Montessori school is individualized learning; it allows the child to be who they truly are. Victoria Wieck introduces Brigitta Hoeferle, the Founder of The Montessori School of Cleveland. Brigitta shares how she wanted her children to go to a Montessori because she didn’t want to push them into one classroom. Since there weren’t any around when her first child came, she created one herself. Join in the conversation to discover how you can start your business ventures with your current resources. Start with a big vision in mind, but with small steps. And make sure to create a detailed business plan. Tune in to learn more!
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
How Montessori Schools Support Individual Learning With Brigitta Hoeferle
I’m excited to discuss some very needed topics in this day and age and someone who can speak from firsthand experience. Her name is Brigitta Hoeferle. She immigrated here from Germany with a lot of skills and had to start her life over here again. She’s taken all of the great things that she’s learned in Germany, as well as what she learned as an immigrant here, and started some amazing things. I will let Brigitta speak about her own journey here so that it will be a little bit more accurate and interesting. When she speaks about her herself, it’s a little bit more interesting than if I can read her bio. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, Victoria. Thanks for having me. This is exciting.
Tell my audience a little bit about your background. What fuels you? What it was like to come here and start your life over? What age was that when you came? You don’t have to state the age and what year but I want to know if it’s teenage years or later on.
I will give you the whole rundown. I was born and raised in a very small village in Germany. It was 600 people. Gorgeous Southern part of Germany, vineyards all around, and we played in the vineyards but it was very small-minded as well. I couldn’t wait to get the heck out of there. I went to school in Germany, all the way through my university times. I have two degrees. I started my life in Germany. I climbed the corporate ladder in Germany. I met my husband in Munich. I’m not originally from Munich but I worked there in a large publishing house.
When we met, I was in my very late twenties like 29. It was that late. We decided to get married and have children. Me, being a student that never liked being in school, although I hold two degrees, I hated school, probably because I was bullied and overweight. That’s a story for a whole other time. One of the degrees that I hold is in Social Pedagogy, and that is to be a teacher. I never did anything with it.
When it was time for us to have children, I didn’t want our children to go to a Montessori school, which is very individualized learning. It allows the child to be who they truly are and not try to push children in one classroom, and they are all in the same box, if you will. Through my education times, my university times, when I learned about the methodology of Maria Montessori, which has been around for more than 100 years now, I thought, “What an incredible methodology. How come I never went to a Montessori school?”
It was clear to me that I wanted our children that were not even born yet, weren’t even conceived yet, to go to a Montessori school. I created a Montessori school out of necessity because when it was time to give birth to our first child in Munich, the waitlist for Montessori schools was three years. I didn’t have that time because I loved what I did, and I traveled a lot through Europe into the United States, back and forth for the publishing house, with the organization that I worked with. I couldn’t do that, being a stay-at-home mom, waiting three years to have a space in a Montessori school for my child, our daughter, Emily, I said, “I have the degrees. I have the knowledge and marketing. Why don’t I start our own school?” I did that.
I was 32 at the time when we moved to the United States to grow the business because I came to a place where I needed a much bigger facility in Munich. If you know anything about Munich or German real estate it’s, A) Very hard to get and, B) Very unaffordable. For me to grow into the big vision that I had, my husband and I said, “How about we moved to the States?” We made that decision and did that. Now that I’m talking about it, it sounds very simple. It wasn’t all that simple moving an entire business and household with a small child but we did it. We started with our own child, the school, and grew rather quickly into 125 students that we have now.
Montessori school is individualized learning; it allows the child to be who they truly are.
You basically started your first Montessori school out of necessity. You had to go abroad to live out your vision of bringing that experience, an individualized learning experience, to other people.
I want to. It was a choice I made.
It’s true but if you are living in a place where you’ve got 600 people living there, it is pretty limiting. It is a choice but I would say, either way, you made that decision. It’s interesting because I come from a whole family of school teachers, and I was not a great student. As with you, I have degrees from very prestigious universities. I did get pretty good grades. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like it and don’t use it. I’ve got two MBAs and all that stuff. I have never used it because I’m an artist. I make a pretty good living practicing my art.
