THe Whole Child Challenge
Former Stuart Foundation president and former superintendent, Jonathan Raymond, knows what it will take to reimagine public education in America. The first step is a return to the Whole Child values that informed the very idea of public schools when they first opened their doors in the 19th century: educating the head, hands, and heart.
There are five steps to the Challenge
Step 1: Commit to the Whole Child
Back at the dawn of American public education, teachers were trained to apply a holistic lens to how children learn and develop. The goal was to produce successful citizens able to engage with democracy; the method was to cultivate the skills and capabilities that make children inquisitive learners, productive community members, and effective leaders.
It’s time for educators, policy makers, and community members to take heed of the historical data and science behind the Whole Child methodology, and apply it to curriculum & school design, teacher training, family & community engagement, and budget priorities. To resist the Whole Child movement is to turn our backs on the future. In the 21st century, our nation’s progress and place in the world rests on our ability to forge curious, passionate, empathetic, collaborative, lifelong learners.
Step 2: Think Systemically
Applying partial and one-off solutions to our education crisis turns efforts at school “reform” into an endless cycle of “problem-solving,” because every temporary Band-Aid or “silver bullet” solution turns out to cause a problem somewhere else. It’s time to step back and admit that no single “reform” is enough. What we need is a new vision: Americans must reimagine our public education system from top to bottom, re-grounding ourselves in the underlying democratic purpose of public education.
Taking a structural approach to our vast education system is a daunting task. That’s why reimagining public education can happen only through a collaborative effort of dedicated people – a community. Only a structural, community-driven approach will yield effective, sustainable outcomes, and to muster the necessary public will, we must build trust, collaboration, and community.
Step 3: Insist on a Both/And Framework
We can’t choose sides when it comes to our children. To reimagine public education we must reject the either/or models that create winners and losers and pit one group of Americans against another.
Testing and music lessons aren’t mutually exclusive. Fair pay and sensible budgets aren’t mutually exclusive, and neither are academic rigor and compassion. To fully prepare public school students, we need them all. It’s never been more urgent to reject an either/or approach and apply both/and instead. We need a vision that doesn’t take sides, except for the side of children.
Step 4: Give Voice to Students and Teachers
The Whole Child Challenge advocates giving students and teachers both presence and voice. To engage and empower our children, we must put them at the center, and design teaching and support structures to meet their needs. To raise morale and empower our teachers, we need to ensure they have input into how schools are designed and run, recognized for their passion and expertise not just in the classroom, but as leaders in our schools.
Today, inflexible bureaucracies, the impacts of childhood poverty and trauma, and punitive accountability metrics wear down many great teachers. The Whole Child model supports the health and well-being of teachers, and promotes opportunities for leadership, decision-making, professional growth, and peer collaboration. Ultimately, when students flourish, teachers flourish. Putting children at the center of education places teachers right there beside them.
Step 5: Be a Leader
Whole Child education is about beliefs and values. Are you living with purpose? Are you clear on what you are — and are not — willing to do, even if it costs you your job, your volunteer position, or the undiluted support of your neighbors? Whether you are a school official, a parent, or a high school class president, the best way to advocate for change is to be a leader. Leaders cultivate trust, collaboration, and self-awareness, promoting and modeling healthy, respectful relationships.
Change always takes time, and impatience is bound to arise. Leadership means persuasion, getting everyone on the same page and setting expectations. It also means listening. Your peers, constituents, and community will tell you what they want and need, but only if they feel heard. Authentic leadership is both exhilarating and hard. It requires commitment and courage. Above all, leadership means putting children ahead of our egos. That’s the Whole Child challenge in a nutshell.