Training Montessori assistants is imperative for a smoothly run classroom.
If Montessori teachers were given a magic wand for their classrooms, more often than not they’d use it to implement Montessori to the best of their ability. When asked, teachers usually reveal just how many responsibilities they have that can get in the way of their main goals – assisting each child and finding the right material or lesson to meet each child’s needs.
What many teachers need isn’t a magic wand, it’s a personal assistant, and they may have the answer to this need right under their noses. The potential of their classroom assistant is often untapped.
If there are fewer than 10-12 children, a lead teacher just might be able to handle all the responsibilities involved in preparing a classroom and curriculum; observing, planning, and implementing individualized lessons; and keeping up with all administrative duties (such as progress reporting and community building). However, I believe that Montessori classrooms with more than 12 children should have two adults in the environment. This is important for functional and smooth classroom operations.
The Case for Training Montessori Assistants
To have each adult trained to fulfill their unique classroom role is like training both hands to hold the pitcher when pouring water.
All too often, however, only one of the adults is trained for her job. The other adult is often left to cursory and sporadic on-the-job training, given by someone who is meant to teach children, not other adults! The highest performing classrooms I’ve been witness to are ones in which the adults have built a mutualistic relationship with clear communication, expectations for professionalism, an openness to learn from each other, and agreements regarding functions of each role. This mutualism can be learned!
Support staff in Montessori environments are often called upon to overview the environment. This means supervising the children, redirecting children only when needed, maintaining the cleanliness and order of the classroom, and attending to the many chores that surround supporting young children in group settings.
Training assistants can cover an understanding of the scope and sequence of the materials, the importance of the environment, the importance of the quality of their interactions with the children, and their role as an assistant in meeting the teacher’s needs. Such training will ensure they’re better equipped to help the dominant hand pour the water!
What Does Training Montessori Assistants Look Like?
I have a broad perspective as a learner, mentor teacher, and trainer of support staff who work with toddlers through elementary ages. What have I learned? Optimal learning for adults dictates there are multiple modes, such as a guided mentorship and professional development outside of the workplace.
As a brand new assistant, I went to an 8-hour seminar at a local AMI school. While the seminar was great, it was inadequate in terms of follow-up on the job and it wasn’t very comprehensive. My training as an assistant was left to my seasoned mentor teacher and wise Head of School. She takes all the credit for hooking me into Montessori in such a positive way, and for helping me understand what was expected of me day in, day out in that entry level position.
Many years later, there are several excellent in-person assistant training programs offered around the world. Some are affiliated with AMS, AMI, or regional Montessori organizations. Thanks to the universality of the internet, there are now eLearning courses for training support staff, including the one I teach – the Montessori Assistant Toolkit from ClassrooMechanics. To assist the mentor teacher or administrator in best supporting their assistants, ClassrooMechanics also offers the coordinating workshop Supporting Classroom Assistants.
I believe it’s imperative that each adult working in a Montessori classroom build a framework including child development theories, the neuroscience of learning, and principles of Montessori philosophy. These set the stage for specific training in optimizing adult-child interactions, preparing and maintaining the environment, and preparing ourselves for these tasks. Additionally, the role of the lead guide needs to include how to support assistant staff, as the mutualistic relationship that flourishes benefits everyone.
Training Montessori assistants should be a priority, whenever possible. In a nutshell, it is the training of both our hands that pour water without spilling a drop.
More about the Author
Tammy Oesting, Lifelong Learner, Educational Leader, and Innovative Instructor. An American Montessori Society 3-6 and E1-2 certified teacher, Tammy serves the global Montessori community with professional development opportunities by delivering engaging online, on-demand eLearning courses at ClassrooMechanics. Her focus on optimizing classroom performance lead to creating and teaching a live Montessori Assistant Course for years. The need for accessible, quality professional development drove her to put her training online. Tammy and her husband Aaron are location dependent and travel the world visiting Montessori schools and sharing their insights as travel writers at Lands Remote .