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Our thoughts on Montessori and education

Help! How can I address bullying that might be happening online among my students?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, I teach Upper Elementary and in my smallish group, I believe there may be some ‘behind the scenes’ bullying happening on social media.  I’m aware that all or most of these students have social accounts, and even though I’ve addressed this topic with them and their parents as a beginning of the year discussion, the way some students are responding to each other in class and certain cliques that seem to be forming has me wondering.  What can I do about this, especially with one particular student who I feel may be a bullying victim more than any of the others?

Dear E-II Teacher, your sensitive observation of the children identifies an unfortunately common problem.  We find bullying in classrooms, workplaces, domestic relationships, and, as you noted, on social media.  There is no simple solution for this complex problem. But there are things that we can do, beginning with understanding why bullying is so prevalent.  

Understanding Bullying.It is a basic human need to feel valued.  Seeking acceptance can be complicated. Some people secretly fear that they are not enough; they believe that in order to be valued they must build themselves up.  Unfortunately, some discover that if they can’t elevate themselves, pushing others down has the same effect. They target the fragile to provoke a response so that they can feel powerful.  Therein lies the irony. Bullying, with the outward appearance of power and dominance, is rooted in insecurity and fear.   

This is why consequences generally have little effect on bullies’ behavior.  Punishments reinforce bullies’ self-image of being not enough, making them more likely to bully again but this time more covertly, using body language or social media.  Their bullying becomes harder to detect.

The good news is that we can impact this problem using a 4-pronged approach, beginning with building an empathetic community.  

Teaching Empathy.  The ability to understand and share the feelings of others is not inborn.  Empathy is learned through experience. As guides, we provide these learning experiences when we:

  • use empathy in conflict resolution and problem solving.  Children naturally consider how a situation affects them personally but they can see problems from others’ perspectives when prompted.
  • give Grace and Courtesy lessons on how we impact others’ feelings.  For example, illustrate the lasting effect of hurtful words by aggressively crumpling a paper and then trying to flatten it back out afterwards.  Apologies do not remove the scars of hurtful words. For more on this demonstration, click here.   
  • incorporate empathy into literature discussions.  When we connect a character’s feelings to our own, we develop empathy for the character.

The more practice children have with putting themselves temporarily in others’ shoes, the stronger their empathy muscle becomes.  As that muscle strengthens, children can progress beyond merely understanding others feelings to taking responsibility for impacting them. 

Understanding Cause-and-Effect.  The Hierarchy of Human Interactions provides a powerful vocabulary for discussing our daily treatment of one another.

 The Hierarchy of Human Interactions

  • Gallantry – acting without thought of oneself – the good of the other matters most
  • Chivalry – considering the cost but doing it anyway
  • Courteousness – going out of the way to be nice but with no cost to oneself
  • Politeness – automatic niceness, no thought included
  • Civility – neither positive nor negative
  • Toleration – putting up with someone just to get through the situation
  • Shunning – excluding
  • Rudeness  – offensively impolite or unkind
  • Abuse – purposefully, repeatedly hurtful

These interactions are defined by intent.  Civility has a neutral intent.  Interactions above civility on the hierarchy have positive intent – what we want for all of our interactions.  Bullying, interactions that fall below civility, have negative intent. We want children to understand 3 things about bottom-half interactions:

  • The goal is to elevate oneself the only way they know how.
  • Bullying makes the bully feel powerful temporarily.  
  • After the “high” wears off, the bully feels worse than before; they will bully again.

Hierarchy vocabulary can be used in conflict resolution discussions. “I intended to be polite, but I hear that you felt excluded.”  It can also be used to teach children to elevate themselves and others through positive interactions, which helps short-circuit the bullying cycle.

For more ideas about implementing The Hierarchy of Human Interactions in the classroom, see here.  

The Anti-Venom.  Even if we eliminate bullying in our classrooms, we cannot eradicate it in life.  Do you know anyone who has never been bullied?  Arming children with effective ways to respond means that, while they may be a target, they need not be a victim!  

When bullied, our inclination is to choose between out-bullying the bully and slinking away. Both responses feed the bully!  More effective responses end the event quickly without giving the bully power. Consider these potential responses to verbal or on-line bullying:

  • “You are so stupid.”  🡪 “You are so tall.”  OR “We all have a role to play!”  
  • “Everyone is invited but you.” 🡪 “Finally! Some me-time!”
  • “You are un-cool.”  🡪 “So was Einstein!” OR  “You know, you might be right!”
  •  “You have no friends.”  🡪  “Funny… I don’t feel that way.”

When a target delivers a message like this in a positive tone of voice and then walks away, the bully doesn’t feel power over the target; bullying is less likely to reoccur.  For more on non-complementary behavior, see https://qz.com/736618/researchers-have-found-that-one-of-the-most-powerful-tools-to-diffuse-hate-is-also-the-hardest-to-master-genuine-empathy/ 

Safe Reporting.  Whether bullying is prevalent in the classroom or not, it is important that children have a safe place to report negative interactions.  Children need to know that it is ok to need help to solve a problem, and that adults who love children want to keep them safe. Activities outlined above open the door for children to report being targeted.  Journaling gives children a more private means of alerting caring adults of the need for help, especially with prompts asking about “butterflies and boulders” in their lives or relationships.

Parents can also provide a safe haven.  To be effective, they need to know that it is normal for elementary-age children to experiment with social norms.  A child who seems fine at home may be experimenting with negative interactions in sports or may be the target of bullying on-line; monitoring children’s social relationships (including texts and social media accounts) is important.   

