Friday, April 15, 2011


In education we often use the word "whole" to describe something comprehensive and multi-faceted, i.e.: educating the whole child, or the whole-language approach to teaching reading.  In my undergrad courses and several staff developments, educating the whole child often speaks to not only their academic growth, but also developing social and emotional skills. It also means teaching to multiple types of intelligences (Gardner) so that students of varying strengths have the opportunity to succeed and learn alongside their peers.  Sometimes it is difficult as a teacher to measure this.  We often go on our intuition (which I think is largely undervalued at times) to address social or emotional issues with students.  It seems as though we have an assessment for every skill we require our students to know, but never an assessment to either tell us how a child is feeling and why or an assessment on how our students learn the best. When something is awry we feel it but can't always pinpoint it, and when students succeed we celebrate with them.

In a conversation with the first grade bilingual teacher we shared what we knew about some students I had last year.  There were a few that were very bright academically but not achieving their potential because of other social and emotional issues. As teachers we feel powerless to change the circumstances that our students live in for the other 17 hours they aren't in school.  In educating it is necessary to keep in mind all of the facets of our students, and that we can't always attribute successes or failure to a teacher's methods.  This could easily go in to a political rant on merit-pay, but I just don't think I will go there tonight.

In my attempts to teach the "whole child" I often find myself overwhelmed.  Do I assess the child's writing, or talk to him or her about how confident they feel and who writes in their house?  There are simply too many facets of educating a child to approach them wholly at the same time.  It becomes overwhelming and a nightmare of prioritizing.  But yet, when we are required to assess 5 year-olds it sometimes feels like we aren't educating the child but pumping them for answers. This is the inner-conflict I feel in my field as a modern educator.

Personally I think I have been seeking wholeness in my life at many times.  I have gotten to the point now where I realize what factors make me feel "whole" or like a better person, but just like in teaching there are too many things to be addressed at once.  People say "simplify," but I often already feel like I am running a skeleton-crew of priorities: my son, my family and loved-ones, my job, education, and my health. Some people might even say that my list is devoid of certain things like recreation and spiritual growth.  I might be inclined to agree with them.

When we look from the outside in we tend to envy others, thinking they have it made.  Yet from that person's perspective, it isn't enough and they may always seek more.  Being unsatisfied is human nature.  Being unsatisfied inspires innovation, brings immigrants to our country and is the underlying force for progress.  However, being unsatisfied or under-appreciative can ruin something that is already good.  I have witnessed examples of this personally: marriages destroyed by a partner who manically searches for something else while refusing to witness the wonderful things right under their own roof in their own partner.  I have witnessed this in education multiple times: curriculum being changed over and over without ever having the opportunity to be fully implemented, and even the entire educational system being disparaged because test scores aren't as high compared to other countries.  The unsatisfied spouse lays blame with their partner, the public lays blame with teachers.  There is rarely any introspection to see what the underlying missing facet is. What is it exactly that is leaving us feeling deficient?

I propose that anyone who is feeling incomplete take some time for introspection to reflect and appreciate on what is already good, rather than searching for that magic fix.  There never is a magic fix, unless we change our perspective with a new glasses prescription.

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