Montessori is sometimes referred to as “child-led” but that doesn’t mean that teachers do not lead. Every student in a Montessori classroom is at their own individual developmental stage and possesses their own unique interests. Teachers let the curriculum and individual learning paths be led by these factors. They also incorporate choices and do not impose time limits when it comes to working with the materials.
With respect to these basic tenets of Montessori, it can certainly be considered child-led. But when it comes to the full responsibilities of the Montessori guide–good leadership skills are essential. It goes further than just being able to lead though: a guide must be able to lead respectfully.
What Is Respect?
Respect is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and it’s often misused. Obedience and respect are not interchangeable.
Respect means to treat a person or an object like it is important.
Kids are often expected to show respect to their elders, but the opposite is also imperative. In the first place, children are important. They deserve to be treated with dignity. They also learn best from our example. In other words, children who are treated with respect will more naturally show respect to others. Feeling respected also creates a safe feeling which is conducive for learning. In this way, we prepare the environment to best educate our kids.
Maria Montessori said:
Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future… Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to help to develop in them.
Harsh punishments like humiliation are not respectful and should not be used by Montessori teachers. But what about something as simple as telling a child to stop crying or grabbing a toy that he should not have from his hands? Neither of these preserve a child’s dignity or show respect, and actions like this happen more easily that you may realize.
It’s important to play close attention to how we speak to children and how we treat them. Sometimes old habits need to be broken, and the best way to do that is to make new ones. The following are a few ways to show respect to young children while managing them in a classroom or home setting.
Replace Grabbing With an Open Hand Request
Taking an object out of a child’s hands without asking is not respectful. Of course, there are many times that we need to take an object from a child. But we can usually do it respectfully. Safety is sometimes an exception, but not always. We can calmly open our hand and instruct the child to put the object into our hand. “Give me the ___,” or “Put the ___ down in my hand,” is authoritative yet respectful.
The trick in getting the child to actually do it is to stop them first and get down to their level. Then when you hold out your hand, pause and fully expect them to give it to you. If you still can’t get the child to give you the object, tell them, “I am going to take it now,” and gently yet purposefully remove it from their grasp.
Listen Before you Lecture
Some situations seem to tell all, but always give a chance for the child to speak before you do when disciplining or intervening. Never launch into an explanation without first requesting one. Many times, we learn the reasons for a child’s behavior when we do this. But above all, the respectful act of listening invites cooperation. When kids feel heard, they are open to listening.
Allow Space for Children to Express Their Feelings
Little children cry sometimes, and that’s OK. Adults need to provide space and time for feelings, while also balancing the need to keep the group safe. Resist the urge to tell a child that whatever upset them is not a big deal, even if it seems that way. Let them feel how they feel. Using a peace corner is an effective way to show that you value kids’ feelings while still letting you keep your classroom running smoothly and safely.
Teaching is, above all, about relationships. Putting in the effort to make sure you genuinely respect your students will pay off when you see that they trust you and feel safe with you, because that’s how kids learn best.