Study Calls for Educators to Focus on 'Whole' Child

Study Calls for Educators to Focus on 'Whole' Child

A growing consensus about the factors involved in the well-being of children is reshaping education and changing lives across America, a report from the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development argues. 

Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope (HTML or PDF), found "a confluence of experience and science on one point": children learn best when their social and emotional as well as academic needs are taken into account. To succeed in school, a career, and life, children need a broad array of skills, attitudes, and traits — including the ability to collaborate, persevere, think critically, and problem solve — that enable them to work in diverse teams, grapple with difficult problems, and adjust to rapid change. Moreover, given research which shows that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are deeply linked, students need to be taught these skills as they are exposed to academic content and interact with adults and their peers. 

The report also notes that supporting students' social, emotional, and academic development benefits all children and helps improve attendance, grades, test scores, graduation rates, college and career success, civic engagement, and overall well-being. At the same time, providing equitable opportunities for social, emotional, and academic development requires calibrating those opportunities to each student's and school's individual strengths and needs — ensuring that those with greater needs have access to more resources.

"Educating the whole learner cannot be reduced to a simple set of policies or proposals," the report argues. "It is, instead, a mindset that should inform the entire educational enterprise."

To that end, the report recommends that efforts to integrate social, emotional, and academic well-being include a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success; creating learning settings that are safe and supportive for all students; changing instructional models to include social, emotional, and cognitive skills and embedding them in academics and school-wide practices; building educators' expertise in child development; aligning resources to address the development of the whole child; and forging closer connections between research and practice to generate useful, actionable information for educators. 

"Students, families, educators, and leaders are galvanizing around a growing recognition that we must support the whole learner; and they are making it happen in ways that fit their unique circumstances," the report concludes. "Their efforts have revealed the emerging outline of a way forward and have fueled, informed, and shaped the commission's task of bringing together all that we know and all that's been done into a unified framework for action. It is time to gather this momentum into a movement with the potential to improve the lives and performance of students across the country."

"From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope." Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development Report 01/15/2019. "National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development Offers Path Forward." Carnegie Corporation of New York Press Release 01/15/2019.