Walter McKenzie

Connected Community

The hallmark of this brave new Information Age is the interconnectedness of everything: ideas, information, and people. Relationships are key. It's no longer what you know or how much you know, it's who you know and how to connect with them. Interactions are more immediate, fluid, and dynamic.

On an individual basis, it is happening as I write. But what about on an institutional scale? Don't we eventually have to affect change in our public institutions so that they will morph from their successful Industrial Age mind-set to this new way of living and working? This is the biggest challenge of making the shift: finding institutional incentive for becoming more interconnected, agile, and responsive.

Public education is a prime example. In the Industrial Age, education established itself by putting in place very deliberate policies and practices that require anyone engaging with the institution to meet established requirements, complete specified forms and tests, and move through its programs and services in prescribed, sequential steps. It is very hard to affect change in this kind of bureaucracy.

The implications go beyond the internal workings of public education 1.0. The way public schools interact with other community agencies is also slow and cumbersome. By traditional definition, the mission of public education is effective instruction. Period. Physical, mental, social, and emotional health are acknowledged as peripheral variables that can aid or interfere with that mission, but they are not explicit components of what schools do. In education 2.0, this is changing.

To successfully prepare students for their future, schools today have to be interconnected with other public institutions that can help them meet all the needs of each student—not just their intellectual growth needs but also their personal, interpersonal, emotional, physical, and mental health needs. Why? Because students no longer come to school from homes where we can assume all of these needs are being met. Families have changed—parenting has changed—and therefore students have changed in how they come to school.

This is more of a mind-shift than a resources-shift. The public institutions for community, personal health, and well-being already exist. It's just a matter of making them interconnect with education so that students can access whatever resources they need across their community's support system. Schools can be the hub through which students and families access all these different health and social service agencies without having to begin at square one with each. Imagine a coordinated single point of access for students to receive everything they need to thrive without the bureaucracy and duplicative red tape of working with siloed agencies one at a time.

This is why the whole child approach to education makes so much sense. ASCD's vision for education 2.0 is all-inclusive, providing for every dimension of a growing, thriving student preparing for her future:

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle. More... (PDF)
  • Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults. More... (PDF)
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community. More... (PDF)
  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults. More... (PDF)
  • Each graduate is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment. More... (PDF)

Want to know what educating the whole child is all about? Select "More..." following each bullet above or see the entire set of indicators (PDF) here. And then immerse yourself in the vision of interconnected ed—education seamlessly working with all other relevant public agencies to make sure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. After all, if we’re going to reach the whole child, we're going to need to integrate resources from the whole community. Interconnect ed: it's what the whole child is all about.

Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. A director of Constituent Services for ASCD, he served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject. Connect with McKenzie on the ASCD EDge® social network, on his Actualization blog, or by e-mail at wmckenzie@ascd.org.

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