Mentoring in the Elementary Classroom

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Mentoring takes many forms in the Montessori classroom, and even across classroom boundaries. Here at Villa di Maria, mentoring takes place on both an unconscious level and under more formal circumstances. Rebecca Callander, Directress of VdM’s Upper Elementary classroom, took the time to explain. The young lady in purple is one of the oldest students at VdM and came to mentor for an hour one morning in the Lower Elementary Checkerboard classroom. Below, the mentoring process, in Rebecca’s words.

There are levels of mentoring in the Montessori school. In Primary it’s unconsciously done, with a great deal of care and love. In Elementary, the second plane child demonstrates a characteristic push toward morality and responsibility unique to their age grouping. In Lower El, the leaders relish an opportunity to work with younger children and to practice reading and helping their younger peers. They are beginning to consciously consider their role of leader and explore what it means to be helpful, but from a more removed standpoint. The oldest child in the school is fully conscious of the role of the mentor. This older child is beginning to identify with the adult more than other children and sees the opportunity as a chance to give back to offer their love and guidance to a school that has loved them and guided them so.

How exciting it is then that 6th year Upper Elementary students are beginning the mentoring process in the Lower Elementary! Upper El mentors will model great work and support basic skills lessons with first or second years. Due to the unique situation of a satellite campus, this process requires a bit more logistical prep, but is certainly worth it. In fact, the very fact that more thought has had to go into the details has illuminated the many prominent benefits that mentoring work offers and has made me hyper-aware of how the older children process the experience.  For instance, I have had to discuss the transport plans with parents, alerting parents to the travels, which in turn has revealed just how excited the children are about the opportunity when their parents relay how thrilled the children are! It means something on a deep level to the them.

For our first adventure, Bethany (shown in purple) and Kaylee (who was not available on this day) are helping in Megan’s room. They arrive a little before school starts and begin the morning by checking in with Megan, then cleaning a shelf (to model conscientious care of environment for younger children), and then act as a support to whomever Megan feels could use a little more guided help, whether it be from a lesson on spelling rules, one-on-one reading, writing, sentence analysis, help with racks and tubes, or something else.

I worked with the two girls, paging through my albums, reviewing early lessons with them, and gave them advice on how to present a lesson. They coached each other and discussed, on their own, phrases which imbued the most self-esteem and encouragement without overtaking the lesson or being condescending: “We can’t do the work for the children; we need to allow them to do the work.”  They also discussed follow-up reading questions. “We shouldn’t ask them to just say the names of characters, but ask them what they thought about the character.”  “And we shouldn’t ask them to write anything down yet, not until they are really good at reading and writing separately.”  Yup! Those girls!

Also, they snickered, “We should probably review all the rules of spelling because I know I forget how to spell words too.”  Nothing like being a leader to keep you honest and on your game.

The sixth grade year is one of transition and culmination. Before the VdM student moves from child to adolescent, they go through an exhaustive self-study, perhaps not entirely consciously, but which begins to categorize and sort their accumulated knowledge of the many years they’ve spent in Montessori. Spending time with first years reminds them from whence they came and helps them to assess who they are becoming.

When reviewing racks and tubes, the two girls were initially confronted: “But I don’t know how to do this work!”  “I only know abstract long division.”  Then a sort of unpacking of the material and process took place. They began to re-experience exchanging and recording with the material. One of the students took notes on the process to ensure she had the details down pat. It reminded me of my own elementary training experience! It was magical.

Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing this piece of the Montessori world with us! It is truly a wonderful, meaningful process for all!