Tools of Responsibility in A Montessori Elementary Classroom

By Ashley Keneller, Upper Elementary Guide, Vermont Street Campus: Redwood Room

In every Montessori classroom at every level, students and their Guides strive to maintain a healthy balance between freedom and responsibility. This means that when an individual child or an entire community show an increased level of responsibility, freedoms, in turn, are increased.

For a primary community, an added freedom may be an invitation to use an outdoor workspace, receiving a lesson that requires a high level of self-control, or inviting a friend to visit for lunch.

In the elementary communities, freedoms and responsibilities continue to increase to the point that children can plan small Going Outs (personalized mini field trips for individuals or small groups of students), host community cooking events, plan outside of school meet-ups, start fundraisers for meaningful causes, and embark on adventurous class camping trips together.

An important job for Montessori Guides and children is to make sure that freedoms are being handled with respect for self, others, and the environment. Freedoms are not taken away or given as a punishment or reward, but as a natural consequence for displaying maturity and self-direction.

If you contrast this philosophy with the reward/punishment that is seen in traditional schools, you will see a clear difference in the motivations behind providing appropriate levels of freedom and responsibility.

In an upper elementary classroom, the community has systems in place to support freedom through accountability and responsibility. These systems are part of the environment, and they exist to help both students and Guides to create a culture of joyful work and pride in independent time management. These are known as the Tools of Responsibility, and they are listed below:

Student Journal

Children in a Montessori Elementary environment are asked to keep a record of their daily work choices in a daily journal. This can also include a personal reflection at the end of the day and drawings. This provides a tool for children to use to evaluate the appropriateness of their work choices, and to hold themselves accountable for how they spend their time in the classroom.

Work Lists

The children also keep an ongoing list of the projects that they want to start, and the follow up work that they are expected to finish. This means that they have a list that they can add to, and that they can check items off when they complete their work. This is a helpful visual reminder to remind them that they are expected to finish the things that they start, and that they are have a lot of responsibility in their own learning.

Management Meetings

Guides and students regularly meet to discuss their finished projects and their ideas for follow up work. This gives guides a chance to take note of lessons that need to be reviewed, help children to set personal goals, and to have discussions about what they are most curious about. These meetings are invaluable, and they can help children to overcome obstacles to completing their best work. This is also a chance for children to chat about social challenges that might be happening in the community.

In a Montessori community, we are always striving to aid the children in their lifelong work of becoming self-motivated, empathetic, curious, and innovative adults. We want to see our children go on to make big changes, and to move through the world with a deep knowledge of themselves with a motivation to be good citizens. We want this motivation to come from within, rather than from reward systems that exist in the classroom, but do not follow them into “the real world.” It is our sincere belief that the values of self-management, and self-motivation will stay with these children for their entire lives.

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