Last night I was reading from Schools: A Journal for Inquiry into the Subjective Experience of School Life, looking to probe a bit into the idea of teaching to the whole child. Lately, more and more schools say they teach to the whole child, or claim their approach is different than other schools because of their focus on the child. With the term whole child being thrown around so much of late, especially in the middle years, I began to think - what does it really mean?
According to ACSD, here are the basic attributes of what it means to be focused on the whole child:
- Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
- Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
- Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
- Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
- Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
That sounds about right, but don’t most schools approach education this way? What school is actively saying they don’t challenge kids academically or that they don’t promote a healthy lifestyle?
I came across an article in Schools that mentions Alfie Kohn’s view. Kohn – who is never short on opinions in print, or in person – made an interesting point about the whole child approach, and how it often devolves as the student grows older. He also feels that if schools are to focus on the whole child, then they need to provide a safe place for growth and change. This can’t happen when bureaucratic control takes precedent – around school tools like schedules and policy. Kohn asked the question, “does the schedule rule learning or does learning rule the school?”
I think there are many examples in American education today, where teaching is about the system, not the student. Not just in public schools, where scores are shared in the media and politicians fire shots at faculty on a weekly basis, but in schools of choice too. Many parents in our schools look to us to provide preparation – they choose us as a select school so we can prepare their kids for a select university. We can measure that, can’t we? Heads can talk about the numbers of kids they place into Ivy’s and parents can see the numbers too. Done. That quest for quantifiables is genuine in the competitive world of modern day schooling. So the measurements better be visible, viable, and valiant.
This is a real issue if you are a teacher. It is an even bigger issue if you are a teacher teaching to the whole child. They know there is more to teaching than reading rates, test scores, and college outcomes. Great teachers know that young people need to think both critically and creatively, now, more than ever. Students need to know how to evaluate huge amounts of information in order to work with a diversity of people to solve complex problems, locally and globally. These are the facts our children face. Therefore, common sense validates that teaching to the whole child is a right approach. The big question that remains is whether schools, faced with very real economic, political and social pressures, will be able to have the guts to stand by their faculty when they know what works.