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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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SEL and Whole Child Education: An Essential Partnership

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

The following is an interview with Molly McCloskey, Managing Director of the Whole Child Initiative for ASCD. There are some important, timely events related to children's SECD that are described below, so please read on.


Maurice: What is ASCD's Whole Child initiative and why did it get started?

Molly: ASCD's Whole Child Initiative is our commitment as a leading education association to ensure that each child, in each school, in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. While our programs, products, and services for our members and for educators in general have always been based on this belief, we decided in 2005 that it was time for us to promote the integration of education practice, sound education policy, and community commitment to bring about the success of a child emotionally, physically, socially, civically and academically. Unfortunately too many children around the world experience education, if they have access at all, that does not truly prepare them for post-secondary education, meaningful career opportunities and civic participation.

I do think it's important to note that ASCD is an international organization and that educating the whole child is a global concern.

SECD is at the heart of a whole child approach to education. We believe that a whole child approach prepares young people for long term success beyond school, not merely the short term outcomes often reflected in achievement test scores. Within a whole child approach, questions must be raised about school culture and curriculum; instructional strategies and family engagement; critical thinking and social-emotional wellness. We have an inherent understanding that no single program or initiative provides the silver bullet for school improvement, but rather that the application of child-adolescent growth and development theory in the context of learning within a specific community creates the opportunity for each child to succeed.

What are three things teachers can do immediately to help students and be more involved? What would you advise?

First off, say it out loud! We believe that many educators agree with a whole child approach. The more we talk about our beliefs and how they are reflected in our daily interactions with kids, the more we close what we call the believing doing gap. Secondly, take a look at our indicators of a whole child approach, rewrite them in first person, and then assess your own personal practices and beliefs. This will help you to determine if you do, in fact, have a believing doing gap and what you can focus on to close it.

And thirdly, we know that the adult-student relationship is the most powerful variable for learning and success. Take time to know your students well and to get their feedback on your performance.

What would you recommend for a school principal? I imagine supporting teachers' whole-child efforts would play a role.

Principals who both talk the talk and walk the walk give courage to those educators, families, and community members who are unsure. They gather feedback on how the school is performing and identify action steps for improvement. It helps to know that schools like your own are succeeding and that there are organizations like ASCD and our 64 partners which have resources to help you take the next steps in your specific context.

What if a reader is not so sure about this. What would you say? What might you recommend they do?

I would recommend that they start with our website. It really is one-stop shopping for research, resources, and conversation about the efficacy of a whole child approach both for those test scores and, more importantly, beyond. Work in SECD, service-learning, and problem-based learning informs the pedagogy and the context with which we work and lends depth to concepts, which can feel abstract. Finally, please know that this work is core to everything ASCD does from our work on Common Core State Standards, through our publications, to our conferences. Subscribing to our free monthly whole child newsletter will ensure that you are up to date on how we can all ensure each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Consider participating in a teleseminar about ASCD's Whole Child initiative that I will host on February 27. Then, consider signing a petition ASCD has launched to create a President's Council on the Whole Child.



Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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