Philosophy of Education
Gail Mishler

It is my belief that every child has the right to quality education starting with early childhood and continuing through high school, with the curriculum focused on developmentally appropriate practice through experiential learning that fully engages each student in learning, exploration and discovery. Einstein has been quoted as saying, “Play is the highest form of research.” Yet many classrooms are devoid of playfulness, exploration and discovery. As an educator and leader in Early Childhood Education I have studied the works and ideas of many educational theorists including John Dewey, Maria Montessori, John Piaget, Paulo Freire and John Bowlby. I’ve also studied brain development and Secure Base Attachment Theory both of which provide insight to educators in teaching the whole child, and working with families to best meet the needs of each child, and help them develop to their full potential.


John Dewey believed children learn by doing and fathered Project Based Learning. Maria Montessori believed children should be given freedom to choose within certain limits and experience rich, hands on activities based on their own interests. John Piaget’s Stages of Development focused on the idea that children’s understanding is based on their schema, or the mental framework that is created as children interact with their physical and social environments, thus making the teacher’s job to provide many, varied, rich learning opportunities to build schema. Brazilian theorist Paulo Freire, best debunked what he called the "banking" concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty vessel to be filled by the teacher.  Freire stated “the empty vessel concept inaccurately transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power" (Freire, 1970)


The theorist I most resonate with is John Bowlby, whose groundbreaking attachment theory focused on the “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby 1969). He concluded that early relationships with caregivers play a major role in child development and continue to influence social relationships throughout life. The lack of a secure attachment is detrimental to children’s healthy development. I have observed anti-social, aggressive, angry behaviors in children who have had inconsistent primary caregivers due to conditions such as parental addiction, depression, abject poverty, and other social maladies.  I have also observed that a child can recover from an insecure attachment, when given a consistent primary caregiver in infant, toddler or pre-k programs. Over time, however, the child can learn to trust and establish healthy relationships in adulthood with a consistent caregiver, teacher or mentor. That caregiver may not be a parent, but is consistently in the child’s life offering a safe place to learn and develop. Quality early childhood programs can provide a safe, nurturing environment that helps promote positive, consistent relationships and secure attachments which help the child develop healthy relationships throughout their lifetime.


Social-Emotional development and developmentally appropriate, experiential/collaborative/discovery based learning should not end at the entry of primary education, but these practices should be continued through all of the Early childhood grades Pre-k through third grade, and beyond. 


Pedagogy and Technology in Early Childhood & Beyond


The future for Early Childhood looks more promising today than ever before with research data showing that quality early childhood programs provide children with the tools and skills they will need to succeed. Statistics show that a child who has attended a quality Pre-School has an 85% LESS chance of ever going to prison. Quality pre-K programs can return, on average, a “profit” to society of $15,000 for every child served, based on lower crime, welfare, special education and other taxpayer-funded costs. The Organization Fight Crime Invest in Kids reported “As recently as 2008, America spent nearly $75 billion a year to incarcerate adults in federal and state prisons or local jails. That contrasts with $75 billion in federal funding over 10 years to bring preschool to scale for low- to moderate-income children nationwide.”


Beside advocating for quality early childhood programs, it is my desire see the implementation of quality technology integration throughout all grade levels. The needs and challenges of today’s children differ from any prior generation. Today’s students learn differently due to technology, but not all schools have evolved with the changes. Many classrooms are still based on the factory worker model, when what is needed are creative, critical thinkers, with 21st century skills. Technology is here, it is developing faster and faster, and our children are plugged in at very young ages, and for extended periods of time daily.


A word of caution, however, the pathways that are being forged in the young brain are creating very different behaviors in children than has been typical in the past. More and more pre-k and kindergarten students are displaying challenging behaviors across all programs; from inability to attend to one task for more than 2-3 minutes, to intolerance for peer interaction; short fuses and irritability, inability to self soothe and the need to be comforted or regulated by one-on-one attention from a caregiver OR time on a computer or electronic device. The most marked behavior we are seeing is lack of empathy. Understanding Secure Base Attachment and brain development is critical for parents and early childhood professionals today. Caregivers must set limitations on electronic devices for all children under 4 years of age, provide eye contact, and human touch and interaction instead. It is so easy to fall into the habit of letting the device soothe the young child, but it is not in the best interest of the child to do so. 


However, once students begin to develop higher order thinking skills in 3rd and 4th grade and beyond, it is imperative that technology is integrated throughout the curriculum to ensure all students will develop 21st Century Skills needed to compete in a global society. Many teachers are “flipping their Classrooms,” switching out lecture, skill and drill strategies for multimedia learning opportunities. With this model the student is more engaged in the learning process, as they are not passive “buckets to be filled” but rather collaborating, curating and creating information with current interactive technology.


It is my hope that all policy makers, administrators, and stakeholders will begin to see the way we were taught is no longer relevant to today’s students, who are doing so much more learning, exploring, and creating outside of school, than in school. That the students are the ones leading the learning at home at a rapid pace, but forced to be passive learners who are spoon fed small amounts of information in school, while at home the world is at their fingertips.  There is a Chinese proverb that every educator is very familiar with, and is very pertinent today:


“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

If I could have every teacher, decision maker and stakeholder watch one video about today’s students it would be Failing Superman, a short, animated clip that succinctly illustrates how today’s education system is indeed failing our students. Families and educators must work together to provide children with a good start in quality early childhood programs, insist that quality experiential learning is maintained through all grades, and that technology is integrated into the curriculum in meaningful ways that teach students to become digital citizens, prepared for jobs that will require them to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, communicators, collaborators who are technology savvy.

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