The conventional thought of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, an MBA or whatever, to gain your freedom, didn’t apply to me. I sometimes think to myself like, “How much more successful I would have been if I was allowed to become an artist ever since I was a kid?” I never went to art school, any design school. I created an amazing business for myself. I agree with you that people, especially children, should be nurtured for their individuality and work with them. They develop at different ages, different things. They have different dreams. Not everybody fits in that same set of boxes that they put us in.
Let’s go back to what it takes to start a school. Not only start it but sustain, then grow and scale it. All those things came in handy here. By the way, I do think that in America, I wish there were more Montessori schools, more school choices because when I sent my kids to school, as you said, there were all these waitlists. We didn’t have those choices. My kids literally went to part private, part public, and part homeschool. I have one child who excelled in Literature but hated Math. That child needed specialized education to get to the national average. She excelled in Literature. She could have taught her teachers a few things.
The other one was good at Math and Science. She took after my husband, who went to Harvard with Math and Science and all that stuff. She hated Literature. They were in the same school, as you can imagine. We need a lot more of the Montessori school or types of school that you have created. I wish you all the best in the future because I’m sure you haven’t stopped helping other people. In terms of how do you start, what do you get funding for? How do you go find your target audience? How do you talk to them? How do you convince them that this is their thing?
I have funded it all through my own capital that I brought from Germany and I didn’t bring a whole lot. It varies oversee a full amount that I brought.
When you were in Germany, how did you fund the first one?
Through my own capital. I didn’t have any investors. Everything that I have done up until now, I have done through my own efforts. I never looked for investors. I did have some investors that wanted to be part of it. I said, “When I need you, I will let you know,” but we have organically grown from facility to facility. We started out with a small facility went into a medium facility. We moved over the pandemic in July 2021 into a very large facility and are now able to take even more students. We haven’t started high school yet. That’s a whole another can of worms that you would open.
How did I start out? I started with a business plan. Being in marketing, a smart businesswoman, I knew I had to have a very clear business plan laid out. I knew I needed to start not big with a big vision. I needed to start with a vision in mind but with small steps. What can I do with everything that I have? What can I do with the funds that I have now? What can I do with the knowledge that I have now? I knew continuously pouring into myself as the owner of the school will help me with the growth as well.
For the business to grow, I’ve got to grow as well. It’s going to have to start with me, so business plan. Starting with a handful of students. We started with seven students in Germany. Out of that, I did some market research. Who is my target client? Who sends their kids to Montessori school? What do they appreciate? For what reason would they send their kids to a Montessori school and pay high tuition rather than sending them to public school?
I did all of that research. That was all part of my business plan. With that, we left Munich, and we went to Cleveland. When we touched down in Cleveland and bought a building, and started there, I immediately became a member of the Chamber of Commerce. That was one of the first things. I became a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and I’ve also got some help from the Small Business Development Center, which most small business owners don’t even know that they are around. They are paid by our tax money, go and use their services.
They helped me tremendously, especially coming from a different country. It might be easy to cross cultures from Germany to the United States until you do it and get everything set up. If you are not familiar with the ins and outs and the banking in a different country, all of that is a learning curve. All of that takes time.
I became a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and out of that, my first students came about. A lady that I met at the Chamber of Commerce. She had twins and a little one. Her twins were a little bit older, and she had another little one. She spoke German, and that’s the connection that we made. Connections are always made with people that you sympathize with and that you know, like, and trust. There was that immediate connection of the two of us being German. She says, “I love that.”
Out of that, within the Montessori school, I then created the German language school. I was partnering with the General Consulate here in Atlanta. All of that happened organically. I continued to pour into myself, into my staff, into the business. By that, I mean in knowledge, in wisdom, in mentorship and learning, and coaches that would come in and help us grow. That’s why we are where we are now. I’m not in the day-to-day operation anymore. I live in Atlanta now, and the school is still up in Tennessee.
There’s a lot that small business people can learn from what Brigitta did. Basically, you, starting up a school or any business, it starts with identifying your target audience then finding out their need. What are they hungry for? What are the needs that are not being met? What are your competitors doing? Competitors in your case were public schools and maybe some super expensive private schools that are doing the same thing that public school is doing with a controlled environment for a little bit more money. In your bio, one of the things that you listed that stuck out right away to me and I have it highlighted here, which is active listening.
Start with a vision in mind, but with small steps.
