On July 25 and 26th, 2021, we hosted our annual global conference Discovering the Child with more than 6,600 educators, caregivers, and school administrators from over 85 countries in the world to engage in conversations about education, parenting, childhood development, and the Montessori pedagogy. This 24-hour live virtual conference included presentations, interactive workshops, panel discussions, and Q&As in 4 languages from 77 global speakers, including researchers, educators, parents, authors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders on the shared quest of “Discovering the Child,” activating our hope for the future through working with children today. Furthermore, the event hosted over 25 partners and brands with virtual booths to share their services, organizations, and products with the conference participants.
Featured Sessions and Speakers
Out of the more than 35 hours of engaging sessions, here is a peak into some of the best moments. To start, we were honored to have leading Montessori researcher, Dr. Angeline Lillard, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and Author of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius be our Global Keynote speaker. She shared conclusions from her research and emphasized that, “Montessori is really a system in which self-determination is central.” She answered the question, “Why Montessori Now?” by particularly pointing out that Montessori allows our children to develop and address the following 21st century issues and needs: Environmental Crisis, Social Justice, Entrepreneurship, Knowledge Base, and Meaning in Life. Angeline’s words were echoed by Judith Cunningham, President of Montessori Model UN, in her talk, ““Montessori’s Vision Of Peace: Sustainability, Solidarity And Social Justice.” She noted that when students have a sense of efficacy, the sense of paralysis, guilt and anxiety about the future goes away. Dr Maria Montessori fought against all forms of discrimination and we can develop children as agents of change.
In order to develop our children, we must meet the market demand for quality education. Dr. Nancy Chang, Program Director at the Shanghai Montessori Education Academy, was our China Keynote speaker who spoke about how Montessori institutions need to be responsible to parents and careful for the students. By demonstrating the effectiveness of the development of the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, & Creativity) through Montessori, institutions will meet the market demand because parents will be able to see how their children are progressing for this quickly changing world. Ray Girn, CEO and Founder of Higher Ground Education, and the closing keynote speaker reflected on how the Montessori method reflected all of the aforementioned keynote speakers’ takeaways. He focused on the role of adults stating: “Our job as parents and educators is to help our children future-proof themselves. It is to help them develop the capacity to adapt, to self-regulate, to apply thought to new situations, to respond to whatever circumstances and to seize the opportunities that life presents.” Finally, Ashley @hapafamilyvlog, YouTube Parenting Influencer and Certified Montessori Educator, and our parenting keynote speaker mirrored Ray’s focus by answering “What’s the goal in choosing a Montessori lifestyle in raising our children?”:
Our goal is long-term. By offering our child to freedom to move, explore, learn, participate, to just be in their environment, by following our child’s interest as they grow, by respecting them for who they are without trying to change them, by modeling and offering the real respect that they deserve as human beings, we are laying the foundations for our child to become independent, capable, self-motivated and self-disciplined, and happy individuals.
In conclusion, Maria created a high autonomy AND a high structure pedagogy that is both timely and timeless. We believe it is the solution for humanity in the 21st century and on.
Experience Beyond the Screen
We wanted to make this not just another online conference because a 24-hour virtual event sounds like a lot of screen time – you might wonder how we involved our participants in such event during a global pandemic other than watching a session? Here’s are some participant experience highlights:
- Speaker Backstage – After each talk, participants could go into a backstage area and engage in a live and casual Q&A with our speakers.
- Speed Networking - At any time, participants could make 1:1 connections across the world.
- Conference Booklet - Over 2,500 people were reached with our conference activities such as a word puzzle, scavenger hunt, bingo and more to win prizes generously donated by conference partners.
- Expo - Our partners hosted booths with live info sessions, job fairs, special discounts, and more.
- Communication - Over 2000 messages and video calls were sent and activated between the live chat, polls, and Q&A in conference sessions.
- Interactive Workshops - Our talks were both educational and fun with different formats (i.e., panels) and topics (i.e., wine tasting and art appreciation).
- In-Person Watch Parties - Different places around the world, following their COVID guidelines, hosted watch parties (check out the photo below!).
- Post-Event Digital Goodie Bag - After the conference, participants received recordings on demand, additional information and discounts from partners, and even a bonus presentation!
What our participants said about their experience
Of course, we wanted to hear what everyone was thinking from our speakers to expo partners to registrants. Here are particularly nice feedback we received from participants:
- [Caregiver] Good day! So far, I have attended multiple sessions over the last 20 hours. I feel empowered and happy to hear so many perspectives and people sharing the Montessori worldview around the world. It has been a wonderful experience to hear, connect, explore and share! Visiting all Expo has also been a great experience of so many great offerings. Thank you for this educational and joyful experience.
- [Educator] As I watch every segment of topics, I am thinking how can I make our school as part of solution in this present pandemic problem where most of our learners are forced to use printed modules as weekly assignment ... As I listen to every word of our speakers in this conference, it revives my desire to make Montessori as part of the solution because I believe Montessori is correct that this methodology is timely and timeless. Your dedication and love for Montessori pedagogy inspired me and refreshed me to stay in our world of education as what Montessori said that this must be for all children of the world.
- [Educator] My biggest takeaway was that I as much as I thought I knew about Montessori after being a guide for 10 years, there is always so much more to learn! I absolutely loved the options for all of the presentations, sessions, and workshops - I felt spoiled for choice. I also loved being introduced to new vendors, so many of which I look forward to exploring further… and making purchases. I am going back to Montessori after being in another non-traditional education setting for two years and this conference was a reminder of how Montessori is truly my passion in life and education. I relearned some things I had forgotten, so I will go back and reread my favorite Montessori books, as well as my albums. I have a renewed sense of purpose and look forward to bringing my excitement to my new school!
What is next?
There is always room to hear criticism and improve. From the feedback, we learned what participants enjoyed (see the word cloud below!) and what they want for next year. To summarize themes for next year’s conference, our participants want even more diverse topics (i.e., Montessori & STEM, Latin American presentations, daily work of guides, multiples of children, presentations from male caregivers) and accessibility to the sessions (i.e., captions, handouts).
What will we do in the meantime?
We will be hosting events (i.e., speaker series, blogs, conference video posts) throughout the year before our 2022 conference. Conference registrants will receive free admission to our post-conference events. Currently, we are working with Rahul Raghaven, Founder of PEP School v2, India, to plan our first event. He presented the live workshop called “Elementary Math and Introducing Data Science and Statistics,” at the conference. Thus, our first Speaker Series will be about STEM in Montessori!
Furthermore, starting TODAY anybody can check out three presentations from our conference on our YouTube Channel.
- Opening Address, Joel Mendes, Executive Director, The Prepared Montessorian
- Live Workshop on Montessori Elementary Curriculum “Math and Introducing Data Science and Statistics,” Rahul Raghavan, Founder of PEP School v2, India
- Parenting Workshop, “Montessori Language Development Principles and Supporting Multilingualism,” Gabrielle Kotkov, Montessori Guide and Founder, Multilingual Montessori