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The Importance of Teaching the Whole Child (Professional Services )

Jerry DeQuetteville

A session at a conference I recently attended focused on a provocative and compelling new report from the Commission on the Whole Child, formed by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action offered a vision for education reform that embraces all the factors that influence children’s lives and development.

The conference also explored the impact the controversial American legislation No Child Left Behind has had on the American school system. No Child Left Behind, which led to the  most comprehensive overhaul of the American school system since the 1960s, has a narrow view of education and its cornerstone is a series of annual literacy and numeracy tests.

American policy makers reasoned that the best way to ensure all students were successful was first to test  achievement annually and then to offer resources to help schools improve their students’ scores. Sanctions are eventually applied to those schools deemed unsuccessful. The narrow focus on a specific score and content area had the unintended consequence of taking the focus away from the whole child – and from some children altogether.1 To make more time for the subjects tested, 71 percent of school districts   “reduced elementary school  instructional time in at least one other subject.”2  Thirty-three percent of school districts cut social studies, 29 percent science, 22 percent art and music, and 14 percent physical education.

Discussions with American colleagues about  this initiative made me think about our own Ministry of Education’s focus on literacy and numeracy. When the McGuinty Liberals were elected in 2004, a key part of their platform was that 75 percent of grade 6 students would reach the provincial standard on reading, writing, and math tests by 2008. This focus has transformed our school system.

While welcoming the positive focus on elementary education, ETFO has expressed concern that the target could not be achieved in four short years. We also worried about the impact this focus on  literacy and numeracy would have on schools and teachers; certainly we have heard complaints from teachers who feel that  the  employer-provided professional learning has been too focused on these areas.

Concerns have also been raised that students with special needs do not receive the supports they need to be successful. Anecdotally we heard that schools have placed such an emphasis on literacy and numeracy that other subject areas (particularly the arts) are receiving less emphasis than they once did. Thankfully this dynamic appears to be less pronounced here than south of the border.

When ASCD issued the final report of the Commission on the Whole Child, these words resonated: Our current, well-intentioned focus on academics is essential. Global economics require that each citizen be prepared to live in and contribute to a worldwide community of shrinking size and growing complexity.

If, however, we concentrate solely on academics and on narrowly measured academic achievement, we fail to educate the whole child. We shortchange our young people and limit their future if we do not create places of learning that encourage and celebrate every aspect of each student’s capacity for learning.3


Based on this report, ASCD initiated a campaign focusing on the need to broaden the idea of what it means to be well educated. This campaign has five pillars.

•   Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

•   Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

•   Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

•   Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

•   Each graduate is challenged by a well-balanced curriculum and is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment.4

Similarly, ETFO recognizes that there is far more to preparing students for their future roles than reading and writing. Our professional programs and  course offerings reveal a  strong focus  on such things as a healthy body image, arts institutes, professional learning series, environmental education,  global  education,  information  and communication technology, supports for special education teachers, supports for  impoverished children, supports for teacher mentors, French as a second language, and anti-bullying initiatives. Clearly,  as  an  organization  we  recognize  that there is far more to being a contributing member of society than literacy and numeracy.

ETFO  also  has  strong  views  on  large-scale assessment and the manner in which that data are used. Luckily our  experience has been different: unlike the situation south of the border, when  Ontario  schools  demonstrate  that  their students are struggling with core skill areas, the schools  receive  additional  resources  and  supports (although in some instances the magnitude of these supports has been overwhelming!). This is the result of intense lobbying by ETFO and of our government’s recognition of and respect for teachers’ professionalism.

Given the recent re-election of the McGuinty Liberals, it  will  be  incumbent  upon  ETFO to lobby the government to  ensure this province does not continue down the road of concentrat- ing  on  narrowly  measured  academic  achieve- ment. We will have to work with the government so that teachers are provided with the tools they need to help students become contributing citizens of a rapidly changing world.


1 D. Laitsch, T. Lewallen, & M. McCloskey (2005).   Framework for Education in the 21s Century, Infobrief (40),   pp. 1–8. Reston, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved f762108a0c/

2 Center on EducatioPolicy (2006),   From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act, pp. 115-16

3 Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2007), The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action; A Report of the Commission on the Whole Child; p. 6. Available at pdf/Whole Child/WCC Learning Compact.pdf

4 Ibid.p. 9