Melissa Mellor

In Defense of Whole Child Education: Response to NSDC's Hayes Mizell

A recent National Staff Development Council blog post by NSDC Distinguished Senior Fellow Hayes Mizell contends that "both sides are flawed in the student achievement versus whole child debate." Here at the Whole Child Blog, we are asking, "what debate?" Improving student achievement and supporting the whole child go hand in hand. Kids simply won't achieve if we don't ensure they are healthy and safe, consider their social and emotional needs, tap into their interests, and demonstrate real-world application of the knowledge and skills we want them to acquire. Moreover, standards, testing, and accountability are necessary, if not sufficient, components of a strong and equitable whole child–centered education system.

Debate question aside, Mizell raises valid concerns about the difficulties of implementing a whole child approach given the realities of public schools. He's right: schools can't do it all. That's why we consistently encourage schools to enter into strategic partnerships with community organizations, service agencies, and other groups to help meet the needs of the whole child and boost student performance.

Iroquois Ridge High School in Ontario, Canada, an ASCD Healthy School Communities pilot site, works with a range of community partners—from the Halton Learning Foundation, a charitable organization that supports students in need through nutrition and literacy programming and scholarships, to YouthNet, a mental health promotion program. All of its partners contribute to Iroquois's mission to develop students who are actively engaged global citizens and learners. The result is that almost all Iroquois students are performing at or above desired achievement levels and the vast majority participate in at least one club, team, or organized group.

But collaborating with partners isn't the only way to support whole child education. In his blog post, Mizell makes the important point that helping educators embrace and implement a more comprehensive approach requires professional development. ASCD has a long commitment to capacity-building professional development for educators. We support professional development that is sustainable and customized, addresses specific student learning needs, engages educators in ongoing learning, and includes an evaluation component. And to specifically help educators address the whole child, ASCD has created professional development resources like the Whole Child action tool and has supported networks of schools and districts, such as the Healthy School Communities pilot sites.

Instead of writing the script for a heated and artificial point–counterpoint debate that pits student achievement against the whole child, let's focus on creating an actionable master plan for systemic reform that improves student achievement and ultimately prepares students for meaningful employment, postsecondary education, and active participation as citizens.

We want to know what you think. Are student achievement and the whole child opposing approaches? How can ASCD help districts, schools, and educators support the whole child and strengthen student achievement?

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