Independence and Relationship in a Montessori Classroom

By Heather Gray

This week has been Teacher Appreciation Week. The Walnut Farm Parent Association has been showering the staff and faculty with gifts from around the world. You may have seen the plans on the beautifully designed hand out; each day of the week was made special with foods, music, and beverages, not to mention a fantastic tote bag filled with goodies. The postcards and flowers topped it all off; thank you to all of you for participating in appreciating the teachers. You are partners in our work, and we are so fortunate to be basked in the light and love of this expansive community.

Independence is fundamentally important in the Montessori classroom. Montessori believed that optimal development in children occurs when they are given opportunities to thrive in an environment that encourages independence in accordance to their sensitive periods. This is a way of saying that we develop best when we get what we need when we need it.

One of the definitions of independence in Miriam Webster is “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.” When we sit in the observation window and witness a toddler finishing snack and carefully picking up a drinking glass, walking it over to a washing basin, rinsing it and placing it into a drying rack, we are reminded about this value. We might also observe a child in a primary classroom gingerly rolling out a mat and pulling out a long chain from the math shelf, laying it out with purpose and labeling it with all of the appropriate number symbols and working extensively for 45 minutes without any obvious outside direction. Or we might see an elementary student choosing a rocket timeline that shares information about humans and space travel and independently delving into an extensive three-week research. All of these examples are independent actions or studies of sorts.

Maria Montessori wrote, “Independence is not a static condition; it is a continuous conquest, and in order to reach not only freedom, but also strength, and the perfecting on one’s powers, it is necessary to follow this path of unremitting toil.” (The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 8, p. 90). It is important to note that Montessori saw independence as a condition that involved repetition, work, and perseverance. In a Montessori classroom, none of this is even possible without the basis of a relationship. For example, the teacher is necessary in order to create conditions for the environment to welcome a child into the work for which he is ready. The teacher is the one who prepares the shelves, introduces the materials, and guides the child throughout the experience. A classmate may remind a child about how to use a material; sometimes reminders from an older friend is the key from moving from working with to mastering a concept. Not to mention the deeply supportive relationships that are formed as children and teachers grow to know one another over the course of a three year period.

To me, teacher appreciation week in a Montessori Classroom is about the recognition that these relationships are a foundation from which children create their worlds. The hard work and guidance from their teachers develop trusting relationships, and through these children are able to make meaning and develop positive, healthy habits of heart and mind. Parents recognize this, and appreciate the partnership afforded in the deep and meaningful task of raising their children. We are so grateful to you for your recognition of this, and for your heartfelt appreciation of your children’s teachers.

Montessori recognized that these relationships are optimal over the course of a three-year cycle. While it is sad to say good-bye this summer, it is heartening to know that most of our community members will be returning next year, entering into the next year of the Montessori journey. For those of you who are moving away, we wish you a fond farewell and welcome you back to visit at any time. And for most of you, we look forward to entering into or continuing a relationship in the fall of 2019.

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