Teacher Feature: Wendy Dulaney helps lead Montessori-based education to a new location

By April Honaker

Wendy Dulaney teaches upper elementary and is the head of school at Chautauqua Woods Tutorial, a nature-based Montessori school in Ruston. Dulaney has taught in Montessori classrooms for 20 years. After earning master’s degrees in English and painting from Louisiana Tech, she later fell in love with the Montessori philosophy while her children were receiving a Montessori education. 

Dulaney became certified in secondary I and elementary I & II from Houston Montessori Center in 2002 and 2009 respectively. She has been teaching upper elementary in Montessori classrooms ever since.

Although a Montessori education is different in many ways from a traditional education, Dulaney said, “We still teach all the skills they teach. We still have testing that’s required for accreditation, and we use the curriculum as guideposts, but we leave a lot of natural leeway for development.”

Dulaney said she believes that all teachers across the board care about their students but that some of the rules and expectations within a traditional classroom make those teachers’ jobs harder. 

According to Dulaney, “Montessori not only looks at the whole child but also the individual child. We generally like to teach the main components with their interests in mind.”

For example, Dulaney said they teach students how to learn and research something they’re interested in. They allow children to follow that initial spark of wonder, supporting them along the way, so that the skills they learn will generalize to other areas.

While it’s important that students in Montessori get the core knowledge they need, this goal runs in tandem with a larger one.

“We want them to find their place in the world,” Dulaney said, “where they fit.”

Another key component of Montessori philosophy is the emphasis on mastery. Instead of saying all kids need to be at a certain level at the same time, Dulaney said they’re moved ahead based on mastery, which is a pretty big difference when compared to a more traditional system.    

Like many teachers, Dulaney loves learning, and she loves passing that love of learning along to her students.

“I love seeing that spark of joy that happens when they’re figuring something out and watching them become independent and unfold into their adult selves,” she said. 

This year, Chautauqua Woods started school in a newly renovated location on East Tennessee Avenue. The building, which used to be a Unitarian church years ago, is tucked into the woods with a nearby creek and pond, which are home to a family of herons and a host of other animals.

The new location will provide many new opportunities when it comes to teaching environmental science, outdoor skills and data collection. 

“It’s wonderful,” Dulaney said. “It’s a dream. The location is so peaceful, and we love how it lets nature in.” 

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