Focus On: Progressive Education
Dr. Scott D. Fech

In my first few years as a French teacher, I relied heavily on my past experiences as a student, often imitating the methodologies my teachers used. With experience though, I learned that the rote memorization of vocabulary and grammatical structures that had been the norm in my learning only took my students so far. These tools lacked the context of real-world situations that were less predictable and more dynamic. 

Photo taken prior to the pandemic

After doing a deeper dive into language acquisition, I shifted my approach to one that focused on comprehensible input in situations that simulated life, and my students' fluency soared. Little did I know that I had begun a shift to the theories and practice of progressive education.

Working at the acclaimed University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (Lab) cemented the importance of creating learning environments with students at the center. Founded by renowned educator John Dewey in 1896, Lab was considered to be the progressive school in the United States. With roots in educational philosophy that date to the 1700s in Europe, student learning would be done in context and experience. No more would the teacher stand at the front expecting students to memorize word for word what the teacher was lecturing. Instead, teachers would guide students through experiences that required students to create meaning and reflect on how it could apply in a multitude of situations.

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."

–John Dewey

As a school committed to progressive education, Winchester Thurston School has embraced many of the tenets as laid out by Dewey and others. We are committed to creating opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills. We strive to engage students as active participants in the learning process and not just as passive listeners. Our signature program, City as Our Campus, thrives in a progressive environment and serves as a pathway to nurture students' curiosity, guiding them to tap into undiscovered passions and internal motivators that drive them to want to learn more. 

And, the new Joan Clark Davis Center for Interdisciplinary Learning will expand this commitment, creating collaboration among humanities, engineering, arts, and science programs, and allowing for greater partnerships with local artists, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and performers. As we expand the opportunities for students to think, grow, and give back to the community, we continue to move towards these student-centered opportunities and away from outside curricula such as Advanced Placement. In doing so, we are equipping our students with skills that will carry through their lives, including critical analysis and communication in multiple modes, exploration of multifaceted ideas, and the ability to acquire and apply knowledge to solve complex problems.

Our students have choice and voice in what they learn and how they will demonstrate their learning at all grade levels.

That is progressive education. 

Four years ago, in my last position, I was charged to enhance the upper school program with more progressive elements. As I was researching schools across the country, I found WT and the plethora of examples of the amazing work done here. How fortunate for me that at the exact same time, WT was looking for its next Head of School. I was drawn to our Board of Trustees' and the community's desire to find the next summit in teaching and learning. And the rest, as they say, is history. I am excited to continue our journey as we meet the challenges of today while preparing our students for the future.


WT’s Head of School, Dr. Scott D. Fech, has a distinguished career of academic and administrative experience in a variety of school settings, including the acclaimed University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

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