Last week, Molly, Nancy and I traveled to Brooklyn, New York to participate in the Progressive Educators Network (PEN) conference. This conference has been held once every two years since 2007 and brings together almost 900 progressive educators from all over the country.
Prairie Creek has a longstanding connection with PEN. I attended the 2007 conference with former PCCS director Caroline Jones and 4/5 teacher Michelle Martin. Currently, five of our nine classroom teachers have attended PEN conferences. It is a great network through which we can share our school's experience with a broad collection of tradition, charter and independent schools while also gaining a fresh perspective on our own work as progressive educators.
The Progressive Educators' Network emphasizes the following guiding principles, values that closely mirror our mission and vision for education here at PCCS:
- Education must prepare students for active participation in a democratic society.
- Education must focus on students' social, emotional, academic, cognitive and physical development.
- Education must nurture and support students' natural curiosity and innate desire to learn.
- Education must foster internal motivation in students.
- Education must be responsive to the developmental needs of students.
- Education must foster respectful relationships between teachers and students.
- Education must encourage the active participation of students in their learning, which arises from previous experience.
- Progressive educators must play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.
All of the school visits, workshops, speakers and discussion panels were organized around a theme of Access, Equity and Activism: Teaching the Possible! The conference provided a platform where participants could learn, question and consider the principle that progressive education has a commitment to preparing students to participate in a democratic society.
Our mission states that we "value justice, gender-fairness and conflict resolution. We educate children to live as responsive, responsible members of their own communities, now and into the future." This conference really challenged the three of us to explore and question just what is means to have that language in our mission statement and reflect on what it really means be a school that seeks to honor the social justice traditions of progressive education. What does "make the world a better place" mean in the complex and ever changing landscape of 21st century society compared to what it might have meant to the founders of our school when they drafted our mission statement thirty years ago?
Nancy, Molly and I spent a day at Central Park East II, a progressive public school that embraces
many of the same values as our school , even though the school building and neighborhood couldn’t have presented a greater contrast if it had tried Nancy, the CPE II principal, was kind enough to take time to tour us around the school and give us an insight into how progressive education works in an urban traditional school district. It was both affirming to see the child-centered practices that we value here – the school culture felt remarkably similar and the place was full of happy, engaged children – and encouraging to see teachers and leaders bravely walking the difficult line of public school accountability while providing a progressive education experience to all children.
We engaged in workshops that explored inquired-based methods of educating children about complex social justice issues. We listened to speakers and panelists on a range of educational topics relating to access and equity. Panel topic titles included The History and Future of Progressive Education, Educators as Activists, Authors as activists, Testing Resistance...and much more. Conference workshops provided a more intimate setting for debate and dialogue about the conference theme.
All three of us returned to our wonderful school with a deep sense of gratitude for the community we work with here in Castle Rock. Sometimes, it is helpful to travel far from your setting to really appreciate what you have, and to question what you can do better. It might not be possible to generate a bigger remove than that between New York City and Castle Rock township! We returned with questions, ideas and a passion to explore our mission with fresh thoughts and insight.
It will be exciting to consider how our PEN conference experience can inform our work here at Prairie Creek. I'm looking forward to faculty professional development work this year which includes a study of race and education supported by a reading of Debby Irving's book Waking Up White.