Blending Elements of Practice to Support Children and Teachers


WholeChildBannerBy JoAnne Ferrara and Eileen Santiago

wholechild 2-4Creating school conditions where teachers thrive can be a daunting task, especially for those schools serving poor, high-needs student populations. Teachers learn best in a collaborative, collegial school culture where seeking professional growth and promoting one another’s well-being are the norm rather than the exception. As demands to improve student test scores, increase teacher accountability measures, and address school climate factors escalate, it is time for school leaders to consider addressing these concerns in a comprehensive and integrated manner. For teachers to be highly effective and to ensure that students reach their highest potential, it is essential that both teachers’ and students’ needs are met. Perhaps it is time to bring together collaborations that support the needs of the whole child and the needs of the whole teacher.

In our roles as school leaders representing the field of higher education and public school administration, we blended two complementary models into one transformative initiative. Our journey began with a conversation about ways to improve outcomes for those in our charge. Initially, we were looking to deepen the practices already in place at our respective institutions. We wanted to build a reciprocal partnership that addressed the needs of a K–5 Title I school while simultaneously helping to restructure a teacher preparation program. Because we shared a similar teaching and learning philosophy grounded in the work of Maslow, Bronfenbrenner, and Darling-Hammond, we wanted to build programs and projects closely aligned with our core beliefs. We believed then, as we do now, that for teachers to successfully work with increasingly diverse student populations found in many of today’s classrooms, they must acquire a set of complex skills that addresses the overall developmental needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students, which can be easily nurtured within the network of a community school. Community schools serve high-needs, under-resourced students, families, and neighborhoods. It is common for most community schools to operate as a hub for programs and services with health care agencies, mental health agencies, and youth service agencies and host these agencies at the school site to provide readily accessible support systems.

Since both of us understood the benefits of the community school strategy as a means to strengthen the lives of children and families, we wanted to also strengthen the lives of teachers by incorporating a powerful model, the professional development school (PDS), within its borders. Since the late 1980s, PDSs have been the vehicle by which institutions of higher education partner with local schools to prepare future teachers, provide professional development for practicing teachers, conduct educational research, and enhance K–12 student achievement. We designed structures within our community school/PDS so that teachers regularly benefited from the partner-sponsored programs servicing students and families as well as from on-site professional development opportunities that increased their repertoire of skills, both within the classroom and within the broader context of educating the whole child. For example, teachers conduct research, prepare preservice teachers, and engage in meaningful conversations about whole child education with college faculty and the community at large. These types of interactions allow them not only to use their classrooms as learning laboratories but also to serve in expanded roles beyond the confines of their classroom walls.

The blending of these two powerful models, the community school model and the PDS model, creates a two-pronged approach for supporting the whole child and the whole teacher. The community school component, with its host of programs and services, addresses the developmental needs of the whole child, while the PDS component gives teachers access to high-quality professional development and varied opportunities to work with other professionals in a caring, nurturing environment in order to perfect their craft. Perhaps it is time for school leaders to consider blending elements of practice from these two powerful models into a cohesive a support system for children and teachers.

Authors note: Portions of this post were excerpted from the following source:

Ferrara, J. (2011). Supporting the whole teacher through whole child education. Excelsior 6(1), 70–78.


JoAnne Ferrara, PhD, is the associate dean of undergraduate advising at Manhattanville College and the author of Professional Development Schools: Creative Solutions for Educators. Eileen Santiago, PhD, is a retired community school principal. Ferrara and Santiago, along with Jane Quinn, are the coauthors of Whole Child, Whole School: Applying Theory to Practice in a Community School.