Kathy Leitch

Montessori's Secret - Developing Human Potential


During her 15-minute talk, Leitch discusses and explains:

  • Supporting healthy and sustainable schools;
  • Social and emotional development, equity, mental health;
  • Parents’ dilemmas and living up to teachers’ expectations;
  • The need to exponentially expand Montessori;
  • Preparing young people to understand where they live;
  • Society of people who live on purpose

Leitch defines a "Prepared Adult" as someone who, is conscious and intentional, exhibits self-awareness, and can engage in healthy human relationships. They are open-minded life-long learners.


Kathy has a 20-year history of serving the International Montessori Council (IMC) as a school member, board member, and accreditation commissioner. These experiences have given her perspective, insight, understanding, and appreciation of the organization. Leitch currently serves as the IMC Executive Director and has been a leader in Montessori education for over 30 years. She graduated from Barry University and earned her Montessori credentials from the American Montessori Society for 0-3 and 3-6. Kathy founded and served as head of Renaissance Montessori School in Fort Myers, Florida. She has over 15 years of experience as a Montessori Teacher Trainer, School Consultant and Accreditation Commissioner. Additionally, Kathy is a certified Parenting Instructor and Mindfulness Facilitator.


Thank you so much and thank you to all the previous speakers. As Angela said, I am filled to the brim. I think it has just been such an inspiring day. But what I know about learning is that we all have to take a breath, that when we keep taking in and taking and taking in, it's a lot to process. And one of the things I use when I present often and and use with children as well is a snowglobe. And I'm going to hold the snowglobe up for you because this is what my mind feels like right now, is lots of swirling thoughts. But when we take a couple of breaths. To which I invite you all to do. And all of the snow starts settling. We slowly come back to a place of clarity. And I hadn't planned that, but I just thought, oh, my goodness, we are we are swirling with thoughts, ideas, wisdom, inquiry, so many challenges. And I'm here to talk a little bit about. The need for us to be bold and courageous. And I think that's been the really common thread that I have heard through all of the presentations. You all have brought us really bold and courageous ideas. You've brought inquiry, and these initiatives deserve the platform. And so I thank everyone for creating this platform for us. We're really talking about human flourishing. We're really looking at how do we have the most ideal? Path forward for humanity. How do we help teachers, parents and school leaders suspend their fear of change and be able to look at some of these ideas differently with new perspective, with new eyes? And I think it was Angelina who said earlier about having to unlearn that we as adults who maybe were not raised with this sort of opportunity in education.

Yes. Did we turn out okay? I would happen to think we did. But what did it take for us to get here? And what can we do to, as I say, create a pathway forward for a more optimal opportunity for our children and and the adults who serve them? So I'm going to talk. Well, first, I want to tell you a little bit about my background. I've been involved with Mastery Education for about 40 years, many of those years in the classroom with birth to six year old children. I founded a school and ran that school for almost 30 years. It served infant through middle school. And I've been a teacher educator, a parent educator, and currently leadership consultant and coach. So all of these things have led me to some common understandings. And I think it's really important to think about these multiple crises that we've been through that have created some opportunity that perhaps we wouldn't have had. And many of you have referred to some of these the global pandemic, social isolation, the trauma that people have been in and are currently still in, the social injustice and inequities that we deal with in many of our cultures climate change, the financial crises we've been through, and this is all led to some serious mental health issues.

So how do we take a crisis and really make it an opportunity? And how do we learn the lessons that the crises bring to us? One of the things that that I did with with the organization that I work with, the International Monetary Council and the Monetary Foundation, is that we created think tanks and task forces related to helping schools through COVID and how to have adaptive leadership and how to stay healthy and how to message to parents. We've created social justice and equity think tanks and task forces to deal with some of the issues and help teachers and leaders be able to address the issues that that are deeply embedded in our culture. And so the lessons that have come out of this for me have been about the sense of belonging, the community that comes together and and most worries, a fairly small community. We were global. Yes, we're international. Yes, we've been around for 100 years, but we are fairly small community and that is not necessarily a good thing. We really would like to grow and move out of this sort of cloistered environment that we've lived in. And of course, I truly believe in in protecting the legacy of Dr. Montessori and the fully full implementation of her teachings. And at the same time, I know that we have to expand our community. And and when Mike first mentioned that this was about the exponential increase of prepared adults that we really have to look at, how can we influence this? I looked at three things supporting optimal development as the foundation.

How do we support optimal development of human beings? How do we prepare adults to support that optimal development? And then how do we support healthy and sustainable schools for that to take place? And I start with supporting optimal development because I know that that's that Dr. Montessori taught us that that is what will influence the future of humanity. We know that removing obstacles, including ourselves, when we're the obstacle and not hindering development is a is a big part of this. It's really the opposite approach of what the conventional schools are going for. The outcome that they seem to be producing and seem to be investing in has to do with conformity and compliance. And when that's the model, it's very different than what we're looking at when we talk about framing for optimal development, conformity and compliance. The inquiry we get from that is, is this on the test? And that's not really the inquiry we're looking for. So the outcomes are different. The approach is different and. As everyone has said, this isn't there's just no way to incrementally change that particular system. This has to be transformative. When we look at development, we have to look at all areas of development, the basic physical needs that children and adults have, the nutrition, sleep need for movement, intellectual development, the acquisition of knowledge and skills, as many of you have spoken about.

