Helping young minds find their full, inspired potential
Catherine LeónGallardo is the principal of The College of Montessori for Children in Maseru, Lesotho
You started the school last year. What led you to take on such a big task?
I wanted to give children the best possible foundation in a nurturing, harmonious and happy environment. There was also a need for a Montessori school in Maseru, one that followed Maria Montessori’s philosophies of mixing the beauty of nature with relevant knowledge and practical skills for life. We grow our own vegetables, look after chickens and rabbits, use the eggs collected in our Friday cooking sessions and teach the students where everything comes from. I also wanted to pass on all the knowledge and experience I have acquired in the 15 years since I graduated as a Montessori director.
What makes you a good principal?
To be a good principal you need knowledge, experience and passion and must be able to take other people’s opinions into consideration so you can guide the children and your staff. Our mission, vision and values are very important. With routine quarterly training sessions, the staff members and I ensure the standard is always kept at the highest level. Working as a team is extremely important — we discuss challenges and come up with solutions together.
During these 15 years, I have held many positions both in Montessori and mainstream schools in South Africa and Lesotho.
What are the five most important functions for a school to fulfil?
1. Provide a nurturing environment with the necessary materials and tools to help the children experience the world around them and develop to their full potential;
2. Find the best people to guide them on that journey. Not all teachers have the right character and background to be a successful Montessori director, so we are very cautious when selecting them;
3. Teach children the right things at the right time, without forcing, to allow them to develop at their own pace;
4. Treat each child as an individual, and tailor-make each child’s specific learning experience; and
5. Respect the children and work with each one at their own level.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I always wanted to be an artist. In the third and fourth years of my fine art degree, I volunteered to teach art at Westville prison in Durban to the juvenile prisoners who were awaiting trial. I saw how art can transform people’s lives and how calming and healing the process can be. It was there that my love for teaching arose. I started with my Montessori degree right after graduating and never looked back.
What is most meaningful in your work?
Our school’s motto is “The best place to grow and learn”. It is an indescribable experience to see the fruits of all the efforts as the children grow and learn, some of them since before they were two years old, seeing them blossom and become better every day, every week, every year and cross all the milestones on the way.
What do you wish parents knew about the education process that would make your job easier?
To respect your child as a young adult, speaking kindly and without breaking their spirit. To expose them to as much information as possible at a young age. Many people are unaware of children’s true potential. And that every child is different and they all develop at different paces. If your child is in a good school, you should trust the teachers to make the right decision at the right time.
Catherine León-Gallardo, principal of the Montessori school in Maseru, Lesotho, introduces two pupils to a rabbit. She launched the school last year.