What exactly is a whole child approach to education? In simple terms, it means that education is not simply about academic achievement: it encompasses academic learning, social emotional learning, physical and mental health, and identity development. From an initial view, the whole child approach pretty much sums up what teachers do on a daily basis. Much of it happens instinctually: checking in with a student to see how their weekend went, the hours and hours spent creating lesson plans and curriculum units rooted in experiential learning, helping students find the right book that sparks their passion and drive toward literacy. It’s comforting a student going through heartache or trauma and cheering on their successes and milestones. As defined by the Learning Policy Institute, “[a] ‘whole child’ education prioritizes the full scope of a child’s developmental needs as a way to advance educational equity and ensure that every child reaches their fullest potential.” But while much of the whole child approach happens on the job, it’s important for educators to think about the whole child approach with intentionality to make learning as equitable and accessible as possible. Schools can help mitigate some of the most adverse situations for students, including poverty, food insecurity, and abuse, through a whole child approach. Ultimately, a whole child approach ensures that each student is in a safe, healthy, and supported environment and set up for long-term success.
Whole Child Approach and the Educator
While the whole child approach centers on bettering experiences for children to have successful outcomes, the first step for using the whole child approach squarely centers on the educator. First and foremost, educators need to be asking themselves, “Who am I as a teacher?” In having an understanding of our own identities, we are better equipped to understand the lens through which we see the world. And if we can identify our personal biases, blindspots, strengths, and how we relate to current systems of power and privilege, we can better empathize with colleagues and students from different backgrounds. From there, teachers can see their students within their own context. It’s often easy to view students as vessels to fill with information and forget that, just like us, students are people who have their own strengths, needs, and concerns. By shifting away from a factory model of “teaching as a transformation of knowledge ” to empathetically viewing our students as full human beings, our work as educators truly begins.
Considerations For The Whole Child Approach — How We Get There
A whole child approach means integrating empathy into all of our interactions. If our ultimate goal as teachers is to get our students to be strong learners who are successful beyond their secondary education, we need to support their identities and understand them within the context of our classroom. Students crave learning about what matters to them, so we must center our curriculum on what empowers them and shows a connection to their lives. As we think about implementing a whole children approach with intentionality, we must acknowledge and make space for how race, racism, power, and privilege affect their learning experiences. And as we create this space, educators need to model relationship building, boundaries, and self-advocacy. In setting classroom norms and sticking to them throughout the year, we create consistency, predictability, and security. Creating a small group advisory program allows students to build close-knit relationships with their teachers and their peers. In providing space for listening circles and peer mediation, we show our students that their voices matter. When we develop a curriculum that’s focused on small group and self-directed work, we teach students to communicate and collaborate. By cultivating classroom spaces that allow for experiential learning, project-based learning, cooperation, and community building, students can find their own meaning and purpose.
What The Whole Child Approach Means At Tutored By Teachers
At Tutored by Teachers (TbT), it’s very intentional that the whole child approach is one of our pillars. And, we might argue, it’s the most important pillar of our work. Through our onboarding process and on-going support and training, our tutors are provided the resources and tools, as well as their own forum for community building, that prioritizes whole child learning. Authentic relationships between teachers and students is crucial for the long-term success of any child, and tutoring is a space that easily lends itself to be more student centered. Through the relationships they foster, our tutors work to create genuine, authentic partnerships. At TbT, we see our students as full human beings, and while we value their academic growth, we know that this growth happens when tutors are empathetic, trauma-informed, and perform their work through an equity lens. Tutors at TbT go beyond just academic needs. Our tutors know that when a child’s identity is acknowledged and celebrated and their social emotional, mental, and physical needs are met, the academics fall into place.