As a Montessori parent for almost 30 years and an educator practicing in the Montessori world for more than 20 years, I sometimes forget that others do not have the advantage of the Montessori perspective. I came across a blog that fully supported Montessori education, yet tried to find a way to adapt it to other school settings. While I appreciate this thinking and am thrilled with the endorsement, it’s just not that simple.
The blog endorsed student choice, supporting independence, mixed age groupings, focusing on the whole child and individualized lessons. Yes, and… While those are all essential elements of Montessori education and, we could argue, elements of the best standards of all educational models, there is so much more. Each of these elements may be visible to outsiders. What isn’t visible is the underlying structure which is the essence of Montessori education.
The Montessori philosophy and pedagogy are based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s study of children, specifically noting the planes of development: infancy/preschool, elementary, early/late adolescence and maturity/adulthood. Every decision about what materials are on the shelves, which lessons are introduced and what expectations are established is a result of a strong understanding of the students’ development at those ages. Nothing is happenstance. This was all established through Dr. Montessori’s scientific approach as she developed each material, each lesson, and the setting in which they occur.
A critical element in Montessori classrooms is the preparation of the teacher. All teachers receive additional training beyond their college coursework to earn certification as a Montessori teacher. But that is just the beginning. Maria Montessori stressed that teachers need to be prepared each day to work with the children where they are – not where the next lessons states they should move. Montessori teachers are observers, always watching to see not only how successful the child is in a particular lesson, work project or assignment, but also to see how he or she interacts with the lesson. The how cannot be ignored as it leads to the why and the next steps in learning. In short, the teacher prepares a space (classroom) that is ready for use by all members of the community and steps back to observe the interactions and guide students through what is needed at the appropriate time. The teacher is there to provide what is needed when it is needed and not interfere with the student’s process and learning. This allows children to develop focus and concentration, and it builds intrinsic motivation, rather than the necessity of external rewards, such as grades, in order for children to feel a sense of accomplishment.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. These qualities and so much more are interwoven into each lesson, each interaction and each moment of the day. Montessori education has what many schools are searching for. Those of us who are lucky enough to practice in the Montessori world each day recognize the wonder of the method and encourage others not to pick aspects of it to incorporate into a traditional setting, but instead adhere to all of its tenets to afford children the very best opportunity to ignite their passion for learning and develop their full potential.