Get to Know: Peter Erskine
When and with which trainer did you do your original 6-12 training?
I completed my 6-12 teacher training in 2003 with Dr Jean Miller in the first Australian AMI 6-12 course in Sydney. This helped me to build upon my 3-6 teaching experience and gave me the opportunity to pilot a 6-12 Montessori program for aboriginal children at Minimbah State School in Armidale, NSW. This led to an opportunity to co-teach on Thursday Island alongside Michelle Martin, a gifted Torres Strait Islander and Montessori teacher. These have been enormously enriching experiences.
How did you arrive at the decision to become an AMI trainer?
I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to assist several AMI trainers including Kay Baker, Anne Dunne and Alison Awes during the first 6-12 training course in Thailand. They gave me an insight into AMI training that I might not have otherwise gained and this planted the seed.
A unique aspect of AMI teacher training is that it is an oral tradition passed down from trainer to teacher, from trainer to trainer. The oral transmission of stories and keys to knowledge is of course also a really important element of Montessori 6-12 teaching. This oral language aspect of Montessori education is, I believe, one of its most valuable features. Another important and related aspect of Montessori education is the task of building communities of learners. The role of the trainer has several dimensions, one of which is providing teachers with the tools to build a learning community within their classroom, which then becomes a focus for community building more generally. Bringing this conviction to the role of an AMI teacher trainer seems to me to be a worthwhile project. There can sometimes be an overly narrow interpretation of the role of the materials and presentations in the Montessori classroom. When presented with playfulness and humour they are wonderful tools for children to learn the skills they need to participate, cooperate, express themselves, to test hypotheses and to make sense of the world. They are also an important focus for conversation and a catalyst for collaboration.
What training are you currently delivering?
As part of my progress through the AMI Trainer of Training program (ToT), I am assisting AMI trainers Carla Foster and Kyla Morenz and the team at the Montessori Institute of Prague. This involves presenting some lectures and webinars. In Australia I continue to present professional development workshops for teachers and schools, which has been personally very rewarding.
When not delivering training, what other parts of the trainer role do you get involved with?
I have been involved in assisting the trainer and the training team with the many tasks involved in delivering a course. These include lecturing, supervising practice sessions, reading student assignments, responding to student inquiries, assisting with the examinations, maintaining the learning environment, and making materials. Since the Covid epidemic began, much of my engagement with the Prague training has been via Zoom and webinars. These have been critical for maintaining the connection between students and the training team. I have learned so much from being part of a team that has been quite skilful in meeting the challenges posed by Covid and the need to integrate different modes of course delivery.
What do you most enjoy about the training process?
I enjoy collaborating with a team who are all passionate about Montessori education and who bring a diverse range of life experience and perspectives to their work. An AMI 6- 12 training course can be almost overwhelming in its intensity and sheer content but it has been wonderful to see how transformational an AMI 6-12 course can be. By the end of the last Prague 6-12 course the eloquence and depth of understanding shown by some students was quite moving.
The three AMI trainers Carla, Kyla Morenz and Madlena Ulrich, who present the 3-6 component of the course, are continuously reflecting upon and evaluating how best to deliver Montessori teacher training to adult learners. They place a lot of emphasis upon areas which are close to my heart – the importance of storytelling, conversation and oral language within Cosmic Education as well as the practical and spiritual elements of building a learning community.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in being a trainer in training?
The challenges of the ToT program can be compared in some ways to undertaking a PhD. The written output is similar as is the time commitment. I feel very fortunate to be working with trainers who are consummate leaders and professionals and who challenge me to look with fresh eyes at Montessori education and teaching practice.
What are you most looking forward to in your training work throughout the next year?
A new 6-12 course has just begun in Prague and I am looking forward to completing AMI ToT requirements with Carla and the Prague team. I would also very much like to offer mentoring support for newly trained teachers. I think this is an area of need that is often overlooked. Providing newly trained teachers with a combination of professional and collegial support during the first year or two after training can, I believe, make a great difference to career success and fulfilment as well as to the richness of the learning culture in the classroom.
What words of advice can you offer anyone considering studying for an AMI 6-12 Diploma?
To get the most out of an AMI training course one needs to think it through carefully before enrolling. With the right preparation and attitude, the course can set a teacher up for a deeply fulfilling career. Read as much of Montessori’s writing and other Montessori literature as you can. If possible attend a 6-12 orientation course and talk to a few people who have completed the 6 -12 teacher training. Be well prepared and organised before the course starts.
It is important to have the support of one’s friends, partner and/or family and that they know what to expect. Depending on the format of the course, it will take up the majority of evenings, weekends and holidays.
If you are already working in a Montessori school, seek some kind of financial support from your school, or from another. It is in a school’s interest to have committed and well trained Montessori teachers.
Life experience, a strong interest in some area of human culture/ knowledge and a strong work ethic will all be very helpful. Good typing skills are definitely helpful. Explore different ways of note taking. Students on the Prague course were introduced to mind mapping which helped some students to transform their learning experience. Most of all a curiosity and commitment to learning.
What words of advice can you offer anyone considering applying for the AMI Training of Trainers program?
Anyone considering this path will probably already have a lot of teaching experience and is already committed to the Montessori project. There is a worldwide shortage of trainers so a credentialed AMI trainer will probably never be short of meaningful work. The more Montessori teaching experience one has had and the more one has reflected on this the better trainer one is likely to be. Any sustained study relating to English, or any additional language, literature, or history, or social anthropology; or to geography, or child development , or psychology; or to art, music , science or math, and so on, will be really beneficial. It is also important I believe to maintain contact with Montessori schools and teachers and the day to day realities of teaching.
For further information about the AMI Trainers of Trainers program visit the AMI website.