The Dutch Dalton identity has always been based on three principles. Education is constantly evolving. The changes in the field of developmental psychology and didactic and social insights led in 2012 to a critical reflection on the Dalton principles. Five new core values have been developed from this, which are briefly described below:
A Dalton School is a community where pupils, teachers, parents, school management and administration live and work together in a natural and structured way. A Dalton school is also a learning environment where students and teachers learn from and with each other. By working on their learning tasks with teachers and fellow students, students learn to interact and learn to help each other. Acquiring knowledge and skills in collaboration with others can facilitate learning. Students learn that there are differences between people. They learn to listen to and respect each other.
When students work together, they develop social skills and learn to reflect on the way they learn, such as assessing a personal contribution and that of a fellow student, entering into a dialogue, learning to deal with disappointments, and experiencing an additional return from the cooperation. The ultimate goal is democratic citizenship. A Dalton school is a training place for democratization and socialization.
Freedom and responsibility
Freedom is necessary to be able to make their own choices and find their own ways. Freedom in Dalton education is the opportunity to organize the task work itself. The specified subject matter and the requirements that are set for it, the time limit, the working arrangements, and the school rules form the boundaries within which the pupils learn to use their freedom.
A student learns to take responsibility for himself and his environment if his environment offers him space and opportunities to do so. By offering students more freedom, they can make their own choices and develop an active learning attitude. But freedom does not mean that everything can and should be allowed just like that. It is the task of the teacher to provide each student with a structure to learn to handle freedom within borders.
Pupils are given the space to discover and experiment, but at the same time, they are also confronted with the relationship between what they do and what it yields. For students, this is a gradual learning process, in which self-knowledge and self-assessment play a major role.
Dalton is a measure to work more effectively: ‘a simple and economic reorganization of the school’. Parkhurst wants to make school learning more effective with her Dalton Plan. That is why effectiveness and efficiency have been two important concepts from the start. Effectiveness and efficiency presuppose clarity about the educational results.
Parkhurst believes that education has a broad function. Education should also educate children and adolescents culturally and morally so that they become self-reliant and socially responsible: practiced in, accustomed to, and prepared for living, working, and living together. Dalton’s education focuses on the effective use of time, manpower, and resources. For the sake of efficiency, Parkhurst wants to give students responsibility.
She states that when students are given a task, for which they bear responsibility and which they plan and implement in their own freedom, the education is then much more effective than the sitting and listening education that she herself has completed. In her Dalton Plan, Parkhurst makes children, as it were, small entrepreneurs, who learn to bear responsibility for schoolwork, their own work, which they carry out in freedom.
Learning and working independently at a Dalton school is active in learning and working. A student wants to work purposefully on a task or assignment and is able to seek help during this learning process if necessary. This way of working stimulates students’ problem-solving thinking. In order to function properly as an adult later, a student must learn to assess which decisions he/she has to make and what the consequences are. The freedom of choice forces students to take independent decisions that are effective and responsible for them.
Thinking about your own behavior and your own work is important at Dalton schools. In many Dalton schools, students make an estimate in advance of the degree of difficulty and the time of the assignments. Afterward, a factual assessment is also given and conversations regularly compare the estimates made beforehand and the actual assessments afterward. In such conversations, for example, attention can be paid to the fact why a child always estimates the math problems in the weekly task in advance more difficult than they appear (afterward).
Other aspects of working in the classroom are reflected in a similar way. This gradually builds up the skills for working independently and working together. Critically approaching educational developments and insights is self-evident at a Dalton school. Every teacher who works at a Dalton school reflects on his / her teaching practice and professional behavior. Reflection on the quality of Dalton education is also constantly taking place at the school level.