Monday, January 18, 2010

Whole-Child is hard, but can we stomach the Part-Child approach?

I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t agree that teaching the “whole child” is important. Talk to anyone who has been in the classroom for even a few weeks and they’ll be able to give you myriad examples of the physical, emotional, and intellectual growth – and needs – of their students.

But nearly every teacher I know has struggled mightily with the notion that she can actually create a classroom environment that fosters growth in all these areas equally.

The pressures of the school system are one huge obstacle.

The challenges and demands of life outside of school, both for the students and the teacher, present another.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day, or enough hands on deck, to ensure that every child gets what he or she needs between when the first bell rings and the last one stops ringing.

So is it an impossible dream?


But like anything of value it takes time and effort to make possible.

I have met teachers who:

  • Incorporate movement into every class period even though what they teach is high school Chemistry.
  • Meet individually with every student each week to conference about reading, even though they have well over 100 students.
  • Put responsibility for class rules and expectations in the hands of students, even though the students are only 4-years-old.
  • Achieve the highest test scores in the school without students ever knowing they were preparing for a test.
  • Strengthen classroom community by eliminating desks, even though they’re teaching middle school science.

Teaching is not an easy job. If we put a very benevolent spin on current trends in education we can say that decision makers are attempting to make the job easier. The further we move away from teaching the whole child, the less we have to do. Teaching part of a child is certainly less work.

But in the future will we be okay with the knowledge that our schools only partially educated our society? If we succeed in teaching all of our students how to do well on these tests, will they also do well on the tests of life – tests that rarely have fill-in-the-bubble answers?

And if such forward thinking makes us uneasy today – is it not our responsibility, and indeed our opportunity, to find a way to do things differently?

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