NEWS · RESEARCH & INSIGHTS · TEACHER VOICES

Looking Beyond Academics

As a principal, Sarah Arellano always loves hearing about the academic success of the students at her school. 

But that’s not what motivates her each day as a school leader at King Elementary in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

“We really pride ourselves on growing quality human beings,” Arellano said.

The past few unpredictable school years have reinforced Arellano’s belief that it is more important than ever to prepare students for success in all aspects of their lives.

“We look beyond academics,” Arellano said of her project-based learning school that serves K-5 students and is a Summit Learning partner. “When we’re focusing on the whole child, we need to look at them socially, look at what’s going to make them a good human, and look at what’s going to get them ready to navigate a world of possibilities that haven’t been developed yet.”

Arellano’s views on the importance of a whole child approach to education is shared by educators across the country, as evidenced by the results of the second installment of the Gradient Learning Poll. In partnership with Project Tomorrow, Gradient Learning—the nonprofit organization that offers the Summit Learning program—surveyed 1,418 teachers nationwide to better understand their views on the state of education. 

Ninety-one percent of teachers agreed that when schools prioritized whole child learning, students perform better inside and outside of the classroom. The survey also found that 88-percent of teachers are calling for schools to adopt a broader definition of student success to include both academic and non-academic skills.

“It’s more than teaching students math or writing,” Arellano said. “We’re teaching students how to problem solve, regulate their emotions, and make connections with other people. Knowing that they have a safe place to come to every day where they can connect with an adult is really important.”

A whole child approach to education ensures that each child is engaged, supported, and challenged. Arianna, a fifth-grader at Aspen Meadow Public School in Fresno, California, said her teachers have helped her focus on being the best person she can be today and that has allowed her to envision the future. She wants to make a positive impact as a nurse someday.

“I can talk to my teachers about anything and they will know what to say,” Arianna said. “If I need help, I know I will get the help that I need. It makes me want to give back and help others, too, when I get older.”

The 2020-21 Speak Up Research Project found that 43-percent of parents are worried that their school-aged children aren’t learning the right skills in school to be successful in the future. In addition, two-thirds of parents are concerned about their child’s emotional well-being because of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Whole child learning is remembering that our students are actually people and that they are not coming to you just to learn,” said Abel Ruiz, a science teacher at Aspen Public Schools in Fresno, California. “They come with their own stories and their own backgrounds. As teachers, we should try to address all those different aspects of the student and put them into the learning. 

“One key aspect of teaching is understanding who your student is as a person so you can tailor their instruction to their strengths.”

Check out the second installment of the Gradient Learning Poll that focuses on educating the whole child. The first installment of the poll, released in January 2022, showcases the power of mentoring.

As part of its commitment to rebuilding education, Gradient Learning has embarked on this initiative to listen to educators, understand their feedback, and provide actionable solutions to meet their needs. 

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.