Spiritual Vitality in Diverse Montessori Environments

November 10, 2021



Dr. Maria Montessori was a devout Catholic. This is apparent in her writing and stories meant for children. This is an aspect that is not often acknowledged and explored by many in the current day Montessori Movement. Join us for this rare discussion about how the Montessori philosophy serves to nourish the spirit of the child and give them greater freedom to experience their full humanity.  As adult Montessorians we also have the same spiritual freedom that can inspire us as we engage in our social activism to restore justice, equity and liberation for all. This panel of Montessori educators represent numerous faiths that include African Spirituality (Koren Clark), Buddhism (Lucy Golden), Christianity (Martha Ochoa), Islam (Maya Soriano), Judaism (Andy Lulka), Native American Indigenous spirituality (Siobhan Juanita Brown), and Catholicism (Zoraida Villarrubia Concepción).  They have come together to discuss how personal faith and spiritual beliefs can intersect with our Montessori practices.

Dr. Montessori describes spirituality as one of our human fundamental needs. The extent to which Montessori adults, families and thus children, subscribe to the tenets of a faith are as varied as our schools, classrooms, families, children and prepared adults that make up the many Montessori communities.  There is not one path towards awakening the spiritual nature of an adult or child.  In order to truly welcome all faiths and cultures, the prepared Montessori adult would do well to examine, and understand the specific spiritual concepts inherent in much of Dr. Montessori’s writings and acknowledge how she incorporated her faith into the development of the Montesssori philosophy, and pedagogy.

Meet the panelists

Dr. Lucy Canzoneri-Golden is Co-Founder/Co-Director of Coral Reef Montessori Academy Charter School located in Miami Florida.  Dr. Canzoneri-Golden is a pioneer in the field of teacher-led educational reform, providing a refreshing alternative to top-down, expert-led initiatives that dominate urban education today. Dr. Canzoneri-Golden began her teaching career in Harlem, New York at the Central Park East Schools under the leadership of Dr. Deborah Meier before relocating to Miami, Florida in 1988.  Dr. Canzoneri-Golden has always sought out innovative techniques for teaching and learning. Dr. Canzoneri-Golden recently obtained a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. As with Montessori education, culturally relevant pedagogy and anti bias anti racist curriculum resonated profoundly with her; therefore, it was a natural progression for her and her business partner to join in doing research in analyzing and researching the perspectives of parents teachers and administrators on how culturally relevant pedagogy and anti bias and anti racist curriculum  operate in three urban public Montessori schools.

Recommended by Lucy –

Martha A. Ochoa Hurtado (pronouns: She, Her) was born in Mexico and grew up in Oakland, California.  She has been in education for 30 years.  She completed her lower and upper elementary Montessori credentials and training, as well as the masters in Montessori education program at St. Mary’s College of Moraga, California. After 26 years as a Montessori teacher, Martha embarked on a mission to mentor and support schools and teachers through her consulting services.  She is the founder of AWE (Another Way to Educate), which is her personal education consultant project. The mission of AWE is to address inequity and social injustice in the curriculum through teacher mentorship, training and organizational guidance. She is involved in grassroots community efforts and projects ranging from addressing the school to prison pipeline, gender & race inequality, systemic racism and poverty.


Andy Lulka (she/her) is a third generation Montessori advocate, as well as a Montessori alumna and parent. Andy is a certified Casa guide and holds an M.Ed. in Integrative Montessori Learning with a focus on early adolescence. Born in Mexico to a family with both Ashkenazi and Sephardi roots, Andy immigrated to Canada as a child. As a teenager, Andy began publishing writing and speaking about Montessori, as well as Holocaust and antisemitism education from intersectional perspectives. She has been a lead Casa and Middle School guide, played various roles in Toddler through Upper Elementary and in administration, and has designed curriculum and programs for children and adults. Andy is now dedicated to providing opportunities for professional development online, and has moderated the largest online professional development and support group specifically and exclusively for Montessori teachers since 2012.

  • The poem shared by Andy was written by Hannah Senesh

Siobhan Juanita Brown (Keesuty8ee Elm) is from Roxbury, MA and lives on her ancestral homelands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe where she is a founding member of the teaching team at Weetumuw Katnuhtôhtâkamuq, a primary and elementary school for Wampanoag children.  Prior to joining the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, she worked extensively in Arts Education, piloting community based, youth development programs ensuring access to arts for Boston youth. Siobhan holds a BFA in Performing Arts from Emerson College, and is a graduate of the American Repertory Theater Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.

