Essential Questions

September 10, 2018

Dear Friends,

You are in for a treat! Every week for the whole school year, you will receive a Weekly Bulletin. Some weeks these will have themes, some weeks kids will write the articles. This week, the articles focus on the first days of school rituals, our curricular themes for the year (Primes-Uppers), and our Essential Questions. For more on what Essential Questions are for and how they work you can read this piece. Essentially, we believe our students benefit greatly from having access to the big picture of their learning, as they grapple in the day to day investigations we co-create with them. Essential Questions help us all with our metacognition and connect us to our learning on a deeper level.

As you may know the design of the Center School curriculum is that it is unfolding. As a progressive school, John Dewey's initial vision still holds: that the child is at the center of the curriculum. Here's Alfie Kohn (another famous leader in progressive education) on some of Dewey's key ideas: "In traditional schooling, as John Dewey once remarked, 'the center of gravity is outside the child': [they are] expected to adjust to the school’s rules and curriculum. Progressive educators take their cue from the children — and are particularly attentive to differences among them. (Each student is unique, so a single set of policies, expectations, or assignments would be as counterproductive as it was disrespectful.) The curriculum isn’t just based on interest, but on these children’s interests. Naturally, teachers will have broadly conceived themes and objectives in mind, but they don’t just design a course of study for their students; they design it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours. One fourth-grade teacher’s curriculum, therefore, won’t be the same as that of the teacher next door, nor will her curriculum be the same this year as it was for the children she taught last year. It’s not enough to offer elaborate thematic units prefabricated by the adults. And progressive educators realize that the students must help to formulate not only the course of study but also the outcomes or standards that inform those lessons."

Progressive education is authentically rigorous. Great care is taken in the researching, planning, aligning, and documenting of our curriculum at every point in the process. From scope and sequences of each subject area, to weekly teacher team meetings, from lesson plans, to adaptive documentation of the students' interaction with the material, the Center School teacher is expected to give extraordinary attention to both the teaching of hard skills and the creating of innovative and engaging contextual projects and experiences. We want parents and students to be adequately up to speed on this work, and so we provide access to our curriculum in myriad ways throughout the year: in the Bulletin, in your weekly letter from your child's homeroom teacher, on our website, by attending All School Welcome (parent night), via the ELABORATE course descriptions your child's teachers write at the end of each trimester in the student report cards, which outline/narrate what skills were taught, the ideas explored, and what hands on learning and critical thinking happened.

And if all of that isn't overwhelming you, you are also always welcome to peruse our official curriculum binder, which we see as a living document, in that it is flexible and being tweaked per the progressive approach. It is also shared with new teachers as the foundation from which they will co-build their curriculum with their colleagues, and most importantly with the students. We have copies for you to borrow at your request.

Phew! That's enough for now! You still have a whole Bulletin to devour. May it fill you up with as much joy as it did me.


Charlie Spencer

Head of School


Charlie Spencer, Head of School
Contact Charlie: Email
Phone: 413-773-1700
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