Awaken the Whole Child



This post is a part of the conversation around the ASCD Forum “Learning for All = Teaching for All.” To learn more about the forum, go to

By David Aderhold, Rebecca McLelland-Crawley, and Barry Saide

Parents, teachers, administrators, professors, researchers, university deans, and other education stakeholders are becoming increasingly and publicly concerned about the social-emotional well-being of students. The whole child approach to education requires us to ensure that students fulfill Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in order to ensure that they can use Bloom’s Taxonomies so that, ultimately, they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

Veteran educators know that this balanced educational approach is not new. The ASCD Whole Child approach was created in 2007 as an effort to focus on the long-term development and success of students, not just on academic achievement. However, shortly after it was created, the balanced approach to student well-being seemed to be swallowed up by terms like data-driven instruction, student learning outcomes, and accountability measures. As a field, we seemed to move toward valuing standardization and compliance more than individualization, creativity, and passion. Accountability of adults by adults seemed to extinguish the creativity and autonomy of teachers, taking from students that which made education fun: authentic, relevant, deep, and meaningful learning.

In the shift from viewing students with a wide lens to a viewing them with a microscope, we failed as a field to address the needs of each and every child. However, we believe times are changing, and there is far greater support for the whole child approach than ever before.

An alarming rise in mental health concerns on our college campuses and in our elementary and secondary schools across the nation fuels the need to find a more balanced approach to ensure the well-being of our students. Articles like Hanna Rosin’s “The Silicon Valley Suicides,” Alexandra Ossola’s “High-Stress High School,” and Frank Bruni’s “Rethinking College Admissions” highlight a multitude of concerns with which parents, students, and educators have been struggling. The most recent report, “Turning the Tide,” called for widespread changes in the college admissions process. It has been endorsed by more than 85 universities, including all eight Ivy League institutions.

The report, which is part of a two-year campaign designed to revamp the college admissions process, includes the following recommendations:

  1. Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
  2. Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
  3. Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.

We know our students are craving engagement, connection, and expression. They want to interact with nature, influence their community, find their artistic expression, and work on authentic tasks.

How do we create structures and opportunities to give our students voice and choice?

In future posts, we will begin a conversation around how we have focused on the social-emotional needs of our students in our respective roles. We invite you to respond with ideas and suggestions for how we can all push the pendulum back to the center. This way, we can all be at our best for the whole child.


David Aderhold is the superintendent of schools for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District and adjunct professor at Rider University in the Graduate School of Education. Connect with him on Twitter @david_aderhold.

Rebecca McLelland-Crawley is a National Board–certified teacher from New Jersey. She is the gifted and talented facilitator at Community Middle School in the West Winsdsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. Connect with McLelland-Crawley on Twitter @Bec_Chirps.

Barry Saide is a 2nd grade teacher in Bernards Township, N.J. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, a NJASCD executive board member, and a member of the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Connect with Saide on his website,, or on Twitter @barrykid1.


There are four ways for educators to join the 2016 ASCD Forum discussion:

  • The ASCD Forum group on the ASCD EDge social networking site is the main discussion platform. Educators can contribute blog posts about culturally responsive learning environments, pose questions to one another, or offer insight on message boards.
  • On Twitter, educators can use #ASCDForum to share perspectives and resources.
  • The #ASCDL2L Twitter chat on Tuesday, March 1, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. eastern time, will bring educators from all roles together to discuss how each can meet the diverse needs of the modern learner.
  • An in-person session of the ASCD Forum will take place at the 2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show on Monday, April 4, from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m.