It's well-known that classroom environments and teachers are important to a student's growth. But a recent study reviewed 49 different classrooms to determine how important a student's engagement with fellow students, with teachers, along with materials, were to a child's success in a pre-school classroom.
What is engagement? Simply put, "How does a child relate to his environment?" Is he or she interacting positively with peers, following rules, being respectful, displaying kindness? How does a child treat the materials with which he works? Does she treat the objects carefully, putting them away where they belong, using them for their given purpose? Does a child respond well to the teacher? Does he or she listen and follow direction?
In other words, we might have the most wonderful school in the world, but if a child has difficulty engaging positively with various components of that environment, the benefits of that setting may be lost. A recent study at Northwestern University showed that, "Positive engagement with teachers was related to improved literacy skills, and positive engagement with peers was related to improved language and self-regulatory skills. In addition, positive engagement with tasks was related to closer relationships with teachers."
Interestingly, the Northwestern study looked at 211 lower income children from various types of backgrounds and programs. Back in 1907, Dr. Maria Montessori worked with the same types of children in her very first school, the Casa de Bambini, in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Rome. Within a short time, the children's behavior had not only changed dramatically, but word of their extraordinary transformation made its way throughout Europe and the world. Mind you, these were the same children who were literally destroying the very building in which they lived before it had become a school. The owner of the building had sought out Montessori in a fit of self-preservation, essentially saying, "Do something with these kids!" Does this have any resonance with today's headlines?
At a conference last February, a number of Montessorians had the privilege of listening to Molly O’Shaughnessy, Executive Director of the Montessori Center of Minnesota. Molly and her team had created a remarkably rich and diverse community of student learners, and she made us all believers in the possibility of transforming all of our children through Montessori education, regardless of where children reside or their economic strata. Do children from poverty have a more difficult time engaging positively with their environment? If so, Dr. Montessori would have not altered her message, because for the last 110 years Montessori teachers and classrooms have helped children from all walks of life become more engaged in their own self-realization, year after year after year.