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1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503



Big Goals

Elizabeth Topliffe


“I only see my goals, I don't believe in failure
'Cause I know the smallest voices, they can make it major”

--Lukas Graham

by Elizabeth Topliffe, Head of School

We talk about our goals often here. We encourage students to talk about the pictures in their minds. At Stepping Stones, rather than telling students what to do and how to do it, our guides are trained facilitators. Our job is to help students share their mental pictures, build those pictures into reality, and help students understand the practical realities that go into the work of achieving their goals.

With the approval of our Strategic Plan on March 16, the entire Stepping Stones community is now working from a shared picture. We are clear about where we are going. We have specific strategies to get us there.

With these goals and strategies, we are ready to take on the difficult work of making our picture a reality. We know how to work hard, and we relish both the work and the success. Let’s face it, we’re good at that.

So, let’s celebrate both! Please join us on Thursday, April 27 at 7 PM for a celebration of the final Strategic Plan. We’ll gather at the Downtown Market for beverages and light hors d'oeuvres. There will be conversation about the Strategic Plan and opportunities to help us achieve our goals. Please plan to attend this event!

If you’re wondering about that shared picture, here is a pretty broad overview. As our strategic planning process moved forward, we determined four areas for focus in the Plan. They are:

  • Governance & Financial Model
  • Supporting a Vibrant Montessori Experience
  • Harnessing Our Community's Passion
  • Becoming the Voice of Montessori in West Michigan

I want you to know the purpose of and highlights from each of these goal areas because they encompass a lot of work and initiatives.

Governance & Financial Model—As we worked on the Strategic Plan, our committees continuously looped back to our need for a professional governance model, solid financial processes, and operational strength. Stepping Stones was founded as a parent-run school, and we honor that history. At the same time, our school is in transition to a mature and effectively run school. With an eye toward long-term sustainability, Stepping Stones will work in the following areas to build a strong operational structure: board policies that support strategic board governance, leadership development, creating a budgeting and tuition model, and ensuring the administrative structure to support that. We will also review salary structures and planning for contingencies.

Supporting a Vibrant Montessori Experience—As I mentioned in my last note, the strategic planning process revealed that Stepping Stones is Montessori to the core. Our school has consistently provided excellent, authentic Montessori education in Grand Rapids. The experience of our students is at the heart of who we are. We will continue to build on this strength by: reviewing our scope and sequence, ensuring that our programs reflect our key values, developing our program into the adolescent years (junior high), and ensuring that our facilities support our programs.

Harnessing our Community’s Passion—Our parents, alumni, and community are strong, generous, and loyal to our school. I’m astounded how often an alumna speaks highly and passionately about their school experience at Stepping Stones. They remember materials and work. Former students laugh about their musicals and operas with comical stories and occasionally photos. To equip the school for its future, Stepping Stones will develop an advancement office to employ proven, professional processes to engage and involve a wide range of people.

Becoming the Voice of Montessori in West Michigan—The Grand Rapids community enjoys a rich commitment to schools of choice and alternative education.  Stepping Stones enjoys a niche in the community as the only secular private school that holds high levels of Montessori excellence. To continue our growth, ensure the future success of the school, and to enrich our community’s understanding, Stepping Stones will become a resource for families and West Michigan seeking Montessori expertise.

These goals are big, and our future depends on our entire community’s focus on them. Our picture of the school’s future was built  by many community members—current parents, former parents, alumni, staff, and board members. The picture we drew together is better than any single picture we could have created. I’m excited to share more with you!

Stepping Stones Montessori School nurtures global citizens and guides each child to realize their unique potential.

This mission is carried out in through our core values and our community identity. Stepping Stones Montessori is:

  • Established in Partnership 
  • Rooted in Montessori, and
  • Focused on the Child.

A Stepping Stone into the Future of Our School

Elizabeth Topliffe

by Elizabeth Topliffe, Head of School

To quote the incredible John Hannibal Smith (of A-Team fame), “I love it when a plan comes together.”

