When I first met Shawn, I was a little intimidated. She exuded with great confidence, while I, on the other hand, was a newbie (in a Montessori sense). I told myself it’s going to be an interesting observation. Inside her classroom, she radiated with grace and warmth towards the children and to her Assistant (my Mum!).
Furthermore, the childrens’ parents valued her brilliance and respected her greatly. It was a beautiful community, and I was lucky to be able to witness it several times.
Since then, her classroom has always been a standard of high quality. I know, each classroom is unique but hers will always stand out in my Montessori experience.
Here are some questions she happily answered. Hope you get some nugget of wisdom from Shawn Viverretta. Happy reading!
Can you please tell me a little bit background of yourself? Your family? Where you from? Where you grew up and your current location.
My name is Shawn Viverretta. I was born in and raised in Connecticut. When I was 17 years my family moved to New York. I attended college in Boston and New York. It was at State University of New York at Old Westbury where I received my BA in English Literature. After marriage, I moved to Karachi, Pakistan in 1992 where I taught and lived for 10 years. I currently live in Chicago, IL with my youngest son and partner
What is your current interest right now? Any new hobby you just started?
My current interest outside of work is traveling and experiencing new cultures. This summer I will be taking Bachata classes and I learned how to swim after all these years.
Yes, traveling. You need to visit the Philippines with us next time. Moving forward, can you tell us about your Montessori Journey?
When I moved to Pakistan my mother in law at the time introduced me to Montessori. She knew that I wanted to be a teacher and enrolled me in an AMI 3-6 primary course at the Montessori Teachers Training Center in Karachi. My first teaching position was with Gool Minwalla who was the pioneer and force behind Montessori in Pakistan. Mrs. Minwalla attended the first training course lead by Maria Montessori back in 1949. Mrs. Minwalla also studied and work with Dr. Montessori. I feel privileged to have been trained with Mrs. Minwalla as well as work as a directress in her Bath Island School. After a few years of teaching with Mrs. Minwalla and Mrs. Nusrat Humayun (mother in law) I wanted to branch out and try another method so I took a teaching position in 1996 at The International School in Karachi. The school was the first to implement the IBO program (International Baccalaureate Organization). I taught in the Primary Years Program for 4 years. My heart was always with Montessori so I returned to Montessori. In 2000 I returned to the US and took a teaching position at Alta Vista Montessori in Libertyville,IL. It was here that I developed my skills as a Montessori Guide. I knew during this time that Montessori for me was a way of life. Having the autonomy to guide my own development was key to my success in the classroom. As teacher, I had many trial and error moments but I was always able to reflect and remember what was my objective. I wanted to guide children to be learners who questioned why or what is this? Okay now what else can I do with it? During my time at Alta Vista I had consultations from respected Montessorians like Annette Haines and Sue Pritzker. I adjusted my thinking and style and approached each time. There were often time where what I was doing was true Montessori and that made me feel proud. I worked at Alta Vista for 12 years and realized I was read to leave the classroom but not leave education. My desire now was to help the children by educating teachers. In 2012 I left Alta Vista and joined the Montessori Academy of Chicago an urban school. The Academy drew my interest because it was a relatively new school and there was an opportunity for growth. After a year at the Academy I was given the opportunity to be the Primary Educational Coordinator. During my time at the Academy I have obtained a Masters in Education with a concentration in Reading. I use my reading experience to develop the literacy program for the primary level. I am in my 6th year at the Academy and even though I do not head a classroom I interact with all of my students daily.
That is quite a journey! Working in a Montessori school offers some challenges. Can you name one or two?
I find that when parents don’t fully understand the method we run into challenges such as comparisons, impatience, and doubt. If a teacher is not strong in her message and belief of Montessori it can affect the outcomes in the classroom.
Yes, I agree on that one. It’s very important for a teacher to be fully confident in herself, and that confidence will definitely resonate in her classroom. Do you have any books you often recommend to parents in a way they will better understand Montessori?
I would recommend Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler
Okay, let’s talk about a lighter topic. Can you recall a funny/silly moment in your classroom that you will never forget?
I am not sure this would be considered funny but it made a lasting impression on me it also made me reflect on how I can influence a child’s mind by what I bring into the classroom. One year we were discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his great contribution to American especially African Americans. Civil Rights is hard to explain to child but I found a book that had that had a strong and comprehensible message for my young students. That book was called Martin’s Big Words. The book repeated the sentences” Wait! For years I have heard the word Wait! We have waited more than three hundred and forty years for our rights” The children were learning how African Americans were being treated and how wrong it was. They were also learning that they wanted fairness and to be treated with respect. As I would read the book they always repeated those lines when I reached them. So one day as the class was preparing to clean up after lunch so they could play, one student said “ Ms. Viverretta may we go outside now?” My response was “ Wait, we need to finish sweeping”. Another student who heard me came over and said very firm and confident “Wait! We have waited more than three hundred and forty years for our right! Right Ms. Viverretta! “ I was shocked but tickled and without bursting into laughter I had to explain to my little activist that this request to wait was not the same! At the end of the school year this child’s mother wrote me a beautiful letter explaining how the book and our talks about peace makers helped her son get through a very difficult change in his life. She was so happy that her son had this sense of fairness for everyone and she believed it would stay with him as he grew. It was interesting how he applied what he was learning to something that was happening around him.
*** Shawn is currently the Associate Head of School at Montessori Academy of Chicago and a Patriots super fan ***