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Our thoughts on Montessori and education

How to avoid calling children from across the room

Dear Ask a Montessorian,

I play several roles at my school, including teacher and administrator.   I have noticed that I am raising the voice in my environment and I am not being able to control it. When I notice that someone is using a material in the wrong way or something similar or disruptive, I feel angry and call the child’s name across the room. How can I improve in this area?

–Alyssa S.

Dear Alyssa, congratulations on your achievement of both roles! You must be very busy and rewarded daily by your work as administrator and guide in the classroom.

Now, take a deep breath and know that within yourself, you already hold the answer to your questions. Because you are skilled and aware of your own feelings of frustration and sense of discord, you can tap into coping strategies before and during challenging situations. Here are 5 easy strategies to implement right away:

  1. Recognize that this IS and ISN’T personal.

Children are learning and require repetition and reminders of the expectations–especially when it comes to behavior. You have the honor of reminding and guiding them and while we cannot control the child, we can influence and guide their behavior by how we react.

  1. Pause.

In the moment, when you feel like calling out, pause. This is a challenge, but if you pause and count to 10, you give the child a chance to self-correct, the other children to step in, and ultimately you can think of how you will react. If the child is in danger, step in immediately and say something such as, “I don’t want you to get hurt, I must put this away for you” and proceed to calmly collect the material (sometimes it’s necessary to completely remove it for a work cycle and redirect to something in nature such as looking out the window, the nature shelf, or your classroom library). However if there is no danger, proceed to the next step.

  1. Note to Self.

Make a mental note or write the issue on a slip of paper. Schedule time daily to review what you are observing and use this as a tool for developing grace and courtesy lessons.

  1. Grace and Courtesy.

Plan to present a grace and courtesy lesson every single day. Make it part of the routine and speak scripted and calmly. “Today, we will practice how to remind one another to push in a chair. Sometimes I notice chairs have been left out. This is a problem because it can cause us to trip or get hurt. Let me show you how we solve this by pushing our chairs in or reminding one another to do so.”  Gather around a table with chairs left out. Ask for a volunteer (possibly a co teacher) and present the lesson to the group.

  1. Individualize.

You might notice one or two children who need constant reminders and repetition in order to grasp social graces and appropriate use of materials. Prepare yourself first; sometimes this means waiting until the next work cycle. Invite the child when you are not frustrated and can present the lesson individually. Also, consider presenting something new if you suspect misuse to be a result of boredom. Ultimately, remember that we are unique. The child who tests rules and limits is your greatest classroom anthropologist. The child who commands attention is your classroom leader. The child who explores and tests the materials is your scientist. Look for the strengths of the children and present materials that call upon their strengths, all the while knowing that you are in the presence of the hope and promise for mankind.  As Dr. Montessori said, “the child is both the hope and a promise for mankind.” 

Monica Johnson,

CGMS Early Childhood Instructor


Ask a Montessorian: Too cool to follow the rules?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, what would you do with a sixth grader that is “too cool” to follow classroom procedures, use materials appropriately, respect her classmates and teacher, and generally doesn’t seem to care that her bad behavior, like throwing food at peers at lunch?  She is the class president as well.  Her behavior is rubbing off on the younger students.

Thank you,

Renée M.

Dear Renée, sixth year students are often in a transitional period of life….and what so many call tween age. The young girl in your classroom seems to be exhibiting behaviors that are extreme and since she is class president, the other children apparently look up to her. At the same time, she’s old enough to understand being class president is a role requiring her to be a role model and leader.

Whenever a child is behaving as you describe, it looks like someone who is challenging authority. But, likely there is much more to the story. I’m wondering what interventions and strategies you’ve already tried?

How can you find out what is at the heart of this challenge? You’ll need to hone your observation skills and refer back to your training in Positive Discipline. Examine your feelings when you see this behavior and through observation, see if you can determine what her motivation is- attention, revenge, inadequacy, etc. Understanding her motivation for the behavior along with your reaction (how you feel) can guide you in developing interventions to help change the behavior.

