As you may know, delivering a quality Montessori education is a lot of work. Preparing and maintaining an environment that meets every child’s needs, creating curriculum, guiding children to practice community-created rules, reporting progress to parents and administrators, identifying developmental milestones and more, the job of a teacher is overwhelming and depends on a variety of skill sets.
So you might wonder of my accuracy when I make the sincere declaration that there exists a “keystone skill” that is necessary for adults to acquire to effectively deliver Montessori. The skill I’m referring to is observation.
The Importance of Observing Children
Observing children helps teachers accurately infer what is needed to modify the environment or their approach to the child. These conclusions are better relayed to parents and administrators when they stem from actual observations.
For every action of the adult in the Montessori environment, whether it be replacing one material for another, or intervening with a child, or giving a new presentation to a child, there is a thoughtful reason to do so based on the adult's observations. So often what we think must be done is based on our impulses or habits rather than empirical knowledge of what should be done, or not.
Observation prepares the adult to act, but, first, we must prepare ourselves to observe!
In the third lecture of her 1921 London course, Dr. Montessori talked about the preparation of the teacher as analogous to the preparation of scientists in other fields: “Any methodical observation which one wishes to make, requires preparation. Observation is one of those many things of which we frequently speak, and of which we form an inexact or false idea. It should be sufficient to consider what occurs in all the sciences that depend upon observation. The observers in the various sciences must have a special preparation. For instance, one who looks through a microscope does not see what exists there unless his eye is prepared. It is not sufficient to have the instrument and to know how to focus it. It is also necessary to have the eye prepared to recognize the objects.”
The first steps in preparing for observing children are internal. Our brains are plastic; that is, they grow and change. Our patterns and habits of thought can be changed with practice. One pattern that hinders our ability to capture what we actually see is the “chatter” or fleeting off-task thoughts that float through teachers minds at any given moment.
Dr. Montessori suggested that guides wear a “beaded belt” and move one bead along the belt every time an impulse to act came upon them. Actions are far more effective when founded on actual observations. I suggest that adults working in Montessori environments practice training themselves to quiet their impulsive thoughts and observe what is actually happening before they respond to a child. No beads needed, just a bit of practice.
Consider starting with one minute and building up your ability to quiet your chatter with practice. Practice by watching YouTube videos of children working, or better yet, live in the classroom setting. Jot a tic mark every time a thought pops in your mind that is not something you are actually seeing or hearing in that moment. With practice, you’ll make more space as an effective observer and will know better when to intervene, and when not to.
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 .
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