Introducing the Progressive Leaders Group at Bank Street College

How do we define the concept of democracy? What does the teaching of democracy look like in our schools and in our classrooms? What processes do we have in place in which students and staff can practice democracy?

These are some of the questions that a new Progressive Leaders Group at Bank Street has convened to consider.  The shifts in our political climate demand educational leaders pay close attention to our concept of democracy, and how it is enacted in schools and with children. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

Our group consists of Bank Street alumni in leadership positions and like-minded progressive leaders in New York City.  Together, we examine common challenges school leaders face, support aspiring principals, and combat misconceptions of public schools. During our initial meetings, our group defined a vision statement and a set of shared beliefs:

Vision:  The Bank Street Leadership Group seeks to increase the number of public schools built on tenets of progressive education in an effort to ensure that NYC students in the public schools receive the opportunity for a progressive model of instruction.

What we believe:

  1. We believe that strong school leaders work with their staff to create and nurture structures that support the growth of the whole child.
  2. We believe that strong school leaders understand that learning is best when students have the opportunity to experience and apply learning in real world settings.
  3. We believe that strong school leaders provide time for staff to plan an interdisciplinary curriculum that fosters connections to deepen student understanding of concepts.
  4. We believe that strong school leaders foster collaboration as an integral part of the fabric of the school, both among staff and students.
  5. We believe that strong school leaders know that assessment culminating in projects that allow students to push their thinking are stronger measures of learning than standardized tests.

The next phase of our work considers how we build structures to support democratic practices in schools.  These should include ways to have staff members share practice and collaborate in professional learning communities and take ownership over creating democratic spaces for children and adults in their schools.

The following questions guide our inquiry:

  • What are examples of progressive practices from which we can learn?
  • What are the practices that invite teachers and leaders to work together?
  • How do we value all voices?
  • How do we maintain integrity as school leaders?

At our May meeting, two of our members presented how they have used descriptive inquiry and restorative practices to work toward building democratic community in their schools. Common leadership implications emerged within each presentation, including:

  • Creating structures that build in time for people to understand the purpose of the work, and space for people to engage in meaningful dialogue
  • Using protocols and processes that support and move learning and create actionable steps.
  • Ensuring that structures and collaborations are healthy and productive, so they build democracy and engender trust by encouraging differences to be shared and explored

Our next Progressive Leaders Group meeting will happen this fall and will continue as a space for leaders to gather together to share practice, support collaboration, and learning, and be a collective voice to advocate for progressive values in New York City schools.

For more information about the Progressive Leaders Group, or if you are interested in joining the meetings, please contact Anthony Conelli at