Deep Dive on Role of the Adult

Role of Adults Deep Dive - Executive Summary


Date:     February 15-16, 2018

Topic:    Role of the Adult / Adults



Adolescents construct themselves to be adults in the world.  They need to interact, work, and talk with adults to learn about adulthood and being an adult in society.  This Deep Dive exploration will involve participants with diverse perspectives to review key writings of Dr. Montessori and other reputable authors or studies and share their experiences, knowledge and understanding from the field of Montessori adolescent education and general experience working with adolescents.  


The goals of this exploration are to:

  • document Dr. Montessori’s theory about the role of adults in the required readings

  • create a consolidated view of the role of adults working with adolescents, both broad and deep

  • document the training that currently exists and consider how to improve the training of adults working with adolescents,

  • document the “on the job” training that happens at Montessori schools

  • consider how adults in different roles support adolescent development, those roles that are central and those that are peripheral, including adults in the larger community


Guiding Questions:

  1. How is the role of adults connected, supportive of and part of the prepared environment?

  2. How is the role of adults connected / supportive of other goals like independence, valorization, economic independence, etc?

  3. How do adults influence or affect adolescents?

  4. Does the role of adults change in the sub planes of 12-15 and 15-18?  If so, how and why?

  5. What training, preparation, and skill sets are required for being a prepared adult in order to work with adolescents?

  6. How is the role of adults different at the adolescent level from primary and elementary? And how is it different within the adolescent level, specifically in working with younger (12-15) and older adolescents (15-18)?

  7. How do the roles of adults differ in the adolescent community?

General Ideas for the Deep Dive

The adults working on uncovering and discovering the role adults need to take when working with adolescents as they develop during the third plane need to continue to stay in a learner’s mindset.  We need to continue to innovate, experiment, and practice within our work and take time to observe and reflect the results and feedback we get from adolescents directly and indirectly.  What are they showing us and telling us in their responses?  What are the activities that serve their developmental needs?  What do they need for optimal development? 

We also need to continue to share our ideas, experiences, and observations of this work so we can learn from each other in how to serve the developmental needs of the adolescent.  It is critical that we work collaboratively within the community of Montessori educators and that we reach out to other organizations, institutions, philosophies, and pedagogies that study adolescence to learn from them.



One of the principle topics of Montessori education is “the role of the adult” in relation to the education of the child.  Dr. Montessori repeatedly writes about the adult’s responsibility is to be an “aid to the life” for a young person as they grow and develop.  Supporting life and development of a young person has general principles, as well as different responsibilities depending on the age of the young person.  For example, one of the keys to supporting a child who is 3-6 years old in their development is to provide interesting and engaging lessons to connect that child to materials and activities that will help the child learn about the physical world and its properties.  The child of 6-12 years old is working on learning about the whole universe and the roles of all elements of the universe and on the planet Earth, including the history and culture of humanity.  Therefore, the adult is responsible for making the connection to all of those elements and engaging the child in the work of learning about every facet of the universe, the planet, and human history.  During the period of adolescence, a person’s purpose is to learn about the micro and macro elements of the social world through experience, practice, and reflection, while finding a meaningful vocation that fulfills her and a need within a community.  For the adolescent, the adult role is to provide a model of living in a community and making a positive contribution to that community.

The adult’s role is critical at every stage of development because of the adult’s responsibility to support human development to its fullest.  There is a significant change in the third plane of development because of the adolescent’s need for a diversity of adults doing a variety of work.  It is no longer just one adult in a classroom guiding the child, instead it is a multitude of adults on the land and in the town who are modeling the variety of work available to adolescents as they prepare themselves for adulthood.  This is a key difference that determines the type of work and the different roles adults exhibit for the adolescent to observe, interact with, and attempt to perform to assist in their development as an adult.


Roles of Adults

The adolescent has a developmental need to interact with a variety of adults in different roles in society.  These interactions inform the adolescent about different roles adults have in society and, just as important, the different personalities adults have and how adults interact in different social situations.  The adolescent needs a tremendous amount of information about adult work, social interactions, both interpersonal and intrapersonal, as well as the different adult personalities in the world and how they work in different social situations.  For these reasons, adolescent Montessori guides often remark that the adults are a main material in the prepared environment from which adolescents learn through observation and interaction. 

Dr. Montessori writes about the role of adults in the adolescent prepared environment in From Childhood to Adolescence in Appendix B under “Practical Considerations” and in the article “Reform of Secondary Education” (AMI Communications 2011/1-2).  Dr. Montessori wrote about three distinct roles for adults in the adolescent prepared environment in the publications named above.  She defines the roles as: “house parent”, “young visiting teacher,” and “technical expert.”


