How the progressive approach can make you a better teacher..even if you teach in a traditional school!

Last week, we had another Progressive Early Childhood Education seminar up North. Before we speak with teachers, we get information on the school and how our approach can complement and not go against their existing curriculum. The approach and basic concepts of progressive education can help any teacher, regardless if their school is progressive or not. So teachers, listen up!


1. Know your students. Progressive education is child-centered. However, most traditional schools usually have packaged curricula that need to be unpacked regardless of the developmental skills of the students. One size should fit all. In reality, not all the students can follow the same pace.

During the first weeks of class, try to make a short observation log for each student that not only contains basic information but also interests, strengths, and weaknesses that you observed. If you notice a student having hard time with your Math lesson plan, for example, suggest websites that offer free Math activities. They can do this when they get home.

I understand that most school teachers have more than 25 students in a class and this may be difficult to do. But trust me when I say that your teaching can actually become easier if you try to get to know your students more and prescribe ways to work on their weaknesses and highlight their strengths.

2. Make activities more experiential. “Think of your most vivid school memory, whether good or bad.” I asked this from our recently concluded teacher seminar and their replies confirmed John Dewey’s belief of experiential learning or learning through experiences. One teacher said, “I remember a poetry reading contest that I joined and I was supposed to read ‘O Captain, My Captain’. Since the role needed me to look poor, my parents made me dress up in a dirty dress and they washed coffee all over me to make me look dirty. I cried when I saw the other participants who were spankingly clean!! I turned to my parents and said ‘How can you dress me up this way?!’ I had no choice but to read my poem in dirty clothes. Lo and behold, I won the contest!”

I asked that teacher, “Who wrote ‘O Captain, My Captain’?” She answered, “Walt Whitman”. The poetry reading contest happened 10 years ago and not only did she remember the author, I can bet she can recite the whole poem still. Why? Because it was wrapped around the experience of joining that poetry contest.

Children learn through experience and they remember things that they are involved in. I then told that group of teachers, that they are now the memory-makers of their students. I hardly hear children say they remembered something because they studied for it in school. They remember things that they have experienced rather than things they’ve memorized.

3. Use themes close to the interest of the students. In our school, our teacher are keen observers and listeners. They usually know what their students are currently watching, reading, playing , eating, etc. because they engage in a lot of conversations with them. I had to watch through PowerPuff Girls, Barney all the way to today’s Sofia the First and Dora the Explorer; read The Hunger Games Trilogy and other young adult literature and listen to Taylor Swift‘s whole RED album, just to learn what they’re interested in! Once you know this, you can use these to deliver your lesson plan and voila, you will get their much coveted attention.

4. Unleash your creativity! Believe me when I say that all of us are creative. Check out your strength and use that to jumpstart your creativity in your teaching. If you are a teacher who can sing, find songs that you can change the lyrics to suit your lesson plan and sing to your students. If you can draw, why not have illustrations in your powerpoint that you yourself drew? Find new ways to deliver an otherwise boring lesson plan and , again, you will get your students’ much coveted attention.

5. Work with parents. Your students are members of basic family units that influence their beliefs, behavior and values. You will only meet the goals you set for your students if you partner up with the people they spend most of their time with.  Apart from the scheduled Parent-Teacher Conferences, try to have small chats with parents during drop-off and pick-up times.

**We would like to thank the preschool teachers and Bachelor of Elementary Education  students of First City Providential College for last week’s PRESCHOOL EDUCATION seminar! If you want us to talk to your teachers or parents, you can contact us at teachertinazamora(at)gmail(dot)com.

Scouting for a School Series (SSS): Who is the Teacher?

One of the most vivid parent inquiry I handled was when the parent asked to meet the teacher who will be handling her son’s class in the coming school year. It was a rare but important request. The staff in our school find my interview process in hiring teachers so unorthodox. More than looking at their True Copy of Grades (TCG), I ask more personal questions to discover their passion for teaching. I always say, even if a teacher got high grades in education courses, it doesn’t mean he or she will be a good teacher. Teaching is a passion. Sadly, school teachers are not paid well in almost all countries. So for them to decide to teach, is a heroic effort in itself.

The first and foremost requirement of a good teacher is loving his or her students. In a progressive school, a teacher is usually a Family Life and Child Development specialist. This means he or she understands the children in the context of their families. And like family members, progressive school teachers have an innate feeling of love for their students. They will highlight their strengths and help them with their weaknesses.


Following is an excerpt from my thesis regarding the role and qualifications of a teacher..

The most important variable that the success of a preschool program depends on is the role of the teacher (Weikart, 1969; Bennett, 1977). No rules, no laws, no courses of study, can be successful except as the teacher makes them so (Washburne, 1952).

The DECS Order 107 defines a preschool teacher as “a person who is directly involved in handling preschool children.” He or she should also have a Bachelor of Science degree specializing in Family Life and Child Development or Early Childhood education or Kindergarten; or a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with 18 units in Preschool education and 54 hours of practicum in preschool classes; or a Bachelor of Art/Science degree kin discipline allied to education, arts, nursing, and anthropology with 18 units of preschool education. The teacher can finish the 18 units of preschool education in four years as long as he or she has already taken 6 units upon appointment. Exemplary teaching experience will suffice for the required 18 units.

The teacher’s qualifications also affect parental satisfaction. Ruiz (2000) studied parental preference in the selection of a preschool for their children. The respondents were 63 parents with children aged four to five years and who are currently enrolled in two preschools. The findings indicate that the most influential factor in preschool selection is staff competence.

And this is an excerpt regarding teachers in progressive schools..

Progressive schools need teachers that are well trained, dedicated and absorbed in their work (Washburne, 1952; Gardner, 1991). Considering the uniqueness of each child means creating individual behavioral goals, specific teacher-made
materials and individualized assessment tools. Teachers utilize their knowledge of child development and learning to identify the learning experiences that are appropriate for a class or an individual child (Bredekamp, 1997). But above all, the progressive teacher must have a warm, sympathetic interest in children and youth, and respect for their different, individual personalities (Washburne, 1952).

Dewey (1897) states that, traditionally, too much stimulus comes from the teacher. In progressive schools, the teacher does not impose but rather stimulates and assists the child in properly responding to the environment.  Teacher qualification, therefore, is crucial to the success of the preschool program. However, the success is congruent to the compatibility of the beliefs of the preschool and its teachers. Teachers should apply to preschools whose philosophy is attuned with their own personal beliefs otherwise it will result to friction and dissatisfaction for both parties (Taylor, 1989).


What are the things you need to ask about the teaching staff of a school you are visiting?

  1. What course did the teachers graduate from? Progressive preschool teachers usually come from the Family Life and Child Development department of the UP College of Home Economics — the pioneer institution for progressive education. Teacher who graduate from UP-FLCD are trained in the UP Child Development Center and taught by the great professors of the department (..a shout out to my former professors, the heroes of their generation and mine..). The good news is that FLCD graduates are already teaching college students in DLSU, Ateneo and Miriam College to spread the progressive advocacy.
  2. Can I meet the teacher of my child’s class? This is a rare request but is one of my favorites 🙂 If the school is open to it, add ten points for transparency. Progressive preschools value good parent-teacher communication. Spend a few minutes with the teacher and just have a casual chat.
  3. Most schools hire during the summer season, so you may not be able to ask question no. 2. In this case, ask to meet the director or the directress. Introduce yourself and ask your pertinent questions.