The Role of the Adult in a Montessori school


The first thing to do to teach in a Montessori school is to give up your omnipotence to be ready to observe with joy.

If the teacher takes pleasure in seeing things born and grow before his eyes and knows how to work with humility, many joys await him that are ignored by all those who, faced with a class of students, claim to be infallible and to exercise absolute authority.

Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, Desclée de Brouwer

Very often during conversations about Montessori pedagogy, I am asked about the role of the adult in a Montessori class:

  • What does the teacher do in a Montessori class?
  • How and when do they present new material to a child?
  • What is their posture in the classroom?
  • What is their relationship with children?

According to Maria Montessori, human beings must be aware of the role they have to play, because even if she says that the child is her own creator, she simultaneously refers to the importance of the referent adult and its influence on the child. For her, the experiences that the child has with the adult are a considerable source for her development.

The Montessori teacher then becomes the guardian and protector of the environment. It focuses on the atmosphere, order and care of the equipment. It will observe the child without judgment, it will connect the child and his environment through appropriate presentations.

The Adult in a Montessori Class

The Montessori teacher’s first step is his personal preparation. They must develop in a positive way:

  • Knowledge of the child
  • Knowledge of the subjects to be taught
  • Knowledge of the equipment
  • Humility and modesty
  • Humour
  • Love, the one that says: “You are important to me! »
  • Not promising anything he can’t keep
  • A healthy representation of oneself
  • A sense of responsibility
  • A love of work
  • A true vocation.

The Montessori teacher is not:

  • The one who pulls the child upwards
  • An “instructor” with impartial knowledge
  • Not solely the guarantor of the equipment handled by the child.

The Montessori teacher is:

  • An integral part of the child’s environment
  • An adult related to the environment by presenting the material
  • The adult who observes the child and introduces him/her to the prepared environment
  • The adult who prepares and maintains the environment
  • The adult who makes the rules often in conjunction with the children
  • An adult member of the class community.

The role of the adult in a Montessori class: guardian of the atmosphere

At school, the adult’s first duty of care must be that of order and equipment, so that the latter is always beautiful, clear, in perfect condition and that nothing is missing.

For the child, everything must look new, complete, the equipment must make him want to use it. This means that the teacher, too, must be attractive, pleasant because she is neat, serene and full of dignity. The master too!

The adult focuses on the atmosphere, he knows that this atmosphere will lead to the child’s development. An atmosphere in which child building and peace can be harmonized!

The task of Montessori teachers is difficult because they must also exercise great discernment, which will be decisive in the child’s self-construction!

Indeed, above all, the adult must be able to recognize the moments when the child’s attention is polarized! When the child is absorbed in his work, the adult must respect his concentration and not disturb him, either by praise or criticism.

Let us recall here that when a child is interested in an exercise, this interest responds to natural laws, human trends and opens a cycle of activities!

For Maria Montessori, the adult must respect the concentration of a child as much as that of a researcher or an artist. Only deviant behaviour, endangering or diverting the objective of a piece of equipment requires intervention!

Although the relationship between children and mistress is spiritual, the mistress can find a good example of her behaviour in the good servant.

He keeps his master’s things in order, but does not tell him when to use them; he carefully prepares his meals, but does not order him to eat.

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Desclée de Brouwer

If the adult’s intervention must always be justified, it is based on an essential task, that of observation.

The role of the adult through observation

Generally, inexperienced teachers attribute a great deal of importance to teaching, and think they have done everything once they have shown the material in the most appropriate way! In reality, they are far from the truth, because the teacher’s task is much more important than that: it is her responsibility to guide the development of the child’s soul, which is why her observation of the child is not only about getting to know him. Its observation must have as its sole objective – and this is why it is justified – to help the child.

Maria Montessori, The CHild in the Family, Desclée de Brouwer

Maria Montessori sent her students to learn to observe by going to the zoo. When we are in front of animals, animals behave in such a way that we cannot pass judgment on them.

To observe, Maria Montessori tells us, one must be initiated, and knowing how to observe is the true march of science. Because if you don’t see the phenomena, it’s like they don’t exist. The one who is initiated to see begins to be interested and this interest is the driving force that creates the spirit of the researcher and research.

What are the objectives of Montessori observation?

Observation is part of a desire and need to know more

We always want to know more about the child to better understand his or her development. Observation supports pedagogical practice.

Observation has a “containing” function

“Observe” has a containing function, what we observe allows us to understand the child’s activity and thus adapt our attitude.

Observation supports pedagogical practice

If I observe that a child is not holding his pencil correctly, I will provide him with equipment that will help him improve the motor movement and maintenance of this work tool.

