Educating the Whole Child

By: Kathy Seibold, Ed.D.
ImpactTulsa Executive Director


If I were to poll parents and teachers, I am sure most would say it is equally important for kids to be prepared for life both academically and socially—that developing kind and caring citizens is a critical part of the educational process. But, when Harvard put this question to youth in a national survey, the results show a surprising gap in their perceptions of adult attitudes.

In the survey “about 80 percent of the kids reported that they believed their parents and teachers were more concerned with them achieving good grades than being caring toward others” (Harvard, 2014).  Youth were three times more likely to say their parents are more concerned with academic achievement.  In contrast, a report titled Raising Moral Children, shows parents and teachers place educating kids to be kind and caring as their top priority (Weissbourd, 2014).


The good news?  There is no “either or” situation when it comes to academic achievement and raising kids who have the social skills needed to be successful. In fact, schools that intentionally focus on building positive climates that support the emotional needs of students have greater success. Studies show that positive climate and culture has an influence on both student achievement and teacher retention (Loukas & Murphy, 2007; Grayson & Alvarez, 2008; MacNeil, Prater, & Bush, 2009; Taylor & Tashakkori). Students who feel their psychological needs are being met perform better academically (Badri, Amani-Sariboglou, Ahrari, Jahadi, and Mahmoudi, 2014).


Increasingly, schools across the country are turning to social-emotional learning as a way to increase positive perceptions of climate and culture (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2001). Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs are a type of school-based preventive intervention explicitly designed to foster children’s academic skills by supporting their social-emotional and behavioral development (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011).


In a study by Synyder, Vuchinich, Acock, Washburn, and Brian (2011), students, families, and teachers reported increased feelings of quality education when social-emotional learning programs are part of the school day. Teachers reported a 21% increase in perceptions of quality over the baseline year. Parents reported an increase of 13%, and students report a 16% increase. Improvements in feelings of safety and well-being, engagement, and satisfaction were among the largest gains.


Social-emotional learning competencies include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness (CASEL). If we as parents and educators believe in the value of these skills, we should take every opportunity to make sure our kids know how we feel. There should be no gap in their perception of these feelings!