In order to optimize opportunities for success, learners need a diversity of experiences that are grounded in strong developmental relationships and safe environments, and which support the development of a breadth of skills.

But there is a persistent disconnect between the holistic set of skills and experiences that every child needs, and what our current education system prioritizes.

Today, assessment systems, funding streams, and existing education policies discount the importance of positive context, narrowly define student achievement, and perpetuate outdated conceptions of learning and development as a series of separate, independently developed skill domains.

In order to create the systemic conditions for optimal learning and development for every young person, we must break out of antiquated, narrow notions of educational success that create a false choice between students’ academic achievement and their physical, social, cognitive, creative, and emotional development. Doing so is essential to achieving equity in our education system and supporting healthy communities.

Science now validates what many of us know to be true from our own experiences: Ability is not static; our brains are continually rewiring and reshaping based on experiences and stimulation throughout life. The breadth of skills that create the foundation for success in life exist in a potential state in all children. Outcomes are determined by opportunities, environment, experiences, and relationships. Evidence-based, whole learner approaches grounded in the science of brain development and learning provide the framework for customized instruction and allow for learner agency that leverages the individual assets each child possesses, and addresses the unique barriers they face.

Whole-learner approaches ensure every young person has the ability to envision and realize their full potential. And when learners thrive, so do our communities.