Remember, some behaviors such as throwing food at peers are non-negotiable and require you to intervene immediately because this is actually a safety issue. Removing the student from the situation and offering her another place to eat her lunch where there would be no peers (like having lunch with you) is advisable. Using the time together at lunch for a heart-to-heart talk about the behaviors and their consequences may be helpful.

I believe every student does care about how they’re doing and their behavior.  All children really want to do the right thing, and sometimes they just need some guidance and strategies to learn a new behavioral skill. In addition to checking out the Positive Discipline website: https://www.positivediscipline.com,  you might want to check on the work of Dr. Ross Greene: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/

Kind Regards,

Ann Winkler

CGMS Director, Elementary Program

Do you have a question for our column?  Email us at the address below.

CGMS Instructional Guides, we need your help!  What are some of the frequent questions that you encounter about Montessori philosophy and practice?  Please email RKincaid@GuidedStudies.com with your suggestions, and thank you!

Ask a Montessorian

Question:  I have a question related to the classroom management aspect of the toddler classroom (ages 18 months to 3 yrs). This particular class has 21 students and 5 adults. The students are all new to Montessori and are taking time to slowly absorb the activities and become more normalized.

Is the number of adults reasonable? How might you suggest dividing the roles of the adults? Should each of them be in charge of an area of the classroom? Should two teacher assistants always be circulating and supervising from different sides of the classroom to ensure the bird-eye-view of the room and intercept when needed? Any suggestions are appreciated.

Thank you!  —An N.

Dear An N, thanks for the great question! Of course, classroom management begins with an optimally prepared environment, which includes group size, ratio, room layout and design as well as a sufficient number of materials responsive to the developmental needs of toddlers. Additionally, well-prepared adults, certified for the infant-toddler level bring a deep understanding and appreciation for this unique stage.  The more prepared the environment is to serve the toddler, the less “classroom management” is required.

One factor to consider is that toddlers find safety and trust in an environment that has consistent routines, rituals, and expectations. When toddlers are in an environment that is responsive to their needs they are engaged, happy, gracious and curious, some might even say “normalized”! Since toddlers are in the period of unconscious absorbent mind, all of this is decidedly different than our primary friends. So often we make the assumption that toddlers are just mini primary students! In a toddler community we recommend a group size and ratio of either 12:2 or 15:3. These recommendations depend on classroom size as well as indoor/outdoor access. The ratios are designed to allow for supporting independence as well as responding to the individual needs of young children. 

When we have toddler communities that are considerably larger, such as your example of 21:5, it can be overwhelming for both children and adults, not knowing exactly where to go or what to pay attention to. Since all of your students are new to Montessori, there is and additional challenge, ie.,there are not any role models yet who know the routines, rituals, and expectations. This provides some unique challenges that can be addressed with proper planning and communication between all of the adults in the environment. It is essential that they are aligned in all aspects of leading and supporting a community of toddlers. 

Some thoughts for your consideration: 

  • if possible, split the group into two smaller groups with two adults in each;
  • reduce adults from five to four;
  • utilize a primary caregiving model (5:1 or 6:1) that allows children to create a trusting relationship with one adult who is responsible for modeling, observation & record keeping, positive redirection, and aids to independence such as eating, sleeping, dressing, and toilet learning.
Whatever you decide, make changes slowly and respectfully for the children and adults. Involving the adults in making decisions based on best Montessori practice and actual observations of your current students will ensure a successful outcome!

Kind Regards,

Kathy Leitch

CGMS Director, Infant Toddler Program

Do you have a question for our column?  Email us at the address below.

CGMS Instructional Guides, we need your help!  What are some of the frequent questions that you encounter about Montessori philosophy and practice?  Please email RKincaid@GuidedStudies.com with your suggestions, and thank you!

Victory and Peace

Victory and Peace

Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education. We must convince the world of the need for a universal, collective effort to build the foundation for peace.

Love is not the cause but the effect of the normal development of the individual.

