Progressive Education Tenets in Action

Progressive education–what does that mean, and what’s so special about a progressive school? To clarify…many schools claim to be progressive; after all, who doesn’t want to be forward-thinking, changing, and progressing? Some schools even claim to be progressive because they follow one, two, or three of the tenets: They have a maker’s lab or they value character education.

Even so, progressive education in its entirety is an innovative approach to learning backed by scientific research. It is an educational philosophy and pedagogy with very specific tenets and criteria that we use at Chance School.

It is a way of educating children, and it is a commitment to that way. It is not a traditional school with set textbooks and a focus on formal subjects.

The following are major tenets of progressive education:

  1.  Focus on the whole child. EVERY area of development–cognitive, social, emotional, moral and physical are important, and we are intentional to grow them all.


  1.  Create a caring, learning community. Each child is nurtured to be part of a loving and authentic community where classrooms are like families that help one another, meet together, work out problems together and care for one another.


  1.  Encourage learning using intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivators. Learning is its own reward and we want children to love to learn; therefore, we don’t cheapen that with stickers and gold stars or grades. We help children learn to process what they think and feel about their own work rather than focus on what outsiders think and feel.


  1.  Provide active, hands-on, experiential learning opportunities. Students play an active role in discovering, exploring, creating, and thinking as a necessary part of their learning instead of being passive learners who listen to the teacher lecture and “pour in” facts and information. Teachers serve as facilitators, guides, listeners, questioners, observers, supporters, challengers and encouragers of the child.


  1.  Develop critical thinking, problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. Instead of rote memorization and skill and drill methods that only require children to remember, children are provided opportunities to ask their own questions and solve their own problems, understand and explain, apply and use information in new ways, analyze and differentiate, evaluate and question, and create and construct.


  1.  Focus on collaboration and cooperation. Students work together with other students, design projects, solve problems together and learn to work with others instead of primarily focusing on individual work. Cooperation, collaboration and open exchange of ideas is prevalent.


  1.   Treat each child with dignity and respect. Teachers are respectful in how they address students, talk to them and listen to them. Children participate in making the class rules, running the class, and self-discipline is valued. Punishments and rewards are not used to manipulate students.


  1.   Focus on process over product. We think it is more important to teach children how to think and learn rather than simply what to think and learn. Learning is messy and we welcome that. Creativity is valued over products that look alike and made from a teacher’s model or directions.


  1.   Provide developmentally appropriate learning experiences. Each child is met where he/she is developmentally and then teachers make sure the learning goals and experiences are suited to that level and challenge them to grow. Learning is differentiated so that each child works to his/her own potential.


  1.   Give children a voice. Children are valued and their interests, ideas, and thoughts matter. The curriculum and classroom environment reflect the students’ interests, input, work, and decisions.


  1.   Provide compassion and social justice learning. Students participate in authentic opportunities to help others, our earth and animals and community service, and service-learning projects are incorporated into the curriculum.


  1.   Have an integrated curriculum.  Theme study is broad enough to dig deeper and provide in-depth investigations rather than surface or more shallow learning. Instead of isolated and unrelated subjects, thematic units include all areas of the curriculum and provide the framework for an integrated, related and meaningful study.


  1.   Provide authentic assessment. Teachers regularly and carefully observe, listen to and assess students using authentic evaluations that are age-appropriate. Assessments are on-going, are both formal and informal, and are used to provide information on children’s learning and therefore to set goals, guide instruction and develop curriculum.


There you have it; 13 special tenets of progressive education.

Students who get to learn in schools with this philosophy are lucky indeed; however, it was not luck that got them to the school. Their parents made a choice.

Interested in learning more? Check out this article by Alfie Kohn, “Progressive Education: Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find”