a peek inside the fishbowl

15 Jun, 2016

A chat with Gregory Dixon of OMS

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Fishbowl patrons|Ottawa

As some of you know, OMS Montessori is a blog patron and as such they invited me to visit The Element, the Montessori high school at Lansdowne Park, to meet Gregory Dixon, the new OMS director. I really enjoyed my last visit to The Element, honestly, it was so inspiring to hear about their approach to learning that I was excited to go back and spend a few minutes with this dynamic educator.

Gregory Dixon, the new director of OMS Montessori

Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

The Element High School

Like many educators I’ve met, there is teaching in Greg’s genes. He grew up in a family of five in Nobleton Ontario, a small town an hour north of Toronto, and both parents were teachers. Greg completed an undergrad degree in arts and business with a focus on philosophy and economics at the University of Waterloo but he always knew education was in his future. This partly came from his parents, but some early volunteer experience helped set him on his path. Teenage Greg was interested in computers, so when he was 16, he started teaching Nobleton adults how to use them. By the time he was 18, he was running a small computer support company doing the same.

He also spent a lot of time in his parents’ classrooms.

“I became fascinated with the role teachers play in children’s lives. I saw all the preparation that went into it and how excited they were to spend every day with their students. Education was something I always knew I wanted to get into,” says Greg.

After university, he attended Montessori teacher’s college. It was at that time that he volunteered – and later worked at – the local Montessori school.

“I wondered why these children were so different, why they were so polite, how they were so curious about the world and so intelligent… these young children amazed me,” says Greg.

Before Greg came to Ottawa he was a principal at a Montessori school in Kentucky. I had no idea there were differences within different Montessori streams, but there are. The OMS model follows a more traditional pedagogy. Greg explained that OMS is a school that is steeped in “deep history and authentic Montessori practices.”

The Montessori program has a long history and this year, OMS is celebrating a 50-year anniversary. This is a significant milestone for OMS and for Montessori education in Canada.

“You have a committed group of families who went to the school and now have sent their children and even grandchildren to this school. It shows the timelessness of Montessori. There was a connection to Ottawa 50 years ago, and that same connection is prevalent and thriving today,” says Greg. “To have grown so much… to start with a school of 18 children and now have a school with close to 300 students is amazing. The reputation of OMS is exemplary in the Ottawa community and Canada-wide. The celebration of 50 years is a reflection – a deep breath – thinking what we’ve accomplished over those 50 years, how our children and our alumni have graduated and become leaders is a real testament to what we do in school.”

My question for Greg: How does the Montessori teaching model, which is over 100 years old, stay relevant in modern times? In hindsight, it was a naïve question to ask because I actually knew the answer before I asked it. You see, the Montessori pedagogy follows the developmental needs of children. Most children, for example, learn to walk at more or less the same time. These developmental milestones are the same as they were 100 years ago. This is why the model still works, even though our outward lives have changed dramatically since the late 1800s when Maria Montessori was hashing this all out.

“Children are cognitively sensitive from birth to six years of age to languages, so they learn how form words and they listen, and before they speak they are able to understand. And that has not changed over time,” explains Greg. “We work on developing language in that early childhood time frame and we also know that children become more social, and so in elementary we don’t sit children at desks… but we give them a chance to work on material in small groups so that they learn how to be social, persuasive, and so we meet their milestones.”

It’s shaping up to be an exciting time at OMS, for both students and educators. Gregory is in the midst of an “observation phase” and has been “learning the culture and the systems” of OMS. He predicts some positive changes for the 2016-17 school year, some of which might include tweaks to the music program and a closer look at robotics, coding, and entrepreneurship programs to see where they fit into the curriculum. What I thought was very cool, is that Greg has plans to develop the OMS service education program so that the school can become a greater part of the Ottawa community and give back – as Greg puts it – “using our skills and passions.”

But can skills and passions fit into a curriculum that is supposed to revolve around the three R’s? The answer is yes. It has to be.

“Teachers help children follow their dreams, and help them nurture their passion for life,” explains Greg. This is true whether the child wants to be a lawyer or doctor or mechanic.

At the recent OMS 50th gala celebration, Greg told me many parents mentioned the positive impact OMS had on their childhood.

“Montessori is real life,” says Greg. “[Graduates] attribute a lot of their success to their time at OMS.”

I don’t think you can get a better testimonial than that!

Got questions about OMS? Check out their website.


1 Response to "A chat with Gregory Dixon of OMS"

1 | Cathy

June 16th, 2016 at 9:22 am

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A wonderful profile of a great school!

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