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Quotes from Peace and Education, pages 24 & page 58

The four-year old girls were good friends, but now they’re angry. One said something to the other, tempers flared, and a friendship is in jeopardy. Fortunately, the children are in a Montessori classroom. Montessori schools use many techniques for harmony, but in this classroom they have a peace rose. One little girl retrieves the flower from its shelf, expresses her hurt, and passes the rose to her friend. Together they explore their feelings, and conflict is transmuted into understanding. The children have learned a process to maintain harmony.

In a time of resurging intolerance, we may turn to our classrooms for reassurance. They are gardens of peace, the fields where we sow the seeds of a better world. We may seek solace in the work we do, knowing that the beauty we nurture will in time blossom into magnificent petals of justice, kindness and equality.

Recently I have found myself thinking again and again about victory. We know that peace is more than just an absence of war. But what is a Montessori victory? Do we conquer our enemies? No. We will not repair this world by subduing those who disagree with us.

Do we shout down the bigot? How much better for the world if the bigot abandons their bigotry? How much better if the criminal no longer commits crimes, if the sinner no longer sins? The second World War was conceived when the victors of the first war mistreated the vanquished; a third world war was averted when the conquered became allies. Force without justice is domination, not victory.

A Montessori call to arms is a call to the classroom. This is where we cultivate real victory.

True and lasting peace will arise from our schools, where we prepare the next generation of peaceful leaders. The work we do is ever more vital, and I urge you not to despair at the territory we still have to cover.

Let’s recall how far we have traveled from 1907, when Dr. Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini in Rome. Nominated three times during her life for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Montessori worked tirelessly to improve the rights and conditions of women and children. Justice informed her methodology, and peace infuses the very DNA of our classrooms. The strides made for liberty in the past century – the advances made for children, for women, for minorities, for gays and lesbians – do not doubt that even today we see the ripples of her work throughout all the social progress we’ve made.

That the task is not yet complete should not surprise us.

Wherever we look globally, we see the anger and the outrage of those who have felt excluded from the political process. Income inequality is at an all-time high. Far-right parties are rising across the world, fueled by bigotry, economic uncertainty and a populism born of the sense of neglect by elite powers. The political turmoil is only one of the symptoms of our broken world. We do not forget the millions of refugees fleeing war, and the victims of the terrible wars themselves.

Do not be disheartened, for as long as we teach peace there will be a light in this world.

Yes, our work begins in the classroom, but shall we stop there? What else can our school communities do?

It will not be enough for us just to stall some current agenda. When we work to defeat ISIS in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Africa, or unseat some political adversary at home, we earn but a moment’s respite. Unaddressed, hatred and violence will always return in a new form. A lasting peace requires us to heal the deeper wounds of this earth.

Dr. Montessori taught us that when children act out, it is because they have unmet needs. Is this not true of adults as well? Perhaps at no time since the second World War has the planet been so united in angst about the future. Montessori has a healing message for a broken world, and this is the time for us to recommit to telling the story, both inside and outside of our classrooms.

We can begin by speaking our healing message. Shout it from the mountaintop, whisper it in the halls of your school. Organize, promote justice, discuss difficult topics. Model peace in and out of your classrooms. Educate the children and adults in your community. Participate. Engage.

It begins and ends with our conviction that Montessori has a message of peace which will mend this world’s wounds.

Here is my attempt to formulate a Montessori statement on peace. We urge every school to create such a statement and share it. Feel free to use or modify mine as you see fit.

A Montessori Statement on Peace

We believe that we can change the world.

We believe that when you work with children, you touch the future.

We believe that peace is more than the absence of war. We will repair this planet by building a lasting peace.

We believe that anger comes from hurt and that hatred comes from fear.

We believe that a lasting peace comes from understanding, respect and love for all life.

We believe that Montessori is education for the 21st century, and the 22nd, and the 23rd – that this is the best and truest method for preparing children to become the next generation of leaders.

We will prepare the peace by addressing the causes of suffering, and prepare the children in our classrooms to look suffering in the eye and say “no more.”

