Individuals often gravitate toward specific philosophies and methods that resonate with them in education. But occasionally, you meet someone like Katelyn Shirilla, whose journey into Montessori education was far from planned but deeply impactful nonetheless. Today, Katelyn serves as the director of Fairlington Preschool after being a head of school in a Montessori institution in Springfield, Virginia, where she dedicated six years of her career. Her appearance on the School Success Podcast, hosted by Mitchell Slater, revealed her thoughts on Montessori education and a candid look into the challenges she and her fellow educators face today.
An Unexpected Path Into Montessori
Despite being deeply involved in Montessori education, Katelyn admitted she had never planned to be in such a field. “When I was in college, I was a criminal justice major,” she shared on the podcast. Moving to a new city after college, she stumbled upon the Montessori school in Springfield while seeking employment. Initially viewing her teaching role as a “stepping stone,” Katelyn was soon captivated by the Montessori philosophy. “I fell in love with the philosophy, and here I am six years later,” she stated, a line that will resonate with anyone who has unexpectedly found their calling.
The Montessori Philosophy: It’s a Family Affair
Katelyn’s job didn’t end with running the school; it extended to educating parents about the Montessori method. Given the uniqueness of Montessori’s mixed-age groups and focus on independent learning, Katelyn emphasized that the Montessori school she was with tried to provide “as much parent education as we can on the front end.” Her aim? To ensure parents won’t experience “culture shock” when they see the school’s approach to children’s self-directed activities.
Addressing The Challenges of Modern Education
One of the most significant issues that Katelyn and educators grappled with was staff retention. During the pandemic, education went through some of its most complex challenges. Katelyn didn’t hold back from acknowledging the plight of the teaching profession.
“Teachers are struggling,” she admitted. “We went from just being responsible for teaching to being responsible for the health and safety of hundreds of students, which is a huge burden to put on people who have no medical training.”
Solutions: Addressing Teacher Burnout and Retention
So, how did Katelyn tackle these challenges at her former school? “We tried to take as much as we can off our teachers’ plates,” she said. Activities and events that were once the responsibility of teachers were handled by administrators, allowing teachers to focus on what’s most important: the students.
Other efforts included reviewing salary scales to remain competitive, organizing luncheons and happy hours to foster a staff community, and creating support systems for teachers dealing with behavioral or special needs in the classroom. “We tried to make those connections for people,” Katelyn shared.
A Word of Inspiration
To conclude the podcast, Katelyn offered potent advice for fellow school leaders and aspiring educators. While it might not be the standard ‘feel-good’ advice, it was realistic and resonated with the current challenges of the educational landscape.
“You have to be committed and invested in education,” she emphasized. For those who are genuinely committed, “amazing things can happen,” but if your heart’s not in it, it might be time to choose a different path.
Katelyn Shirilla’s journey is a compelling testament to the magic that can happen when you’re open to discovering your passion. From a criminal justice major to head of a Montessori school, Katelyn’s story proves that our paths may be unexpected but can lead to fulfilling destinations. As she navigates through the modern complexities of the educational landscape, her dedication and practical wisdom offer invaluable insights for educators and parents alike.
Listen to the full School Success podcast episode with Katelyn Shirilla, aired on May 16, 2022.