Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child
First and foremost, a school is grounded in its purpose — implicit or explicit. It sets the stage for school design by anchoring goals and priorities, creating shared direction, and defining what success will look like.
Setting a whole-child purpose can often mean redefining historic notions about the outcomes that schools aim to achieve. Academic success is one important outcome, but equally critical is creating educational experiences that build students’ essential cognitive, social and emotional skills and mindsets, develop their identities and self-worth, and remove barriers to healthy development, learning and thriving.
Beyond simply having a vision and mission statement that talks about holistic development or equitable outcomes, a school truly committed to a whole-child purpose organizes its time, resources, commitments and energies accordingly. It makes tough decisions to prioritize work that may not be measured on evaluations but is in the best interest of its students and community. Available data that speaks to holistic outcomes and students’ experiences at school is regularly reviewed and used to ensure effective and equitable practice. A clear, collective commitment from all leaders and staff puts students’ needs first, even when directives from above make that challenging. Ultimately, a whole-child purpose is ingrained in every aspect of school design — from curriculum to assessments, the structure of school scheduling and spaces, staffing and professional development, and more.
A whole-child purpose is NOT:
- Solely a vision or mission statement
- Focused only on academic outcomes (e.g., test scores, college acceptance rates)
- Forgotten among other urgent priorities
A whole-child purpose IS:
- An explicit commitment that lives in the school’s vision and mission, in its values, and, most importantly, in all aspects of practice
- Focused on holistic and equitable outcomes (e.g., academic, social, emotional, etc.)
- Used to anchor school goals and priorities and make tough choices in the best interest of students