When your child was younger, their teachers emphasized preparing the physical environment of the classroom, designing beautiful environments within which everything the child needed to thrive and grow was at their fingertips. For adolescents in the Third Plane of Development, however, the environment the teachers will focus on preparing is not necessarily the physical one. Instead, you’ll see them thinking about how to create environments of interrelated thinkers, teens who feel socially secure and emotionally supported in their own risk taking. And you’ll often see them leave the physical environment to the students, letting the youth make their own decisions about where their desks and shelves go, what goes on the walls, where their communal gathering spaces are and where they can go to be alone. From the color of the walls to the design of the open areas outside, the students will make many of the decisions on their own.
It ain’t pretty.
Montessorians appreciate that learners in the Third Plane need their own agency expressed. They want ownership over important choices in their lives and they want the buy-in of their peers in those choices. They are less interested in the guidance of adults than they are in the influence of their friends. They want to be in charge, even though the choices they make with that newfound authority may not be the best ones. Your teen’s teacher will likely pick and choose which elements of the classroom they can turn over entirely to the learners, so that their influence is focused on the areas that are not-negotiable. You might see orange walls, but a class-wide commitment to reading great books together. You might see handmade posters stuck all over the walls, but an agreement that the classroom is returned to order at the end of each day before the learners go home.
If your child’s Middle School classroom doesn’t look quite as precious as it did when they were in Early Childhood or Elementary, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean the teachers have given up on preparing the environment. Instead, it means they’re preparing the environment for who the children have grown to become, and giving them the freedom to continuing growing.