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WHOLE-CHILD DESIGN

Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child

WHOLE-CHILD DESIGN > SHARED LEADERSHIP + OWNERSHIP

Capacity Building for
Whole-Child Development

Inclusive leadership practices must be paired with a strong, shared commitment to building the capacity of all staff for whole-child development. Overall, capacity-building efforts enable staff to live out a whole-child purpose through consistent, predictable learning and feedback opportunities, as opposed to singular, one-off learning moments. Drawing from the understanding that learning is integrated, supporting staff growth is most effective when it is inclusive of staff’s experiences and acknowledges the importance of context in skill, knowledge and mindset building. Capacity-building work goes beyond the implementation of prescriptive programs and the adoption of a set of best practices, and includes the ongoing commitment of resources, time and space that supports continuous learning and improvement over time. These opportunities include distributive and collaborative learning and support where adults are actively engaged in capacity-building efforts for self and others, as opposed to passively receiving information in one-directional professional development sessions or reactively receiving accountability feedback as part of a formal evaluation process. Capacity-building efforts also call on everyone to model, advocate and consistently prioritize whole-child development, especially when the pressures exist to do otherwise.

CONTINUUM OF PRACTICE

Opportunities for Whole-Child Learning

Learning opportunities connected to whole-child development (e.g., learning about developmental relationships, supportive environments, and skill and mindset building) are few and far between. Even if they are thought of as important, they are not yet fully integrated into formal and informal learning structures throughout the year.

For example, schools may engage in whole-child learning during a summer workshop or in quarterly meetings, but learning is not blended into other ongoing forms of professional learning, development and collaboration (e.g., weekly department meetings, data review structures, student support processes, grade-level team meetings, teacher coaching, and evaluation).

Shared Commitment to Whole-Child Development

Capacity building for whole-child development is seen primarily as a need for a few specialized roles within the school (e.g., special education teachers, social workers, counselors, school psychologists, behavior specialists, or interventionists) or to support with accountability measures (e.g., leaders attending a training on whole-child development so that they can evaluate others).

This means resources are not consistently allocated, and time and space for whole-child learning is often seen as competing with other priorities (e.g., resources, time and space for teachers to collaborate on lesson planning and instruction are perceived as competing with resources, time and space for relationship building and skill and mindset building).

Authentic Skill Building for Adults

Learning opportunities connected to whole-child development are mostly centered on the adoption or implementation of prescriptive programs or best practices. In such professional development opportunities, sharing technical strategies or quick fixes may take the place of ongoing, active and authentic capacity-building efforts (e.g., providing a list of trauma-informed best practices for teachers to start implementing without ongoing support, further analysis and connected skill building, or using the curriculum from a program without adapting it to the unique context of the school or modeling the skills required to do the program well over time).

Active Engagement in Capacity-Building Efforts

Capacity-building efforts connected to whole-child development are planned and facilitated by a small group of people (e.g., a primary leadership team determines the topics, sequence and format of whole-child learning opportunities in isolation and then shares the plan with teachers who will experience the predetermined sequence of learning without any proactive input or role in shaping the experience).

As a result, there is uneven engagement and investment in whole-child capacity-building efforts among staff and stakeholders. Some are more passively receiving the learning, while others are leading it or are seen as the experts doing the work on behalf of others (e.g., advisors are made responsible for relationships with students, or counselors are positioned to be the only experts in student intervention and enrichment). When there is staff engagement, it is often performative or driven by compliance.

Mindsets About Adult Capacity Building

Leaders may struggle to create the conditions for staff to hold a growth mindset (e.g., about self and others) in terms of continuously improving systems, structures and practices connected to whole-child development. Leaders may become impatient when growth or progress toward whole-child aligned goals is jagged (e.g., may show signs of anger, frustration or disengagement when change takes longer than expected).

As a result, some staff may begin to abandon initiatives, resist new approaches, refuse to adjust approaches, blame others for failure, or resort to old patterns, behaviors and mindsets as a coping mechanism (e.g., a principal may become quick to blame staff for not being on board with an initiative when it does not yield immediate results or is challenging to implement).

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Opportunities for Whole-Child Learning

Learning opportunities connected to whole-child development are integrated into both formal and informal structures but may not yet be part of a purposeful sequence of learning focused on building capacity over time. This may look like blending whole-child topics into existing structures or building new ones.

For example, while learning to facilitate small group work, a department may learn how to support relationship skills in students (e.g., how to navigate disagreements) or executive functions (e.g., how to track ideas via note-taking). Alternatively, teachers may create complimentary, informal spaces to discuss strategies for integrated skill development (e.g., via peer observations, partner reflections and resource sharing).

Shared Commitment to Whole-Child Development

Capacity building for whole-child development is seen as an essential need for specialized staff and most teachers, with some concern given to all staff when time allows (e.g., school leaders, deans, department chairs, instructional coaches, administrators, attendance clerks, lunch and recess support staff).

This means resources for whole-child learning and development are inconsistently allocated (e.g., funds are made available for some people to attend training, or budget may be provided for a time-bound whole-child initiative one year but not the next), or time and space are conditionally provided (e.g., whole-child learning initiatives might be abandoned or deprioritized to focus on something perceived as more important, such as learning loss or discipline and behavior management).

