Clarity through Focus Groups (part 1)

Focus group questions projected on the Smartboard?   Check.

Handouts with the questions so the teachers can follow along?    Check.

The Asian food I had ordered for our group was out and other snacks are ready to be eaten. Clean tables and chairs were arranged in a semi-circle layout to allow guests to eat and engage comfortably.  Tina, our Librarian, was in ready position to capture and teacher responses. I popped a tic tac to help settle my nervous stomach (I really wanted this to go well).

Let the Focus Group begin.

The door opened, and the teachers began to file into the room.

Lisa gave a big smile and headed right for the snacks. Li shuffled in, dropped her belongings on the table, gave me a side glance, then helped herself to the Teriyaki Chicken while I said a prayer that she would not grade papers during the session.

Within the next 10 minutes all 8 teachers were in the room, eating, catching up, and chatting.  I was thankful they came and decided to get things started before too many side conversations developed.

I had been preparing for this moment for over month. As a new Arizona Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, I wanted to be a representative of my Montessori school in the public sector while encouraging my public Montessori colleagues to let their voices be heard and valued. was another, personal effort to capture the perspectives and experiences of Montessori teachers in response to the outcomes of The New Teacher Center’s Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning which shared teacher voice regarding collaborative school .

“Hi all!” I belted with a welcoming and excited voice.

“Thank you for coming and let’s get started. This is a focus group session being held on behalf of Hope Street Group. This is a confidential session This is a safe space for us to discuss the topic areas that are currently effecting education in Arizona.”

And so it went.

My colleagues and I were officially having our first Focus Group and the issues it gave voice to provided new insight on some topics and reaffirmed our shared ideas with one another. In the spirit of collegiality and comradery, we shared ideas and, at times, we agreed to disagree.  Through our structured conversations, we identified the reoccurring themes found within the Montessori philosophy:

  • Teachers develop instructional continuity across classrooms, which builds trust between teachers and administration
  • Students make academic decisions, which naturally supports parental involvement and support
  • The three-year cycle of teaching the same students builds lasting relationships between students, families, teachers, administration, and the community
  • Montessori learning environment are designed to be beautiful and welcoming, which helps teachers enjoy being in their classes with their students
  • Montessori training prepares teachers to work in an autonomous fashion which supports teacher retention

According to the Morrison Institute for Public Policy article Report: AZ in crisis over teacher pay, retention, Arizona annually loses more teachers than are being produced by its three in-state teacher preparatory universities. In addition to low pay, according to The New Teacher Center teacher retention is also heavily influenced by teaching and learning conditions. Low pay and unsupportive teaching and learning conditions were identified in the TellAZ Survey (2017) as state and district level teacher retention issues.

Stay tuned to learn about discoveries and outcomes from this Focus Group, and resources for learning more about how to bring Montessori to your school!


photo credit: Flооd I Spy via photopin (license)


Yolanda Wheelington

Yolanda Wheelington

Phoenix, Arizona

Yolanda has taught for the past 7 years in the Phoenix Elementary School District. Her passion for developing and supporting the human potential is evident in the cross-curricular work done her classroom. She is a member of the Association Montessori International and is a RODEL Scholar. Yolanda earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology from The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), a Master’s in Social Work and a Master’s in Education (Special Education) from Arizona State University, and a diploma in Lower Elementary Education for ages 6-12 from the Montessori Institute of North Texas.

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