Classroom Expectations

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Classroom Expectations – Part II
What does ‘Discipline’ look like?

Many key factors play into a functioning Montessori Classroom. There are lots of moving parts, of which the most critical is classroom management. I divide classroom management into two major areas: Expectations and clear communication of those expectations. 

Last week we looked more closely at communication. Specifically, authentic feedback. The Montessori Method only truly works when interpersonal relations are both respectful and authentic. Therefore, classroom management hinges on healthy and open communication. In a nutshell, the words we choose to communicate with matter. And they matter in significant ways.

Why do our words matter? Firstly, both our words and our nonverbal actions possess far more power than we realize. They can play a role in the shaping of how an individual actually views themselves.

Secondly, giving children specific and authentic feedback will help to shape a growth mindset. That is, the belief that intelligence is not fixed. Instead, it can be enhanced by hard work and effort.

This week, I’d like to look more closely into the second area affecting classroom management: Classroom expectations.

Is there more than just Reward & Punishment?

Classroom expectations can be viewed through a much bigger lens than simply ‘classroom discipline.’ That is controlling children’s behavior through a variety of rewards and punishments. This type of conditioning holds that a certain behavior and a consequence, either a reward or punishment, have a connection. It is believed this connection brings about learning.

Instead of ‘classroom discipline,’ the Montessori approach guides children to find discipline from within. Dr. Maria Montessori referred to this as ‘freedom with responsibility.’  Discipline derived from a child-centered universe.

In a social context, freedom requires us to act out of knowledge and reason rather than out of impulse. A responsible member of society understands the consequences of their actions before the choice is made. They will use this knowledge to inform their decisions.

Montessori Blog - Grumble Services elementary Grumble Services Blog post on Relationships with your child at home

Once again, this all sounds really nice, but how can this actually be achieved? Freedom with responsibility are very difficult ideas for children to understand. The task of helping a child recognize and take on responsibility belongs to both caregivers and educators. It begins first within the environment of their home, then into the classroom and finally it should continue toward our wider society.

The realization of freedom and the understanding of responsibility are what Dr. Montessori referred to as ‘points of arrival.’

What if a child is new to the Montessori Classroom?

As always, within the Montessori approach, the answer is individualized to the child and the child’s situation. When new to a Montessori classroom, we expect most children to not exhibit self-discipline. Self-discipline grows through repeated, deliberate practice. And practice takes time.

According to Dr. Montessori, in the first plane (0-6 years old), deviations can occur because the child is deprived of their own work. Therefore, their ability to build their own individual independence.

Four Planes of Development Lecture, 1938
International Montessori Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Over time, a new child will acquire mental and bodily control by connecting to appealing work within the prepared environment.

As a child grows older, classroom lessons should always emphasize the interconnectedness of all things having to do with the universe and the creation of its furnishings (like the plants and animals, the arrival of human beings and their continuing story throughout time). Along with this concept comes responsibility, care, and respect for humanity – a compassionate attitude of service.

Later, children will begin to explore their place as members of society. Ideally, children will know their family will act as a safety net to them as they venture into wider society.

To give a child freedom means trusting the child. Children have within them both the potential and the directives necessary for their own unique development. Limits are set for safety.

Self Evaluation Leads To Cooperation

Montessori guides don’t use color-coded behavior charts, checkmarks next to names on the chalkboard, golden tickets, candy or other rewards and punishments to control student behaviors.

Instead, Montessori children learn to evaluate themselves. They become consciously aware of both their strengths and weaknesses.

When a person can honestly and objectively critique themselves, they will be able to identify and share their strengths. Inversely, in time, they will even ask for help when needed.

If we provide freedoms and put in place tools for developing responsibility, then children will become aware of their responsibility for their own thoughts, judgments and actions.

Encourage them to practice the humility of which Dr. Montessori spoke of throughout her writings. In my classroom I remind my students to practice humility, NOT humiliation.

Do you have thoughts or ideas about Classroom Expectations? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas or experiences at

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Read More on Nurturing Independence and References:

20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback to Learning

Discipline in the Montessori Classroom

Giving Children Authentic and Specific Praise and Feedback

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Thought of the week:

“Free choice is one of the highest of all the mental processes. Only the child deeply aware of his need for practice and for the development of his spiritual life can really be said to choose freely.

It is not possible to speak of free choice with all kinds of external stimuli, attract a child at the same time and having no will power he responds to every call, passing restlessly from one thing to another.”

-Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind