Current circumstances make the case for educating the whole child
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
by: Roman Stearns

Section: From Contributors

Roman Stearns, Founder & Executive Director, Scaling Student Success

Current circumstances make the case for educating the whole child

How many times have you heard the chorus, “We need to educate the whole child?”

How many times have you heard the chorus: “We need to educate the whole child?” 


That is the call from scientists and researchers who have studied child development, the science of learning, the history of education and labor market projections. It is the plea of counselors and school psychologists who attend daily to students suffering from the ill-effects of bullying, academic pressure, racial violence and schoolyard shootings. It is the advice of educational leaders who are concerned that an overemphasis on standardized tests and admissions to elite colleges has narrowed the curriculum.


Parents and teachers see and experience the whole child on a daily basis and inherently know that one cannot separate intellectual advancement from social, emotional and physical development.


In fact, few argue with the benefits of, and need for, educating the whole child. While we may have reached a tipping point of thought, our collective action lags far behind. The rapid spread of coronavirus and its sudden, dramatic impact on schools gives us a much greater sense of urgency.




At this moment, our children are being called upon to be resilient, adaptable and empathetic. We need them to step up and be compassionate, civically-minded and ethically responsible. Teachers expect them to demonstrate their digital literacy and communicate effectively across platforms. Parents expect them to be independent learners, self-directed, intellectually curious and resourceful. We all hope they will exercise curiosity, creativity and critical thinking to identify and approach real-world problems that just weeks ago were unanticipated and unpredictable. And, now more than ever, we pray that they maintain a healthy mind and body. All these competencies (and more) result from educating the whole child.


This moment of disruption is also an opportunity to stop and ask how best to educate the whole child. While we continue to explore possibilities, many school districts have already taken a first step by engaging community stakeholders to create a Graduate Profile — a succinct one-pager defining the skills, competencies and mindsets necessary for future success in college, career and civic engagement. Leaders of these districts recognize that the measures contained in our state accountability system may be necessary, but are far from sufficient to catapult our young people into an unknown future or prepare them for the unexpected.




A pioneering group of school districts that recognize the power and potential of a Graduate Profile have joined a new California partnership called Scaling Student Success. Together, they have formed a Community of Practice in order to operationalize their Graduate Profiles and hold themselves collectively accountable for ensuring that each and every student has an opportunity to develop and demonstrate the competencies articulated in their respective Graduate Profiles. They know that moving “from poster to practice” is hard work and takes years, but is worth pursuing in order to meet the needs of the students they serve.


The Scaling Student Success Community of Practice operates as an improvement network that shares promising practices and lessons learned, leverages available tools and resources, pushes each other’s thinking, experiments with new strategies, promotes continuous improvement, identifies and supports enabling policies and more. The districts are surrounded by a curated group of expert support providers who can help them with every step of the process to operationalize their Graduate Profiles, whether it’s adopting common rubrics against which to assess student progress on Graduate Profile outcomes, strategizing ways to support those outcomes through extended learning opportunities or building out college and career pathways as a contextualized structure for promoting them.

The challenges our students and schools face in the midst of this pandemic put immediacy behind the changes that so many communities have already endorsed through the development of these Graduate Profiles. Educating the whole child is even more of an imperative today than ever before; it’s one many districts are taking on with growing zeal and determination.

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