Angela Murray

Understanding and Expanding Montessori to Unleash the Potential of the Next Generation


During her 15-minute talk, Dr. Angela Murray discusses and explains:

  • adaptable and innovative critical-thinkers;
  • increase risk-taking, but sees the limits from task-oriented students;
  • business entrepreneurs as the new heroes of our world;
  • early educational experiences research on the ‘causes’ of business (entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and social entrepreneurs);
  • development for non-Montessori teachers;
  • Puerto Rico Montessori community schools

Murray's Definition of a "Prepared Adult": A prepared adult is someone who has the basic academic foundation to function in society but also the intellectual curiosity to explore ideas and ask questions. They have a well-developed sense of responsibility and want to continue to grow and learn over the course of their lifetimes. They are engaged in passions and interests that drive them and provide balance for a fulfilling life.


Dr. Angela K. Murray is an assistant research professor at the University of Kansas. She is currently a lecturer at KU teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in research methods and statistics. Dr. Murray is also the founding editor of the Journal of Montessori Research, an OJS publication supported by the University of Kansas Libraries, and the Founding Chair of the Montessori Education Special Interest Group (SIG) within the American Educational Research Association (AERA).


I'm thrilled to be here. And although it's hard to be, at the end of the day, I just feel like I'm filled up with all these amazing ideas and some of the words from the last presentation that really stuck in my mind and really seemed to lay the groundwork for what I want to talk about are things like the role of school in helping people learn to take risks and feeling a sense of belonging. That meaningful experience creates learning and that we're really all about meeting to connect people. And so I think that all of those things connect really nicely with what I had, what I had planned to talk about. So in terms of my role, I am at the University of Kansas and I'm the director for the Center for Montessori Research at the University. I'm an assistant research professor there, but we are a fairly young center, and so my responsibilities are not full time at the center, although at some point it would be lovely for that to to be my primary responsibility. But I do have an opportunity to teach. So I'm also a lecturer. Some of my time I spend in the School of Education teaching doctoral students. But I also in my previous career, I alluded to it in one of our breakout discussions earlier. I spent 15 plus years in corporate America and have an MBA. And so I have an opportunity to teach in the school of Business. And so I have a really interesting sort of perspective on trying to connect to the business world and the next generation of business leaders.

And one of the things that I used that experience as an opportunity to do is to experiment. It was approved by our Institutional Review Board, so I was not totally using my students as guinea pigs, but it was really an opportunity. We were creating a new marketing analytics course, and I saw this as an opportunity to not build a course that followed the same pattern as all of the other courses in the School of Business. I wanted to create something really different and inspired by the structure of Montessori adolescent programs. And so I worked with a colleague who is a teacher educator at the adolescent level to sort of identify some of the structural things that could be built into an undergraduate business class. So I incorporated things like community building, small group collaboration, choice and self initiated exploration. And then even this idea of kind of a going out or an industry enrichment kind of an assignment. So what my perspective as an educator in the school of Business is very different from others in the department because I do have this very strong Montessori orientation based on my second career where I really passionate about learning and providing real world experiences and establishing a real love of learning among my students. And so that's somewhat of a different environment just in general then than students experience in other classes.

But through this experience. Right, and I'm just hitting some high points here, and this is an unpublished experiment that I'm now realizing as I'm revisiting it. Maybe I should write it up and try to publish it because there's a lot more richness to it. But the bottom line was that students really recognize that this was a different approach than they had experienced in their other business classes, and they felt like they believed that they learned more in this format. They also, even more so, believe that they enjoyed it more than the traditional class format, and they really reported feeling a sense of mutual respect and motivation. So these photographs are from some of those students that were in that class experiment. Some of the more in-depth things that I learned, they really enjoyed the hands on activities. The good days were the days when everyone was really working on their own modules of activity, interacting with each other and supporting one another. A couple of quotes from the students. The atmosphere and learning style was great. I thought that it was an extremely well rounded class that you don't too often get in the business school. I like the structure. It made me take my own initiative and really dive in. However, the flip side of that was the fact that there was definitely pushback because many students were really very task oriented and just wanted to get whatever the assignment or the requirement was done as fast as possible.