A lot of people say listening is important. All of that becomes a buzzword. A lot of times when you are talking, and you know somebody is listening to you, especially when you meet somebody at the Chamber of Commerce or wherever like in a big function, they are listening to you. They are still looking around. You almost see their heads spinning, trying to figure out how to respond to what you are saying before you even finish what your sentence is. To listen with empathy, listening actively, listening with care, their care in mind, what their needs are that was your first step, whether that’s one person at a time or as a community of school moms who have this need.
For those of you who are reading, these are the stuff that we talk about the week in and week out, identifying your target audience. It wasn’t all school moms. Some school moms love being in public schools. They think Montessori schools are great. They don’t even know what that is. It’s fine but that was not your target audience. You went there. You look for help.
By the way, on your first remark, Small Business Development Center. There are many associations, so much help out there that a lot of small business people don’t know to look for. I, myself, volunteered at SBA. We have chapters all over here, retired people from all over the country volunteering their time, mentoring, finding money for you. That is a great resource that you mentioned. Scaling your business now, this is how you’ve got started, how you identified yourself.
Now, what did you do to scale that business? As you said, you are not there actively day-to-day. I identify as scaling your business differently than growing your business. Growing your business means you are putting more resources, working more hours, putting more money into something to grow at. Scaling your business, you are working less, fewer hours. You don’t have to put in proportionately the same amount of money to grow it exponentially. Tell us a little bit about how you scale your business.
As I already said, I’m not there at all anymore. I have meetings once a quarter, and that’s it. I have a great team that runs the business, an incredible team, and a big shout-out to them. Now that we have 125 students and we started with 7 students in Munich and 3 students here in the US and grew it from there, we started with one classroom. If you know anything about Montessori, there’s one classroom with many teachers. I had to choose to have quality teachers and train them in the Montessori method. They went and got their diploma in the Montessori method as well to put an official approval stamp on it.
There are a few components in scaling. First of all, you’ve got to have a good team. Second of all, you’ve got to know how to delegate. You’ve got to know what the big picture is. How are you going to get there? How can you reverse engineer of seeing that big picture? What do you have to do now to get to those steps?
That’s where most business owners fail because they see this big vision. They want to scale, grow but then they don’t know which next steps to take, then they get frazzled, sidetracked, and it all falls apart. They never get to the growth that they desire. We started with one classroom. As we had enough funds, we added another classroom because, organically, this is what happens. The children in our one classroom grew older, grew more mature then were ready for the next classroom.
We were organically filling our next classroom. I often ask my clients as they are scaling their business, “What do you already have that you can use to not recreate the wheel but you can use and utilize that and use it in your growth that you don’t have to go out and buy another this or do another that?” No, use that very strategically for something else. The something else was another classroom with students that we already had.
Constantly, we are working on getting new students in, and it was word-of-mouth. I hardly ever did any marketing other than being very involved in the Chamber of Commerce. To a point where they asked me to serve on their board, which I did. I was then asked to serve on several other boards, and that helped me to be visible. Visibility plus credibility. I had the huge credibility that I worked for. I had credibility coming in with the credentials that I brought but being in a community like Cleveland, Tennessee, there wasn’t any other probability than the official stems that I had from school.
I had to work on that. I had to work to make a name for myself. Being invited to serve on the Chamber of Commerce board was a huge credibility piece. I was the only female person around the boardroom table, and I was about a good 25 to 30 years younger than everyone else around the boardroom. All of that to say is, you’ve got to be out there. You’ve got to be visible. You’ve got to be credible to be profitable. All of that helped me in scaling my business, and that’s where I’m coaching other organizations to scale their business.
Basically, you have a great team behind you, build an amazing system, usually by testing, growing, small steps at a time. I’m going to take it a little bit even further back to your original. When you first started out, it was very similar. You started with seven students. That was a great flexible testing ground or because you were truly meeting each individual person’s need.
You know the names of every single person there, probably their parents and grandparents. You basically built and accelerated the growth a little bit when you came to America. I love that business model. Going back to a little bit about visibility. People have to like you. You have to be credible. They have to trust and respect you before you can even get visibility.
The way you do that is by getting out there like you did, meeting all people, not theoretical people. You would be amazed at the doors that open for you if you truly are authentic and giving your heart, your expertise, and your share freely. All those things come to you. Believe it or not. That’s a great lesson to learn, and you’ve got great firsthand experience in that. As I said, there was a lot of need for all types of schools. I’m not advocating Montessori. Maybe your kid needs a structure.
