Why the Whole Child Network is going global

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By Sean Slade

The Whole Child Network is a distinctly global approach to expanding our Whole Child focus and mission. It’s stated in the preamble, in which we describe the Whole Child Network as “a global network of schools focused on the same goals; engaged in the same processes; and with whose educators you can discuss issues, share insights, and exchange support.”

But why are we taking this expansive approach?

The Whole Child Network’s focus is global because the conversation surrounding our education system is becoming more global. While we may be actively discussing this core topic in Washington D.C., or in Columbus, OH, or in Warren Township, NJ, it’s a conversation which has been, and also is being, discussed in countries around the world.

Why is this? Well, maybe it’s a backlash to the global adoption of high-stakes testing over the past decade or what Pasi Sahlberg, the leading Finnish educator and author, has called the Global Education Reform Movement (or GERM for short). Sahlberg defines GERM as the standardization of education; “a focus on core subjects; the search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals; the use of corporate management models; and a focus on test-based accountability policies. It’s been a focus on back-to-basics, academics, and standardized testing.”

“The best way avoid infections of GERM is to prepare teachers and leaders well,” Sahlberg continues. “In Finland all teachers must have masters degree in education or in the field of their subject. This ensures that they are good in what they do in classrooms and also understand how teaching and learning in their schools can be improved. School principals are also experts of educational change and can therefore protect their schools and school system from harmful germs.”

As the pendulum of educational policy swings, we are now responding to the affects of GERM and are globally asking ourselves, “Surely there is more to education than a math score or scantron test?” Neither activity truly motivates the student, neither inspires the teacher, nor do much in helping society. Both are educational activities that have unfortunately supplanted education’s rationale.

The purpose of education has always been to every one, in essence, the same—to give the young, the things they need in order to develop if an orderly, sequential way into members of society.

John Dewey, “Individual Psychology and Education,” The Philosopher, Volume XII, 1935

Globally, there have been recent meetings, conferences, and summits, all primarily asking the same question: what is the purpose of education, and what role does education have in making us human? While this topic has been discussed by thinktanks over the last few decades, we have witnessed more events and activities recently where this topic discussing and promoting the human side of education has become the framing focus.

  • Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has moved from Stage 1 into Stage 2 for their Future of Education 2030 project which seeks to outline educational policy direction for the 35 members countries, focusing on determining the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values students need to thrive in and shape their future, and in doing so targeting individual and collective wellbeing.
  • World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) focused its biannual event on discussing ‘What it means to be Human’ calling for discussions and responses to “our constantly changing world, [where] it’s more important than ever that we unlearn and relearn the skills and knowledge that will allow us to thrive as individuals and societies. This extends to the way we teach, the way we learn, and how knowledge is shared.”
  • Global Educators Fest 2019, an event hosted by ScooNews in India focused its theme on Education for Sustainability: Moving on from Conformity to Creativity; raising issues around what makes a system able to nurture children and youth into active and empowered members of society.
  • Global Education Leaders Partnership (GELP) convenings in recent years and the most recent in 2019 sought to strategize on “anticipating the future of our world and societies and the thriving of humans in our times; following on with the tremendously complex challenges of learning and education within this context, mainly excellence and adaptivity.”
  • The Weaving Lab, a collaborative of educators, researchers, advocates, and leaders, seeking to develop “thriving learning ecosystem where everyone is living for universal wellbeing”. It seeks to promote flourishing individuals, communities, and societies.
  • Even Jack Ma, the former CEO of Alibaba, has chimed in declaring education should be more focused on “what makes us human.”

This is a global discussion that resonates with the same discussions occurring across the U.S. (see Why It’s the Right Time for the Whole Child Network), from D.C., to California, to Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and the many schools, districts, and communities in between.


But there is a second reason why the Whole Child is going global, and that fits in with our focus on the Whole Child for the Whole World. This reaffirmation of our Whole Child mission takes – in its second decade – a distinctly more global approach. This is both because of the shrinking and interconnected nature of our world, but it is also an appreciation that our children and youth will need to see themselves as part of their world and as stewards of a world that is undergoing rapid change.

The communities in which children live today are increasingly more interconnected with the rest of the world. Global economic production and consumption chains, human migration, and the ease of Internet connectivity and proliferation of social media have broken down geographic and cultural boundaries. Our local actions – what we purchase or sell, who we vote for, how to get to work – can have a ripple effect around the world. Likewise, an action that takes place halfway around the globe can affect our lives. As our world becomes smaller, local communities face similar challenges, such as famine, violent conflicts, climate change, economic inequality, and human rights, that threaten the health and safety of children and that require complex global solutions.  Therefore, to ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, education systems must teach students the competencies they will need to thrive in a global society.

Our Whole Child work is going global because it’s the needed conversation being discussed not just in the US but across the globe. We are also going global as a global mindset is needed for our children as  they enter into, change, and improve society.

Join us and find out more by visiting www.ascd.org/wholechildnetwork.

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