Sean Slade

Are We Teaching the Academic or Are We Teaching the Whole Child?

This question was tweeted out from the recent Australian Council for Educational Leaders Conference in Brisbane and sums up one of the key questions being asked not only Down Under, but also around the globe. It is one of the bigger questions that must we must ask before we try to answer others around merit pay, large-scale testing (NAPLAN), national curriculum, and school rankings.

"We debate endlessly, and often furiously, the How and the What—language arts versus science; physical education compared to music; extra study time or recess; play or instruction; seat time against project-based learning; standardized testing in competition with portfolios; scripted curriculum or differentiated instruction; common core or site-level control, and so forth, and so forth.

But all these debates, arguments, and shoutfests are meaningless—or, at best, dysfunctional—unless we first determine Why we have education. From this Why, all other vehicles, processes, subjects, themes, curricula, and techniques—all the Whats and Hows—can be sorted."

—"Why Education?" in the The Huffington Post

ASCD believes that education's role is to develop youth who are "knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling" (ASCD, The Learning Compact Redefined [PDF], 2007). That education must shift from a purely academic focus to a whole child approach in which not only cognitive, but also physical, social, emotional, and civic learning and health is targeted and developed. To achieve this, we believe that an education approach needs to fit within these goals—actively ensuring and not leaving to circumstance—that each child, in each school, in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

Last week's installment of the Whole Child Down Under webinar series on a systems approach to developing a whole child approach to education looked at

  • How we can make these changes so that they are lasting, not fleeting;
  • How the changes can be embedded into the systems of a school rather than be owned by a personality at the site; and
  • How to avoid rolling back or abandoning the changes if leadership transitions or if funding expires.

Consider the following:

"Developing individual school leaders is just a start. Meaningful gains in student achievement will require whole-system reform."

Michael Fullan, in "Leadership Development: The Larger Context," Educational Leadership

"Piecemeal change to improve schooling inside a school district is an approach that at its worst does more harm than good and at its best is limited to creating temporary pockets of "good" within school districts. When it comes to improving schooling in a district, however, creating temporary pockets of good isn’t good enough. Whole school systems need to be transformed in a sustainable way."

Francis M. Duffy in The Healthy School Communities Model: Aligning Health & Education in the School Setting

"Nearly a century of change has left schools playing catch-up, and it will take a whole-system approach to meet society's evolving needs. Our piecemeal change efforts of the last decade have taught us a valuable lesson ... we must seek improvement through systemic change."

Frank Betts in "How Systems Thinking Applies to Education," Educational Leadership

So, how do we create systemic change? One key way is by embedding change into the school improvement process. If we feel that something is important, is key, we must include and embed it into how the school grows and develops.

ASCD recently released a free, online School Improvement Tool designed to do just this. It takes the five Whole Child Tenets that each child should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged and their indicators (PDF) of a sustainable whole child approach to education, which spans school climate and culture, instruction and curriculum, leadership, family and community engagement, professional development and staff capacity, and assessment. Based on your unique results, it provides professional development resources that can help immediately address schoolwide challenges and allows each school in each community and in each country to formalize a whole child approach to school improvement.

Join us for the third and final Whole Child Down Under webinar for Australian audiences that will outline steps and processes that schools can use to better align health and education in a whole-child, whole-school approach. For too long, health and education have been siloed in the school setting. Despite the fact that they serve the same youth, these sectors frequently act in isolation, responding to different objectives, targets, or funding.

The episode airs on Wednesday, October 31 at 12:00 p.m. in Sydney and 9:00 a.m. in Perth. It follows the Seventh World Conference on the Promotion of Mental Health and the Prevention of Mental and Behavioural Disorders being held in Perth this week, October 17–19, and will incorporate themes and discussions from the event. Register now!


Comments (2)


October 21, 2012

Nice read, book marked the website for updates.


July 2, 2014

Booked marked the website for future reference. Thank you.

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