In Support of a Whole Child Movement

Five years ago this summer, a group of 13 educators penned an opinion piece in the Huffington Post calling for a more humanistic approach to education. The article entitled In Support of the Whole Child, began by stating, We are at a crossroads in this nation regarding the direction that public education will take in the coming decades. Do we focus on a curriculum that concentrates on a few core subjects or do we gain an appreciation for how public education can develop all aspects of the child to the benefit of each of them as well as society in general? Do we place test preparation ahead of educating our children and test scores ahead of broader and more holistic approaches to evaluating students’ competencies? These questions lay at the heart of the current debate about the future of public education in America.

In the past five years the call for a more humanistic, holistic education has continued to grow louder and can now be defined a movement. The conversation has spread from Washington, DC, to Boston, to San Francisco and more recently to Paris, Brussels, Sydney and Singapore.

In many parts of the world, this movement is led by education support professionals, who often serve as a link between schools and communities in health, nutrition, safety, transportation and para-education roles. As the National Education Association’s (US) 2016 Education Support Professional of the Year Doreen McGuire-Griggsaid in her acceptance speech, “We are often a school community’s secret weapon. We see the whole child, we notice their victories and their challenges.”

 

Paris:

Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills, OECD

What are the skills that drive wellbeing and social progress? Policy makers, including eleven

Education Ministers and Vice Ministers…unanimously agreed on the need to develop a “whole child” with a balance d set of cognitive, social and emotional skills so that they can better face the challenges of the 21st century. Parents, teachers and employers know that children who are talented, motivated, goal-driven and collegial are more likely to weather the storms of life, perform well in the labour market and consequently achieve lifetime success.

 

Brussels:

Statement on SDG 4 Quality Education released by Education International & ASCD

The SDGs reflect a global consensus in our young century that education is a human right and a public good that is critical to the health and future of the world. But ours is a world of severe challenges, with millions of students under fire, unsettled and unschooled due to conflict and governments globally failing to meet their funding commitments to education, especially with regard to their poorest citizens. Education advocates have a responsibility to promote policies that integrate schools, communities, and nations into a system that supports development of the whole child, ensuring that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

 

New South Wales:

Educating the Whole Child, NSW Government, Education

Education is a game-changer for every student in our schools. It's the pathway to opportunity and success and a critical contributor to life outcomes. We know that a quality school education – especially one that articulates into further study – results in higher pay, better health, active citizenship and general life satisfaction. As educators we rightly focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundations of learning, but we also know there are intangible factors that affect students' outcomes. We recognise that the school experience is not justabout academic achievement, but about the wellbeing of the whole child. We know, too, that being able to develop positive relationships, good health and self-esteem contributes to students enjoying school more and achieving more while they are there.

 

Singapore:

Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades, BBC News

Government policies are moving away from parents and students' unhealthy obsession with grades and entry to top schools and want to put more emphasis on the importance of values. Schools have been encouraged, especially for the early elementary years, to scrap standardised examinations and focus on the development of the whole child. "Character scorecards" and "reflection journals" have become the staple in many primary schools, to allow parents to follow the social and developmental progress of their children.

There is a call for us – the educators – to redefine why we have an education system. There is a need for our system to ask the questions that surround our own existence. Why do we have an education system and what do we want to achieve via it?

Maybe as we mentioned in 2012 it starts by asking the following question.

And so the real debate should be: what do we want to achieve out of our public education system? … Ironically, the starting point for determining this goal — whichever path we choose to follow — should be the same question:

What do we want our children to be like when they are 25?...

At the core of the question is what are they like? Happy, healthy, engaged, enthusiastic, passionate? An active citizen or a bystander? Are they an adult ready for the world or one who has been tracked out of a future? These words should inspire us to map backwards and create a design for our students and we need to work together to get there…

In short, a focus on the whole child…


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Sean Slade

Sean Slade is the Senior Director of Global Outreach at ASCD, a global mission-driven education association. During his more than two decades in education, he has spoken and written extensively on topics related to the whole child and health and well-being, and he has been at the forefront of promoting and using school climate, connectedness, resilience, and a youth development focus for school improvement.

He has written for the Washington Post, Huffington Post, published with ASCD, Routledge and Human Kinetics. He is an SEL expert for NBC Education Nation, VP for Advocacy at the International Union for Health Promotion & Education (North America) and a member of the OECD 2030 global task force. In 2013-14 he co-lead the ASCD-CDC development and release of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model.

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