Matthew Alexander: Creating the Classroom He Always Needed
Matthew Alexander of Chantilly Montessori School didn’t grow up loving school. For most of his youth, he didn’t feel that classrooms worked for him. However, when he discovered Montessori learning, he found something he wished he had growing up.
Teaching wasn’t in the plans for Matthew Alexander, but that changed when his first job after his degree in sustainable development from Appalachian State ended up being at a nearby Montessori school. “I fell in love with the Montessori philosophy and started working in classrooms,” said Matthew. “I eventually became a teacher in the upper elementary program.” When Matthew was in school, math came easily but wasn’t interesting to him. The Montessori approach to mathematics changed that. Now, he is hooked.
Matthew focuses on meeting each student individually. “It’s really building a relationship with the kid and realizing what they’re capable of and going from there,” he said. “Organically, as you’re doing this, you can guide them into academics.” Tongue in cheek, Matthew describes the Montessori approach to mathematics as “sneaky.” By building the relationships, Matthew can show his students concepts informally while still effectively communicating the necessary information.
There’s more than just math in his classroom though. Matthew is highly focused on developmental skills. He wants them to leave as more well-rounded people, so they’re ready for the outside world where things aren’t as black and white. He prepares the classroom very deliberately to achieve this. “I try to keep my classroom organic,” said Matthew. “There aren’t rows of tables and chairs. They get to choose where they work, and it’s less rigid.” His primary goal is to create an environment that’s pleasing to work in.
Matthew’s classroom is an engaging one. Matthew opens up the floor after their morning meeting to allow his students to share anything they want with their classmates. This idea is at the core of his philosophy of building relationships with his students. As the students open up and are themselves, Matthew does the same. He’s fully aware that his students can perceive when he’s being honest and when he isn’t. “Being yourself is pretty big with this age group,” explained Matthew.
Constantly looking to improve, Matthew loves reading and learning. When he pulls out a book, he wants to convey that even adults learn new things. “I should be the ultimate example of what being a student is,” he said. With his holistic educational approach, Matthew dives into the Montessori philosophy of “creating lifelong learners.”
Photos courtesy of Matthew Alexander