by Erin Campbell, PhD
Maria Montessori was very specific about how teachers should behave with children, and her recommendations align very closely with the behaviors that current psychological research show are consistent with better child outcomes. She viewed childhood as a time to become increasingly independent, and the role of the adult as assisting children toward that independence. The teacher should serve as a safe haven when the child needs that, yet be sensitive to the child’s need for independence.
Psychological research suggests that adult interaction qualities such as sensitivity to a child’s signals, proper interpretation of these signals, and timely interaction based on the signals is related to optimal child outcomes. On the other hand, children do not fare well when adults ignore the child or are too directive and interfering. One type of interaction that is discussed in the literature is the “attachment” between children and adults. “Secure attachment” defines a relationship where children have a close adult who functions as a secure base from which to explore the world, and is also a safe haven to retreat to in times of stress.
Furthermore, research on parenting styles and child outcomes suggests that children thrive when given clear, solid structure, respectful communication, and emotional
warmth. Children fare very well when parents set firm guidelines, yet allow freedom within these guidelines. When parents are strict about what the rules are, yet are open to discussion and are warm and affectionate, children are motivated and have high self control. Research suggests that the same relationships are found between teacher behavior and child outcomes.
Consistent with the research on attachment and parenting, Dr. Montessori advised teachers to serve as a secure base, yet be sensitive to the child’s need for independence,giving children freedom within clear boundaries, all the while showing great emotional warmth. They should provide a structured environment where children are free to make their own decisions and discoveries, and should intervene when a child’s behavior is not constructive. Teachers should have high expectations and present information in the context of reasons and explanations, all with warmth and love. The prepared Montessori classroom or environment helps the teacher create an atmosphere of structure with limits where children enjoy the freedom of learning and discovery.
Montessori teachers are trained to be attentive to children, sensitive to when a child needs a secure base, is ready for something new, or is concentrating and should be left alone. A teacher’s role is to maintain an inspiring learning environment, to appropriately time new lessons, and to intervene when children need guidance or structure, but to sit back and actively observe when they do not. Montessori teacher training involves the cultivation of certain personal qualities. Teachers should rid themselves of pride and anger, become humble and charitable, and “check those inner attitudes characteristic of adults that can hinder our understanding of a child” (Montessori, 1966. The Secret of Childhood). Excellent observation requires a patient attitude and self control. Therefore, the preparation of the Montessori teacher involves personal change, learning to be an astute observer, and learning to identify in oneself qualities that might impede fair observation and understanding of children.
In addition to personal preparation, Montessori teacher training involves learning both how to teach specific lessons and the learning of Montessori theory. They also learn about the materials and their presentation. Lectures and practice sessions enable trainees to learn about the materials and the variety of ways that they can be used to stimulate interest, as well as the interconnections between the materials and across the curriculum.
The teachers at LMS are a tremendous asset to the school. Their hard work and dedication to the school and the children is very apparent. They have spent hours
listening to and watching lectures, evaluating, practicing, making materials and working with children. They have a keen ability to sensitively observe children, showing warmth and compassion, yet holding them to high standards of behavior and academic achievement. LMS is fortunate to have teachers who exemplify the traits and qualities ascertained by Maria Montessori.