Making a Case for the Whole Child


WholeChildBannerBy Steven W. Anderson

WholeChildAndersonAfter flying home from Houston, Tex., where I attended the 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, I feel once again inspired and grateful to be an educator. For three days, I experienced deep and meaningful discussions—on topics from the current state of education to what the future might hold—in session rooms, on the exhibit floor, and in the quite incredible general sessions. I have the opportunity to attend dozens of conferences a year, yet ASCD’s is the one that recharges my teaching batteries and helps me remember why I became a teacher in the first place.

And although I am excited to get back to the work that needs to be done for kids, I once again find myself questioning the approach that many of my colleagues in schools and districts around the country are taking when it comes to educating our children . . .

At my first ASCD Annual Conference in 2010, I learned about the ASCD Whole Child approach and became convinced that it is the best way to ensure that kids have the best learning experience possible. You see, learning isn’t really about test scores (PARCC, PISA, CCSS, or any other acronym you can think of when it comes to education). Learning is about ensuring kids are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

If you were to ask any superintendent or principal in any district or school how she helps kids in each of those five areas, I have no doubt she could fire off a few examples for each. But if you were to do an examination of how schools and districts truly support the emotional well-being of kids, or the health of students throughout the entire school year and not just in the month of October or a week in April, you might have a harder time finding those concrete examples.

I am the father of two daughters. One is in kindergarten and one is just 19 months old. My kindergartner goes to a great school where the focus isn’t just on ensuring she can read or count to 100. They care about her overall development—her health, her emotions, and her ability to interact positively with others. But I am lucky. How many parents can confidently say their kids’ schools are more about the whole child rather than just the part that takes a test at the end of the year?

Convincing a district or a school to follow the whole child path isn’t as easy as one would think. I fought to have the whole child conversation in my district many times and was consistently shown the door. If it didn’t show growth on assessments or lower the dropout rate, it wasn’t a program for them. Let’s think about it, though. If kids come to school knowing they are more than a statistic and they see a system that cares about them, feeds them well, takes care of them, and challenges them to be better, wouldn’t growth and dropouts take care of themselves? I am convinced they would!

Taking the path to educating the whole child is as easy as visiting There you can find a plethora of resources to get started. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Whole Child Examples Map: Who doesn’t like a good example of how this stuff works? ASCD has put together a map and list of schools and districts that are the success stories. The resource shows how the initiatives were started and, more important, how educators overcame the inevitable challenges.
  • Whole Child Podcast: Guests on this show are the authors and experts you’ve come to trust, covering everything from school culture to differentiated instruction to the lessons learned from schools actually trying to educate the whole child. Download them and listen at your leisure.
  • Making the Case: This PDF is your guide to getting started with the ASCD Whole Child approach in your school or district. Pay close attention to the advocacy tips at the end.
  • ASCD School Improvement Tool: This online tool gives you an idea of where you are and helps you determine the best path to where you want to be. A comprehensive needs assessment can be the first step in learning what educating the whole child can do for you.

I hope that you will consider the ASCD Whole Child approach for your classroom, school, or district. If kids are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, learning becomes everything we want it to be!


Steven W. Anderson is a learner, blogger, speaker, educational evangelist, author, and dad. As a former teacher and director of instructional technology, he is highly sought after for his expertise in educational technology integration and using social media for learning. As @web20classroom, he regularly travels the country talking to schools and districts about the use of social media in the classroom and how technology can be used to better serve students. Anderson is the author of the ASCD Arias publication The Tech-Savvy Administrator: How do I use technology to be a better school leader? and is also responsible for helping to create #edchat, a weekly education discussion on Twitter that boasts over 500 weekly participants.