Montessori Management: Everything You Need to Run an Organization

by Rick on September 12, 2013

Everything you need to know to run an organization you can learn by watching a great kindergarten teacher.

Early in September The Economist published an article by Schumpeter entitled “Montessori management” (sic) using Montessori and “progressive” education as a straw man to bemoan the loss of authority in “child-centered” schools and democratic organizations. As virtually all the comments indicated, dichotomizing authority and democracy is shockingly “so last millennium,” and using Montessori as an example is just plain ignorant. In the last 70 years the history of organizations, schools and nations shows that the question: “Should we be authoritarian or democratic (or some balance)?” is archaic.

This new generation of leaders is working on a more sophisticated question: “How to exercise authority democratically.” True, there are places around the world where the either-or question is still alive and the best practices of democracy are driven underground by violence. In this country there are politicians and journalists who seem not to have moved on from the old dualistic question. Many of our school systems are still organized in a 19th century hierarchical factory model. However, great schools around the world give us some of our best models of what a great organization and a great democracy can look like. A mere glance at them exposes the core principles of a true democracy.

In a Montessori classroom, for instance, the teacher’s authority is unquestioned. And yet, when you observe a Montessori class, you see all 20 to 30 students increasing their own authority in mathematics, Maria Montessori Schools CT | Private Schools Stamford | Day School Greenwich CTliteracy, geography, biology and the disciplines of being a responsible member of a community. They are working hard, but no one is making them! How do they do that? Great teachers are leaders, not managers.

Montessori teachers teach their curriculum through materials that they prepared ahead of time. When the materials do the teaching, the students maximize their learning because their internal motivation and individual decision-making are high. The students take on challenges that are right for their mental, emotional, social and physical age, because the boss is not “holding them accountable,” but creating the right conditions.

All great leaders from General Eisenhower to our best managers, principals and teachers, know that the best measure of quality management is: when you are absent, the work continues with no loss of energy and enthusiasm. If the mice play when you are away, you are doing something wrong.

The Human Spark _ So Human So Chimp (PBS) Part 1_4 HD - YouTubeAll great teachers use the academic curriculum as the vehicle for teaching the real core competencies of communicating, collaborating, creating and contributing, and the students practice them all day long every day mostly on their own. This is possible because great teachers know that children naturally gravitate toward these basic inclinations of the human species, that humans were designed to communicate, collaborate, create and contribute, that children reveal these inclinations by the first 18 months of life, and that the main adult role is to be with them as they demonstrate their progress in activities of ever-increasing complexity.

Leaders know that making democracy work is a matter of each person playing his or her position in partnership with others. Yes, learning from each other, differentiated responsibilities, individual responsibility, collective ownership, open discussion, consultation, communication, 360 degree evaluation, setting limits and enforcing boundaries are all required for an organization to be successful: all of the above, not pick and choose depending on your inclinations.

It was nice for me to be reminded—especially reading the comments to Schumpeter’s article—that in my lifetime we have made great progress toward democracy. My children’s age-peers are so much more sophisticated at exercising leadership in such a way that it brings out the leadership in others.

Today it is obvious to most of us that good corporate decision-making includes some unilateral decision-making along with open-dialogue and consensus-building. Great schools provide some of our best examples and Montessori classrooms model the disciplines of exercising authority in ways that bring out the authority of followers.

These are principles that all great kindergarten teachers have always known. When you take responsibility for the education of 25 squirmy five-year-olds, you come face to face with the reality that your control is limited and that the only way of making it through the year is to design things so that they increasingly own their own control. Maybe we should have a workshop for all CEO’s and world leaders lead by great kindergarten teachers.

(I post no link to the Economist article, because it’s no longer on the web. Were they embarrassed? That would be more evidence that I am right—the world is moving inexorably toward a more perfect union.)


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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Aidan McAuley September 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Thank you Rick for this thoughtful, thorough piece. The Economist made a mistake last week by publishing the article by Schumpeter. I think it was clear to any Montessorian who read it…that he hadn’t spent a minute in an authentic Montessori classroom.
We’re glad to have you as an advocate of Montessori education!

Rick September 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm

keep up the good work

Grace Kochanik September 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Love the sentence about your children, “My children’s age-peers are so much more sophisticated at exercising leadership in such a way that it brings out the leadership in others.” What a great way to make each individual successful!

Marianne White Dunlap September 13, 2013 at 4:42 am

“If the mice play when you are away, you are doing something wrong.” Love this sentence, Rick. It gets to the roots of what a democracy is and why a Montessori classroom develops over time into what Dr. Montessori called a “normalized” community of happy, industrious, trustworthy people. I felt a great sense of accomplishment when my 9 to 12 year olds hardly ever realized I was gone if I stepped out of the classroom. CEO’s who are on a power trip and want to micromanage everything could indeed benefit from joining an authentic Montessori classroom or any well prepared progressive classroom where the teacher is a leader rather than a manager. Thanks for coming to our defense in such an honest and effective way.

Rick September 13, 2013 at 6:20 am

Right, and now is the time to move off the defensive. What Montessori, progressives, Reggio Amelioites, and many other democratic classrooms are doing IS education, rather than some “alternative.” Thank you.

erum September 13, 2013 at 7:36 am

Amazing reply!

Freya Shipley September 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for this excellent article. What you describe is exactly what I’m trying to learn how to do just now. I’m in my third week as a Montessori elementary teacher, and right now I’m worried that I may have chosen the wrong career. I expected that if I treated my students with warmth and respect, and presented lots of materials to them in a fun and enticing way, they would naturally begin collaborating and following up on their lessons, eager to discover more for themselves. So far, my students aren’t pursuing research, choosing materials to practice with, or helping each other to learn. We have meetings; I remind; I suggest; I nag; I assign work; I take a material out and work with it myself, showing the pleasure it gives me, and hope that a student will notice and ask to join in. None of this is working. I know that it’s my job to enthuse them and get them following up and pursuing their own work — but what more can I do? What am I failing to give them?

David Ayer September 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm


I appreciate your take on the Schumpeter piece (I could still find it at and your perspective on Montessori. It’s all the more compelling when someone from outside the Montessori world sees what’s happening there and recognizes an ally. For more Montessori news and information, might I direct you and other readers to

Candice-Leigh September 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm
Rick September 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

Thank you for finding the link.

Jon Madian September 22, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Thx, Rick,
Particularly like this statement:

humans were designed to communicate, collaborate, create and contribute

Elfreda October 22, 2013 at 5:29 am

This is a real good article!
And candice, interesting link!

Matteo Cassese November 1, 2013 at 7:48 am

The Economist article is very poorly researched, Silicon Valley culture is not without defects, but the association between bad management and Montessori is quite arbitrary to say the least.

I have developed some further thoughts on this theme. Wonder what you think about them:
The Montessori Startup and the dream of a Montessori Workplace

Montessori education May 20, 2014 at 3:07 am

Educators are amongst the most valued citizens, no one
considers them failures. com- exists  to provide convenient and open access to the biomedical research available today.

Talking something more apart from salary range that you cannot
ignore is that most classroom teaching or special education positions come with the extra benefits like summer vacations,
winter and spring breaks, a pension plan, comprehensive health
care and life insurance benefits.

Syeda farheen rizvi August 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Dear team,
I want to start management of a Montessori house & per primary school. Please give me tips and some different ideas of that.
Thanks & Regards,
Syeda Rizvi

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