HomepageISTEEdSurge
Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
Join ASCD
January 18, 2024
ASCD Blog

The Whole Child Needs a Whole Educator

author avatar
Everyone in a school should feel healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—even school leaders.
LeadershipSchool Culture
The Whole Child Needs a Whole Educator Header Image
Credit: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A / Shutterstock
A whole child approach is becoming a mainstay of education—educational philosophy and purpose are becoming more well-rounded, and there is a growing understanding of the need for student supports to address disparities. ASCD’s whole child commitment has helped change the definition of a successful learner “from one whose achievement is measured solely by academic tests to one who is knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically inspired, engaged in the arts, prepared for work and economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling” (The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action). 
But what about educators and school leaders? Shouldn’t we also be targeting a change in their definition of success and their supports? Shouldn’t we apply the whole child approach to a whole school approach? Many schools have infused a whole child focus into individual classrooms but rarely across the whole school or whole district. In many locations, this has been—as the name suggests—primarily a child- and student-centric approach. Yet we know that implementation without leadership guidance and educator buy-in will likely have a short shelf-life—or fail. Culture change, and change in general, needs dedicated and consistent leadership. As Michael Fullan writes in Principals as Leaders in a Culture of Change:  
[I]t is essential for leaders to understand the change process. Moral purpose without an understanding of the change process is moral martyrdom. Having innovative ideas, and being good at the change process, is not the same thing. Indeed, the case can be made that those firmly committed to their own ideas are not necessarily good change agents because the latter involves developing commitment with others who may not be so enamored by the ideas. 

Whole Education Mindset Shifts

So, what professional learning do educators and leaders need to ensure that a whole child approach has sustainability and whole-school adoption? They need to own the process. This means they too need to embrace the whole child tenets—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. But it also means they need to understand how to make the changes needed across their classrooms, school, and community, and how the whole child tenets will become relevant to everyone in their schools, including themselves. 

Culture change, and change in general, needs dedicated and consistent leadership.

Author Image

In 2017 BTS, a global leadership development company, along with BTS Spark, its social impact educational development arm, reviewed 140,000 hours of leadership coaching to find what was most commonly and frequently needed by those we coached. We wanted to see if there were commonalities in the mindsets and competencies of leaders across both the corporate and education sectors. Out of this analysis, we discovered 33 mindsets, framed by four domains, that were key for every effective leader. They addressed how the leader understood themselves (Be); reacted and engaged with others (Relate); made decisions (Think); and developed a north star and common purpose (Inspire). 
These domains were about leadership. They weren’t about instruction or benchmarking. Nor were they about the management of duties. They were about how to be the best leader you can be.  
What is also remarkable about these domains and mindsets is how closely they align to the whole child approach. They correspond to the individual tenets but, at the same time, support them in their overall successful change process. 

Whole Child Tenet

Domain: Mindset

HealthyBE: Wellbeing, Resilience, Confidence
SafeRELATE: Respect, Inclusion, Trust
EngagedRELATE: Engage Others, Empower Others / INSPIRE: Values, Shared Purpose
SupportedRELATE: Listen, Feedback, Coaching
ChallengedRELATE: Stretch Others / THINK: Challenge the Way Things Are Done, Disciplined Experimentation

The domain BE is about looking inward at oneself.  

This includes an individual’s resourcefulness, confidence, and ability to stay calm and empathetic in any situation. Productive mindsets within this domain allow for authenticity when you need it most. A well-being mindset, as an example, looks at becoming more self-aware and able to look after oneself, as well as understanding one’s impact on others. Linked to this mindset is being comfortable naming and expressing feelings where appropriate and being aware of your emotional state and how to manage it. 

The domain RELATE echoes the “safe” and “engaged” whole child tenant.  

First, this domain targets your connection with another person. This includes influencing others, building trust, and delivering tough feedback. A respect mindset delves into how to respect others and become a leader worthy of the respect of others. RELATE also focuses on how a leader can help their team grow and excel. For example, a coaching mindset can help others grow and solve problems for themselves. It allows the leader to move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat in coaching and mentoring conversations; structure an effective coaching conversation and ask questions to help others identify the behavior they want to change; and both build on their natural coaching style and become more comfortable and skilled in less-natural styles.  

The domain INSPIRE directs attention toward a leader’s ability to influence others.  

This helps to set direction, lead through change, or convey purpose. A productive INSPIRE mindset allows for an individual to lead with a positive and productive response in times of chaos and uncertainty. Aligning this with mindsets such as engage others and empower others can be a powerful learning tool for leaders.  

Finally, the domain THINK is about approaching problems in a new way.  

This includes identifying bias, seeking input from diverse sources, or innovating. A productive THINK mindset allows for an individual to think strategically, creatively, or beyond the obvious. When leaders have a mindset that challenges the way things are done, they can take a step back from a problem to challenge themselves and others to think differently. It allows the leader to identify when fresh thinking is needed; identify specific problems to solve and become curious about solving them; and act as an agent for change and challenge current thinking.

The Whole Leader

These leadership domains and mindsets focus on the individual leader's own needs, but also on how they can infuse such work into and across their teams. They target the behaviors and impact that leaders can have on their schools by using the influence potential that the leader inherently has. Leaders influence their school’s climate and culture. They influence the policies, processes, practices, and overarching direction of their school. The leader’s influence cannot be underestimated and should not be underutilized. As Simon Sinek states, “So goes the leader, so goes the culture. So goes the culture, so goes the company.” 

Taking the next steps of ensuring that your staff are also healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—and know how to weave the approach into their classrooms—is also something leaders need to do.

Author Image

Taking the first step to implementing a whole child approach is wonderful. Taking the next steps of ensuring that your staff are also healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—and know how to weave the approach into their classrooms—is also something leaders need to do. And to do this, you must lead in the same way, inspiring others, empowering others, challenging the status quo, and keeping in mind your personal well-being.  

Sean Slade is an education leader, speaker, and author, with nearly three decades of experience in education in the U.S. and globally. He serves as Head of BTS Spark, North America, the social impact arm of BTS focusing on educational leadership development. Prior to BTS Spark, Sean was senior director of global outreach at ASCD, where he launched and grew the ASCD Whole Child Network across 56 countries and led the development of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model (WSCC) with the CDC. His latest book is The Power of the Whole: What is Lost by Focusing on Individual Things. 

Learn More

ASCD is dedicated to professional growth and well-being.

Let's put your vision into action.
Related Blogs
View all
undefined
Leadership
Why Leaders Must Learn the Science of Reading
Linda Rhyne
2 weeks ago

undefined
Nurturing Assistant Principals’ Enthusiasm
Baruti K. Kafele
3 weeks ago

undefined
How Should Schools Support New Teachers Right Now?
Kate Stoltzfus
2 years ago

undefined
Designing Strategic Elementary Schedules
David James
2 months ago

undefined
Q&A: Principal Hamish Brewer on Leaving a Legacy
Emma Holdbrooks
1 month ago
Related Blogs
Why Leaders Must Learn the Science of Reading
Linda Rhyne
2 weeks ago

Nurturing Assistant Principals’ Enthusiasm
Baruti K. Kafele
3 weeks ago

How Should Schools Support New Teachers Right Now?
Kate Stoltzfus
2 years ago

Designing Strategic Elementary Schedules
David James
2 months ago

Q&A: Principal Hamish Brewer on Leaving a Legacy
Emma Holdbrooks
1 month ago