The Montessori Method offers some unique and different classroom management techniques for all teachers. If there were some sort of magical formula that automatically made classrooms run smoothly, then almost anyone might be interested in becoming a teacher. There’s something within us teachers that gives us the determination and creativity to work with kids and struggle through the insane but beautiful task of learning together. We’re experimenters. We look for new ideas and try them out. What works for a class one year doesn’t work the next and so we’re off to see what other new classroom management techniques we can try. A strategy that works with one difficult student won’t necessarily work with another. These teacher qualities are important when implementing Montessori Method classroom management strategies.
Proactive Classroom Management Techniques
Proactively is the first step to excellent classroom management. Montessori places a big emphasis on creating a prepared environment where students are enticed by exciting materials, quiet spaces to concentrate and levels of work that are appropriate for all students in the classroom. The tips below focus on a positive classroom environment that keeps your, and the students’, focus on learning.
Catch Their Interest
When your students are engrossed in what they’re doing, behavior issues are usually quite low. If you notice that they’re getting antsy and can change gears to something that will catch their interest – you can pull the students back to their naturally good behavior. Find out what your students are interested in and your lessons will run smoothly. Once, when presenting the concept of invertebrates to a group of kindergarteners, I brought in worms. You can imagine that this was a hit for the 5 year olds. They were enchanted by watching how they moved, feeling how slimy they were – and of course could all easily describe what an invertebrate was like.
Allow for movement
The Montessori Method gives children the freedom to choose work and move about the classroom. Montessori devoted an entire chapter to exploring the importance of movement for development and learning in her much-read book The Absorbent Mind. In the classroom, movement needs to be incorporated because “immobility is impossible…work is inseparable from movement.” (Montessori, p. 134,135)
Give Descriptive Praise
We as teachers are often so excited about a child’s work that we’ll exaggerate praise. “That’s so amazing!” “You did a great job!” The sentiment we have is great – but this also probably means that we have students crowded around us looking for approval. With older students it means that they are unable to decide what good work is for themselves. For classroom management, descriptive praise can help by pointing out what examples of good work and classroom behavior look like. For example “Thank you for using an inside voice” or “I noticed that you worked really hard on your story.” This descriptive praise invites students to recognize good work, evaluate it for themselves and see the benefit of their efforts.
Ask Three Before Me
The Montessori Method naturally encourages students to help each other because classrooms are multi-aged. However, students can help each other whether or not there are older and younger students in the same classroom. To encourage collaboration and independence in your students when working in the classroom, a great rule to implement is the “3 before me” rule. This rule means that if a child has a question, he must ask three other students to try to clarify his doubts before asking the teacher. This avoids interruptions for the teacher and creates a general environment of helpfulness in the classroom.
Responsive Classroom Management Techniques
Obviously, there are going to be some moments of responsive classroom management. There are spats between students, inappropriate behaviors and general disruptions that even the most seasoned teacher will face at some point every year. When facing these situations, Montessori guides teachers with a few suggestions to be followed in this order:
Redirect When Needed
Montessori believed that students are innately good. Sometimes they might have lost track of what they should be doing. Redirecting gives them the opportunity to get back to it. This worked with Sarah, the lovely interrupting kindergartener who was very social and always chatting with other busy students. I would whisper to her “It looks like Anna is very busy. Let’s find something for you to work on” The most important part of this strategy is making sure it’s not too public. Think of it as a reminder rather than scolding.
Stick to Me Like Glue
Redirecting works sometimes, but not always. The next step is to ask the student to sit with you or move with you around the classroom as you work with other students. In some cases it might mean having the student help you. Proximity to the teacher and watching others work provides the child with a sense of calm, and also serves as a reminder of what they should be doing.
Give a Time Out If Needed
This strategy is a timed break from classroom activities. The child is invited to sit for a few minutes to decide what she would like to work on. When she’s ready, she can rejoin the classroom activities. The student can use a kitchen timer or clock to keep track of the time.
This strategy is used when a student consistently shows inappropriate behavior. The student is invited to work in a quiet place that the teacher chooses in the classroom. The teacher provides work for the student and decides when the child is ready to rejoin classroom activities.
Remember, the key to success is experimenting and trying new strategies. If you’ve given one strategy a reasonable amount of time to show results and it doesn’t seem to work, try something else. If your students don’t find your super fantastic lesson plan interesting – don’t be offended, keep searching. Follow your students and work together towards creating a fantastic learning environment.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Oxford: Clio Press, 1992.
NAMC. Montessori 6-12 Classroom Guide. 2006.