Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Teacher’s Perspective: The First Week of a Successful Montessori Elementary Year

In my Montessori elementary classroom, I spend the first week of school building on the foundations that I set on the first day — further establishing rules and routines, empowering the students, developing relationships, and presenting inspiring work.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I begin talking with the students about classroom routines and expectations on the very first day of school. Throughout the week, we build on these discussions, usually during circle time. Like all Montessori teachers, I have high expectations of courtesy, respect, and order. Taking time during the first week to fully establish these expectations helps the students understand what is required of them and of others in the classroom. It serves us all well for the remainder of the year.

Montessori Teachers Lay the Foundations for a Successful Elementary School Year in the First Week

A great interactive strategy for discussing expectations is to invite the students to role-play different scenarios. For example, I may invite a returning student to role-play three situations and encourage the other students to determine which is the most courteous:

Walking by someone, bumping into them accidentally, and carrying on.
Walking by someone, bumping into them accidentally, saying “Excuse me,” and then carrying on.
Walking by someone, bumping into them accidentally, and saying, “Excuse me. Sorry. Are you all right?”
Throughout the first week, I also reinforce the idea that the classroom is the students’ space. I encourage them to feel a sense of pride and ownership in their environment, and I empower them to take responsibility for the classroom. When I see things that need attention, I ask the students what they can do to help. For example, I may say, “I noticed that the chairs are sometimes scratching the floor, what can we do about this?” This encourages the students to investigate solutions to the problem themselves. In this case, the students suggested that they could put knitted chair socks on the chairs’ legs to protect the floors. This in turn led to the students learning how to knit!

Empowering the students to be responsible for their space means that they are also involved in keeping the classroom tidy. During the first week, I introduce the students to our classroom chore wheel. Each student receives a task listed on the wheel that he/she is responsible for during that week. The following week, we move the wheel and the students are given new tasks. For example, one student may be responsible for sweeping the floors, while another may be in charge of straightening the books in our classroom library. The students carry out their tasks at the end of each day, taking ten minutes or so to make sure their classroom is clean and tidy. Returning students carefully model how the tasks are done for the new students. Throughout the year, I observe how the chores are being carried out and when necessary, we review the steps involved in careful cleaning.

NAMC Montessori teachers first week of successful elementary school year girls reading book in library together

Another important focus of the first week is helping students make connections with me and with their peers. I make a point of having a meaningful conversation with each of the students within the first days of school. This helps us set the foundation for a trusting and caring relationship. I also look for opportunities for the students to build and strengthen their friendships. For instance, I may ask an outgoing returning student to show a new student how to complete a classroom task, or I may encourage a new student to ask a returning student to help him if he is looking for something in the class.

One of the most exciting things that happens during the first week of school is the introduction of the First Great Lesson. The Five Great Lessons are impressionistic stories that present Montessori elementary students with a “big picture” of the world and life. The lessons introduce students to the universe and humankind’s place in it, inspiring them to learn more about their world. The First Lesson centers on the Beginning of the Universe and Earth. This is a highly anticipated presentation for the returning students, who are familiar with the Five Great Lessons; they help create excitement and a sense of expectation leading up to the presentation.

The Five Great Lessons always generate such wonderful questions and provide the students with a jumping off point for further exploration throughout the year. This is a great opportunity to discover where the students’ interests lie and what they may wish to learn about next.

Overall, the first week is an enjoyable time of establishing relationships as well as creating a positive and trusting atmosphere with expectations of courtesy and care. It truly sets the tone and builds the foundation for the year. I always say: Begin as you mean to go on.
Julie — NAMC Graduate, Montessori Teacher
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, September 29, 2015.


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