We believe in the dignity of the child and of the adult. We believe that it is possible for mankind to live in peace and harmony. Moreover, we are going to make that happen.

We believe that all people have a place at our circles. We commit to bringing into our circles those who have been most excluded.

We believe that all voices should be heard. We know that when people shout, it is because they do not feel that we are listening.

We will always stand with the oppressed, but never fail to hold a hand out in peace to the oppressor – for we know that someday they will take it. On that day we will all be free.

We believe the world may be made forever safe from demagogues and dictators. As Montessorians, we know our students will laugh off the shackles of fear that tyrants use to bind the populace. Furthermore, what tyrant could ever arise from our beautiful, peaceful classrooms?

We believe that we may go forward so that we will never go back again.

We know that when we march forward from dark spaces, we will bring all of our sisters and brothers with us into the light – and leave none behind.


Be careful what you test for!

[this test was] considered quite independently of the influence of culture and education; and it was appreciated as the expression of an intimate, personal activity of the intelligence itself.

But if one of [my students] had been subjected to the test, he would, in virtue of a long sensory training, have chosen the largest and the smallest cube very much more easily… The test would therefore have measured the different methods of education, whereas the psychical differences between the two children, really existent by reason of age or of intellectual attainment, would have remained absolutely obscure.

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Spontaneous Activity in Education, page 113

Our society no longer trusts teachers. This has serious implications for Montessori schools.

It is because teachers aren’t trusted that we subject millions of students to additional tests every year. There is a widespread perception that public education is failing. Rather than questioning how we teach, or asking if there are ways to improve our pedagogical methods, instead the blame is placed solely on the teacher. Why can’t Johnny read? The teacher is lazy or incompetent.

Testing, they say, shows us which of our classrooms and schools have improved in the past year, and which are failing. If a classroom isn’t measuring up, certainly our teachers are to blame. The only explanation for children underperforming on a standardized test is that someone is not doing their job.

This is like blaming the farmer for a poor harvest after a tornado followed by a drought.

Few teachers enter our profession for fame or glory. Fewer still select this “easy” job so they can coast to retirement. Most teachers don their mantle out of a passionate commitment to children and education. After a few years of being treated with suspicion and forced to teach to tests, it is amazing that any public school teachers retain their passion for education. What will these standardized tests do to the Montessori classroom if we adopt them in our schools?

What’s worse, the children do not benefit from these tests. They seldom if ever see the results of their standardized tests, so they cannot learn from their mistakes. Yet the consequences of their scores can have haunting repercussions. Public school students who test poorly are shunted into less challenging tracks, and are socially shamed. The curse of low-expectations has a tendency to be self-fulfilling, and Malcolm Gladwell has shown how an arbitrary assessment at a young age can painfully reduce children’s opportunities when they mature.

Schools that test poorly can lose funding, see parent flight, and even be shut down. Fearing the loss of federal funding, many school districts have tied student performance to teacher pay, amplifying the pressure placed on children, teachers and administrators. There have been too many teacher cheating scandals to count, but at their root they are a lamentable yet sane response to an insane situation.

You get the behavior you incentivize, not necessarily the behavior you want.

If a company rewards workers for the number of widgets they produce per hour, the company will get more widgets. But the firm should not be surprised when quality goes down. Reward bank officers for the number of loans they process, and we should expect more bad loans. Tell a teenager who doesn’t care about school that she’ll get a car if she keeps her GPA up and you should prepare for the possibility that you’ll be buying a new automobile. But don’t expect her to like school, to retain anything she has learned, or to have developed any life skill more meaningful than “work hard and cram facts when you are going to be rewarded.” This is not the recipe for a life-long learner.

Similarly, if you inform teachers and administrators that their compensation will be tied to how school children perform on a standardized test, then of course many will do everything they can to ensure that those test scores go up. Some of them of course will cheat.

Any knowledge or skills that are not tested will be neglected or abandoned.

So children in public schools are now tested constantly on the subjects that “matter”, English and those STEM subjects like math and science which are emphasized by the Race to the Top initiative and the Common Core Curriculum. In my area, in addition to the regular testing done in each classroom, children in each grade receive four to twelve additional tests, and each of these tests take most or all of a day. One 6th grader I know will take four Cognitive Assessment Tests (CATs), four Measures of Academic Progress Tests (MAPs), two practice End of Grade (EOG) tests, and two final EOG tests. Remember, these are in addition to any testing administered by the teacher. This child will be tested constantly on math and science skills. So it should be no surprise that the school’s weakest curriculum areas are history, art, civics and foreign language.

One of the most glaring problems with the modern emphasis on standardized testing is how poorly it prepares children for the real world. In the age of the Internet, the ability to cram facts into your short-term memory is utterly irrelevant. The ability to synthesize is ever more important, but hard to demonstrate when filling out ovals. Collaboration is a critical skill to succeeding in the workplace, but oddly enough we call this “cheating” when done on an exam.

Unfortunately, anxious parents have also come to believe in the importance of these test scores, and so even private schools are bowing to the pressure to report scores for these standardized tests.

Today I am sorry to report that there is a growing movement of Montessorians who want to adopt the same standardized tests in private schools. Testing, with its emphasis on the extrinsic reward of a score, should have a limited place in a Montessori classroom. But some Montessorians believe that they need to employ these tests to demonstrate that their schools meet the same standards as public institutions. (Please note: Links go to articles discussing this trend, not organizations necessarily supporting it.) There is so much pressure to show that our students meet this standard that we risk forgetting that the standard itself is flawed, and only traditional drill-based methods could possibly attain it.

Let’s remember, this is all because we don’t trust teachers to do their jobs. If we trust teachers, we can utilize better ways of measuring student performance.

I know a charter school where the students are forced to take the same array of standardized tests. But fortunately at this middle school the administration encourages the teachers to endure these rather than obsess over them. Instead, the children use portfolio assessment. They accumulate evidence of learning for each subject area – which may indeed include tests. They can also be essays, photos of projects, posters, etc. The goal is for both the child and teacher to come to agreement on what has been learned. Administration can sit in on these meetings to gain insight into the school’s operation. For students to complete the eighth grade they must present their portfolios to a review board of administrators and local business leaders, something like a mini dissertation defense.

I’m an odd duck in that I actually like tests, and have always tended to do fairly well on them. I am cynical about tests precisely because I often saw myself outscoring people who had worked harder and had a better grasp of the subject matter. I am not speaking only of standardized tests – even written exams penalize the slow, thoughtful thinker and reward test-takers who are artful at cloaking their ignorance in cunning phrases.

I thought it might be useful to list the things that testing can, and can’t do.

Testing can:

  • Measure how quickly and accurately student can translate a written question into something they know how to respond to;
  • Measure how quickly and accurately a student can present what they know in the manner they believe a test expects;
  • Measure how well a child handles the stress of an important test under the pressure of an arbitrary time limit;
  • Measure how good a child is at taking tests; for this is a skill that some are naturally better at, and which others can improve at with effort.

Testing cannot:

  • Tell how much a child knows;
  • Tell how effective a teacher or teaching method is;
  • Tell how well a child works with others in an era in which collaboration is ever more important;
  • Measure a child’s emotional intelligence or motivation to learn;
  • Predict whether a child will be successful in the work place.

This is my list, here’s a link for another.

Testing is not inherently bad, and limited standardized tests are not inherently evil. The problem with testing children is that it is like measuring the size of a diamond by looking at only one facet. As Montessorians, we know there is more to human potential than what filled-in ovals can capture.

I urge our community to remain steadfast in our belief that children’s abilities are much more complex, and much more fascinating, than can be measured by standardized test. And I urge all schools, including public schools, to trust the teachers. Trust them to teach, trust them to determine whether the children have been taught. Allow teachers to help children through the wonder of discovery rather than the peril of state curricula. If we empower teachers to do what they know best, to adapt to each child as an individual, who knows what heights our world might reach?