On March 16, the Stepping Stones Montessori Board of Trustees approved a Strategic Plan for our school’s next three years. Like most plans (even those of the A-Team), our Plan includes input from many people and perspectives. Over the past year, our community engaged in serious self-assessment and reflection—resulting in a thoughtful and forward-looking Strategic Plan.

Like all good Montessori work, our plan began broadly and became more detailed as we progressed. In this article, I’m going to discuss our big picture. (I’ll share more about the planning process and details later.) As always in a Montessori school, the questions were much more important than the answers.

We began with the most basic questions:

  • Why do our work and our community matter?
  • What is important about what we do?
  • What is the purpose of Stepping Stones Montessori School?

As we reflected on those questions, two important pieces rose to the surface.

First, our work as a community is important for the children of today as well as the adults those children will become. Ultimately, our work is about changing the world. We are dedicated to building a robust, diverse community that supports our students, family, staff, and alumni.

Second, our school is built upon the idea that students learn rather than on the idea that adults teach. Children come to our school with the innate ability to learn, discover, and unlock ideas. Montessori schools do not force feed information to their students. Instead, we channel children’s natural curiosity and challenge them to grow.

With that in mind, we adopted the following mission statement for our school:

Stepping Stones Montessori School nurtures global citizens and guides each child to realize their unique potential.

This mission is carried out in through our core values and our community identity. Stepping Stones Montessori is:

  • Established in Partnership 
  • Rooted in Montessori, and
  • Focused on the Child.

Below, I have included the Strategic Plan’s discussion of these core values.

Established in Partnership

Stepping Stones was founded by a group of parents and teachers who passionately supported Montessori education. From the moment of our founding in 1983, we have lived as a community. Our students create communities within their classroom and within the larger school—forging their future with support from teachers, peers, their parents and the parents in our extended school family. Parents at our school understand that we are their partner in helping their children discover themselves. They seek us out, share information, and modify their homes to best support their children’s learning. Our guides and staff cultivate relationships with children and their parents, helping families create homes that nurture the potential in one another. Our families support each other and are available for a social gathering at almost any time. Our staff creates meaningful partnership with one another because our work is important and cannot be done alone.

Rooted in Montessori

“Montessori” is more than a word in our name. It is at our very core. We aspire to be as true to Maria Montessori’s vision for the development of a child as possible. Our guides are trained and certified. Our students come to us with knowledge and character already inside of them. We guide them toward their full potential, helping them uncover their own personalities. Our materials are developed for Montessori classrooms. As we understand our mission, it reaches well beyond the academic needs of our students. We honor and respect each other and our fellow citizens of the earth. We are open to new ideas and to the beauty found in the world and each other. We are willing to try and fail, learning when things do not go as planned. We are peacemakers. Ultimately, we are Montessori because it is a way of being in the world that we honor, respect, and aspire to become. This value is deeply engrained within us, and it guides our entire organization.

Focused on the Child

The child is both the learner and the teacher. We honor each child’s unique gifts, personalities, and internal drive. When we make decisions, change the environment, and offer lessons, we consider them from the perspective of the child. Our guides and staff meet children where they are, and we help them forward on their path to adulthood. Our entire community, families, staff, guides, children share this focus. We begin with and end with the needs of the child.

I am very excited about our Plan and I’m looking forward to living into it with you. After Spring Break, I will share our goal areas and the process we used to develop the Plan. I will also present some of our key strategies.

Finally, we will celebrate the Plan and the work of our community (including staff, current parents, former students, former parents, former staff, and board members) at a community celebration on April 27 (details to follow). Please save this date to share some adult beverages, small eats, and raise a glass to the work of our community. The Plan will be available and there will also be time for you to ask your questions.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Our Journey to Stepping Stones Montessori School

Leigh Ebrom

When my wife and I toured Stepping Stones for the first time, we couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as we watched awesome young minds being supported in their individual development in a comfortable, independent, healthy way. We saw children learning social skills as well as respect for teachers and each other. We observed children with responsible attitudes (cleaning dishes, picking up after activities) who had a “flexible” structure, allowing their young developing, creative, and inquisitive minds to flourish. Our choice became simple.

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