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The Power of Employing a Whole-Learner Model

As research about the brain has evolved, it has become clearer that learning is absorbed more effectively when all of a person’s needs are addressed. Learners need to be safe and fed in order to focus. They need to feel connected with an individualized understanding of their needs. They require skills to focus, develop memory, set goals, and improve organizational skills in order to form a strong base for academic success. Bringing all of these elements together is the whole-learner model.

The concept of the whole learner is grounded in the science of brain development and learning, which tells us that learning occurs in an integrated way at every stage of development. Cognitive, social, emotional, creative, and physical skills are all deeply interconnected, and students learn and thrive when they develop skills pertaining to all these areas. Whole-learner approaches to education embrace a diversity of learning experiences and pedagogical techniques that reflect the interconnected way young people learn, develop skills, and interact with the world.

Connected with the Whole-Learner Model

The whole-learner model is rooted in basic needs, nurtured by relationships, supported in executive function and social-emotional learning (SEL), and nourished by proven academic programs that ensure successful student outcomes. Here, we will look at this model to see why it is so powerful.

Rooted in Basic Needs

Basic needs encompass things like sleep, clean air, exercise, clothing, warmth, and other physical or bodily needs. Children in families without consistent access to basic necessities or a space to relax without fear of physical or mental stress may find that their environments also hinder their academic success. At Edmentum, our goal of supporting the whole learner includes the roots: we understand that basic needs come first and that there are disparities in having those needs met. In other words, equity matters. If basic needs are not met, academic achievement is affected.

Nurtured by Relationships

Relationships matter—between students and educators, students and their families, and educators and students’ families. They need to be built intentionally, fostering a connection that leads to greater long-term success. A connected student feels valued, cared for, and respected, and such a student can trust and feel close to others.

Strong developmental relationships are linked to higher academic motivation in students. Social science research, including Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development and attachment theory pioneered by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, highlights the importance of connection for building trust and notes the impact of lacking these pivotal relationships in forming shame, doubt, and limited growth in the sense of self. In addition, social science research supports the importance of family and school connectedness and the prosocial and academic success of youth. To put it another way, when students have healthy and stable relationships in their lives, it not only helps positively impact their social health and personal development, but it can also contribute to academic achievement.

Supported in Executive Function and Social-Emotional Learning 

Executive function and social-emotional learning underpin academic success. Early learning often focuses on building executive function skills—the set of skills built around working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Examples of these skills include remembering the rules, following directions, keeping one’s hands and feet to oneself, sharing, patience, and turn-taking. They go along with basic academic competency skills. Meeting the needs of a whole learner at this stage is about individualizing and supporting learners where they are.

Young students first learn to remember, listen, plan, and organize (executive function skills), and as they grow, students can apply and expand this learning into larger contexts. Social-emotional learning encompasses behavior and mental health, and it is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. As students learn these skills, SEL curriculum can be a powerful tool at the heart of that work.

Nourished by Proven Academic Programs

Any whole-learner model is not complete without rigorous, proven academic programming aimed at diagnosing, instructing, and intervening to meet individual learning needs. Edmentum employs a whole-learner model with programs designed to empower educators to build schooling around the needs of each student. Flexible, dynamic curricula; research-based assessments for learning; and holistic educational services are all designed to make personalized learning an achievable reality for every student.

Combine all of the elements of the whole-learner model, and student success will be amplified. A whole-learner model allows educators to meet unique student challenges with adaptable options. It empowers students with an instructional approach that recognizes and focuses on their full range of individual needs to support their academic success.

Furthermore, if you are an elementary school teacher and you want to find out more about supporting learners’ development, take a look at our blog on why play-based learning approaches should be a part of every classroom.

Social-Emotional Learning Frequently Asked Questions

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