Mission and Philosophy
The mission and philosophy of Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School are defined by the 1930 charter agreement between the Falk family and the University of Pittsburgh. For over 85 years, this historical document has guided the faculty and staff of Falk in what we believe, whom we serve, and what we do.
Falk School’s mission is to be a progressive, experimental, and demonstration elementary school. Therefore we:
- Educate students in grades K-8 using instructional methods and materials that promote inquiry, actively engage students in their learning, and respond to individual students’ interests and needs.
- Provide opportunities for pre-service/student teachers to observe and work with experienced, innovative master teachers.
- Are responsive to and responsible for the four educational assumptions and five laboratory functions described in the philosophy section of this document.
Educational theory at Falk School conceives of the school as a center of inquiry where learning takes place at every level. Children, teacher trainees, faculty, parents, and administrators all engage in the quest for knowledge. For each constituency, emphases are placed upon what is learned, why it is learned, and how it is learned. The approach has its roots in constructivism and cognitive science. Therefore, building upon the learners’ prior knowledge, constructing meaning, and cultivating literacy are salient features. Making thinking visible and using a common vocabulary to discuss what is taught are integral to instruction across all levels.
Such an instructional focus is most effective in an environment where teachers are empowered and accountable. To these ends the faculty engages in an ongoing professional dialogue that is the impetus for instruction. Teaming strategies are employed to convene meetings that engage teachers in substantive professional conversations designed to generate new knowledge about teaching, support the intellectual growth of teachers, and develop inquiring attitudes in students. As a result, teachers make instructional decisions, discard ineffective teaching practices, create new lesson structures and processes, and participate in decisions pertinent to the school’s organization, instruction, curriculum, and management.
Falk School subscribes to the notion that education is of optimal value when it results in enriched personal living; understanding and appreciation of a heritage; and development of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that help preserve the best from the past while making contributions to the future. The family is the fundamental unit of society and the purpose of the school is to reinforce rather than replace the teachings of the home, and to provide additional learning that cannot be typically attained in a home environment. Because children enter school with unequal academic aptitudes, differing personal needs, and varying rates of maturation, it is not possible for every child of a given age to be capable of identical achievement. The most viable approach to securing a desirable education for all is to foster the personal growth of each individual mind and body according to his or her unique capabilities. In addition, the Falk School community believes that teaching and learning should include large doses of joy, imagination, and creativity; that play and exploration are important; that intentional development of relationships, friendships, citizenship, and community are necessary. It is also the responsibility of the Falk School faculty to keep informed of the latest information in psychology and education, and to employ practices that hold the best promise for effective learning.
Falk School strives to provide an educational environment that supports a diversity of views, celebrates both differences and commonalities among individuals, and enables all persons to pursue happiness in ways of their own choice. To this end, faculty and staff aspire to become aware of their own attitudes and expectations because of the profound impact they have on children’s perceptions, beliefs, and learning. These attitudes and expectations include, but are not limited to, political persuasion, religion, age, societal role, marital status, physical or mental disability, socio-economic status, ethnic origin, and sexuality.
- Experiential Education: As a laboratory school, Falk follows the model of experiential education, which emphasizes prior knowledge and shared experiences as central to all learning. Experiential education is based on the core belief that learning comes through direct experience with the environment via meaningful enterprises.
- Progressivism: Humans are social and learn best in real-life activities with other people. Progressive education views learning as multi-sensory. Children learn best by solving real problems and asking real questions that are important to them. Read an NAIS article on Progressive Schools.
- Constructivism: People construct meaning from current knowledge structures. Constructivism values developmentally appropriate learning initiated and directed by the learner.
- Critical thinking: In a democratic society, students need to develop the habit of questioning agendas, rhetoric, and ideas.
As the laboratory school of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, Falk is a site for five types of activities that are key to the development of excellence in education:
- Education: Our primary goal is to educate students using the above educational assumptions to guide and inspire us.
- Research: Educational research may be conducted by teachers, professors, graduate students and others. All research at Falk must comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s guidelines for research.
- Clinical Teaching Experiences: Aspiring teachers gain experience in a quality educational environment in which they are observed and guided by experienced educators.
- Curriculum Development & Experimentation: New curriculum materials and teaching strategies are created, tested, piloted, and evaluated at the school; faculty and students participate in activities that promote the development of innovations in teaching.
- Professional Development & Dissemination: Educators from around the United States and other countries visit the school for professional development activities. In addition, Falk faculty share their experiences and expertise at professional conferences and through professional journals and online communities. Learn more at the International Association of Laboratory Schools.
In 2001, the faculty at Falk created a supporting document that captures the essence of Falk and places us in a more visionary context. This vision seeks to answer the question, “What do we wish for our children?” This document guides school decision-making and planning. Visit our Wishes for Our Children page.