February 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – For years, Sister Leonor Esnard, OP, has been sharing her love for the Montessori teaching method and for children by training with hundreds of educators in the Montessori teaching method.
The educators are trained in the Montessori Early Childhood Certification Program offered by the Adrian Dominican Montessori Teacher Education Institute (ADMTEI). Sister Leonor has directed the program since 2009.
Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), the Montessori Method encourages young children to study independently and to foster intellectual curiosity and love of learning for its own sake – not for external awards.
ADMTEI was founded by Sister Anthonita Porta, OP, whom Sister Leonor met while ministering at St. Vincent Ferrer in Cincinnati. Sister Anthonita was completing her studies in Montessori at Xavier University and Sister Leonor often visited her classroom. “I fell in love with Montessori because it was nothing like traditional teaching,” Sister Leonor said. “Xavier had a demonstration class and that’s where Anthonita was in the practicum. She was my mentor.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council in 1971 asked Sister Anthonita to return to the Motherhouse at Adrian and open a Montessori school for children ages 2 ½ to 6 at St. Joseph Academy. Sister Leonor joined Sister Anthonita to work at the St. Joseph Academy and later at ADMTEI. Sister Leonor received her own Montessori credentials through Rosary College, now Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.
In her current ministry, Sister Leonor administers the ADMTEI program and is among the program’s nine instructors. Classes are held during weekends and are focused on topics such as the philosophy of Montessori, child development, math curriculum, language curriculum, music curriculum, and classroom management.
The program includes the academic coursework and a practicum phase, which students can take concurrently or in different years. Sister Leonor supervises the adult students’ practicum, observes them in their classrooms, and offers feedback. Many of the students already teach in a Montessori school and attend the ADMTEI program to get their credentials.
In addition to her direct ministry with ADMTEI, Sister Leonor travels around the country, giving workshops and talks on the Montessori method, early child development, Montessori education and brain research, development of self-discipline, community building and leadership, and similar topics, often at Montessori schools. In addition, she teaches in summer programs other Montessori teacher education institutes in New England and New York. “I like to be busy and involved,” she said. “I get so much energy out of it.”
Sister Leonor said that the majority of ADMTEI students are women, many of whom have chosen to be Montessori teachers after working in other fields. “My hope is that we will continue to empower the women, which is what we do, to help them believe in themselves and to be competent, and to be able then to be the best that they can be for the children,” she explained.
“This journey is transformative,” Sister Leonor said. At the end of the year, in May, the students have a chance to articulate their experience. “Everyone says something similar about the positive changes that have occurred [within themselves] and the building of community for each particular class. They love the spiritual atmosphere, and that is one of the elements that attracts students to come here from different races, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.”
Sister Leonor said many of the ADMTEI students “are intuitively Montessorians. … They have this harmony with the philosophy whether they know it or not.” The core tenet of the Montessori philosophy is “respect for the children, the teachers, the environment, the animals and plants,” Sister Leonor explained. “There’s a reverence we bring.” Montessori schools provide furniture that fits the size of the children, who are encouraged to work independently, with another student, or in groups. “We afford the children freedom, but freedom with responsibility – no license.”
Children who spend their early years in Montessori do well in traditional classroom settings because of their grounding in intellectual curiosity and freedom and their self-confidence. “The students who go to Montessori are not necessarily smarter but they have a certain curiosity, creativity, and love of learning,” Sister Leonor explained. “They become independent problem-solvers.”
Sister Leonor speaks well of the Montessori teachers who inspire these children. “It takes a great deal of energy and time and effort to be a Montessori teacher,” she said. “There has to be a deep sense of commitment in order to be the kind of teacher that is going to inspire children, that is going to help them learn.”
ADMTEI is taking applications for its 2018-2019 academic year, which will begin on Friday, August 24, 2018. Information can be found on the website, https://admtei.org/.