Our Progressive Philosophy

Progressive education takes a child’s natural curiosity, voice, and joy into account when designing lesson plans and curriculum. 

The word “progressive” has many meanings. Undoubtedly, it is sometimes easier to define “progressive education” by what it is not: it is not a model in which the teacher is the keeper of learning and the student is the recipient, and it does not represent the proverbial old-fashioned classroom where students sit at their desks, read standard textbooks, and memorize facts.

Among the incredible diversity of views about what practices best adhere to progressive principles, there are a few things educators tend to agree on. These ideas influence and guide everything we do at Presidio Knolls:

Paying attention to the emotions of children as well as their intellect. 

Beginning at the preschool level and continuing through elementary school, our teachers and Head of School place special emphasis on social-emotional learning. This type of education provides countless benefits to students as they grow into emotionally healthy young adults, and also helps prepare them for a future that is far different than the graduate-hire-retire framework their grandparents stepped into decades ago. Tomorrow’s citizens will need to be flexible, creative, and able to work well with their peers all skills we seek to foster through the progressive learning model. 

Allowing children to guide the direction of their learning. 

It should not be revolutionary to let children have a say in their own education. At PKS, this means that skilled teachers guide students as they creatively engage with the planned scope and sequence of subject material. Children know what aspects of a unit or project are most interesting to them, so our curriculum builds in extra opportunities for individualized growth and development. For extra-advanced students, this could mean independent extrapolation on newly-learned ideas and facts. For students who are learning at a steadier pace, it could mean reexamining the previous learning in a new way. 

Curtailing of testing, ranking, and traditional grading in favor of meaningful assessments. 

We understand the importance of assessment. However, we have tailored it to fit our progressive approach. Assessment focuses on measuring what really matters - that students are showing intellectual and personal growth. Because our teachers truly know your child, they can track progress meaningfully, providing parents with detailed reports that provide far more detail than a letter grade can.

We do utilize standardized tests to assess students, however, we recognize that these tests are not the only way to measure a child’s progress, and we work to provide parents with more context than “out of the box” standardized testing could ever provide.

Involving students in real-world use of their skills through in-classroom hands-on learning and out-of-class field trips.

Beginning in the earliest preschool years, our students spend a significant part of their educational journey outside the classroom. From walking to Symphony Hall to catch a concert, to heading down the street to visit a construction site, to hosting visiting experts, students learn with direct, hands-on experience from the world around them. 

Studying subjects in an integrated way, grouped around units of exploration. 

We believe students are most engaged when curriculum is presented in an integrated manner. Math, science, language, and social studies don't exist in individual silos - the ideas are inextricably intertwined, not only with each other but with many other subjects as well. Our children learn context as well as facts. While some subjects require special concentration, the majority of our learning takes place through the inquiry method.

Social justice learning and an appreciation for every citizen’s role in our democracy.

Learning about the world and our local community is a cornerstone of progressive learning. PKS strives to provide our students with the tools to become educated, participating members of their communities. We do so through a robust program of community service and volunteering.  We constantly remind students that they can change the world for the better. 


Recommended Reading on Progressive Learning

Alfie Kohn, Progressive Education: Why it’s Hard to Beat, but also Hard to Find (2008)
Tom Little and Katherine Ellison, Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America's Schools (2015)


Photos: parent volunteers and John Lee