I have two children. My one child wanted to be in the biggest school. She went to UCLA. She thrived there. There are 100,000 kids there, and she loved it. My second child didn’t want to be in a big school. It was overwhelming, and they wanted a 3,000 school-type thing, and that’s okay, too. Not one is not better than the other. Giving accurate and tailored information, offering options that fit a lot of different kids, you are doing an amazing service for our youth. I have this one little beef. Maybe you can since you are in that position now to help. I’m not trying to pitch you on this at all but I’m passionate about it when it comes to children. I found that with my own two kids going to college and they are now older than your kids are.
I found it interesting that our schools here in America, at least, we teach Math, Calculus, Algebra, Geometry, all these things but we don’t teach any relationship with money and life. All of a sudden, they go to college and get so awestruck by the kid who can buy $100 worth of whatever. I’m actively involved here now in California, trying to bring a little spirit of entrepreneurship early on because what does entrepreneurship mean? As you said, it requires you to understand other people. When you understand who your target market is, what do they need? You’ve got to find out what they need, what are they willing to pay for it, and how often.
When you have conflict resolution between your vendor or your customer, they want to pay you, let’s say, $10 for the iPhone case. You have to charge $30. “Why are you charging me so much money? We are friends.” The kids can learn negotiating tactics and understand conflict resolution pretty early on. I wish that somebody would start doing something like that in school. Especially when they are a little bit older like a sixth grade on, that would come full circle even if they don’t become entrepreneurs later on.
Connections are always made with people you sympathize with, like, and trust.
I agree with you. Our daughters go to an entrepreneurial high school here in Atlanta, and they do that. They have to build a website for their business. They have to create a business, finding something that they are passionate about. If they might continue it after high school or not, it doesn’t matter but it teaches them how to build a business plan, how to create a budget, and how to stick with the budget. What does stuff cost?
It’s interesting that you brought that up because within building my Montessori school and being invited to speak at all conferences on that topic, I found that the work with children is easy. I love working with children. It’s the parents and adults around them. That’s why I created another educational facility for adults because we can pour into our kids over and over again.
If there are certain adults around them, thought leaders, parents, aunts, uncles, family members, religious leaders, teachers. You name them. They are not in the right mindset, then that has an impact on our kids. The work is not being done on our kids. The work needs to be done on the parents, the thought leaders, and the teachers.
I heavily pour it into and continue to pour into our staff, into our parents. That’s why I started coaching parents because I had parents come to school. They would have a meeting with me and say, “Something that I’m not getting here. You seem to have a completely different child at school than I have at home. What is up?” We said, “There are boundaries. There’s a very clear structure. Within that structure, there’s also freedom.” That beautiful balance, I’m not saying all of the kids but a lot of kids are not getting that at home.
There is no enforcement of boundaries. There’s no positive enforcement of empowerment of a child. I took it on for parents to learn that because that’s where it starts. I want to share with my child what it takes to open a bank account and what it takes to budget or make sure that we have enough money for groceries this month. It’s all about being active in the family, too.
As we close, how do people get ahold of you? Do you have any last-minute advice for young entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurial moms?
The advice that I have is don’t give up. Keep going. You are doing this for a reason. Be mindful of what the big picture is and keep going. There are no unresourceful people. There is only an unresourceful state of mind. You might at times find yourself that you are not resourceful, which is not true. You are in an unresourceful frame of mind. Find someone that can be a resource, and I would love to be that resource, Brigitta@Hoeferle.com. If you google my name, I’m the only one that comes up with that name. That’s how you get ahold of me.
Her name is Brigitta Hoeferle. I wanted to thank everyone for reading because this was very meaningful. Many of you, not only are you business people but many of you are young moms. You’ve got kids anywhere from 2 years old to 18 years old. You are not alone. You have choices. You might not know you have all these choices because I run into people who don’t think they have choices but you do have a lot of choices to give your children the education that you envisioned. Anyway, thank you so much for coming to this show. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, Brigitta.
Thank you, Victoria, for having me.
For those of you, I always sign off by saying, please stay healthy and happy. Remember, happiness is a choice. I hope you make great choices this coming week. Thank you.
About Brigitta Hoeferle