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Jewish Montessori Training Center (JMTC)

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
3 – 5 years
Target audience
Experiential Learning

Across the U.S., educators and parents are clamoring for the Jewish Montessori model of education. Drawing from over 15 years of experience, JMTC provides aspiring teachers with the philosophical background and educational techniques to bring this method to their communities. Together, we explore wisdom from the Torah, Talmud and modern thinkers and compare it to Montessori teachings. Participants absorb Jewish wisdom on education and then learn how to implement a full scope of hands-on Jewish Studies lessons. They will go on to educate thousands of children with the wisdom, experience, and materials they have mastered through the training.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Our training is predicated upon the study of Jewish sources. From the moment they arrive, we guide our trainees to draw connections between these sources and the concepts they are learning regarding optimal educational methods. We begin the program with one of the most seminal Jewish texts on the topic of education, "Chanoch la'naar al pi darko"--educate the child according to his way (Proverbs 22:6). Participants are asked to imagine a learning environment that respects each child's individual learning style. We distribute a packet of "Sources from our Sages", a collection of texts from the Torah and Talmud related to education, and we ask participants to consider the similarities between these sources and the educational model they seek to implement. We explore the idea of learning for its own sake rather than extrinsic reward through the statements, "Whoever studies Torah for Torah's sake alone, merits many things" (Avot 6:1) and, "Do not be as slaves who serve their master for the sake of reward" (Avot 1:3). We examine the worth of handiwork in reading that, "Beautiful is the study of Torah with the way of the world, for the toil of them both causes sin to be forgotten" (Avot 2:2). We see the value of peer learning from the comment, "Who is wise? One who learns from every man," and the importance of teaching inner discipline from, "Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclination" (Avot 4:1). We explore the notion posited by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch that there ought to have been different approaches to the respective educations of Yaakov and Eisav--and Rabbi Hirsch's bold assertion that had Eisav been offered a different modality, he could have become a partner to Yaakov and a meaningful participant in the legacy of the house of Avraham. And we compare Montessori teachings on the spiritual preparation of the teacher to the guidance offered by Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Schapira, the rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, in his book Chovat Hatalmidim. We launch the careers of Jewish Montessori teachers not only with the "how" of Jewish Montessori but with the "why", ensuring that they have a deep, spiritual understanding of their personal mission so that they are truly able to "teach each child according to his or her way."

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

After each element of educational philosophy and methodology is discussed, we direct the course participants to return to the Jewish sources and establish their own connections between the text and their educational vision. We give students ample time to question and debate. We ask them to consider how Montessori philosophy and practice agree with Jewish tradition and values and where the two seem to diverge, and we encourage them to grapple with the choices they would make on occasions when the two are at odds. As part of the training program, each participant is required to prepare a presentation on an integral element of our educational model, for example the link between movement and cognition or the importance of choice in learning. As the student prepares the presentation, she is asked to draw her own connection to a Jewish source or idea. In this way, each presenter develops expertise in one particular area of the method and its relationship to Jewish values, and the entire cohort becomes more knowledgable in all educational principles as well as their intersection with Jewish thought. Because the participants have engaged with Jewish sources in connection to every aspect of their teacher training, they are able to establish fully realized Jewish Montessori classrooms that fulfill their mission as Jewish educators.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

The Jewish Montessori Training Center at Netivot has already made an appreciable impact on the landscape of Jewish education in many communities in this country. We have trained teachers from New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, and Florida, and this year we welcomed three teachers from Mexico. All of our graduates have taken the knowledge gained in the training and applied it in their schools, and all of these schools have seen positive parent feedback and growing enrollment. It is no exaggeration to say that these communities have successful Jewish Montessori programs today in large part because of the JMTC program. Below are some examples of feedback we have received:

"Four years ago, I endeavored to implement a pilot Jewish Montessori preschool program that has led to the founding of a new Jewish Montessori school in Cincinnati, Ohio. This fall, the Al Pi Darko Initiative (APDI) will serve 44 students ages 3 years to 3rd grade, utilizing the Jewish Montessori approach to education. Despite the clear need for such a program, this endeavor would have been an absolute impossibility without the expertise, support, and training opportunities provided by Yeshivat Netivot. We have sent trainees to Yeshivat Netivot's preschool programs for the past four years, and for the past two years, have sent trainees to their Lower Elementary Training Programs. Netivot's professionalism, passion, and commitment to the practice of Jewish Montessori is exemplary. Netivot provides intensive summer training and ongoing support to schools such as ours and makes the spread of Jewish Montessori education possible. The training program educates trainees on subjects including: Montessori philosophy; bridges between Montessori pedagogy and Torah-based charges regarding how we are to educate our children; its masterfully-developed curriculum, which utilizes high-fidelity Montessori pedagogy to teach all subject areas of Jewish lower elementary curriculum (Hebrew Language, Yom Tovim, Chumash, Middos Tovos, etc.); classroom management in a Jewish Montessori environment; and student observation and record-keeping techniques. Our faculty return from the training having transformed in their understanding of what education can truly be and about what it means to serve as an educator of Jewish children. Without Netivot's Lower Elementary training program, we simply would not be able to have created a Jewish Montessori school in Cincinnati, Ohio, and would not be able to play our part in moving forward the field of whole-child Jewish Education."

Dr. Chaviva Randolph
Al Pi Darko Institute, Cincinnati

"I attended the Netivot training for lower elementary Judaics in the summer of 2015. While I have my Masters in Social Work, I was pretty new to Montessori itself. The training helped me to not only learn the curriculum they created, but also to gain a deeper understanding of the Montessori Philosophy. The Hebrew Language program with its hands on texts and miniature objects really helps to keep Hebrew grammar (a boring and tedious subject for most) interesting and exciting while building essential Chumash skills. As well, the Chagim and Parsha materials bring the stories and history to life for the children and keep them focused on the learning. The staff who gave the training were open, friendly, and willing to take the time to answer any questions. I really enjoyed and benefited from my training at Netivot and can say that this year our success at Aleph Montessori Academy is significantly due to my time at Netivot. Thank you!"

Chayale Cohen, MSW
Aleph Montessori Academy, Los Angeles

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

We have learned that our trainees are inspired and motivated most by personal Jewish connectedness. Observing a Montessori classroom in action can itself be inspiring, and we receive many trainees already intent on learning how to implement this remarkable method in practice. But we find that what truly transforms a teacher into a Jewish Montessori teacher is the exploration of Jewish sources, returning to them again and again while studying curriculum and classroom management techniques. Each trainee engages with the sources on his or her own terms and emerges confident in the ability to create a classroom informed by our heritage. Moreover, we have been extremely gratified to find that our training program meets the needs of a diverse clientele. We have had participants from a wide range of schools, community day schools and modern orthodox, "yeshivish" and Chabad, Sepharadi and Ashkenazi. Through the shared language of Jewish text and a common desire to provide optimal learning environments for all children, the participants become fast friends and colleagues who support one another in their ongoing mission to enrich and improve the field of Jewish education.