Experts in Education

‘School Can Be Joyful’

How Progressive Schools Educate the Whole Child

Carly Andrews, Head of School

Carly Andrews, Head of Baker Demonstration School

When choosing a school for your child, there are many factors to consider — academic excellence, extracurricular offerings, cost, and most importantly, where will my child be happiest?

Progressive education considers the whole child, fulfilling not just educational needs, but also the social-emotional and physical needs of children of all ages. 

Progressive schools value empathy, collaboration, social justice, deep understanding and experiential learning. These values are woven into the curriculum, whether it’s a portraiture lesson planting the seeds of identity awareness in preschool, or a playwriting activity that requires eighth-graders to put themselves in the shoes of  a prominent historical figure. Faculty at progressive schools teach children the habits of mind and age-appropriate skills related to specific disciplines.

Educators know children learn better — that their learning has more depth, that their learning is broader, that their memory is stronger — when they participate in various, stimulating activities throughout a school day. If a school simply attends to a child’s cognitive development but doesn’t, for example, make sure there are opportunities for fitness and movement during the course of the day, then those cognitive goals are not met. 

Students at progressive schools are equipped with tools to recognize their emotions and the emotions of others, as well as communicate their needs with their peers and teachers. Social-emotional learning is a pillar of progressive education, as students learn empathy beginning in preschool. Empathy is something that can be taught. It’s an important glue for the community and children’s future in school and beyond.

The foundations of a progressive school’s strong, connected community begins with getting to know one another and recognizing each other’s backgrounds.

School can and should be joyful, from the moment students walk in the door Monday morning to when they leave Friday afternoon. As progressive educators, that joy is at the forefront of what we do. 

As a head of school at a top progressive school on the North Shore, my favorite part of the week is welcoming students at the front door of my school on Monday morning. Rain, shine, or snow, I watch the children walk into school, say hello and ask them about their morning — allowing me to get to my students on a personal level. The beauty of watching them come in smiling, ready to start the day, feels amazing.

Carly Andrews is the head of school at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette, Illinois. Carly previously served as the assistant head of school at Bosque School in New Mexico and head of school at Willowwind School in Iowa. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English/Language Arts Teacher Education from Cedarville College in Ohio and my Master of Arts in English Language and Literature/Letters from Middlebury College in Vermont.