Developing Children’s Leadership Skills at School–A Montessori Perspective

By Wanda Whitehead, Head of School, Casa di Mir Montessori School
Originally published in “Casa Connections” Jan-Feb. 2013 issue
An article by Glenn Rifkin written for the magazine Briefings on Talent & Leadership grabbed me. He writes, “What do P. Diddy, Sergey Brin, and Peter Drucker have in common?” The answer: “When it comes to producing creative business leaders, a Montessori education has proven to be a potent predictor of future success.” What Rifkin writes in such a grand way affirms what I get to see in our students at Casa and reflected back to us from schools our graduates attend after Casa. Our students easily slip into respected leadership roles as they move forward in their education and their lives.
An article by Glenn Rifkin written for the magazine Briefings on Talent & Leadership grabbed me. He writes, “What do P. Diddy, Sergey Brin, and Peter Drucker have in common?” The answer: “When it comes to producing creative business leaders, a Montessori education has proven to be a potent predictor of future success.” What Rifkin writes in such a grand way affirms what I get to see in our students at Casa and reflected back to us from schools our graduates attend after Casa. Our students easily slip into respected leadership roles as they move forward in their education and their lives.
What are leadership characteristics? Some leaders are out there loud and clear and some quietly exude leadership. In either style, leadership is a blend of knowledge, self-confidence, integrity, strong communication and interpersonal skills, a sense of social responsibility, and the ability to inspire the best in others. There are many positive attributes that we recognize in leaders. What they all have at their core is strong, positive character.
So what is it in a Montessori education that provides the experiences needed for our children to grow a strong character and to develop as leaders? Rifkin gives a great answer in his article:
“The unique and widely lauded education method, created more than a century ago by an Italian physician and education visionary, is built around the concept of self-directed learning, mixed age classrooms, collaboration, creativity and social responsibility. Eliminating the rigid structures of conventional classrooms, a Montessori school encourages students to embrace their curiosity, think imaginatively, and see the world as an array of possibilities.”
Montessori: Build Character, Build Leaders. Montessori provides an environment in which the child can develop intrinsic motivation (passion) and be proactive in his/her own learning and in problem solving. Because children are given the freedom to take initiative, they grow into “can do,” self-confident people. Early experiences of themselves as respected members in their family and classroom communities provide the foundation from which to approach the world at any age. Montessori students become highly principled people because they embrace life and all its differences, accept their own uniqueness and that of others, and become culturally competent and globally aware in the process. These principles of respect, contribution to society, compassion, acceptance, perseverance, and self-discipline drove Montessori in her vision of an alternative education method and motivate the Casa staff in carrying out the vision!
Developing a sense of passion for learning comes through experiencing the space and time to pursue interests. It could start with an interest in bugs, move to dinosaurs and end up in innovative thinking in creating technology designed for the sustainability of our planet.
Other practices in our classrooms that nurture principled leadership are:

• Respect for unique qualities in each person allows distinctive gifts to flourish that might not develop in a conventional classroom. Respect for the child’s thoughts and unique talent is core in the Montessori classroom.
• Children develop self-confidence through leadership roles in the classroom. Care of the environment, planning special activities and trips in a group, presenting research to peers, and public speaking opportunities all nurture a sense of confidence and positive self-regard.
• Teacher as guide allows the child’s ownership of learning.
• Opportunity to exercise choice in a developmentally appropriate situation is built into every classroom environment from toddler through Upper Elementary.
• Development of study skills for academic success in a manner that invites self-initiative and independence is built into each classroom.
• The three-year cycles allow older children to take on the role of mentor and role model to younger children.
• “Whole view” curriculum of evolution of the planet, history of life, development of humans, and current issues provides a big picture perspective and content. When the interrelationship and interdependence of life on the planet is understood, ideas based on sustainability of life and the planet can motivate leaders to be agents of change for the common good.
• The development of organizational skills are essential to the classrooms- order of materials in the primary, collection of learning in the lower el (order of knowledge), management of time in the upper el along with application of organizational skills are sequenced beautifully for success.
• Nurturing of imagination allows the creative thinking necessary to be innovative.
• Communications skills in collaboration, in presentation, and in conflict resolution are developed through daily experiences in these situations.
• Understanding of and maturation in dealing with feelings/needs of their own and others leads to development of empathy.

Skills of leadership are skills for success. Whether individuals express their leadership in grand ways like leading corporations, serving in government or simply by living an informed, compassionate life of contribution, these skills and qualities will serve our children throughout their lives. Montessori education creates leaders for the 21st century!