Principal brings Montessori to the forefront

What began as simple curiosity quickly turned into a lifelong passion for The Greenwoods Academy founder Sharleen McCorrister. Now, she’s looking to impart her passion for the philosophy to her own teachers and students, writes Michelle Jondreau.


When Sharleen McCorrister found that the Montessori educational method was right for her daughter, she was so impressed that she took it to the next level. And then some.

Indeed, what started as simple curiosity quickly turned into a lifelong passion for the teacher, who has since established her own Montessori school in Kanata.

“I was completely sold on the philosophy and what it entails,” says McCorrister.

According to the American Montessori Society, the Montessori method is an approach that values the development of all aspects of a child’s healthy upbringing: physical, social, emotional and cognitive.

“The whole approach being very child-centred and very respectful towards children —that’s when I started looking at what I wanted for my daughter and then also what I wanted to be as a teacher as well.”

McCorrister first encountered the Montessori philosophy in 1990 while teaching English as a second language in France. From there, she was inspired to learn more and since Montessori is practiced worldwide, McCorrister had the opportunity to travel and visit many Montessori schools.

In the beginning, it was all about fully grasping the Montessori principles, but soon evolved into teaching and speaking at conferences.

McCorrister has taught in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Hawaii and has trained Montessori teachers in Canada, United States and China. She has spoken at American Montessori Society conferences in Boston and Cincinnati, and recently at the Chinese Montessori Society conference in Dalin, China.

“As long as there is no language barrier, you can step in and start teaching as a trained and certified Montessori teacher and that enabled me to do quite a bit of travelling,” says McCorrister.

It was while teaching at Cambridge in 2001 that McCorrister met Allie (Yen-Lin) Liu, a Master’s student whom she accepted as an intern. Originally from Taiwan, Liu found the traditional school system too strict and this prompted her to begin training under the Montessori method.

“After working with Sharleen, you see the flexibility in the [Montessori] material and the approach, realizing that all students are different and that different teaching styles work with different children,” says Liu.

Liu was so impressed that when she heard McCorrister was opening her own Montessori school in Kanata that she made the move to Canada to be a part of the experience. She now works as a co-teacher at The Greenwoods Academy.

Since its establishment in October 2008, the academy has seen a student increase from five to 70 children, all ranging from toddler/preschool level to junior/senior kindergarten through to Grade 3. McCorrister credits this growth to the school’s location in a family-friendly neighbourhood, word-of-mouth advertising and especially to a great teaching team.

“What I have tried to create at the Greenwoods Academy is a progressive approach to Montessori education while upholding the basic philosophical principles established by Dr. Maria Montessori over 100 years ago,” says McCorrister.

“There are many pedagogical approaches to the education of young children, and all of them are of equal value. I myself have had further training in the Waldorf method, in which I discovered many aspects that combined well with our Montessori classroom approaches.”

McCorrister says one important aspect that sets the academy apart is a focus on global peace. Every month, students study a world peacemaker in great detail.

Students learn what it is to be peaceful and respectful with themselves, with others and with the world. As an extension of that, the academy has set up Families for Families Global Outreach, a charity that allows students to make a difference through fundraising and awareness initiatives.


Author: Michelle Jondreau

Photo: Michel Lanthier Photography