Maelys de Rudder, Founder and Director, Bloom Sarajevo

Blooming Child pre-school opened in Sarajevo in September 2008 with around 50 children. Blooming Child primary school followed quickly in September 2009. The first two years, teachers and management relied heavily on the expertise of an in-house trainer, Florencia Rodriguez, who lovingly shared her knowledge and passion for the Montessori Philosophy and Method. Florencia initiated the school s first contact with MCI, discussing our progress with Barbara Isaacs whenever she was in London. It was very reassuring to know that we could turn to Mrs Isaacs with our questions and that we were not completely on our own.

The beginning years were hard and very intense. We were building the school from scratch and learning every step of the way. Local bureaucracy was a nightmare. We needed to earn the parentstrust and educate them at the same time. Quality educational resources in Bosnia and Herzegovina were scarce. Montessori material and books had to be imported at huge cost. Training was not available either. And it was not easy to find English speaking teachers.  

The biggest challenge of all was to build the right team. We needed people who had enough open-mindedness, were passionate, committed and able to take risks. We needed most of all people who were ready to accept a radical shift in their mind-set and work very hard in unknown territory. All that with no local Montessori expertise and such a tight budget that many of us were working on a voluntary basis. During the first two years, the school loss was covered by private funds. It was a huge leap of faith.

From the very beginning, I knew that Florencia s commitment could not exceed two years. But when she left, I didn t sleep for weeks. How could the school move forward without her knowledge and dedication? How could we consolidate our young experience and continue to develop a strong and solid foundation for the future?

All this was for my children. I wanted them to have a different educational experience and I was determined to achieve my goal. The dream had come true and many families had started to believe in it. But I couldn t do this on my own. The school needed to become part of some larger organization or network. We needed to find a group of people that would continue to challenge us and lead us towards excellence and quality.  

In autumn 2010, I decided to write to Barbara Isaacs telling her I wanted to be accredited and that I needed help to prepare the school towards this goal. Mrs Isaacs wrote back very quickly with wonderful news. One of UK s top Montessori experts, Mrs Wendy Compson was available to come for a week long visit to Blooming Child. Mrs. Compson arrived in April 2011. How excited but oh so stressed we all were. Little did we know that this was the beginning of an extraordinary journey that would create heartfelt bonds and lead to Blooming Child s accreditation in June 2013.

We are extremely proud to have become an official member of the MEAB family and we are eternally grateful to Wendy Compson and Barbara Isaacs for nurturing us and believing in our commitment. Blooming Child is also their baby.  

Mrs Beata Doody, Manager, Nightingale 2 Montessori Nursery

Nightingale 2 Montessori Nursery in Balham, London was opened in September 2012 as the sister setting of Nightingale 1 Montessori in Clapham. From the beginning it aspired to be a place offering quality Montessori learning to children.

The nursery has gone through lots of changes since it opened: the layout of the classroom was redesigned a couple of times and the outdoor area was expanded in 2015 – there was a lot of discussion about what to do with our garden and we chose grass over artificial turf to enhance the famous vitamin N in our nursery. In the same year the nursery also started partnership work with Andrea’s Montessori, a local accredited childminding setting.

As the initial team was fully replaced by Autumn 2016, there was lots of pressure on my Deputy Manager (newly appointed at the beginning of that year) and we had lots of discussions before we finally decided to go through with the reaccreditation process. The S1 form was submitted in August and the first visit was due in November 2016.

Despite of all the changes the whole team was really supportive with the whole process. I felt we were fully ready for the first ‘big day’ as all team members except our assistant were Montessori trained.

The first visit was in November and went well, the feedback was really positive but still highlighted areas to be changed including the introduction of individual snack, revamping the weekly planning sheet to evidence independence and to continuously reinforce ground rules with the children to enhance the Montessori principles.

At first I was not happy with the feedback and I felt slightly offended that the assessors dared to find some areas for improvement as I only expected praise! During the feedback I tried to defend the way we work as the best for us as an individual setting and was hesitant to make any changes at first. But after re-evaluating the feedback with the full support of my team we started to implement the changes straight after the first visit.

The second visit was in January and by that time we had met all the recommended points.
The two visits gave us all a special opportunity to revisit our own Montessori practice, the teaching of Maria Montessori and re-evaluate the way we work.

Then on 15 March Ofsted paid a scheduled visit. Since we opened in 2012 we have been hoping for an Outstanding rating but the best we could achieve was always Good.

The inspector has seen Montessori settings before but was happy for us to explain why we have certain activities, such as pouring, transferring, and how to hold scissors. After the Montessori accreditation all my team members were already comfortable talking to someone about the Montessori way of teaching and had embraced the changes we recently introduced. The inspector talked to all staff members, often asking the same questions. She made sure to talk to our newest staff member, and to get feedback from parents and carers. She closely engaged with the children and asked them many questions as well.

