Finding Leaders among Us

Article excerpt

As the new AMS Board of Directors parent representative, I'll be writing a regular column for Montessori Life. For this issue that focuses on leadership, I thought it might be a good opportunity to provide a small window into my background by telling you about a leader I've known in my own life.

In this world so filled with negative press, lack of true heroes, and few role models and leaders, it is so important for children to have someone to emulate. I have been so fortunate to have my own mother, Dr. Hisayo O. Morishima, as a significant leader, role model, and mentor.

My mother was born Hisayo Oda on July 29, 1929, and is a direct descendant of Oda Nobunaga, one of the last Japanese Shogun leaders, who unified all of Japan in the 16th century. My mother was the second of four children, and lost her father during World War II. Growing up in a war-torn era without a father, she depended on her intellect and self-motivation to excel. Shortly after completing her medical school and residency training at Tokyo University, as well as obtaining her PhD in Pharmacology, she decided to come to America for additional training in anesthesiology. She came to this country in 1959 on her own with only $35 to her name, literally "on a slow boat from Japan."

My mother attained her MD and PhD in anesthesiology, and had as one of her mentors the world-renowned professor Virginia Apgar (the creator of the "Apgar score" given to newborn babies just after birth). Dr. Apgar told my mother that she believed she would one day become the first Japanese professor at Columbia University's School of Physicians and Surgeons, and the second female professor in anesthesiology (after Dr. Apgar herself). True to the doctor's vision, my mother became a full professor not only in anesthesiology, but also in obstetrics and gynecology. Becoming an established physician with both an MD and PhD was no easy feat, and even more challenging considering that my mother was female, and a Japanese national in the U.S. in the decades after WWII when anti-Japanese sentiment was not uncommon. She did this all while being a devoted wife and mother of two daughters.

My mother has enhanced the areas of anesthesiology and perinatology, as well as the study of drug abuse in her over 55 years of research. She has published well over 200 articles and papers in professional journals, and has trained over 70 research fellows and young faculty members. She is a Professor Emerita at Columbia University and is "retired." I put that in quotes because one thing that I have learned from her is that true leaders never really retire, but just continue working tirelessly, from home instead of at the office.

So what traits and characteristics supported my mother to achieve her goals and become such a strong leader within her discipline? They are some of the same characteristics that Maria Montessori expressed as part of the key framework of Montessori educational principles: the constructs of lifelong learning, self-motivation, and independence.

Clearly, as a research scientist for her entire life, my mother has been a lifelong learner. …