And they struggled with having the patience to take charge of their own learning. And really the the deep engagement that I had hoped to foster and some small group discussions really did take off. And I think a lot has to do with thinking about the kinds of experiences that students grew up with. These were undergraduates in Kansas, and most of these students had a very traditional sort of educational background, and so they kind of didn't know what to do with this experience. They just wanted me to tell them how to do it, sort of this just give me the step by step instructions. And so what really happened was that it was really hard to fit this sort of innovative approach into a standard college experience because of the way the students had been conditioned. And I really felt that lack of a willingness to take risks and to really stretch themselves. And that really makes me sad that we are setting students up to be so constrained in their thinking. The things that students found the most positive, though, were the real world applications, and those were the kinds of things that really sparked their interest and was a very positive outcome from the experiment. But because and this is something that's come up multiple times already today. We have. This this time of unprecedented change, where we need to create a generation of adaptable and innovative critical thinkers.

And how are we going to do that? And. What I have hypothesized and what this experience sort of reinforced is the notion that we really need to intervene sooner. So a lot of my work has been sort of sparked by this kind of experience and this kind of thinking. I'm doing some work in the areas of entrepreneurship, looking at Montessori implementation, public schools, as well as some professional development opportunities. And so I'm sure that the photos of some of the folks on the left are familiar to you, the stories that we as the Montessori community are familiar with regarding some of the the high profile entrepreneurs that have had a montessori background. And so because I live in this world where I straddle the world of the business school, where the entrepreneurship center is, at the School of business, and my own center, which has a center for creativity and entrepreneurship education, it really creates an opportunity to think about how we can connect what's happening in Montessori schools to this notion of entrepreneurship, education. And what we are learning is that currently entrepreneurship education is happening at the high school and even the college level. And there's beginning to be a recognition that these things should probably be taught at an earlier age to encourage the kinds of things we've been talking about, like autonomy, hands on learning, experiential learning, creative problem solving, offering those rich social interactions to encourage risk taking in real world experiences.

And these are the kinds of things that. Are not simply limited to the entrepreneurship education, but entrepreneurship education is a language that the world understands and can perhaps be a platform to talk about Montessori education through the lens of entrepreneurship and using that language. And I think that that's the kind of these are the kinds of ideals and the kinds of heroes that society values. And so perhaps it creates an opportunity. So I have two projects that are very early on in the proposal stages to try to align educational approaches with the pedagogical theories of entrepreneurship, education and looking at how Montessori as well as other educational approaches sort of hit on or don't those ideas behind what happens in entrepreneurship, education and then also looking at potentially trying to examine some of the early education experiences of those who have demonstrated entrepreneurial life trajectories. So really trying to understand not just what happened in someone's high school or college age, but even earlier on, the kinds of experiences educationally that might have led entrepreneurs into the places that they have had where they have ended up. And I think and when I talk about entrepreneurship, I'm not just talking about business entrepreneurship, but also the notions of entrepreneurship, which is basically innovation within larger organizations and then also social entrepreneurship, those ideas of trying to really cutting edge innovation in in terms of making social change, that's one area that I think has some real potential for the future.

An area where I have done more current work is the area of Montessori implementation. Three projects that are underway, one that I have actually is a publication and I'll share some results from the teacher self report of Montessori practices. But this goes back to the notion that Dr. Lillard mentioned early in the day about this, the idea of Monte something and how do you measure Montessori and how do you understand what's happening in the Montessori classrooms primarily for the purposes of those that want to study them. So how do we create tools that allow researchers to sort of capture the Montessori ness of the environments that they're studying so that they can account for the full implementation of Montessori in the studies that they're doing along those lines, we're also developing an observation instrument to to serve a similar purpose in a more rigorous observational way rather than a self reported way, and then also a rubric that could be used with early career teachers in terms of providing a self reflection opportunity regarding Montessori practices. And this is just a really quick little highlight and I won't there's a lot of information here that I won't give you all the details, but one of the pieces of work that came out of that teacher questionnaire of Montessori practices was a cluster analysis. And for those of you that are interested, it was it was a very simple K means clustering that just really helped us identify four different groups of teachers.

And those groups of teachers differed in terms of the components or the factors that we that emerged from our data regarding one, regarding the structure in the classroom, whether they were following a more standard Montessori structure, the curriculum that was implemented, and then the freedom that was allowed in the classroom. And these results are from the early childhood version of the instrument. And you can see that almost half of the classrooms or the teachers that we studied were what we would consider classic more the high fidelity classrooms. But the places where it got really interesting were those modified classrooms where there was not a lot of structure or curriculum, but a lot of freedom happening. And you can see some other characteristics of those classrooms. And then the plot in the lower right hand corner just shows us among the components and the items, the differentiation among those different clusters of teachers. Just to help us understand that, to begin to understand what the Montessori something actually looks like. In terms of public Montessori schools. I have been doing some work with a local school holiday. Montessori school is in the Kansas City, Missouri school district. And I have an article under consideration right now in the American Educational History Journal looking at the emergence of Montessori in Kansas City as part of the desegregation program. But what's happened since the time of its inception and the ending of the desegregation case is that the school has really drifted away from Montessori.