But that's fueled by curiosity, by autonomy, by a sense of purpose, by the opportunity to practice and the opportunity to gain competency. And without those ingredients, you can't have full intellectual development. I also look at the social emotional development, which is something that I just don't believe can be purchased in a sort of a canned curriculum. I think that this really has to do with how we model this in and provide opportunity in Montessori classrooms for the healthy social emotional development. I was recently asked in a parent presentation I was making, the parent asked me, how do I balance my child's mental health with my teacher's expectations? And that question has stuck with me. This has been a couple of weeks now. And and I. I'm shocked by that. And I'm happy she asked the question. But I'm. I'm troubled that there should be a choice between mental health and teacher expectations. I'm troubled that that people are concerned about children falling behind some artificial benchmark, because I truly believe children are always learning. And so what is it we value about what they're learning? Are we helping them to develop kindness, compassion, empathy as a foundation for their future academic learning? Are we understanding that their lived experience in this prepared environment with prepared adults gives them opportunity to develop these qualities and characteristics and that these are emergent in the child to begin with. They're already there.

These are the intangible elements of monetary pedagogy. These are things that aren't on the shelf necessarily, but they are built into our pedagogy. When we think about mental health and our emotional, our psychological and our social wellbeing, we really look at the basis of healthy relationships. Are we in relationship with the children we serve? Are we building community with the children we serve, both in our individual classrooms and in our schools. And we often some of you have spoken about emotional intelligence, the development of self awareness, self regulation, the social awareness and the relationship management as such a basis for and so much more important than our IQ score are. We know that because you maybe did well on an IQ score or you had a great SAT score, that that is not the predictor of being able to get along well in the world, to navigate the the society in any way. It really is more about our emotional development and our executive function, which is also been mentioned today, the the cognitive flexibility, the impulse control and the working memory. So what you know, these are things that Montessori classrooms do, again, in an intangible way. It's I'm so happy to see all the research that is showing that these things do make a difference in children's development and then how we can operate as adults, the ability to prepare adults to support optimal development. I ask the question, who are we in the lives of the children we serve? Someone said earlier, and I think it's a Parker Palmer quote, We teach who we are.

So the teacher, the that part of the preparation of the teacher has to be that helping them be a student of themselves, helping them be self aware, helping them be a student of the world, both historically and current. And what's what's the potential for our world and of course, to be a student of the child, to recognize the child's inner guide and their desire and drive to learn and grow. There are so many parts of Montessori pedagogy that, as many of you have said, are not at the university level, that we are not teaching this to potential educators of any kind. And so getting Montessori into the the typical vernacular of of education and it's up to us as Montessori is also, to break through that and to say, okay, we can speak the regular education language and and sort of come together in the middle because there's there's just such a jargon that we work in that doesn't necessarily apply outside of our Montessori friends. And preparing adults really has to do with helping them learn the the scientific method of observation and study and inquiry, the opportunity for practice and experimentation and application, how we measure adult learning. As I said earlier, are we really, really looking at how do adults learn? How do they learn best? How do they retain that information over time? And are they really applying what they've learned? Do we see this happening in classrooms? So we really have have to look at our teacher education programs, I think, with a critical and reflective eye and say, are we using conventional methods, the methods that we so deplore in with for our children? Are we using these as our main source of preparing our teachers? Is it time to look at applying the pedagogy and looking at the ways people learn and being having a more responsive model rather than trying to get all the information in as quickly as we can and having it be sort of a rote memorization sort of process.

I really believe in the transformative and reflective processes over time, working with what Montessori called the spiritual preparation and transformation of the teacher, having them have reflective and directive coaching opportunities. The blended learning model that we spoke about earlier, where where people have some time online, some time in person sometime like this where you're virtual and but budget live and a mix of modalities so that people who learn differently have that opportunity. The other thing it provides is access. We need more teachers. We need access to this preparation, different methods of preparation. It also helps with the equity issue. How do we reach a number of people? How do we make it affordable? How do we make it so they don't have to be unemployed for a certain amount of time or travel long distances, things like that? And then how do we scale that so that we can really meet the demands of Montessori schools that are growing throughout the world and then, of course, supporting healthy and sustainable schools.

Having an organizational culture that is by design, not by default. Right. Every school has an organisational culture. But if it's not intentional and conscious, it's just a default culture. So what is it we want? We want a culture that respects individual teachers dignity and autonomy. We want them to have professional development, mentoring and coaching. We want there to be a cohesion of practice from classroom to classroom, both vertically and horizontally. And we want them to have consistent and supportive policies and practices throughout the school. So one of my favorite quotes of of my recent is from Dr. Montessori. She says An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking. It involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live. And I think that that really is relevant for where we are right now in our time. And it's a very big call to action because in order to truly transform society and have human beings who live on purpose, we must transform society's understanding of education. We must transform this definition from academics and test scores. We must embrace education's true purpose, which is developing human potential. And I'll end with just a final quote, because I think this is the real secret of monastery's teachings, and that is of all things. Love is most potent. Thank you.

Made possible by the Prepared Adult Initiative.