House Parent

The House Parents should be a married couple that “develop a moral and protective influence on the conduct of the children” (From Childhood to Adolescence 75).  She also states that teachers “should be allowed to live in the school in return for taking part in the directing of the daily work of the institution” (75).  


Young Visiting Teacher

Dr. Montessori describes these teachers as being able to come and give lessons to students, have proper qualifications for teaching in secondary schools, but should not use their own methods, but must adopt special methods and cooperate in the adolescent community.  They need to be young, open-minded, and want to make a contribution to the community.  There cannot be too many of these teachers, only the minimum amount to teach the group of related subjects. (76)


Technical Expert

There is a need for technical instructors in specific areas, such as agriculture and gardening, business manager, handicraft teacher, and others in practical work, such as cooking, sewing, and an intelligent handyman capable of giving instruction in various trades while helping with daily work.  This way the adolescents can learn to “‘put things right’ when necessary” (76).

Dr. Montessori also mentions that there needs to be adult workers who start the different parts of the adolescent community to show the adolescents how the work is done and then allow for the adolescents to learn as they go and take over more responsibility over time (76).   

The three roles were discussed in detail from a practical perspective and what the group has experienced and observed in our work.  We discussed the need for full time faculty who are the adults “in residence” with the adolescents as they go through this stage of life.  These are the adults who are “living” with the students every day and doing the job of the House Parent, for those schools without a full time boarding option for students.  This role was also described as the “culture keepers” and “anchors” for the adolescent community.  It is critical that these guides are well trained in Montessori theory and practices.  It is also important that the lead guides of the adolescent community have completed a full Montessori training for the primary or elementary level that will ground them in understanding the full spectrum of a developing human from ages 0-18.

The role of the young visiting teacher was seen in practice as adults who are new to the field of teaching and to the school.  These are less experienced teachers who are brought into the adolescent community and learn on the job about the Montessori approach at the adolescent level.  They could also be recent alumni who return to support the adolescent community.  These young visiting teachers could stay and become the more established adult guide who is “in residence” with and mentors the adolescents.   

The technical expert was discussed as a part time teacher or guest who comes in and works with the full time teachers and the adolescents to provide current information from their experience in a specific field of study or with specific practical work.  The technical expert could be someone who is hired by the school, a volunteer, or someone who works at a organization or institution that the school partners with to provide technical expertise as needed.


Psychology at the Center of Community (not curriculum)

Dr. Montessori is clear in her writing that the role of the adult is to connect the child and adolescent to the world and provide opportunities for them to learn as independently as possible.  For this reason the prepared environment for adolescents requires the adults to work as facilitators, more than in the conventional role of a teacher.  Adolescents learn will learn deeply when adults work side by side with them as partners and collaborators on projects.  Adolescents need adults to work with them, not just give them instruction on what to do.  It is equally important for adolescents to choose their work, so they are able to do work that is personally important.  With choice adolescents can continue to construct their personalities.   

It is also important that the work maintains a balance of physical and practical work with intellectual work.  Practical work that is necessary to complete a project will help them learn more deeply about the project and themselves because it is authentic and real.  All of these aspects of how the adult creates the learning environment about the work and their relationship to the adolescent in doing the work are critical for supporting the development of the personality and inner spirit of an adolescent.  When it this optimal environment of authentic and balanced work connects to the individual personality and also benefits the community in which they live, then the adolescent can experience valorization, which is the ultimate goal of the developmental period of adolescence.  


Personality and Characteristics of the Adult

The following list was determined through review of Dr. Montessori’s writings about adults working with adolescents and the experience of the adults at the Deep Dive.  They are:


·        Authenticity

·        Humor (of self)

·        Authoritative not authoritarian or permissive (high warmth, high control)

·        Intervening rather than interfering

·        Reliable, trustworthy (able to gain students’ trust), consistent

·        Optimistic and enthusiastic

·        Facilitator: “Aiders and promoters of enthusiasm”

·        Life-long learner, “rich in knowledge and experience, full of life.”

·        Impacting students and impacted by students

·        “Friend of the family”

·        “Real re-animator”

·        Friendliness with error; significance of owning our own mistakes and missteps.  (in the classroom and on the course).

·        Being responsive and spontaneous, but having a plan

·        “There’s nowhere we’d rather be than here with you.”  We need to convey our commitment.

·        Stamina, ability to work extremely hard, self-care

·        Feeling heart, love

·        Keen interest in the adolescents and their optimal development

·        Self-expressive and are a source of inspiration for students (creative)

Works Cited


Montessori, Maria.  From Childhood to Adolescence. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 2014. Print.

Montessori, Maria.  “The Reform of Secondary Education.”  AMI Communications: Journal of the Association Montessori Internationale. 1-2 (2011): 79-86. Print.

Brian SenseBen Moudry