Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success

Each year in the United States, 46 million children are exposed to violence, crime, abuse, homelessness, or food insecurity, as well as a range of other experiences that cause psychological trauma. These experiences create toxic stress that can affect children’s attention, learning, and behavior. Research on human development shows that the effects of such trauma can be mitigated when students learn in a positive school climate that offers long-term, secure relationships that supports academic, physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development – an approach known as “whole child” education. Indeed such an environment boosts achievement for all children, regardless of their circumstances.

Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success by Linda Darling-Hammond and Channa Cook-Harvey looks at a broad body of neuroscience, science of learning, and child development science to examine how schools can use effective, research-based practices to create settings in which students’ healthy growth and development are central to the design of classrooms and the school as a whole. These approaches can help children overcome toxic stress and trauma, including stereotype threats that undermine achievement.

The report provides key lessons from the sciences of learning and development, discusses the implications of these findings for schools, and explains policy and practice strategies to develop whole child environments.

The key lessons the report surfaces from the sciences of learning and development are: 

  • Development is malleable.
  • Variability in human development is the norm, not the exception.
  • Human relationships are the essential ingredient that catalyzes healthy development and learning.
  • Adversity affects learning-and the way schools respond matters.
  • Learning is social and emotional, as well as academic.
  • Children actively construct knowledge based on their experiences, relationships, and social contexts.

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