Koren Clark, M.Ed is a (6-9) Montessori trained guide, and certified Montessori coach who has taught for over 20 years. Clark is AMS Montessori certified, California state certified and holds an administrative credential. With a masters in Montessori education and a Ba in Sociology from UC Berkeley, Clark has studied and done international educational research in Zimbabwe, Germany and  Egypt. She has been a presenter at the Montessori for Social Justice and American Montessori Society conferences.  Clark has led multiple professional development workshops for Montessori schools and organizations across the nation and serves on the board of Montessori Life and the Black Montessori Education Fund. Clark is the designer of Know Thyself Inc (a Montessori material and professional development organization) and a partner for Wildflower schools where she helps teachers develop liberated teacher-led Montessori micro-schools. 

Spiritual Reading List recommended by Koren – 

  • Pert Em Heru- The coming forth from day by night Wallis Budge
  • The Husia Mulana Karenga
  • Religion in Ancient Egypt Bryon E. Shafer
  • Nurturing your child’s spirit Jeannine Schmid
  • The teachings of Pthahotep
  • Self healing power and therapy old teachings from AFricca Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kaiau
  • Spirituality before religions Professor Kaba Hiawatha Kemene
  • KnowThySelf Niam Akbar
  • Shining Through: A teacher’s Handbook on transformation Sonnie Mc Farland
  • The courage to teach Parker Palmer
  • Nurturing the Spirit Aline Wolf
  • Engaged pedagogy Bell Hooks
  • Universal school house James Moffett
  • Twas The Night Before Light Koren Clark and Golden Oak 6-9 Class
  • The Butterfly Effect

Maya Soriano is passionate about education as a vehicle for social change.  Maya has worked in urban public and charter schools in both Los Angeles and Minnesota.   Maya completed her AMI Primary training at the Montessori Center of Minnesota and later earned her Master’s of Education from St. Catherine’s University.  She opened Lirio Montessori in 2018 with her teacher leader partner, Susana Rodriguez.  Lirio Montessori is a teacher-led two way immersion Children’s Housel that is part of the Wildflower School network.  Lirio is one of the first Wildflower charter sites and is located in the heart of South Minneapolis with an emphasis on accessibility and serving students of color.  After seeing how the teacher-led model could greatly impact communities and support equity minded educators, Maya co-founded the Wildflower Equity Initiative which focuses on increasing Montessori teachers of color pipeline as well as supporting teacher leaders of color that are interested in opening Wildflower schools in Minnesota.  She now works at the Wildflower Foundation where she has the privilege to support emerging teacher leaders and their coaches as they engage in the work of opening more teacher-led schools.

Recommended by Maya – 

Spiritual Gems of Islam by Imam Jamal Rahman

Zoraida Villarrubia Concepción was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, raised in Aguada, and graduated from Dr. Carlos González High School. She graduated in 1988 from Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez with a Bachelor of Science and as a Secondary Mathematics teacher. She worked as a teacher in various private schools in Puerto Rico. In 2000 Zoraida was certified as a Montessori assistant and then in 2002 as a catechist of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, an experience based in the Montessori philosophy focused on spiritual development. She was an assistant for several years and worked in various parishes as a volunteer catechist for children of ages from 2 ½ to 12 years old. She also became a Formation Leader (trainer) for people wanting to become catechists for level 1 (2 ½-6 years old). In 2017 Zoraida moved to Arizona to work as a catechist in a parish and in a Montessori school. There she studied at the Southwest Institute for Montessori Studies to become a Children’s House Guide through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), and completed a Master’s degree in Education at Loyola University of Maryland in 2019. Recently she received the certification granted by AMI as a school administrator.

Zoraida is grateful for the opportunity of working at Flor de Loto Montessori School and hopes to serve the children and their families in the best possible way as a bilingual Montessori guide. She enjoys preparing a special environment for children and facilitating materials, lessons, and other things they need to nurture their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.

Resources recommended by Zoraida – 

  • Nurturing the Spirit of the Child in Non-Sectarian Classrooms, by Aline Wolf.
  • AMI/USA March 1999, Vol. XIII, No. 2: Montessori and the Importance of Religion in Human Development, by Eduardo J. Cuevas G.
  • Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Webpage
  • Books:
    • The Child in the Church, by Maria Montessori and others
    • The Religious Potential of the Child, Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy with Young Children, by Sofia Cavalleti
    • The Religious Potential of the Child 6 to 12 Years Old, by Sofia Cavalleti
    • Listening to God with Children: The Montessori Method Applied to the Catechesis of Children, by Gianna Gobbi
    • The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey, by Gianna Gobbi, Patricia M. Coulter, and Sofia Cavalletti