Help­ing young minds find their full, in­spired po­ten­tial

Cather­ine LeónGal­lardo is the prin­ci­pal of The Col­lege of Montes­sori for Chil­dren in Maseru, Le­sotho

Sunday Times - - Careers - By MAR­GARET HAR­RIS

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.

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