“Do not tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it and don’t say a word. If you tell them, they will watch your lips move. If you show them, they will want to do it themselves.”
Many people have seen or heard the quote above from Dr. Maria Montessori. It might be the quintessential quote on how a children’s house teacher should strive to teach a material. Incredible grace and precision of movement becomes the point of interest for the student. If done well, the student will be able to replicate the movements shown and be well on their way to teaching themself, which what Montessori intended.
“Children Are Great Imitators. Let’s Give Them Something Great to Imitate.”
I believe Dr. Maria Montessori’s quote can also be applied to how the teacher carries himself or herself as a role model for the student. When students learn grace and courtesy and good moral character from their teacher, they are also looking for that consistency of character in the actions of the adult teaching them. The teacher must “walk the walk,” and this becomes incredibly important in modeling behaviors we hope our students replicate.
When teachers don’t actually do what they teach, their teaching becomes less effective. We may have observed that young children have an uncanny ability to spot when an adult is being disingenuous, and this observation may have some merit. There was a study done by Emily Cogsdill of Harvard University that investigated how young children were able to make character inferences based on faces almost as well as adults. When the child knows that the adult does not actually do what they claim to support, then the child will either decide that the teacher is a liar or the subject is not worth learning if the adult doesn’t support it.
As a Montessori Physical Education instructor, I truly believe it is incredibly important for my life to model what I teach. I believe in regular exercise, and my students know that I exercise. Many students know that I am a competitive powerlifter, and some think it’s cool, and others think it’s weird, but they see that I am active. When we learn about the human body, sport, and exercise, they know I’m invested by all the various experiences I’ve had in college with research and exercise (which you can read about here). I know I have the students trust by my consistency of character and I “walk the walk.”
Imagine how inspiring it would be for a student to see their teacher, who may have never liked exercise before and hated sports when they were younger, start slowly with a mode of exercise they enjoy. Maybe the teacher starts once a week, and it could yoga, hiking, lifting weights, swimming, etc. However, as the teacher becomes better at the exercise and enjoys it more, they do that exercise more often. The teacher’s body changes, or their mood changes, and the teacher has more energy. The students will recognize these changes, and they will see, from a teacher that they love and trust, the power of exercise.
"The teacher has not told the students about exercise. The teacher showed them the power of exercise, and the teacher did not say a word. If the teacher had just told them, the students would only hear a message. Because the teacher showed them, the students will want to do it themselves."
Montessori Physical Education