Reframing our education system to embrace whole-learner approaches requires embedding the foundational elements of whole-learner approaches into teacher and leader preparation, and pre-service programs.
Effective teacher training extends beyond direct instruction on the design and implementation of whole-learner approaches and incorporates experiences for future educators that parallel the engaging, differentiated nature of whole-child approaches. When future educators have experienced whole-learner approaches firsthand—learning creatively, with hands-on opportunities and engaging material—they will be more prepared to lead whole-learner approaches effectively in their own classrooms.
Deeply embed whole-learner approaches into teacher and leader professional development, and pre-service programs so that educators learn through whole-learner approaches themselves.
Through an array of teaching strategies, including hands-on, minds-on learning experiences, professional development and pre-service programs should prepare educators with the skills and competencies necessary to nurture and direct the breadth of skills development necessary for students to thrive, and to support individual students with customized instruction aimed at achieving positive outcomes.
Provide professional development that prepares educators to develop students’ breadth of skills.
- Refocus Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA) on the full complement of training and professional development opportunities needed to prepare teachers to implement and lead whole-learner approaches, including the development of strong teacher-student relationships; and
- Require grantees under Title II of HEA to align training for early educators with K-12 educators so that all children experience a continuum of whole-learner approaches, rather than facing disruption that can hamper positive impacts on learning and development.
Provide support for new educators on the adoption of whole-learner approaches.
A continuum of high-quality whole-learner experiences is not only essential for students. For new educators, the opportunity to experience and model whole-learner approaches should carry through from pre-service student teaching and clinical experiences to their time in the classroom. Educators need high-quality professional development opportunities grounded in the science of learning, equity, and high-quality content that both educate about and replicate whole-learner approaches, and they need the dedicated time to participate in professional development opportunities, reflect, and iterate with their peers.
Incentivize strong, evidence-based in-service experiences for new educators that are aligned with and prioritize a focus on whole-learner approaches.
- For new teachers: Provide ample, dedicated, and ongoing funding support for one-on-one mentorship and coaching for at least the first two years on the job. This will help new educators practice and reflect on the personalized nature of leading whole-learner approaches in an integrated, technology-rich context. Veteran teachers steeped in whole-learner approaches—as well as high-quality nonprofit partners—represent a powerful resource to provide capacity and expertise for ongoing coaching/mentorship frameworks that support the expansion of whole-learner approaches; and
- Expand Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to support the adoption of evidence-based best practices in both professional development and mentorship that advance the development of whole-learner approaches in an integrated, technology-rich context.
Giving New Teachers the Tools to Succeed
America Forward Coalition member New Teacher Center (NTC), a national nonprofit that works in school systems across the country to develop and implement induction programs aligned with district learning goals, understands the lasting, positive impact that high-quality in-service experiences can have on educators and their students. NTC induction programs include one-on-one mentoring and professional development, all taking place within school environments that support new teachers. It also develops and provides innovative programs, services, resources, and tools that address national issues related to new teachers and teacher development, including providing coaching on social and emotional and trauma-informed practices to meet the needs of all students.
Support all staff in the development and implementation of whole-learner approaches.
Principals, assistant principals, and lead teachers are not the only people in school settings for whom experience and deep understanding of whole-learner approaches is critical. Every adult in a school building focused on educating children—including assistant teachers, paraprofessionals, curriculum specialists, technology resource teachers, other staff, and volunteers—bears some responsibility for the success of every child. When we invest in a comprehensive whole-learner approach, every adult should have a strong understanding of the underlying concepts to help support every student’s path to success. In addition, decisions made at the district level have a profound impact on the ability of individual schools and educators to implement whole-learner approaches. Therefore, superintendents must be included in training about whole-learner approaches, and funding structures must reflect an understanding of the dynamic and customized nature of whole-learner instruction.
Prioritize staffing structures—from district-level leaders to individual support staff—that create consistency and continuity in the implementation of whole-learner approaches, and engage all school leaders, teachers, and staff in targeted professional development.
- Encourage efforts under Title I and Title II of ESEA to support school leaders, educators, and staff—at the district and school levels—in the implementation of whole-learner approaches. In addition to providing relevant resources and best practices, this means providing ample time for peer-to-peer and team-based learning that allows educators to experience and develop a common language around the elements of whole-child approaches.
Create aligned incentives.
In much the same way that assessments and measures of student success must be expanded to take a more holistic view of learning and development, assessments of teacher understanding and performance must also be more holistic.
Teacher evaluation frameworks that take a narrow view of student success and teacher effectiveness place additional pressure on educators to focus on the acquisition and repetition of content, rather than pursuing innovative, differentiated, learner-directed experiences.
Incorporate whole-learner outcomes into teacher and school leader assessment frameworks.
- Require that ESEA Title I plans for teacher and school leader assessments incorporate whole-learner approaches and outcomes.