What is Montessori? {More on the Directress}

I just completed a final draft philosophy paper discussing The Directress’. A little long but I would be remiss not to share with you all. Happy reading! ~ Marnie


“The teacher’s part and its techniques are analogous to those of the valet; they are to serve, and to serve well: to serve the spirit.” – The Absorbent Mind {pg. 281}

The Directress is one of two essential elements of a Montessori classroom. The other element is the Prepared Environment, in which she plays a great role. The Directress’s role is observer, guide and preparer of the environment. Maria Montessori wrote extensively about the role of the Directress, particularly about the spiritual journey on which a Directress must go before and during her time in the classroom. So the Directress must not only train in order to effectively prepare the classroom, she must also train to prepare herself for the classroom.

Montessori viewed the Directress as a scientist, whose responsibility was not to teach the child but to connect the child’s potential to their environment. The emphasis Maria Montessori placed on the spiritual and scientific training of teachers is unlike any other education philosophy and subsequent approach. The Directress’ ultimate goal is to serve the children, to help them ignite an inner genius, to reach their fullest potential. This means observing, identifying and guiding the energies within a child.

Spiritual Training

“There are two sins, in particular, which tend to distort our true vision of the child. They are pride and anger. Hence, humility and patience – their opposites – are the virtues most needed by the would be directress.” – Maria Montessori: Her Life & Work {Pg. 299}

Montessori wrote that “the best preparation for teaching is a study of one’s self.”  The Directress must prepare her spirit – “her values, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, habits and omissions” – before she enters the classroom to serve the spirits of the children. Children “literally soak up everything in their environment including the behaviors and attitudes of the principal caretakers.” (Nurturing the Spirit, pg. 33) So, the presence of a Directress is as much a part of the environment as any material on the shelves. The children feel her spirit, igniting or diminishing an inner drive to learn and to develop and to self-educate. The journey of self-discovery for the teacher is a critical component of a successful Montessori environment.

Preparer of the Environment

“The skill, care, and devotion with which the directress gets ready the environment is the very condition of the children’s freedom.” – Maria Montessori: Her Life & Work {Pg. 299}

The teacher must be trained to carefully prepare the environment. The Prepared Environment is what sets the stage for the child’s learning. An environment that allows freedom within limits must be carefully planned and executed.  Elements include child sized furniture, high quality natural materials, highly organized, natural light, warm & welcoming to the student and his learning, open, clean, beautiful & serene and clearly designated work areas. More closely we can see simplicity and order in the way the materials are set out. There is only one of each material to promote caring and sharing of the materials, to ultimately teach a child to respect materials and to respect other’s work time with the material. The materials are hands on, encourage movement, based in real life, often involve sequence, and require a lesson by the teacher.  All of these aspects require training by a Directress in order to effectively execute.

Order, one of the main duties of the Directress, explains the prepared environment, and, above all other characteristics, is the most pervasive in the classroom and therefore must permeate every tiny detail of the classroom. Order prevents a “waste of energy” so that the child may focus on what is truly important to the development of his whole self and the teacher can effectively observe and guide when necessary. The classroom is orderly, the materials are presented on the shelves neatly and in a specific sequence: “One of the reasons why children feel a sense of calm and repose (spiritually) in the Montessori School is just because it is an environment where everything has its proper place and must keep to it.” {Maria Montessori: Her Life & Work, Pg. 128} This “law” of a Montessori classroom is one that children enjoy preserving in their space. The Directress must train and follow through on following this law of the classroom.


Role in Classroom

“The Role of the Montessori directress resembles more that of a guardian angel than a teacher of the old type.” – Maria Montessori: Her Life & Work {Pg. 318}

The Directress is a critical component to the classroom, considered the dynamic link between the child and his environment. Also the observer, the Directress must know when to step in to guide the child and when to allow the child to guide himself. Montessori used the term “serve the periphery” to describe a teacher’s role in the classroom. She was determined to develop and implement new ways to experience the classroom so that new ways of interacting with the world would result. The Directress, as discussed above, must prepare the environment, the activities and the lessons in a way that meets a child’s need to explore the world through material objects.  The preparation allows for “isolation of stimulus”. Teachers don’t simply show the child the materials but present the materials in a way that each material will elicit a movement at the “periphery”. E.M. Standing quotes: “In short, we never give to the eye more than we give to the hand.”

With regards to discipline in the classroom, when a classroom is nearer chaos than discipline, a teacher must do two things: 1) supervise and 2) give individual lessons. Free choice is the ultimate goal but free choice cannot be utilized if a child lacks will and inner discipline because he will respond to every stimulus in his environment. He cannot yet obey his inner guide. The Directress observes the child and knows when to intervene to direct the child back to an activity that suits his development. If the child is not treating material properly, then the Directress will redirect the child either to end that work  (perhaps he was not ready to complete that work) or to give another lesson on that work.  The child learns respect through these experiences.

The Directress must not intervene a child who is concentrating and focusing on a task even if that same task is repeated again and again without perfection. She should not interrupt the effort. The birth of concentration is delicate and subtle, a teacher must always be observing and utilizing her “moral sensitiveness”. A child who finds concentration is happy as his inner spirit awakens to the world around him in a “social sense”. He discovers the people around him, looks at the world as an environment with fresh new and boundless opportunities. His spiritual process of detaching from the world (a la concentration) in order to become more united with it is complete. This discovery should be the main goal for the Directress.


The Directress is the dynamic link between the child and the prepared environment. To succeed in becoming a dynamic link, she must possess knowledge, patience, observation, discrimination, tact, experience and sympathy. The Directress must be proactive, know the function of the prepared environment and the “nature and purpose” of each material within the classroom as well as age appropriateness of the material. Once she has prepared her own spirit, a teacher’s number one priority is the prepared environment. Then she can proceed in serving the children.

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