An Interview with John Shepard

United Montessori Association Logo

Awhile ago, I came across the blog of the United Montessori Association. I was delighted to discover that they provide high-quality training in primary (3-6) that is completely available online. I firmly believe that online training is only going to grow in popularity as Montessori ideas continue to spread, so I decided to talk to John Shepard, UMA's Chief Administrator, to find out more.

Lori: Tell me about United Montessori Association. How did it start, and how does the program work?

John: United Montessori Association started when my wife, Trudy Coumou Shepard, found a shortage of qualified teachers for the Montessori academy she owned and directed in Edmonds, WA. In 1998, I started to talk with her about going online with a course to train and certify adults for the classroom via the web.

Being that Montessori is very hands-on and classroom focused, we spent hours discussing how this might be implemented. At first, Trudy was very hesitant and skeptical about it and we knew it would be sort of "cutting edge" for the Montessori community.

Finally, in 1999, we decided to design and formulate the curriculum, work with a professional web designer and branding expert and went online in December of 1999. On January 2, 2000, our first student enrolled while we were on vacation in Holland visiting Trudy's relatives. That was a day we will never forget. A full Montessori certification course online was now a reality!

Lori: What does a typical day look like for each of you?

John: It depends on who you ask, me or Trudy. Trudy's day is primarily taken up with evaluations of Montessori projects which is quite labor intensive. Presently, each student must come up with an original project and we must be sure they are equipped in each of the primary areas of the Montessori curriculum for the classroom. Plus, she has her share of administrative details.

My day is spent evaluating student assignments in the areas of Montessori philosophy and the child-adult behaviors in the classroom. I also share in the day-to-day administration. My other interest is in web design so I am constantly sharpening my skills there professionally and I maintain our blog. I am working on a new UMA website (out this summer), plus I keep a steady stream of websites that I build for other businesses and non-profits. Needless to say, neither of us have much free time. (pictured: John and Trudy Shepard)


John and Trudy Shepard

Lori: What kinds of people use your training program?

John: That question is really hard to define since we train worldwide via the web. On any given day, we are communicating with teachers who are seeking certification, Montessori charter public schools, stay-at-home moms who want to be trained for future employment, and part-time and full-time aides in the Montessori classroom. We also have had numerous students who go on to open their own academies!

Lori: How has your program changed and grown since it first began?

John: With each year, UMA grows to become a greater global presence within the Montessori community. I think this is due to the fact that in some ways, we haven't changed. That is, we train and certify adults with a very thorough and, perhaps one might think, more of a traditional Montessori understanding of the importance of the inner preparation of the adult.

At the end of a student's course work, they evaluate us. And often, their feedback is that they didn't realize it would be so rewarding as well as so tough. In fact, many who hold master's degrees in a variety of fields find our course work more challenging than their graduate degree. (We are never quite sure if they mean it as a compliment?!).

Lori: In what ways has the internet changed the face of Montessori education?

John: I could speak for hours on this!

First, it has expanded the borders of training. Those who either can't afford traditional training, or cannot travel to a training facility and stay for weeks if not months, are now offered the ability to go online and become competent, well trained Montessorians. I will say, the one caveat to this is our emphasis to students that, if at all possible, they need to get into a Montessori classroom and work with the children and the materials. We do understand that nothing replaces classroom experience.

Second, the internet offers what I call a "cross-fertilization" of ideas regarding Montessori education. The web has opened the eyes of many to views and opinions not previously held. We can't tell you the number of times we have come across students or prospective students who heard that unless you are trained a particular way, your Montessori education is of little value. I think UMA has demonstrated that there is always more we can learn from each other and be effective in the classroom.

Let me leave it at that and perhaps I can share more in the future.

Lori: What is the purpose of your blog? What do you hope to accomplish with it?

John: The purpose of our blog is twofold:

  • To build a Montessori community through the lives of our students and graduates.
  • To offer some continuing education through sharing other people's classroom projects and materials demonstrations.

Lori: Any thoughts on the future of Montessori education throughout the world?

John: One of the ideals of our work that we have always kept firmly in place is to provide quality training to as many whom we believe will have an impact on young children's lives - in the classroom as well as outside it. Our commitment is to uphold the core principals of Montessori and provide an authentic Montessori experience.

Here at UMA, we strive to keep our tuition and costs low so that those who are on a fixed budget may take the training. The fact is, Montessori education is primarily for upper or middle socio-economic classes and we see that the vast majority of Montessori schools are not for those less fortunate economically.

Little attention has been given to implementing the method in poorer settings. Yet, that is where Dr. Montessori got her start and found some of her greatest discoveries about the child. I wish there were more discussion on this in the Montessori community because it has such far reaching implications for our world and for civilizations to live in peace. I thank some of our students for increasing my awareness of this because they are working in underprivileged neighborhoods.

I think the other area dear to our hearts here at UMA is the environment. I mean that holistically. But this interview is becoming very winded so I will save that also for another time.

Lori: Thank you so much for your time, John.

John: Thank you!

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