When we help children understand the goals of bullying, give them tools to defend themselves and others, and give them ways to ask for help when needed, we build skills that they will use for a lifetime.  

“Peace is what every human being is craving for, and it can be brought about by humanity through the child.” –Dr. Maria Montessori

Betsy Lockhart has been a Montessori educator for 24 years.  She is certified 6-12 and is an elementary instructor at Montessori Education Center of the Rockies in Boulder, CO.  She is a frequent contributor at national and regional Montessori conferences and at Montessori schools. Follow her weekly blogs at www.lockhart-learning.com.

Montessori Community Grieves the Passing of NCMPS Leader

The CGMS Leadership Team has been saddened to learn of the passing of Jackie Cossentino on Sunday, December 14, 2019 after an eleven-month battel with colon cancer. Jackie was a dedicated Montessori leader.  She founded the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS) with her husband Keith in 2012 to provide resources and support to Montessori public schools. She was passionate about making Montessori education accessible to all children. Her work has been inspirational and has truly made a great impact. Jackie’s legacy will continue in the work of NCMPS and with all of us whom she inspired over the years.  The Center for Guided Montessori sends our most heartfelt condolences to all Jackie’s family, friends and colleagues at NCMPS. We have such appreciation for the contributions Jackie has made and pledge to continue to support her vision for high quality Montessori public education. A donation site has been set up to honor Jackie Cossentino  and support her legacy  with a contribution to NCMPS, https://www.public-montessori.org/support-public-montessori/

CGMS School Leadership Course – Now Enrolling!

The new year will bring new learning opportunities for the adult learners in the CGMS first Montessori School Leadership Certification course. The first cohort starts January 27, 2020. The course will include 16 months of online work, a one-week residential session, and a 9-month leadership practicum. The course development has been a collaborative process between CGMS and The Montessori Foundation. Martha Carver, experienced Montessori educator and school leader and former CGMS Early Childhood instructor, will serve as the Instructional Guide for the first cohort. Martha will also serve as Co-Director of the Leadership program with Kathy Leitch and Tim Seldin.  We are also excited to have an amazing group of video instructors presenting such topics as Leadership from a Montessori Perspective, Faculty and Human Resources, School Leadership and Governing Bodies, Educational Programs and Survey of Montessori Education, Marketing, Building Enrollment, and Developing Healthy School Communities, and more. The program will be interactive and engaging, providing opportunities to connect and learn with other Montessori school leaders. 

There is limited space available and a discount for enrollment in this first cohort. For more information, contact info@cgms.edu and visit our website, https://www.cgms.edu/programs/leadership-training-program/

Elementary Leadership Team update

In the last few years, CGMS has experienced incredible growth. While every level from Infant- Toddler through Secondary have experienced an increase in enrollment, the elementary level has grown by leaps and bounds! One of the factors contributing to this growth is the addition of the stand alone Elementary I and Elementary II programs.  In a sense, the Elementary level is now actually three programs. With this growth of enrollment comes a need to expand our Elementary Leadership Team. We are pleased to announce that Stephanie Pullman has been promoted to Elementary Director. Ann Winkler will continue to lead the Elementary Team as our Senior Elementary Director. Ann and Stephanie will be working together to meet the needs of our adult learners and faculty while also working on various projects for continuous improvement of the course. We are fortunate to have this dynamic duo sharing their wisdom and experience as we prepare the next generation of Montessori Elementary Guides.

Kathy Leitch and others Honored at the MACTE Syposium


Kathy Leitch  and others Honored at the MACTE Syposium!

Kathy Leitch, CGMS Infant Toddler Director and Co-Director of our new Leadership course, received the MACTE Wisdom of the Elders award at the MACTE symposium on December 5, 2019. This award honors Montessorians who have provided significant leadership and guidance to the Montessori community. 

Kathy was introduced to Montessori during an experimental project in high school. This inspired her to continue reading, researching and visiting Montessori schools. In 1971, while serving as an assistant teacher at a Montessori school, Kathy was given the opportunity to take her first Montessori certification course and became credentialed at the Early Childhood level. Later she went on the receive her Infant-Toddler certification. Kathy founded Renaissance Montessori in Fort Myers in 1992 and during her tenure there, the school served infants – secondary students. 


Kathy is currently the Executive Director of the International Montessori Council (IMC). This position provides Kathy the opportunity to support Montessori schools around the world. In addition to this work and her work with CGMS, Kathy is an International keynote and workshop presenter and a school consultant. She passionately shares her commitment to children, families, and schools and truly makes a difference in her contributions.

In addition to Kathy, two CGMS field consultants, Roseann and Peter Larrow, as well as five other dedicated Montessorians were honored with the 2019 Wisdom of the Elder’s award. Roseann and Peter have run a mobile Montessori training program for many years. They have worked across the US and abroad guiding new Montessori educators in both public and private schools.

Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners. We appreciate your dedication and the amazing work you have and continue to do.

2019 MACTE Wisdom of the Elders Award Winners:

Mimi Basso                         K.T. Korngold

Robyn Brieman                  Peter Larrow

Barbara Ervin                     Roseann Larrow

Dr. Merri King                     Kathy Leitch


2019 Denis Sharpiro Award for Innovation in Montessori Education Winner: Rita Nolan

Rita was honored for her work at the Montessori School of Englewood and the Chicago Montessori Residency (teacher training center). After a long career in private Montessori education in the Chicago area, Rita now works in one of the most impoverished communities in the US. Committed to the concept of the “pedagogy of poverty,” Rita educates local teachers to serve the children in their community, with a focus on equity and access. Her work is truly making a difference!