Similarly, if I want to understand why a child has difficulty concentrating, I observe and note:

  • If a comrade has come to disturb him in his work
  • If the child does not seem to have understood some of the steps in the presentation
  • If the child has spontaneously gone to get the equipment
  • What is his social behaviour?
  • Does he prefer to be alone or in a group?
  • What is the child’s emotional state?
  • What are his moments of order, of disorder?
  • What is his ability to ask for help?
  • Does the child feel physically or emotionally safe?
  • Would my intervention be relevant?

After the observation, I do an analysis and think about how to allow the child to reach concentration. All this data will be of great help for the next proposal to present a material

The role of the adult through Montessori presentations

“Presenting”, in Montessorian language, means indicating, showing children how to use new material and understanding a new concept. These presentations are not made in any way, they are learned in a training centre, they are framed, they concern specific material.

They can be done to a child, a small group or the whole class. These presentations can be similar to small or large lessons, they are one of the essential points of our work in the classroom. They are also a way of being in daily contact with each child in the class.

After each presentation, the adult will carefully note the date and name of the child who attended the lesson!

Most presentations are scheduled and planned for each child. On the other hand, they are done at an appropriate time during the day or week!

Each presentation is subject to clearly identified prerequisites by the adult for each child. It will therefore be appropriate for the teacher to regularly consider the relevance or not of presenting a new concept to a child according to his or her work rhythm, achievements and interests.

The multiplicity of presentations emulates children. However, the teacher will make sure to give them time to rehearse! They will be able to take back the material when they wish and reintroduce the adult’s presentation. The presentations make it possible to intellectually nourish the children, to meet their basic needs, but it is not a question of turning them into “learned apes”. »

The most important goal of each presentation is to allow the child to work independently by putting him/her in a position to work on a theme independently.

The importance of the material in a Montessori presentation

The presentation provides an accurate model of the use of the material. For this to happen, it is necessary that the adult himself has understood the concept and the way to use the material.

The presentation allows the child to learn with the material, it arouses his interest. In a Montessori class, it is not the adult who teaches the child, it is the material!

Everything the teacher presents must be done in simple steps. It is like a construction that is added in successive layers, without voids, without holes.

A large part of learning is obtained by what the child sees. The adult thinks about how to place the material on the table and how to move his hands.

Each movement must be thought and thought out in such a way that children can repeat the movements. Unnecessary movements should be avoided.

During the presentation time the children do not touch the material. At the end of the presentation, it is best to leave the material on the mat or table so as to encourage the children to repeat And most of the time it works.

Concepts in Montessori presentations

  • They must be thought of beforehand.
  • Introduce only useful concepts, key concepts.
  • Maria Montessori insists on isolating these concepts. Isolating a difficulty corresponds to the child’s understanding.
  • Each concept must be clear and correspond to the material being used.
  • When the adult makes a presentation, he or she must follow a logical process and ensure that there are connections between the different steps. Similarly, it is important to think carefully about the difficult points of the presentation that require more attention.
  • When the teacher presents a new concept, he helps the children to memorize the name by always referring to the etymology!
  • It is important to encourage children to repeat the work that has just been presented to them!
    The presentation in practice
  • Be sure to plan for the children involved in a presentation and do not take a child who is going through it at the last minute.
  • The importance of not disturbing children in their work has been explained, so it is best to start the morning and afternoon with group presentations (to groups), as long as the children are not yet deeply involved in an activity.
  • Before starting a presentation, the adult invites children to come to the shelves to look for the material while drawing their attention to the order of placement.
  • It is a matter of sitting on the floor on a carpet or table, well in front of the children to keep their attention. The teacher always presents the material in front of them, or always upside down for him.
  • During the presentation, he can propose to the children to participate, they particularly like it!
    The language of Montessori presentations
  • It is very important to make the presentations in a correct way, respecting the children, with a chosen vocabulary and in a calm environment!
  • The teacher will use key words that will interest the child(ren) attending the presentation.
  • It is important to speak quietly, slowly and make sure that all children understand this concept.
  • Avoid unnecessary remarks or speeches, the wording must be clear and precise.

The teacher must help the child to gain autonomy, to keep his environment in order himself. She must take great pride in seeing all these children gradually normalizing. She must be even more proud when she is no longer needed, because she will have succeeded in normalizing these children. She must consider herself very effective when she can tell herself: “Children can now do everything by themselves. They don’t need me anymore. These children are different from what they were because I treated them the right way. I have given free rein to all these vital energies and now they can flourish, and I can withdraw into the shadows little by little. “If a teacher can say that, she is exceptional because she has taught life.

Maria Montessori, L’Enfant est l’avenir de l’homme, Desclée de Brouwer