Hello everyone and welcome to Holistic Montessori Solutions podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about classroom management from chaos to normalization. This is a great topic for the beginning of a new school year because as children, parents, faculty return from a very long summer break, they are not used to structure of the school day. Many of them have been out of town on vacation or have had visitors in their home. Bedtime is kind of negotiated. Children sleep in a little bit late.
It’s really important at the very beginning of the school year that we return the children to the type of structure that sets a foundation for a successful school year. You also have children who may be new to the environment or new to the school. Sometimes, first timers, first school experience or new to your school that may experience separation anxiety.
1. Normalizing your class
Normalizing the class is the most important goal at the beginning of the year and setting a foundation for a peaceful learning Montessori environment. A normalized class will foster cooperation, socialization for the children, a sense of community and ultimately harmony, which is what we want. It’s really important at the beginning of the year that the structure is established and it’s clear. We need to take or dedicate as much as time as necessary to review and repeat hallmark lessons and roles. Don’t worry about jumping right into giving a lot of lessons, because without normalization you’re not going to be able to teach the children. You’re not going to be able to reach the whole group.
As a guide, you want to be firm but kind. The children need to see you as confident, assured, clear, gentle and consistent in approach. From the very beginning, day one, which I know you’re past day one by now, but greet each child with a handshake, make eye contact. Make sure you model and calm and quiet voice even if they seem to be upset. You’re going to sit down in circle time and explain the class rules. Write them down. Post them in the class. Refer to them often and demonstrate many lessons on, walking around the mats without disrupting someone’s work, pushing in a chair, rolling a mat, and returning things to their place in the classroom. How do we sit? How do we organize our work? Those are all foundational lessons that have to be implemented from the very beginning.
Even though it might seem simple and trivial, even the older Montessori children who may have been with you for a while need a refresher on these lessons. In order to understand what the children need, in order to truly follow a child, observation is key. You have to observe a situation to understand what the needs of the children are. How can I connect with this child or this group of children? How can I be the best support to them? How can I arrange my environment to make it flow, maybe to minimize a problem that you’re having? An example of that would be a toddler classroom, they’re developing those gross motor skills, they love to run. If you’re having a problem with toddlers running in the classroom, perhaps you put a shelf in the middle of the runway with some work on it so that that will impede their ability to run in the classroom which is obviously a safety issue. Observing, looking, is really helpful.
2. Proactively redirect your students
In order to respond to some of the needs of the Montessori classroom, you have redirect as needed. You can’t let things slide. If a child is behaving inappropriately, disturbing other children, whatever the case may be, you have to redirect. You can’t be bogged down in giving lessons when the class is not normalized. If you have a child that’s consistently having a hard time, perhaps you make him the teacher’s helper. Let him stay by your side and you become the control until such time that he’s ready to acclimate to the group.
A great strategy is also to observe other children working. If a child is having a hard time … this is not a punishment, this is having him sit for a while and observe what the other children are doing and what is appropriate behavior. If they’re misbehaving, if they’re violating the rules of the community in any way, then they can’t be part of that community. The children have to understand that in a Montessori community, we work with each other. There’s collaboration and we follow the rules. If you’re disrespecting the community, you can’t be part it.
3. Control the environment
Controlling the environment is key and a big part of that is minimizing distractions. Montessori school administrators should be able to support the teachers, should support the teachers, by establishing and enforcing school policy on attendance, specifically late arrivals. Every time that door opens and you have a disturbance, perhaps a child is upset, you are breaking that sacred work cycle and the children will not return to the level of attention that you’d gotten them too. Part of that is parent education, having them understand that what you’re trying to accomplish in the classroom and that it’s not about them and their work schedule. It’s about the child. It’s always about the child.
Prepare your environment. The environment obviously has to be prepared before the children arrive. You are running out to cut paper and sharpen pencils, you are the distraction, you are the disturbance, you were unprepared. You’re never going to get to that level of normalization. The teachers have to be prepared themselves.
Quite often, especially in this profession, we take care of everybody else. You can not be an effective Montessori teacher/guide if you are tired or hungry or cranky or frustrated. Take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep. Make sure you have a good breakfast. Make sure you exercise or do yoga or do something that helps bring you to that peaceful state, peaceful calm state.
