The Director is an adult who has been specially trained and is able to respond to the child when the needs of his inner child become stimulated and concentrated. To help the child towards normalisation the Director is in constant contact with the child linking him to the environment, directing his untapped energies and helping them to attach to objects, skills and experiences. To do so she must be able to recognise his inner nature and offer discrete and loving aid, to do this she uses theoretical knowledge and her own experiences to best guess ‘how to assist the right person at the right time in the right manner, to know what is necessary and what is sufficient, the aim being to, ‘help him help himself’. Her help is ‘an aid to develop the child’s development’, not to do his work for him.
The Preparation of a Director
The Director needs to be a person who sees herself as someone developing her own inner nature, reducing her ego and negativity, being both a humble, compassionate and a wise guide. She recognises her limitations, prejudices, develops her knowledge and energies and readily admits to mistaken unjust actions based on her pride and arrogance. The child will forgive mistakes admitted and addressed but lies and incongruent actions will cut him off from his teacher. It is vital that the teacher understands the child as an individual and social being fully and can view him with multiple perspectives, as the child he appears to be and his potential inner nature. The teacher is polite and patient with the child, empathetic and objective. She employs realistic rules consistently and with a composed, professional and necessary firmness she establishes her classroom and responds in an emergency by modelling her calm presence.
The director has self confidence in her abilities and her training, she makes good decisions and can explain her actions to students, colleagues and parents well, without being arrogant, as she is self-reflective and a good listener, able to acknowledge mistakes and refine her efforts in the light of new experiences. She has faith and love for the inner child, and believes in his ability to learn, she respects the achievements he has already made at home. She practices self restraint, neither praising or blaming, punishing nor rewarding and does not interfere with the child’s inner processes.
The Director is able to create a Prepared Environment, can put the child in contact with it so that he can form his own personality and she to create a social unit of children learning together. She follows the child’s rhythms, pace and interests to see and pre-empt his underlying needs and is aware of the strength and predominance of his tendencies, as she guides him through his Sensitive Periods. She ensures the environment is stable and alive to meet the needs of his Absorbent Mind for sensorial stimulation and practical life orientation. To do this she utilises her observation skills and as she introduces the activities at the times when they are important to the child he develops his confidence in her. She affords him freedom of movement, choice, the possibility of repeating activity alone or to request a presentation and this produces happiness, gregariousness and satisfaction in the child.
The Director dresses and behaves in a calm, simple way; neat, tidy and fresh, prepared for professional yet physical activities. She uses graceful movements, indirectly preparing the child for clear and fluid sitting, walking and standing postures, she does not use confusing or unnecessary movements and gestures nor does she practice poor habits or hygiene. She plans how to move carefully for presentations and carries this grace to her whole being as the child constantly absorbs her behaviours, manners and appearances. She always speaks with respect and uses a soft voice so as not to alarm children or disturb their concentration, she resists speaking to the while class unless it is very necessary, usually her voice is loud enough only for the child who she is presenting to. When speaking she uses mature vocabulary and speaks clearly.
The Role of the Director
Unlike usual classrooms the Montessori adult is not known as a teacher as her role is very different; not only does she have a dual role as a teacher and as an observer but also her pedagogical approaches are different to other teachers as she believes children to have Absorbent Minds, and in their ability to follow their own inner impulses which allow them to create themselves. She has faith that by following their tendencies during Sensitive Periods infants have the power to acquire knowledge and skills with joy and ease. Unlike other teachers when the Director sees a child concentrating and perfecting himself she does not praise or interrupt him but recognises that the child is acting on a ‘Polarisation of Attention’ where he focuses on acquiring the experiences he needs to obtain to develop.
Initially the role of a teacher is more active, to orient and stimulate until a child finds himself through concentration. The Director recedes and becomes an observer only when the child is making himself, until that point she uses the materials and environment to try to hook the child and link him into the work that he must perform to normalise. Her role is therefore to enable the child to become his own teacher.