The inspector spoke highly of the children’s skills and behaviour throughout the day with such comments as “independent”, “confident”, and “curious”, while showing “respect for others”.
During the feedback she complimented us on our way of teaching and graded the nursery Outstanding in all areas.

The words of the inspection report echoes the teaching of Maria Montessori:
“Children are exceptionally confident and deeply curious learners. Staff value children as individuals and form strong relationships with each child, who settle very well. Staff teach children excellent safety awareness and children behave in very safe ways. For instance, they remind each other to tuck in their chairs around the table when they get up, walk sensibly inside the nursery and have an excellent understanding of road safety” Ofsted 2017

It is absolutely clear for me that the MEAB accreditation visits and the changes we introduced fully prepared the nursery for the Outstanding Ofsted grading and without the accreditation we would still only have a ‘Good’ grade.

It made me also realize once again how important it is to review regularly the nursery’s general routine and my own, to re-evaluate the way of implementing the Montessori method and be open to advice from other professionals.

I am extremely grateful to the assessors, Amy and Mary, for aiding us in this journey, and would like to thank them and the whole MEAB team for their support.

This article first appeared in Montessori International, issue 122 Summer 2017.

Ziba Rashidian, Owner, The Montessori Nursery School

My reflection on our accreditation

A personal view from Ziba Rashidian

The Montessori Nursery School was established in 1990 in a village hall in South Oxfordshire. Eighteen year later, when I took over in 2008, there were three dedicated staff, one of whom had been running the nursery as the manager since 1997, when the owner had moved away. The setting was running very smoothly, but as an outsider coming newly coming in, I could observe that there was a lack of support and understanding of how Montessori had progressed during the past years. The staff team was very devoted, consistent, but in need of embracing the challenges of change. Also, the introduction of the EYFS in 2008 was overwhelming for all.

I stood back for a term and observed to see how I could support my team without disrupting and jeopardizing their dedication. Slowly and gently I discouraged circle time at the beginning of each daily session, when children had to be seated until all had arrived. I then encouraged more time towards free play (work cycle) extending to 2¾ hours. Gradually in a couple of years we, as a team, had come a long way and I was proud of my staff and how they had adapted. However, I knew that there was still room for improvement and now that I am no longer an outsider, I needed guidance from a higher ranking.

With support and advice from our Montessori Schools Association (MSA) regional head, who is also an assessor for the Montessori Evaluation and Accreditation Board (MEAB), and with the support of all my staff, who were by now more confident in the changes we had made, I decided to contact MEAB for the nursery to become accredited. This was mainly because I wanted to make sure that the support and encouragement I had given my staff was appropriate and what more we could do to deliver Montessori’s ethos and philosophy appropriately. I admit, it was daunting but at the same time it was exciting and challenging. Once I made the telephone contact, I was told that there is a form to be filled out. At that moment I thought “oh, no, not another SEF”, as I had filled out one a month before. To my surprise, the form was simple and straightforward: no confusing questions or repetitions. When I sent back the forms, I received a confirmation and was given a choice of dates for the assessor to visit. To confirm the visit, I received a call from the assessor introducing himself and informing me of the time of his arrival and making me feel very relaxed by exchanging information and confirming what he wanted to look at.

It was an exciting day. I had to support and encourage my staff by remaining relaxed, strong and not showing any sign of anxiety myself. I was not sure what to expect but I thought I would treat the assessor as one of my visitor parents and be proud of our achievement. When my staff realized I was calm and greeted the assessor with ease, they all relaxed. I showed the assessor the nursery and once he had set up, he joined us and sat at a corner observing the morning session.

After lunch, the assessor and I sat together for a feedback. He was full of praise on the behavior of the staff with the children and many other aspects of the nursery, which made me feel proud. He made a couple of suggestions, which we took on board. One was the way we were observing the children and the format we were using, which could be improved. The second was our outdoor area, which needed to cover all areas of learning.

Both suggestions were addressed with the support of the assessor and when he made his second visit, we had attended training to improve our observations and jointly, with all the members of staff, had put in place different activities to cover all areas of learning outdoors.

On reflection, I am convinced that had we not gone through the accreditation process, which gave us the assurance of our good practice, and had we continued with our prior ways of observations, and not converted our outdoors, we would not have been awarded ‘Good’ from Ofsted. The inspector only had good words for our practice, was impressed with the way we do our observations and also our outdoor area was not an issue.

Three years later, when our second accreditation was due, I applied with no hesitation or apprehension due to our previous positive experience and outcome. We all looked forward to receiving our assessor and appreciated and welcomed suggestions, which were given to us. The suggestion of a small change in practice has made an enormous impact, which perhaps we would never have thought of.

Also, as an accredited setting, we take advantage of attending the leadership conferences, discounts on training, using the logo, and are absolutely proud of being a member of an extremely reputable worldwide organization.