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While whole child approaches are ideal for all students, they are especially important for students living with trauma.

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The report provides key lessons from the sciences of learning and development, discusses the implications of these findings for schools, and explains policy and practice strategies to develop whole child environments. We are grateful to The California Endowment for its funding of this report. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation. Photo copyright Drew Bird - www. Skip to main content. Aug 29 This resource, from the Partnership for the Future of Learning, provides a comprehensive policy guide for implementing and sustaining community schools.


It includes detailed information on the four key pillars of comprehensive community schools and features communications and policy development resources, including model legislative language and policy examples from across the United States. The words haven't led to a change in instructional approach or the values and outcomes that her school community prioritizes. Her school still has a strong culture of academic grading and families have high expectations around academic outcomes.

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  • As a result, although whole child education is presented as a core element, success is still defined and communicated to students and families as primarily academic. In her view, setting students up to succeed academically is only one dimension of whole child education.

    For her, a true embrace of whole child education would involve a reimagining of how the school defines and communicates student success. But she teaches in a system where parental expectation and community norms see academic achievement as the ultimate goal of instruction.

    Serving the whole child is seen as a secondary objective without a clear and direct relationship to student success.

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    Over the last year, EdSurge Research has been working on a project to understand how educators are shifting practice to reach all learners. For this project, we convened and facilitated Teaching and Learning Circles—local educator gatherings—in 22 cities around the country; published 60 stories of changing practice by both practitioners and reporters; and surveyed and interviewed hundreds of educators about their experience. Learn more about this EdSurge Research project.

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    But we also found educators who had different perspectives. While educators saw whole child as important, there was significant variation in how they defined it. From fall through spring , EdSurge Research conducted a survey of educators who registered for Teaching and Learning Circles in locations around the country and educators universally told us that whole child education was important and relevant to their work.

    What was more surprising, however, was the fact that these educators had different interpretations of whole child education. For some, serving the whole child was about a particular type of instruction or learning outcome, while for others, it was about creating environments that are conducive to learning.

    The first and second definitions—together comprising about 72 percent of responses—both relate to practices that are explicitly designed to produce better learning outcomes across academic and non-academic areas. The third and fourth definitions—comprising about a fourth of responses—focus on creating conditions and environments that form the basis for improved learning outcomes.

    Why Education Needs a 'Whole Child' Approach

    These definitions included language about helping students feel safe, supported and nurtured. These definitions are not necessarily in conflict or mutually exclusive. In follow-up interviews, educators explained that they embraced multiple interpretations. But the distinguishing factors are also telling and important.

    A Range of Definitions for the Term "Whole Child Education"

    While analyzing the survey data, we found no relationship between the definition educators provided and whether they believed whole child education to be easy or difficult to support. Nor did we find a correlation between the definitions and how supported educators felt by their school communities to integrate whole child approaches into teaching and learning practice.

    Whole Child Education

    Instead, how educators defined the term told us more about how they view the purpose of serving the whole learner, and therefore, how they understand their related role and responsibilities. For example, educators who view the purpose as helping students—particularly those who have not yet been able to reach their full potential—achieve better academic outcomes, may see their role as more focused on adapting their instructional techniques and curricular tools to reach different types of learners.

    The way educators define whole child education and how they perceive their role and responsibilities when it comes to supporting the whole learner impacts the kind of support necessary from administrators, colleagues and other members of the learning community.