The teacher in this first period, before concentration has shown itself, must be like a flame which heartens all by it’s warmth, enlivens and invites. There is no need to fear that she will interrupt some important psychic process, since these have not yet begun. Before concentration occurs, the director may do more or less what she thinks best’ – M. Montessori The Absorbent Mind p.289
As a teacher she is a guardian of the alive and stable Prepared Environment, her role is to prepare, maintain and develop it, so that it fulfils it’s function of removing obstacles in the way of naturally occuring developmental activities. She must know how to put the child in contact with the environment, it is her gift to the child. To enable him to utilise his freedoms of independence and choice the Prepared Environment must be organised so that he can access it independently. In the Children’s House there are different areas for different activities, the furniture is child size and light enough for him to use, the decoration combines the utilitarian and the aesthetic, stimulating the will and intelligence to act on the objects which stimulate the senses and knowledge of local culture, providing a firm basis for later abstractions and allow him to act on his tendencies. There must be an appropriately large range of materials to cover the four areas of development, displayed in succession from simple to difficult, (this helps the child to anticipate, plan and reflect on his learning journey) but there should not be no object which is unused, as superfluous material causes distractions and disorder. As the different Sensitive Periods and tendencies emerge in the child, as well as to keep his attention, different objects need to be added or drawn attention to. The materials must be used only for their purpose and misuse of any material requires quick intervention.
The Director not only prepares a stable environment but ensures that it is alive by familiarising new children to it so that they become orientated and inviting all children to watch presentations to open up new areas of the environment corresponding to new areas of development which have opened in the child’s psyche. During a presentation she precisely demonstrates the use of materials, with economic, conscious movements, which she has analysed and practiced. She makes the new activities not only not only accessible but also appealing and interesting, selecting them because of the child’s previous achievements, present needs and future developments. She silently shows the Points of Interest and highlights any movements the child has missed when she repeats those parts he finds difficult for him at a later time.
The Director’ other role is to observe, this is the method she uses to best understand her community and each individual in it, to know their progress and difficulties and to plan how to meet their arising needs. To observe the inner child the teacher must be discrete, still and inhibit her habits of make comments or interrupting the working child. To observe she is still and concentrated, while remaining accessible to any child who needs her, She observes, so that she knows when to demonstrate and when to withdraw; when to intervene in a dispute and when to let children solve their own social problems, when to show a Point of Interest and when to leave a child attempting a solution, and to have many suggestions to try to put the disordered child on the path to normalisation.
As an observer the Director records all presentations shown and activities attempted, social developments and repeated obstacles. She notices the child’s level of enthusiasm and repetition to any given activity and which group activities engaged the children well.
The Skills of a Director
A successful Director must be able to be aware of each child while presenting to one, recording, interacting, assessing and reviewing material. She must be objective and self aware, analysing her own judgements and assumptions. She must maintain a good relationship with parents, inspiring confidence in them and the infant that he is capable of developing himself, and through her work she will share evidence that this is happening. She should communicate his obstacles and achievements and help the parents to make links with his developments in the Children’s House and their home. The Director should encourage the parents to observe their child, help them to understand his processes and sensitively handle difficult issues which arise. The Director must take scrupulous care that the environment is complete, orderly, clean and beautiful, that the objects are used well and that she models the skills and grace of the Exercises of Practical Life. The Director must observe continuously and go to the child when he calls, listen to him and respond, not interrupt the working child, invite without insistence those who she thinks are ready for a presentation, never correct mistakes but offer to repeat demonstrations with patience. She instils in the child a love for his environment through a presence which is gentle and animated, making her presence felt by those who are seeking it while being invisible to those guided by their inner voices.
- It is the responsibility of the Montessori adult to prepare, maintain and develop the materials in accordance with the child’s arising needs.
- The adult must remember that the child is working for her own intrinsic goals and is not goal-oriented.
- The adult’s aim is to establish a positive and constructive connection between the child and the materials, this cannot be forced or hurried.
- The adult must be constantly aware of the indirect presentations she gives.
- The adult removes all barriers to the child by allowing an appropriate level of freedom to move and choose, to work at a comfortable pace, to request or declining a presentation, to repeat without interference or to rest, to deviate from the presentation (without misusing the material) or to ask for the presentation to be repeated.
- The adult works to improve her presentations to make them more stimulating and precise.
- The adult inhibits her habit to judge and correct, to interrupt the child’s work.
- The adult observes with discretion and objectivity to note the infant’s response to the presentation, Points of Interest and is ready to redo the presentation.
- The adult records difficulties.
- The adult monitors the materials for misuse and takes positive, dispassionate, firm and immediate action to redress this; she may choose to:
- highlight a Points of Interest
- help the infant complete her work cycle
- help her to put the material away
- put away the material herself and redirects the child to a familiar, purposeful activity.
This is to strengthen the habit to constructive work which is the only solution to maladjusted behaviour.
The Directress builds a positive rapport with parents by highlighting that the Exercises of Practical Life are not simply to teach skills and prepare for academic life but are the means for the child develop her personality, will, self-confidence, adaptation and to normalise.