TMM spotlight: Meet Jonathan Cox

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?

I worked in publishing for much of my career, latterly as a guide book editor and writer for Time Out, before realising that helping people to have marginally better holidays than they might otherwise have had wasn’t going to be a satisfying life’s work. The birth of my two sons turned me towards education, and I qualified as a primary (elementary) school teacher about 10 years ago. Initially, I loved it, but, as the educational climate chilled and fear of Ofsted became the dominant driving force in schools, I became increasingly dissatisfied with a system that had lost sight of the individual child and what he or she would need to thrive in the modern world.

 I did not, however, lose my love for education and working with children, and started searching for an educational approach that put the child centre-stage and saw education in its widest, holistic sense. Montessori jumped out at me as just such an approach, and I’m just completing my Montessori diploma. I believe that Montessorian principles ought to work just as well for primary age children as younger ones, and I am currently part of a group hoping to open a Montessori primary school within the next year or so. In 2014-15 I travelled around the world with my family for six months – a challenging but unforgettable and invaluable experience that has given us all a new perspective on life and its priorities. When not reading books on education, I love to listen to music, garden and cook – and plan our next trip!

Q: What was your first experience with Montessori?

I was put in touch via a friend with Melanie Simpson, proprietor of The Village Montessori in Blackheath, and she allowed me to volunteer one afternoon a week for a term to give me a flavour of how Montessori education works. I was blown away, both by her passion and commitment, and by the children in the nursery. I had no idea that children so young could be so self-regulating, independent, responsible, considerate and content. It confirmed my feeling that the principles of freedom within limits and trusting children’s innate instincts and motivations were the key to an education that prepared children for an unpredictable, ever-changing future. It was during this time that I applied for the course at MCI.

Q: Can you share with us a Montessori moment that continues
to inspire your practice?

When talking to Melanie one day during my time volunteering, we both became aware that a 3-year-old girl had sidled up to us. I waited for Melanie to ask her what she wanted, but she carried on talking to me for a minute or two before looking down at the child, who had remained patiently and silently by our side. The girl said what she wanted to, and then walked away to continue with her work. I was astonished that a child so young could show such self-control, and it was at that moment that I realised that something quite magical had happened. There’s a lot of evidence that the ability to delay gratification in a child is a major factor in later success and happiness – and this child could already do it at 3. That combination of self-discipline and freedom – intrinsic to the Montessori approach – seemed to me exactly what children need to develop to their potential, and from that moment I knew the direction in which I wanted to head.

Q: What’s your favourite Montessori quote? And why?

“The teacher can be proudest of all when she is no longer necessary.”

I love this quote because it is such a challenge to our traditional idea of a teacher’s role. It so neatly encapsulates the core aim of Montessori education – to help the child achieve independence. Coming from the mainstream, where teachers are expected to be constantly ‘busy’ and interacting with the children, I find it a (challenging!) reminder that sensitive observation is the foundational skill for a Montessori teacher, and that intervention should only ever be to enable the child – to ‘help me to help myself’.

Q: Is there a Montessori material you love particularly and why?

I have been particularly impressed by the maths materials. They are so well thought out and provide a beautifully graduated (yet ambitious) introduction into core maths skills and knowledge. I only wish I’d known about them when I was teaching in the mainstream. There is a tendency to jump from practical experience to the abstract far too early in primary education, and I believe that this causes many people to become permanently alienated from maths. This shouldn’t happen with the Montessori approach to maths, with its emphasis on concrete learning throughout. And I think it’s just wonderful that 4 year olds can be taught (and understand) the principles of 4-digit addition and subtraction!