a wonderful teacher, who continues to be a presence in her life. Her middle school experience gave a strong foundation for high school where she has earned an academic letterman and been inducted into National Honor Society. Her time in middle school was transformational and the lessons and experiences will serve her for years to come. As for Rachel and Harry Cole, they are true teachers, who really do love middle schoolers. Rachel is a gifted teacher who truly cares for her students. New Orleans is lucky to have her!
As a Secondary Montessori teacher myself who has had the pleasure of working in five different schools, including a classroom co-teaching with Rachel Cole, I can unequivocally attest to her commitment to Montessori philosophy and drive to make the environment a powerful reflection of her students.
Any teacher can tell you their plans and intentions when they design a classroom or curriculum, however being both a co-teacher AND an employee means needing to navigate expectations and demands from many stakeholders. While co-teaching Middle School English at Audubon Charter School with Rachel, her ability to navigate what was best for our students in the spaces of our classroom autonomy unquestionably guided to our students’ growth. They found voices as writers, critical eyes as readers and comfort in each other, Rachel and myself. Rachel made purposeful and intentional choices that challenged our students while allowing them to “see” themselves in the work we explored and the writing they crafted.
Teachers are human and creatures of growth. I have personally witnessed over the course of the last six years the personal and professional growth Rachel has experienced. She is dedicated to reflection, critical feedback and empathetic communication. Part of Dr. Montessori’s approach to establishing environment are they should be what children need. The concept of “exploring” means students are invited to different works or options within the space. Not every student is empowered by meditation. Perhaps, a student had an issue at home the previous night and is craving any small window of rest to allow them to focus. For Rachel, the classroom will always be want a student NEEDS. She is a leader passionately driven by the identities and remarkable abilities of adolescents.
My child was a student in the middle school at MSFW during both years that Rachel and Harry taught there. I can unequivocally state that the best decision we ever made was to entrust our child’s middle school education with the Coles. Our son was extremely well prepared to enter a high school with an accelerated academic program. He developed critical thinking and analytical skills, the ability to work with others through group work, service learning, engagement with nature and exposure to areas of study you would not normally find in a middle school curriculum. More important to us, however, was his growth as a person. As a parent volunteer in the classroom, I had many opportunities to observe the Coles’ teaching style and interaction with students. Although small, the class encompassed students with a wide range of academic and social abilities. The Coles, along with Dr. Norton, their co-teacher, went above and beyond to understand and serve each child. Each student was cherished and cared for as a unique individual. My personal belief is NOLA Montessori will provide a priceless opportunity for your child and your family. I think the world of Harry and Rachel, and recommend both as teachers and amazing human beings.
Rachel Cole is one of the finest teachers I have ever worked with. She created a classroom environment in Texas that centered on the needs and development of the students. Her lessons were vigorous, fun and sparked the imaginations in her students, inspiring them to want to learn more. During lunch, I often witnessed Rachel sitting under a tree with a gaggle of students sitting around her—everyone laughing and smiling. That’s one of Rachel’s best qualities: making people feel valued. She both challenges and supports her students, and they love her for it.
Rachel taught my daughter in aftercare, and quickly became her favorite teacher, modeling equity, inclusiveness and compassion. If I lived in New Orleans I would want my daughter to spend her adolescents with Rachel.
Amanda Stone Norton, PhD
I had the opportunity to work at the same Montessori school as Harry and Rachel Cole for several years. Each day students were eager to learn and developed skills, both academic and socially, to become successful in their high school years and beyond. I enjoyed watching them work with each student and how they helped them uncover their individuality. NOLA is lucky to have such a dynamic duo! Thank you for your positive influence on our students and children!
My child was in Montessori from eleven weeks until the age of fourteen and the Coles were the crowning jewels of the many wonderful Montessori teachers my daughter had the privilege of being taught by during her Montessori education. Both Harry and Rachel have the rare gift of being able to embrace the spirit of young adolescents and guide them gently along the rocky path of adolescence to help them reach their full potential. Middle school is generally considered a very difficult time, both for children and the adults in their lives. I can honestly say that my daughter enjoyed every moment of middle school. I frequently hear her tell people that middle school was her favorite part of her Montessori education. She says that everything that she had been taught in Montessori seemed to come together in middle school. When she heard that the Coles were opening a Middle School, her very first question was— will they add a high school track just for me? New Orleans is incredibly lucky to have such an amazing school opening for middle school.
The Coles were not only friends and fellow teachers but also taught my eldest daughter for 7th grade. Under their guidance and nuturing environment, my daughter grew as a person and as a learner. Incredibly thankful for their patience and dedication to the classroom. They are missed In Ft. Worth but I am sure they are going to create a beautiful new Montessori environment in New Orleans dedicated to the philosophy of Dr. Montessori.
As the mom of a son with learning differences, I could not imagine having more perfect and caring teachers than Rachel and Harry Cole for his middle school years. He is now nearing the end of his junior year in high school and still utilizes tools they devised that have helped him learn and grow and will continue to in all aspects of his life. I know they are truly missed here, but our loss is NOLA’s gain.
I was a student of Mrs. Cole’s and she was by far one of the greatest most influential teachers I’ve ever had. Mrs. Cole taught me so much beyond the traditional classroom environment. Mrs. Cole taught me about the importance and joy of personal refection. Personal refection is one of the absolutely greatest things that I was taught at Montessori. Personal refection is creatively expressing yourself and reflecting on yourself through different artistic mediums. Mrs. Cole made me feel welcomed and happy in the classroom every single day. She listened to everything I blurted out,(even if it was not prevalent at all to what we were learning). She controlled the classroom incredibly. She could teach to my individual needs and just support me through all of middle school. She was just the most spectacular teacher.