As an assistant principal who dealt with most behavior-related issues in the building, I was curious to know how the others in our region were being proactive in keeping students engaged in learning. My question was largely met with silence, and finally one principal spoke up and replied, “I have my hands full just making sure they get all of the academic curriculum, much less any character education and things of that nature.” The facilitator moved on to another topic as I pondered yet another missed opportunity to make meaningful connections and networking at our regional administrative meeting.
Children and adolescents are not like cars that can be taken to the shop for service of one isolated function. Students are integrated beings who bring their whole selves to the schoolhouse each day, and their thoughts, emotions, and experiences cannot be discounted from the learning process.
This is true for all people in the school building—adults, children, and adolescents. A true whole child approach to learning requires a vision for the whole school leader and for the whole teacher, not only the whole child.
There are excellent initiatives and resources for leaders and teachers who are ready to break away from segmented approaches to professional and classroom learning. The Courage in Schools initiatives offer school leader and teacher growth programs which allow them the space to get in touch with their initial call to teaching and offer the support to actively integrate that essential self-knowledge into their teaching practice. This beautiful video from teacher Debbie Stanley illustrates the integration of her return to whole self and the impact it has had on her students and on her career.
The current call to action in education is a movement towards classrooms where it is safe to struggle and fail, where the learning process is as important as outcome, and where collaboration with others is vital to innovation and improvement. How can we expect teachers to make the transformation in their practice if they are not also allowed such a change in their working climate and culture?
ASCD initiates discussion on the issue of schooling with human wholeness in mind, offering resources and research around the fact that authentic learning seeks to make the connections that are very real in everyday life.
If we are to realize an equitable vision for schools, classrooms must be responsive climates where teachers know how to integrate a culture of high academic standards with inquiry. We are talking about a learning culture that is less about control and manipulation leading to the “correct” answers and more about tapping into the social-emotional needs of students as they learn how the content applies to their life in their communities.
Educating the whole child begins with leaders who are in touch with their wholeness and who allow teachers to know and act on theirs. By embracing a more authentic approach to teaching the curriculum, we will reach the high level of engagement and learning for which we currently strive.
For information about CTL’s whole child approach to Project-Based Learning, click here.