What does it mean to teach the Whole Student?

What does it mean to teach the Whole Student?

What do we mean by teaching the whole student?

Put simply, a whole student education calls out that a school’s purpose is greater than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Students shouldn’t be defined by test scores and letter grades. Teachers shouldn’t define their own success by those results, either.

A whole student approach to education lets teachers play an active role in helping students grow as whole people by supporting them academically, emotionally, and cognitively.

“Whole student is important because all students are different,” said Sarah Machado, a Curriculum Specialist at Gradient Learning who specializes in science. “They all have different needs. They all have different ambitions. So I see whole student education as meeting those needs, meeting students where they are, supporting who they are, and whoever they want to be now—and in the future.”

Dawn Krueger, principal at Heath Middle School in Colorado, said she receives evidence that her school is effectively teaching the whole student each day when she walks the hallways. Krueger sees the smiles on her students’ faces, hears the engaged discussions taking place in classrooms, and feels the renewed passion of her teachers as they prepare for their next lesson.

“There’s so much pride in this school,” Krueger said. “We want everyone to want to be here every day and we’re always looking for new ways to bring life skills into the classroom.”

Krueger reminds her teachers and students each day about the school’s mantra of “GRIT,” which stands for gratitude, resilience, integrity, and teamwork.

“In life, whether you’re a sixth-grader or an adult, you’re going to face challenges,” Krueger said. “So we want to show our students how to be resilient and to recognize that they can push through those challenges together.”

Principal Dawn Krueger at Heath Middle School
Principal Dawn Krueger at Heath Middle School

Principal Dawn Krueger at Heath Middle School

The ability to recover and adapt when faced with challenges is one of the key attributes of a whole student education. As important as it is to learn and retain knowledge from lessons, it’s more imperative that students develop an abundance of curiosity, purpose, and self-direction throughout their learning.

These life skills, coupled with the academic skills, will help form a well-rounded student who will be set up for success long after they graduate.

That’s why Gradient Learning proudly offers our partner schools externally-validated curricula that are integrated with the skill-building that supports mastery of both academic content and critical cognitive, social, and emotional competencies.

The curricula are supported by research and builds in instructional opportunities to develop students holistically. Through our customized learning platform, it is also able to be tailored to meet the unique needs of each school’s community and each of its students.

So I see whole student education as meeting students where they are, supporting who they are, and whoever they want to be now—and in the future.

Holly Wright, a SEL Manager at Gradient Learning, said a whole-student approach to education has always been necessary but has become “more and more obvious” in recent years.

“It’s a way of thinking about students as entire people and not just individuals that are in a building to receive a particular thing for a particular moment in time,” Wright said. “For me, whole student learning is looking at all of the skills, qualities, and mindsets that children need in order to be successful in their daily lives, both inside and outside of the school building.”

Further proof of whole-student success is seen at Santa Fe South Pathways Middle College in Oklahoma, where students are encouraged to think optimistically about their post-high school life and how they want to impact the world.

“We have all the resources available to develop our students and help them become who they want to be,” principal Chris McAdoo said. “We at least want them to know that the doors are open for them to chase their dreams. We also want them to be willing to take risks and go down certain paths because they have the confidence to do so.

“We don’t want them to just get a high school diploma and then still be unqualified for life and all the challenges that come with it.”

McAdoo is appreciative of his school’s partnership with Gradient Learning and how the emphasis on teaching the whole student has a positive domino effect throughout his vibrant community.

His passionate team of educators know that they must meet students’ development needs and consider all of the factors that impact their experiences, whether in the classroom or throughout their lives.

“Every kid knows that we love them,” McAdoo said. “If we are pushing them, it’s from our love for them. As we’re pushing them, we’re constantly thinking, ‘Where do we want this student to end up?’”