Klea Scharberg

Understanding the Whole Child Approach with Tenets, Indicators, and Components

Whole Child Tenets

All educators want to improve the work they do for students, their families, and the community. Whether it's instruction, school climate, leadership, family engagement, or any of the other issues schools face on a daily basis, all educators need tools to help them improve their actions and methods. A whole child approach sets the standard for comprehensive, sustainable school improvement and provides for long-term student success.

Launched in 2007, ASCD's Whole Child Initiative is an effort to change the conversation about education from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long-term development and success of children. Based on the common language of the Commission on the Whole Child (PDF), the initiative began with five tenets of a whole child education—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—to provide a framework and understanding of what a whole child approach to education means. In 2011, ASCD released a set of ten indicators for each of these tenets, and added the overarching concept that the work is sustainable (also with its own ten indicators).

So, why did we introduce the indicators?

It was a strategic step to provide a scaffold that underpins and provides more detail to each of the tenets. We may all assume we know what being healthy or engaged or challenged means, but do we all know what it looks like in a school? Do we all know what facets make up or lead a school toward being safer or more supportive? The indicators provide an added level of detail so that we all can delve a little deeper into a whole child approach to education.

In 2012 we went further. We developed and launched the ASCD School Improvement Tool. This free tool guides schools through an assessment of the tenets and indicators, but also cross-references those same indicators to components of effective school improvement—school climate and culture, curriculum and instruction, leadership, assessment, family and community engagement, and staff capacity and professional development. In combination, schools are able to receive a personalized summary of data results in regard to how they are performing compared both to the tenets and the components.

Here is an example from each tenet and sustainability:

  • Tenet: Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
    • Indicator: Our school health education curriculum and instruction support and reinforce the health and well-being of each student by addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of health.
      • Component: Curriculum & Instruction
  • Tenet: Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
    • Indicator: Our school upholds social justice and equity concepts and practices mutual respect for individual differences at all levels of school interactions—student-to-student, adult-to-student, and adult-to-adult.
      • Components: School Climate & Culture, Leadership, and PD & Capacity
  • Tenet: Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
    • Indicator: Our school uses curriculum-related experiences such as field trips and outreach projects to complement and extend our curriculum and instruction.
      • Components: Curriculum & Instruction, Community & Family, and PD & Capacity
  • Tenet: Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
    • Indicator: Our teachers use a range of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment tasks to monitor student progress, provide timely feedback, and adjust teaching-learning activities to maximize student progress.
      • Components: Curriculum & Instruction, PD & Capacity, and Assessment
  • Tenet: Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
    • Indicator: Our school provides cross-curricular opportunities for learning with and through technology.
      • Components: Curriculum & Instruction and PD & Capacity
  • Sustainability: Schools implementing a whole child approach use collaboration, coordination, and integration to ensure the approach's long-term success.
    • Indicator: Our school staff, community-based service providers, families, and other adult stakeholders share research, appropriate data, idea generation, and resources to provide a coordinated, whole child approach for each student.
      • Components: Community & Family and Assessment

Download the indicators (PDF) of a whole child approach to education and community engagement and use the ASCD School Improvement Tool to assess your performance on those indicators. Join ASCD and our partners, and together we'll change the face of education policy and practice.

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