Tim Seldin

The SchoolHome Experience as a Proactive Mental Health "Therapeutic" Community


During his 15-minute talk, you can hear Mr. Seldin discuss and explain:

  • Social, emotional and mental health through education;
  • How to re-connect to our best and highest selves through work, the arts and the sciences;
  • Parent, teacher and school leaders’ involvement in sustainable education reform;
  • Quality teacher training programs;
  • School as a real, virtual neighborhood


Tim Seldin is a Montessorian who originally intended to become a clinical psychologist. He has spent close to 40 years in Montessori education: 22 years as Headmaster of the Barrie School in Silver Spring, MD (his own alma mater, from 2 years of age to high school.) He served as Director for the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies and as Head of the New Gate School in Sarasota, FL. He earned a B.A. in History and Philosophy from Georgetown University, an M.Ed in Educational Administration and Supervision from the American University and his Montessori certification from AMS. Tim Seldin is the author of several books on Montessori education.


So I originally intended to become a clinical psychologist. And my my work was mostly in group community school settings. So I was introduced to the idea of what when I was in graduate school in the sixties and seventies, was called the therapeutic community. And the idea of it as not simply something for the treatment of people with addiction or other residential disorders, but as a prophylactic or preventative way of trying to use a school to leverage social, emotional and really mental health education. I ultimately came back to Montessori, my mother's school, because I realized the connection between what I was studying and what was going on in Montessori. And I find that this is not something it's commonly thought of. So we all have been talking about the challenge of creating sustainable education reform. We know that there's sort of a cycle of things being reinvented and people getting on the lecture circuit and publishing books saying things very similar to what's been said before. So getting sustainable change is a challenge. We've been talking all day about some of the things that make it challenging. I think one of the issues is getting parents behind it and of getting teachers and school leaders to really believe in the change. Generally speaking, most change is incremental, something you can do in a two day workshop. Montessori involves a major investment of time, and I suggest that whether it's what goes on in Finland or what goes on in Montessori or other, Steiner's a year long program.

All of these programs are extremely clear and coherent about what they're attempting to accomplish and to invest enough time to help. Educators, school leaders or teachers to actually hit what I would call escape velocity. If you're going to succeed, you've got to help teachers to overcome long held biases, a belief that children need to be told what to do, that everything needs to be judged, and that they, as adults need to be the center of attention. Now, what we know about Montessori is it's not only efficacious, but it's adaptable, it's replicable and a sustainable. That I think is really important because nothing is new under the sun. It's all been said and done before. But what Montessori and a few other people have done is not only postulate, philosophy and theory, which you can sort of create a mélange, but they created a real system of systems. And I think that's the importance of Montessori, in addition to all of its other positive attributes. And I think that's applicable to anyone that wants to make reform at the national or at an individual school level, whether Montessori or not. I believe Montessori, of course, addresses academic, social and emotional needs. I think we all have been saying that all day. I think there's a balance in Montessori between meeting whatever are your state, provincial or national standards, what it takes for a child to be considered literate or well educated.

A curriculum that's very consciously designed to create a sense of what I call metanarrative or a sense of wonder, inspiration, and what we call some ninth grade lessons or cosmic curriculum. Awakening, curiosity and. Lessons or work that is really brought to the table by the student to pursue their own interest. Seeing that really worked out, instead of sort of the incremental icing on the cake that we classically see with things like STEM, I think is again, one of the key things that I appreciate about fully implemented Montessori programs. Now, ideally, Montessori schools are based on exercising choice, finding your voice, working in peaceful partnership and self regulation. Montessori often talked about the foundation of my method is liberty. I set the children free and they showed me who they were and what interested them and what worked and what didn't. And they taught me it's they who created the method. What we often as people who are friends of Montessori or practicing monasteries don't necessarily appreciate enough, I believe, is that she was a doctor who is a professor of psychiatry, which meant something different than what Sigmund Freud brought in. But it was actually very connected to what Sigmund Freud's daughter, Anna Freud, brought to her work, and especially in UK at Tavistock and other centres during the war years and beyond. What Montessori saw.