4. Prepare your students for success
Prepare your students. Establish the rules, enforce the rules, make sure they understand. Role play, the children love to role play. If there’s a new work in the class or you have an altercation between two children, choose two other children to role model what is appropriate. They think it’s really fun and it’s really effective. One of the beauties of a Montessori classroom is the multi-age. The older children are typically familiar with the ground rules and with how to resolve conflicts, conflict resolution and mediate. Use them to your advantage.
Children will be more receptive to following the lead of a peer as opposed to an adult. Pair a child who has difficulty making good choices with one who’s really good at, the buddy system. Appoint a peace keeper. Give someone the job of being the peace keeper in the classroom, someone you know is capable of handling the responsibility, they have a good rapport with the children, they’re calm. It can’t be a pressure on a child. If you have someone that has the attributes that would qualify them as a good peace keeper, appoint them that and give them that responsibility.
We recently had a child who was kind of bullying the other children. He was trying to gain control over the other children and we recognized that. We appointed him the peace keeper because it gave him the control that he longed for and it also immediately corrected the behavior. He was now a role model as opposed to a child who was misbehaving. He was craving attention and again, we gave him positive attention and a responsibility that he took very seriously and that worked out beautifully.
Sometimes, you can give a child who is consistently behaving inappropriately a private office. If they are … we talked about a lot of freedom in the classroom, freedom within limits. If they are not acclimated to a classroom and having a difficult time with this freedom, there’s nothing wrong with giving them what we call a private office, which is not a punishment. It’s really just restricting their mobility in the classroom and helping them acclimate by limiting the choices. We give freedom within limits. If that freedom is being abused or the children are not ready for that freedom, the private office is a good strategy for that.
5. Ask three before me
Ask three before me. In order to minimize disruptions of the teacher, have the children implement a rule where if they need help with something, they ask three of their peers before they ask the teacher. This does two things. One, it promotes collaboration among the children and secondly, it minimizes disruptions. Usually, by the time, they get to one or two children, their problem is solved and they have the answer to their question.
6. Nurture students’ natural interest in learning
We have to create an environment that’s really interesting for the children. If they are bored by something that’s happening in the class, they just seem antsy and not interested. It’s okay to abandon that lesson because if we’re truly following the lead of the child and their not interested, we’re not making any gains there. Don’t be offended if they’re not interested. Make a note of it and move on and introduce it maybe in a different way at a time when they’re ready for it.
The Montessori classroom allows for a lot of movement. Make sure the classroom is not cluttered, that there is plenty of floor space for them to work in while also allowing children to move. Some of the classrooms are so cluttered they seem very uninviting and almost claustrophobic. We don’t have to have everything out all at once. It’s more important beginning of the year that we create a really inviting environment.
When you establish your rules, involve the children. Have them brainstorm. Have them brainstorm about how do we make this the most peaceful learning environment. If a rule is broken, what should the consequences be? Allow them to have an input on that. Have ideas for rules, ideas for consequences, ideas for peaceful learning environments. Have class meetings. Allow the children to voice their opinions.
7. Consistently enforce the rules
Really have to follow through. You have to enforce consequences. If you have a rule and someone breaks the rule and there’s no consequence, you really don’t have any rule at all. You might as well not have rules. It’s important that the rules are enforced, they’re consistently enforced even when it’s not an opportune time.
Let’s say you’re on a field trip, which I hope you’re not at the beginning of the year, but you’re on a field trip where you have Grandparent’s Day or Special Visitors and a child misbehaves, you want to make sure you address that behavior even if you can’t do it in the moment, you let them know that we’re going to talk about this at this time, when we get back to the classroom, after lunch, whenever that is, make sure you address that behavior because if you don’t, that child is not going to respect those rules and the others see that someone’s getting away with something.
You can experiment with different strategies. See what works for you and change up what doesn’t work for you, but really key to creating a peaceful classroom and establishing normalization is really following a lot of the guidelines we’ve given you today. We wish you all a really great start to the new school year, and we will be in touch with you shortly. In the next one of our webinars, we’re going to talk about how the administration helps to normalize the larger community as we return back to school. Thanks for listening and have a great day.