Up until a new leader came on board. And now there's a new commitment and a revitalization that's really happened in that school. And this photo is from a classroom in Holladay Montessori School today. And there's a second article in development where we really want to talk about the revitalization of that school, as it has really embraced the Montessori philosophy and really recommitted to it. A project that we have been working on proposing is looking at public Montessori community schools in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has because of natural disasters and even more so now because of the pandemic, there's really an increasingly difficult situation for children in Puerto Rico now. In 2014, Montessori community schools were part of a decennial plan of education, and there are now close to 50 Montessori community schools in Puerto Rico. And what we would like to examine is through a mixed message approach, how are these schools really serving the whole child in terms of both learning needs as well as other kinds of socio emotional needs and also serving families? And then can we identify the particular benefits that these kinds of holistic community schools provide for helping communities overcome not only crises, but also systemic inequities? That could really help us make the case for creating these kinds of community schools that might provide benefit for other communities in the future. And then the last project that I want to talk about could potentially be somewhat of a of a contentious conversation, because I think that there's there would be lots of different opinions about this particular idea.

But this is a notion that I think one of the things that I hear in the field of education is that there is a need for identifying the specific mechanisms that make Montessori work and understanding understanding that Montessori is a system where all of the pieces work together. But from a theoretical standpoint, being able to understand each of those components is important. I've been I've sort of been inspired by this idea from a session that I did at an in a UIC conference where we were looking at sharing Montessori principles with non Montessori teachers because they were very interested in what Montessori had to offer and recognize they couldn't implement Montessori fully, but they felt like there was something that they could learn from Montessori. And I think that this could be as much of a research project as a PR effort, because I think there's a real potential to attract new teachers, to expand awareness for Montessori and hopefully raise interest in fully implemented Montessori as a result of something like this. So in terms of where I think I'd like to focus my efforts on changing the conversation going forward, this really I think this is very funny because it relates to what Dr. Lillard was talking about with her conversation with Larry Cuban when he was surprised, sort of surprised to be asked about why Montessori wasn't a research interest.

That was my experience in going to the American Educational Research Association when we began trying to promote Montessori as a special interest group within the organization. We got a lot of funny looks because people were really surprised that Montessori would want to be part of this conversation about educational scholarship and contributing to the body of knowledge. And so I think there's a lot of work to be done. These photos are from the last in-person HRA conference in 2019 where you can see that we had a booth in the exhibit hall and a pretty good turnout for our Montessori education stage. So things like that special interest group, the Journal of Montessori Research, a montessori research working group. And I would love to connect anyone that's in this colloquium to connect with me about the Montessori Research Working Group. We have a number of of scholars from across the country and now increasingly internationally that are in a variety of different fields with interests in Montessori who have begun collaborating on research efforts. And so those are the kinds of things that I would love to connect the researchers in the group to if there's an interest in in getting to be part of that conversation. I mentioned the Bloomsbury handbook earlier, which also gets Montessori into sort of the broader field of education as well as doctoral programs with an emphasis on Montessori.

So we need to know more about how to leverage the research that exists to promote additional scholarship. We need to understand the impacts of the various mechanisms of Montessori education. We need to grow the diversity of evidence about outcomes, and then we need to gauge the long term impact. And I think these are many projects that we've been talking about earlier today. But how do we make it happen? I think that the bottom line is we need to continue to expand the Montessori research community leverage area, but also leverage Montessori parents and local university faculty. These photos are from the last Montessori research working group retreat. And when we were able to meet in person in the fall of 2019, where we really have a collaboration of scholars as well as research centers, and that's beginning to really grow internationally and across disciplines. And we also need to focus on encouraging schools to participate in research so that we have the opportunity to grow the body of work that exists. And then we need to identify growing funding sources. It's beginning to change that. Some of the traditional ranchers are seeing relevance of Montessori education, but it's still a challenge for some of the more traditional, large, either government or private foundation entities that fund research to see that Montessori research can be more broadly impactful in the field of education. So with that, I will close out and turn it over to the next person.

Made possible by the Prepared Adult Initiative.