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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why ASCD’s Whole-Child Initiative Matters More Now Than Ever

By Peter DeWitt — July 19, 2013 4 min read
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They are two words that educators hear all the time. Whole Child. Many educators are concerned that as we move further and further into this era of educational reform, the Whole Child will be lost or ignored for more “important things” like test scores and data. When that happens, we have truly lost the fight for common sense reform in education.

ASCD (formerly known as the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) has been around since 1943. According to their website, ASCD is “the global leader in developing and delivering innovative programs, products, and services that empower educators to support the success of each learner. Comprising 140,000 members--superintendents, principals, teachers, professors, and advocates from more than 134 countries.”

The Whole Child (WC) Initiative is one of ASCD’s programs offered to educators. Fortunately for us, they have a much better mission than educational policymakers. ASCD Whole Child “proposes a broader definition of achievement and accountability that promotes the development of children who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.”

One of the ways they focus on the Whole Child (WC’s Sean Slade and Klea Scharberg are rock stars in my book) is through the use of “public engagement and advocacy campaign to encourage schools and communities to work together to ensure that each student has access to a challenging curriculum in a healthy and supportive climate.”

Recently, ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative released a report entitled Making the Case for Educating the Whole Child. Sadly, we live in a time when organizations have to make the case for something that should be common sense. Everyone, including state education leaders and those in the USDOE will say they want to focus on the Whole Child, which is why they are adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and creating one-size-fits-all programs.

Unfortunately, tying administrator and teacher evaluation to state assessments is more about compliance than creativity, which means the whole child idea is at risk of being lost. But, organizations like ASCD give us hope because they offer us ways to be creative within the box that has been created for us, but we still need to fight for the pendulum to swing away from so much accountability.

Making the Case
Their 21st Century Imperative states that,
We live in a global economy that requires our students to be prepared to think both critically and creatively, evaluate massive amounts of information, solve complex problems, and communicate well. A strong foundation in reading, writing, math, and other core subjects is still as important as ever, yet by itself is insufficient for lifelong success.”

So, in an effort to broaden that definition of student success, ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative is focusing on five different areas. Those five areas are:
Healthy - “Regular physical activity can improve the health and quality of life of people of all ages (HealthyPeople.gov,n.d.); However, only 17 percent of high school students currently meet the recommended daily amount (Eaton et al.’ 2010).”
• Safe - “Students engaged in school-based social and emotional learning attained higher grades and scored 11 percentile points higher on academic achievement tests than peers who did not engage in such learning (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, 2008).”
• Engaged - “As students age, their level of school engagement tends to decrease-from a peak in elementary school through a significant dip in middle and early high school to a slight increase in later high school (Lopez, 2010).”
• Supported - “Learning environments that focus on caring student-teacher relationships, students’ social and emotional needs, and high expectations result in students who perform better academically; are more likely to attend school; and have significantly lower rates of emotional distress, violence, delinquency, substance abuse, and sexual activity.”
• Challenged - “Of high school students who have considered dropping out, 13 percent indicate that their reason for doing so was because the work was too easy (Yazzie-Mintz, 2010).”

In the End
It seems strange that we have to promote the idea of educating the Whole Child but too often in an effort to increase numbers, school leaders make grave mistakes. In an effort to raise school-wide test scores, educators will take away recess or other physical activity. That is an opportunity cost that happens too often.

Teachers will take away recess in order to push a little more learning in the classroom. That “extra” learning will hopefully result in higher scores. There are times when educational leaders make “no recess” a school-wide initiative. They need to read Eric Jensen’s Teacher World blog to see why that is a mistake.

Policymakers and state education leaders hide behind the excuse that they never encouraged leaders to take these actions, but we all know that there are educators and school leaders who will go to the extreme, especially when their jobs are on the line.

Unfortunately, these knee-jerk reactions do nothing more than hamper school climate and create low morale on the part of students and staff. This is why ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative is so important. We need to find a balance in all of this and everyone wants our students to be better prepared for life. However, we should be using the ASCD Whole Child approach as our model and not the heavy-handed approach that some of our state education departments are taking under the guidance of the USDOE.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.