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What is a Montessori Directress?


A Montessori Directress is a facilitator, guide, and observer of children’s learning who is trained in the Montessori method. This method is unique in that it focuses on the child’s natural ability to self-learn and develop at their own pace.

The Montessori Directress plays a critical role in preparing the child’s environment, which is designed to encourage the child’s natural curiosity and exploration. One of the key tenets of the Montessori method is the transition from concrete to abstract concepts as the child progresses.

A Montessori Directress is responsible for carefully guiding the child through this transition and ensuring that their learning experience is fulfilling and rewarding. The Montessori Directress also fosters a community of respect, responsibility, and empathy which creates an environment that is conducive to learning.

A key tenet of every Montessori classroom is the role of the Directress, the guide to the children. This post gives you an overview of the role of the Montessori Directress.

Learn about the role of the Montessori Directress

The Montessori Directress

“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

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 an 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, but she must also train to prepare herself for the classroom.

The Spiritual Training of the Montessori Directress

“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.” – Dr. Maria Montessori: Her Life & Work {Pg. 299}

Montessori quoted 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.

What is a Montessori Directress

The 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

The teacher must be trained to carefully prepare the environment. The Prepared Environment is what sets the stage for the child’s learning. In other words, an environment that allows freedom within limits must be carefully planned and executed. 

For example, elements include child-sized furniture, high-quality natural materials, and natural light. Furthermore, the classroom must be organized, warm & welcoming to the child. Ideally, the classroom is open, clean, beautiful & serene with 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 because a child must 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.

The Montessori Directress & Her Critical Role 

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. The order prevents a “waste of energy” so that the child may focus on what is truly important to the development of his whole self. Furthermore, this enables 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.

Directress 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

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 1) supervise and 2) give individual lessons. Free choice is the ultimate goal but free choice cannot be utilized if a child lacks the will and inner discipline. If a child responds to every stimulus in his environment, he is not disciplined. In other words, he cannot yet obey his inner guide.

The Directress observes the child and knows when to intervene to direct the child to an appropriate activity. If the child is not treating material properly, then the Directress will redirect the child either to end that work. She may also give another lesson on that work.  The child learns respect through these experiences.

The Directress must not intervene with 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”.

Concentration & the Child

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. Furthermore, she must understand the age & developmental 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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