Among other things, not only was it the art and cigar, the work with children with exceptional cities, and her years in the authentic school at Rome, but the therapeutic communities that were found in Europe at that time. What really, I believe, is the foundation of the concept of Earth Kingdom. They were typically rural residential communities like Kibbutz is the only thing I would suggest that they're most like. And they were for the 17 and 1800s and first half of this century, a really significant part of the mental health profession. That's sort of a contrast to either the couch or the institutionalization and drugging of people. This idea that when one became mentally ill or loss was that you had you had literally lost a sense of who you were as a person. And that to the pathway to health was one of spiritual reconnection, social reconnection, rediscovery of your strengths. And I believe that's a core of what Montessori is all about. With children who are not in a mental health rehabilitation setting, we do it prophylactically. The therapeutic communities were we're really very, very different from what we think of in books and movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the very hierarchical medical community. And the patients moved around like pawns. This concept, the therapeutic community was and ideally still is very much based on a partnership of voluntary commitment rather than institutionalization, a retreat almost like a religious retreat.

And many religious retreats are effectively therapeutic communities. They just often don't last that long unless they're of certain religious traditions. But the idea is so connected to Montessori. These patients, if you want to use that word, I would say clients were reconnected with their best and highest self by work, by pursuit of arts, by volunteering activities, as well as pitching in with the work needed to sustain the community. Think of B.F. Skinner's idea of the community or the kibbutzim, where you share in getting the work done. The relationship between the staff and the clients was not one of hierarchical domination. It was partnership, which didn't mean that the inmates ran the asylum, but rather that they were treated with respect and kindness and collaboration. That everyone had a voice, even if not everyone got the final say. Now I titled my Talk School Home, and Joel asked me, was that a spelling error, a typo? I said, no. In 1994, Dr. Jane Roland Martin published to the Harvard University Press a book called School Home, to describe a school that was really designed to meet what she felt were the needs of the world that was emerging in the nineties, a need for much greater support for children and families than what was being done at that time. I think everything we've been saying today really speaks to that point in her book of 2009 is the revised date.

She suggested there were two exemplary models Montessori and John Dewey's progressive Democratic education. Now, in 2001, my friend Dr. Ryan Eisler proposed a model of partnership education. In her book, Tomorrow's Children, I highly recommend both books that anyone is seriously interested in, this whole issue of reforming the school community to create something bigger and better than what we usually do. So. I want to wrap up by simply saying that I believe schools are really about people that a great school is made up of. People really want to be together who share a common set of ideas and ideals to a very large level, who work together in collaboration. Families that choose the school voluntarily understand that they're making a commitment to engage and a real virtual neighborhood, if you will. The neighborhood of the 21st century, as some people suggested, are the nonprofits that we get involved with. And I'll go beyond that and give a nod to Guidepost and say being a for profit institution doesn't make you any less idealistic and we're able to do a great job. And so I believe that. Montessori as many things, many people. And we have many challenges, one of which is what I've spoken about before, the need to make Montessori much more visible. And I believe that the best way to do that, short of a huge billion dollar PR campaign, is to get parents working more as partners to promote the ideals people typically come to our schools not being sold on Montessori, that's a word, but they know what they didn't like about their education and the parents who typically come and stay the true believers who become our our graduate families.

I find that what draws them to us is the sense that they wish that they had had that experience as children. And they they may not have known it when they were looking at schools, but they stumbled on it. And that's what they want for their children. I think we've got to do a better job of building that partnership and of making Montessori teacher education as rigorous as ever. Because I'm definitely not proposing let's throw a bunch of videos online and turn people loose and let them say they're a montessori educator. But I do believe that there are ways of harvesting, just like we are today, the internet and collaborative, asynchronous and synchronous learning and year long or two years of supervised clinical practice under a monastery educator to produce far more teachers around the world than we've ever imagined doing in the past. And I'm really gratified to see that this idea, which is begun in a relative handful of centers, the Foundation, the Center for Guided Montessori Studies Age and Montessori, a number of other groups, this is now beginning to be common shared wisdom, I find around the world.

Made possible by the Prepared Adult Initiative.