Sean Slade

The Global Whole Child

A whole child approach to education is not something that is unique to the United States, or even to North America. It is an approach to education that has been taken up by many communities, regions, and countries. It is an approach that understands that education is more than just academic achievement and that ensuring that each child is healthy, safe, and engaged is a necessity if we want to support student growth and provide meaningful challenges to those same students. The five Whole Child Tenets—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—are the prerequisites for an effective education that allows students to grow, learn, and develop their full potential.

The International Alliance for Child and Adolescent Mental Health in Schools is a truly international body that brings together 35 countries under the umbrella of promoting the mental health and well-being of children and young people. The Schools for Health in Europe (SHE) network aims to develop and sustain school health promotion in 43 countries. It is coordinated by the Netherlands Institute for Health Promotion as the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for School Health. Many of SHE's members also support WHO's Health Promoting Schools framework—similar in the United States to a coordinated school health model—which in turn supports the alignment of health and education in the school setting.

Another Europe-based partner is the Learning for Well-Being consortium that seeks to promote child well-being across not only Europe and the Middle East, but also across each sector of society. It focuses on health, mental health, and social affairs as well as education, aiming to influence policy development in and across each with regard to child well-being.

The reason behind Learning for Well-Being's actions is an understanding that, "children who experience a greater sense of holistic well-being (physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual) and understand its components are more able to learn and assimilate information in effective ways; more likely to engage in healthy and fulfilling social behaviors; and more likely to invest in their own and others' well-being and in the sustainability of the planet, as they take up their social, professional, and leadership roles in adulthood."

Sound familiar? It's not too dissimilar from ASCD's 2007 report of the Commission on the Whole Child, The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action (PDF). This compact introduced ASCD's Whole Child approach and brought together leading thinkers, researchers, and practitioners from a wide variety of sectors who were "charged with recasting the definition of a successful learner from one whose achievement is measured solely by academic tests, to one who is knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically inspired, engaged in the arts, prepared for work and economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling."

Each of these partners see value in alignment and collaboration, whether that be between organizations or across the communities and settings they serve.

Our most distant partner, Principals Australia Institute, has been a strong proponent of not only supporting principals' professional development and training, but also promoting well-being as an integral part of student learning and growth. One of their key programs is MindMatters, a whole school approach to mental health that aims to (watch again for similarities!)

  • Develop school environments where young people feel safe, valued, engaged, and purposeful.
  • Develop the social and emotional skills in students required to meet life's challenges.
  • Help school communities create a climate of positive mental health and well-being.
  • Develop strategies to enable a continuum of support for students with additional needs in relation to mental health and well-being.
  • Enable schools to better collaborate with families and the health sector.

This month, as you listen to the Whole Child Podcast, read the Whole Child Blog, and receive the Whole Child Newsletter, keep the Whole Child Tenets in mind. As you read about schools and communities recognized by ASCD and our partners for putting a whole child approach into action, they will come up time and time again. The context may be different, and the culture and country certainly will, but the basics will be clear: A whole child approach is an effective approach.

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