Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child
Whole-Child Design Blueprint
Educators are given the critical and challenging task of creating learning experiences that truly support each child and their holistic development. This process requires us to confront, dismantle and reimagine the systems of education we have inherited that do not yet equitably or effectively serve our students. We also know that this required redesign will only be successful if we leverage the expertise and experience of those closest to the challenge — our educators, leaders, students and communities together.
The Whole-Child Design Blueprint encourages all classrooms, schools and systems to:
- Start with a shared purpose and commitment to holistic development and equitable outcomes for all students that drives improvement goals and priorities.
- Co-create a supportive school and classroom environment that is physically, emotionally, and identity safe, while creating a strong sense of community and belonging.
- Shift to developmental relationships – among teachers, students, leaders, and community – as the foundation.
- Set students up for success by facilitating rich learning experiences that integrate knowledge, skill and mindset development.
- Engage in transformational change together through shared leadership and ownership.
Unlike prescriptive models and curricula, Turnaround’s framework for school transformation is meant to be used as a visioning tool — supporting educators to look through the lens of whole-child development and take action toward the change they seek. The framework’s components and core practices are a way to think about, organize and integrate the non-negotiables for settings created with the science of learning and development in mind.
The application of this science-grounded, equity-driven framework can and should be unique for every school, taking into account its own assets and needs. The Toolbox provides ideas and resources to empower educators — teachers, leaders, student support staff, and more – to do this Whole-Child Design work in your own classroom, school, or district.
Capacity Building for Whole-Child Development
Staff Relationships and Collaboration
Expectations, Norms and Routines
Culturally Affirming and Sustaining Practices
Co-regulatory and Restorative Practices
Student Relationship Structures
Family, Caregiver and Community Partnerships
Intervention and Enrichment Structures
Learning Experiences in the ZPD
Supporting Student Agency
Cohesive School Vision
Start with a shared vision and commitment.
First and foremost, a school is grounded in its purpose—implicit or explicit. It sets the stage for school redesign by anchoring goals and priorities, creating shared direction, and defining what success will look like.
Setting a whole-child purpose often means redefining historic notions about the outcomes schools aim to achieve. Academic success is one important outcome, but equally critical is building students’ cognitive, personal, and interpersonal competencies and identities.
Create a context full of safety and belonging.
We know that for learning and development, context matters—and school and classroom environments are especially critical contexts as they are where students spend an enormous and influential portion of their lives learning about themselves. A supportive school environment is physically, emotionally, and identity safe, while creating a strong sense of community and belonging.
To create a true sense of safety and belonging, there must be a shared, authentic commitment to respecting, valuing, and giving power and voice to all community members—students, staff, caregivers, etc.—practicing inclusion even when it is difficult. This means designing the school culture itself together, as well as prioritizing mechanisms of support and repairing relationships, instead of only discipline, when challenges inevitably arise. As all voices are invited into the conversation, it is especially important that those with power are aware of how their identities and relative institutional positions affect their role in creating a supportive school environment.
Shift to relationships – among teachers, students, leaders, families - as the foundation.
Positive developmental relationships are the “active ingredient” in any effective child-serving system, characterized by emotional attachment, joint, reciprocal interactions, progressive complexity, and balance of power (Li & Julian, 2012). It is not simply about being friendly or caring, but knowing, respecting and valuing the background, interests and goals of students and families, while holding high expectations coupled with adequate supports that convey belief in students.
Importantly, these relationships also buffer the negative impact of chronic stress. A focus on relationships is especially important for students who are more likely to be impacted by implicit or explicit bias. The centrality of relationships should extend beyond student-teacher relationships, to those between and among teachers, leaders, staff, families, and other community stakeholders.
Knowledge, Skill, and Mindset Building
Set students up for success by integrating knowledge, skill and mindset development.
The science of learning and development tells us that learning is integrated—for example, no “math” part of the brain develops separately from a “self-regulation” part of the brain. Therefore, successful learning experiences intentionally include and simultaneously develop content-specific knowledge along with skills and mindsets including, for example, executive function, social skills, growth mindset or curiosity.
In classrooms, this means that academic instruction and student supports are most effective when they are driven by a holistic picture of the learner with unique skills, habits, mindsets, interests, relationships, experiences, knowledge, and goals. Growth and learning emerge through real experiences and authentic practice over time that shifts the balance of power towards students, recognizing them active agents within the learning process.
Shared Leadership and Ownership
Engage in transformational change – together.
Designing towards a whole-child purpose requires transformation, not simply tinkering around the edges of existing systems. Effective shared leadership and ownership facilitates this type of change in schools, as all staff are empowered to drive towards meaningful, shared goals and are supported to continuously improve.
The spirit of shared leadership and ownership goes beyond defined or formalized leadership roles in schools. It encompasses a mindset of collective responsibility and strives to build a collective sense of efficacy among all stakeholders through inclusive decision-making and capacity-building. Effective shared leadership and ownership also honors the highly relational aspects of how change happens.