Authentic Skill Building for Adults

Learning opportunities connected to whole-child development are sometimes centered on the implementation of a program or adoption of a set of best practices, but at other times the content is contextualized for the unique school setting (e.g., after reading about a strategy or program, teachers are given the space to reflect on the transferrable learning for their own classrooms, as opposed to being asked to take a one-size-fits-all approach) or opportunities for practice are provided (e.g., beyond sharing a list of strategies, leaders may model a strategy and provide teachers with a chance to practice in scenarios that are unique to their context and experiences).

Active Engagement in Capacity-Building Efforts

Capacity-building efforts connected to whole-child development are planned and facilitated in increasingly collaborative ways (e.g., learning may start out being planned by one team, but as others begin to engage and become more involved, ownership is shared across several departments, teams or individual staff members).

As a result, capacity-building efforts connected to whole-child development may start off as more top-down experiences, or some individuals may be seen as starting off with the expertise, but as time goes on, more people are engaged, invested and involved in planning, facilitating and following up on capacity-building efforts (e.g., an instructional coach may begin by modeling how to integrate skill and mindset development into a lesson, but then later, teachers who are innovating might model their own examples from which others can learn). This begins to empower and actively engage more staff in their own learning and development.

Mindsets About Adult Capacity Building

Leaders sometimes facilitate a growth mindset in staff in terms of continuously improving systems, structures and practices connected to whole-child development, but at other times may struggle. For example, a leader may sometimes value mistakes and failure as expected learning tools, but at other times may become overly evaluative and begin rewarding mastery as opposed to celebrating growth (e.g., leaders may not yet have aligned their performance management practices, such as coaching and evaluation, to reflect their commitment to a whole-child purpose).

As a result, some staff may feel motivated to work through dilemmas, try multiple approaches, learn something new, adjust practice, and resist old patterns, while others become demotivated, targets of blame, or disheartened by persistent challenges.

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Opportunities for Whole-Child Learning

In addition to being fully integrated into both formal and informal structures, learning opportunities connected to whole-child development are also continuously prioritized, purposefully sequenced (e.g., a starting place or scope of learning may be based on a whole-child aligned data reflection or assessment), and build on each other over time.

For example, instead of rapidly moving through whole-child topics or selecting a starting place based on mandates (as opposed to holistic and inclusive needs assessments), educators engage in ongoing cycles of continuous learning that incorporate meaningful improvement activities over time (e.g., data reflection, collective problem-solving, success analysis and peer practice).

Shared Commitment to Whole-Child Development

Capacity building for whole-child development is seen as an essential need for all staff and is especially valued by school leaders who see their own learning and mastery as essential in supporting the development of others. School leaders may also use their position to advocate for opportunities for whole-child learning for others (e.g., insisting more holistic topics and perspectives be integrated into district-level professional learning).

This means leaders allocate and advocate for the resources, time and space needed to consistently prioritize whole-child learning and development for all (e.g., resisting pressure to focus on academics at the expense of integrating meaningful whole-child learning for staff) and collaborate with others to ensure continued, shared commitment (e.g., offering to collaborate with another school or sharing learning and problem-solving).

Authentic Skill Building for Adults

Learning opportunities connected to whole-child development consistently go beyond the implementation of a program or adoption of a set of best practices and extend into specific feedback and support opportunities throughout the year (e.g., after engaging in models and authentic practice in an all-staff session, individualized learning and support continues via ongoing live coaching, collaborative problem-solving, real-time practice, and feedback loops). As a result, all adults are actively and continually supported to build their knowledge and skills connected to whole-child development in their unique contexts.

Active Engagement in Capacity-Building Efforts

In addition, capacity-building efforts connected to whole-child development allow for meaningful collaboration with others and opportunities for self-direction (e.g., not all whole-child learning topics are dictated by the same scope and sequence, staff have some shared goals but also some autonomous goals, and there is flexibility in terms of how and when staff approach their reflection, learning and skill building).

As a result, capacity-building efforts connected to whole-child development are distributive and personalized, and do not rely on top-down mandates that must be implemented in the same way, at the same time, by everyone. Instead, adults are actively engaged in the capacity-building efforts for self and others (e.g., via modeling, neutral time practice, peer-to-peer observations, and collaborative problem-solving). This empowers all staff to learn and develop in ways that complement overarching, holistic school goals but that are also personalized for their own unique context.

Mindsets About Adult Capacity Building

Leaders successfully and consistently facilitate a growth mindset in terms of continuously improving systems, structures and practices connected to whole-child development. Leaders remain patient and dedicated when growth and progress are jagged. They understand capacity building as a process, believe skills are malleable, and believe that improvement happens over time (e.g., leaders may support staff in navigating external pressures around data that does not reflect a commitment to a whole-child purpose).

As a result, staff feel empowered to investigate root causes in dilemmas and challenges, including examining historical and systemic reasons for the challenges. Staff members embrace learning by doing, and all staff, including leaders themselves, are challenged to grow, take risks and try new things that may lead to improved outcomes for students.

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