Sean Slade: It’s Time for a Whole-Child Movement

Sean Slade: It’s Time for a Whole-Child Movement

Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access

Since 2007, ASCD, in its capacity as a leading K-12 education association in Washington, D.C., has been dedicated to advocating and promoting a Whole Child approach to education. This focus strives to redefine a successful learner not as one “whose achievement is measured solely by academic tests,” but rather as one “who is knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically inspired, engaged in the arts, prepared for work and economic self sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling.” (pg. 4).

This year, we launched the next evolution of our whole child work, the ASCD Whole Child Network. The Whole Child Network is a global network of schools focused on the same goals, engaged in the same processes and that utilize the same tools and resources. Schools that sign up get automatic access to a range of tools, guides, resources and an expanded Whole Child framework of benchmarks, building off our tenets (2007) and indicators (2010).

We purposefully made the Whole Child Network free – meaning that any individual, school or district can register for free – to increase use of and access to the approach. We believe that the time is right to move schools and systems toward a more child-centric, holistic and well-rounded Whole Child approach to education and we believe the Whole Child Network can play a significant role in getting there.

Why? Just look at what has occurred this year alone.

The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development launched their groundbreaking final report From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope. This report highlighted key areas for improvement on A Nation At Hope.

“After two decades of education debates that inspired deep passion and deeper divisions, we have a chance for a fresh start. A growing movement dedicated to the social, emotional, and academic well-being of children is reshaping learning and changing lives across America. On the strength of its remarkable consensus, a nation at risk is finally a nation at hope.”

The Commission set out six recommendations, the first of which sets the scene for the report:

 Recommendation 1: Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child.

• Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The follow up to the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) set out to increase attention to aspects of learning beyond just academics and promote 􀅴e􀁛ibility and innovation within districts and schools, as well as promote collaboration with local communities. In addition, the act required states to provide at least one non-academic accountability measure. As cited in our ASCD ESSA Essential for Educators, “[T]his requirement provides a unique opportunity to e􀁛pand the definition of student success and move toward a whole child accountability system.” As a result, 28 states have written “whole child” back into their ESSA States Plans and 13 states have written the ASCD & CDC Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model (WSCC) directly into their plans.

• States taking a whole child approach to education directly. Over the course of 2019, we witnessed more states dedicating funding and strategic planning efforts toward a Whole Child approach. This includes California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon. Most recently, Tennessee announced their commitment to the whole child.

In 2007, when we released The Learning Compact Redefined: Call to Action to launch our Whole Child approach, we asked:

“If decisions about education policy and practice started with ‘What works for the child?’ how would resources—time, space, and human—be arrayed to ensure each child’s success? If the student were truly at the center of the system, what could we achieve?”

In 2019, with the launch of the Whole Child Network, ASCD has provided the framework and the processes and tools to help schools in implementing and growing a Whole Child approach to education, ensuring that each child, in each school, and in each community, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.


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