In a recent tweet I asked the following question:  Could someone please explain to me what a ‘progressive’ or ‘traditionalist’ is with a clear example of living people? I am trying to work out what I was for 31 years as a teacher/school leader and don’t recognise what I read in tweets/blogs.

Twitter has many benefits. It provides access to a vast range of articles, research papers and other information that can easily be missed. Though tweets in themselves have limited use as a forum for discussion because of their brevity, it can be very effective when used in connection with the previously listed sources and of course blogs.


In recent months I have been severely exercised by the nature of some of the discourse on Twitter. Though much is respectful and constructive, some is far from this. The other real and growing problem is that some contributors forget that they only represent their own personal views as does this blog. People tend to follow people they agree with resulting in networks that can lead to a significant risk of confirmation bias. Those networks then identify other groups with a differing outlook. Though this can lead to constructive and rational debate it sometimes leads sadly to a highly oppositional and sometimes even abusive discourse. Sometimes that turns into valuable fodder for hungry media reporters or politicians who are after a headline.

My motivation for asking the above question was related to this.  If a reader had been a fly on the wall on one of my lessons during my 31 years as a teacher and head they would have seen a wide variety of behaviours and pedagogical approaches. In some respects I was highly traditional in outlook. I insisted on high standards of courtesy and behaviour, was a stickler for uniform and led very formal assemblies. On the other hand I oversaw a student’s council system that genuinely welcomed and encouraged feedback from students even when the messages might have been uncomfortable to hear and worked hard to eradicate the need for exclusion. Is that traditional? In the classroom my classes often worked in silence or experienced a highly didactic approach. But there were also numerous lessons in which my students worked independently in groups with me facilitating and advising. As with every other aspect of my teaching these activities would have been carefully planned, not for an accountability system or external demands but because that is what I think professional teachers should do.

So was I a traditionalist or a progressive? Neither. I hope that I was an enlightened, flexible and informed professional always keen to learn how to be better.

The replies to my tweet have been plentiful and reassuring. A number of responses reflected exactly the kind of experience I have described above and proved that there are numerous people out there who really are not interested in labels of this kind and recognise that the best teachers and school leaders are highly versatile and adept at choosing the most appropriate approaches for their students.

Too much of the discourse on education has become a stultifying conversation around false dichotomies and polarised viewpoints. In the final part of  Lessons Learned I set out how I believe this needs to change.


4 thoughts on “Traditional or progressive- does it matter?

  1. You seem to be under the impression that “traditionalist” and “progressive” refer to beliefs. People can, of course, refuse to talk about what they believe, and only talk about what they do, but that doesn’t put them above the debate, it means they are evading it.


    1. I would be interested to understand what you mean by this. Everything I have ever done in my professional life has been underpinned by a value set reflecting in what I believe to be important.


  2. Brian, you are one of the wisest souls I know in education who neatly sums up this “false dichotomy and polarised view. It may be an important discussion, but not one most teachers are having, or are concerned about.

    Traditional or progressive- does it matter? The answer is simple: No it doesn’t. Good teaching is what makes the difference… and both exist within many schools, dare I say, even within one teacher’s classroom.

    Liked by 1 person

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