Maria Montessori was a Teacher

Rooting our Practices in Maria's Model

Introduction to Montessori Education

Since Maria Montessori is well-known for chartering and leading a globally successful approach to progressive education, the Montessori Method, it can be easy to forget that she began as a teacher in a humble neighborhood in Italy. As a teacher herself Maria exemplified the practices of the teachers at Island Montessori School (IMS). With the year of roots as our yearly theme, reflecting on Maria’s model of teaching is both practical and foundational.

A Progressive Approach to Education

Following Maria’s model, IMS students are guided by calm and caring teachers in a beautiful environment, fostering intrinsic motivation and self-regulation. First, the classroom is intentionally designed to be aesthetically purposeful. IMS teachers prepare a beautiful space that feels like home, as Maria did, using real-life materials and proportionate furniture. Secondly, classroom materials incorporate control of error. Since Maria believed that learners teach themselves, she also believed that learners should self-correct; therefore, the ability to check one’s work is built into the Montessori materials. In turn, IMS teachers incorporate control of error and metacognitive practices when creating learning materials and activities. Also, classroom routines set expectations for small and significant tasks, from rolling a mat to working with the many pieces of a continent map. These ongoing routines foster independence so that the students adopt self-regulative practices, a condition Maria termed normalization. Just like Maria’s classroom and schools, IMS offers a welcoming environment to build intrinsic motivation and true independence.

Use of Didactic Materials

In Maria’s tradition, IMS teachers model the use of didactic materials. Many of the Montessori materials found in the Children’s School, lower elementary, upper elementary, and middle school were designed by Maria herself. Inspired by education philosophers, political theorists, and social reformers, Maria believed that teachers act as guides to help students, who ultimately teach themselves. In the learning process, students first experience concepts concretely, using hands-on materials. These hands-on materials are unique not only because they enable students to self-correct but because they can be used dynamically. While each material is used precisely, uses can evolve from sensorial to algebraic. Extension activities dually differentiate and integrate learning across the planes of development and lead to further abstraction once rooted in concrete experiences. In keeping with Maria’s original intent for her manipulative materials, IMS offers hands-on explorations.

Connections and Relationships

The root of Maria’s philosophy and pedagogy is connections and relationships. She believed that all things are interconnected and interdependent in a united web. To guide this sense of being, Maria created Cosmic Education, which begins in the lower elementary. However, amongst all levels, students develop associations when learning so that they feel part of a larger community and purpose. First, the pursuit of learning is deemed work. Through work, students self-construct, adapt and flourish in a sometimes quiet and repetitive, sometimes joyous and varied pace. Later, students take their work into the larger community through service learning. Above all, students and adults alike practice grace and courtesy. These attitudes and behaviors create a harmonious norm common throughout the IMS campus. Taken together, Cosmic Education and grace and courtesy root IMS in Maria’s model.


As we begin our yearlong reflections of our charter mission and essential elements as a Montessori school, we rewind in time. Our reflections root us in Maria’s earliest model as a teacher herself. From our roots, the IMS community -- teachers and staff, students and families -- will flourish and adapt, reaching toward the promise of the future.

2021-2022: Year of Roots

Each school year, Island Montessori School (IMS) focuses on a school-wide theme. This year, IMS is reflecting upon our roots: our school mission and Montessori practices. You can join us by visiting the school website and reading the head of school's newsletter and instructional coordinator's academic blog.