Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive.

Student Well-Being Opinion

What Research Says About Supporting the Whole Child

By Angela Duckworth — December 16, 2020 2 min read
How do I educate the whole child?

This column will be on break through the end of December. Happy holidays, and see you in January!

How can we as educators think holistically about educating the whole child?

As 2020 draws to a close, caring for the whole child is more important than ever. Here’s what I wrote about this topic recently for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

What do we hope for when we send children to school?

This is the question Martin Luther King, Jr. posed in an essay entitled “The Purpose of Education,” published in the Morehouse student newspaper around the time of his 18th birthday.

King’s answer: “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

But what, then, is character?

This is the question child psychologist Diana Baumrind addressed, toward the end of an illustrious career, in an essay entitled “Reflections on Character and Competence.”

Character, Baumrind writes, “provides the structure of internal law that governs inner thoughts and volitions subject to the agent’s control under the jurisdiction of conscience.”

Baumrind then offers examples of character strengths recognized by diverse traditions across history and different cultures. Character is personal integrity, honesty, and social responsibility. But character is also persistence in the face of obstacles, self-discipline, and work ethic. The list of what constitutes admirable character goes on and on. In short, character is not one thing, but many.

In King’s prescient words: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” As Baumrind put it: “It takes virtuous character to will the good, and competence to do good well.”

New research by economist Kirabo Jackson and colleagues shows that some schools are especially good at raising standardized achievement test scores. Some excel at improving interpersonal skills, like helping other people. Some improve intrapersonal skills, like setting aside time to study.

Jackson also found that the schools that do a wonderful job on the test-score front don’t always excel at developing aspects of character—and vice versa. But many schools do both.

Don’t oversimplify education. A great classroom is one in which young people thrive in every sense of the word. Schools play an essential role in helping young people develop socially, emotionally, physically, and academically.

Do ask the young people in your life what they think about the purpose of education. Share a story, perhaps, of a lesson you learned as a young person that you can’t put on your resume but you hope will be remembered in your eulogy. As with so many endeavors in life, Why? is a very good place to start.

Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of the education nonprofit Character Lab, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow Character Lab on Twitter @TheCharacterLab.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now 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.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

7796 - Director of EAL (K-12) - August '21
Dubai, UAE
GEMS Education
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Whitepaper
Building a Trauma-Informed Learning Environment
Download this white paper to learn how to recognize trauma and gain strategies for helping students cope and engage in learning.
Content provided by n2y
Student Well-Being Caring for Students in the Wake of a Traumatic News Event
How educators can help students unpack emotions in the wake of troubling news events in a way that clears space for learning.
5 min read
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.
Pro-Trump rioters try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol.
John Minchillo/AP
Student Well-Being Infographic Data Snapshot: What Teacher and Student Morale Looks Like Right Now
See how the pandemic is impacting the morale and motivation of teachers and students in this exclusive EdWeek Research Center survey.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
Mood Emojis shown in the form of a chart with data graphs ghosted behind them.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Getty<br/>
Student Well-Being Explainer COVID-19 Vaccines and Schools: Your Questions Answered
Will teachers get priority? Can shots be required? EdWeek answers educators' frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines.
Education Week Staff
4 min read
Vaccine in a bottle with a syringe.
iStock/Getty