Periodically, we receive the question “what is a progressive boarding school,” or “what exactly makes a school progressive?” This article is brief primer into the traits and qualities of progressive education.

At AdmissionsQuest, we have two AQ Member Schools dedicated to practicing progressive education- Buxton School (MA) and Midland School (CA). If you’re interested in reading more about Midland, Buxton or looking inside a progressive school, we invite you to read our interviews with admission officers from each.

Progressive Education at Buxton School: A Q&A with Franny Shuker-Haines, Associate Director

Midland School and Progressive Education: A Q&A with Derek Svennungsen, Director of Admissions

If you’re looking into or considering a progressive school, here’s a basic primer on progressive education.

Basic Characteristics of a Progressive Education

  1. Community Comes First. Student responsibilities and work are framed beyond “what’s good for me” to “am I contributing and making the community better for everyone?” Collective governance is also a community foundation.

  2. Experiential Education. Direct student participation in school maintenance and governance. Labor provides the foundation for participation and understanding responsibility.

  3. Problem solving through recognition, hypothesis and application of student developed solutions.

  4. Connections and minimizing formal boundaries. The progressive classroom has few literal and figurative walls. Students are encouraged to lead and drive inquiry and discussion often working in collaborative groups- beyond the confines of traditional desks and walls.

  5. The Whole Child. Progressive education cultivates a thoughtful individual dedicated to hard work and building positive, creative relationships.

Progressive education requires a commitment from student and family. Daily connectedness, community responsibilities and a respect and dedication to labor are experiences that often lie outside of modern urban and suburban life. For a student inclined toward work, community, relationships and empathy a classically progressive education can be a great fit.

As the progressive educator Mortimer Adler argues, “Children should be prepared and motivated to make themselves the best human beings they are capable of becoming.”