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March 1, 2020
Vol. 77
No. 6

Whole Child Spotlight: On Student Empowerment

Whole Child Spotlight: On Student Empowerment thumbnail
If decisions about education policy and practice started by asking what works for the child, how would resources—time, space, and human—be arrayed to ensure each child's success? If the student were truly at the center of the system, what could we achieve?"
—The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action, ASCD, 2007
This quote set the basis and helped launch our ASCD Whole Child approach to education in 2007. The chart below matches four tenets of the Whole Child approach with indicators for schools to assess their Whole Child efforts. It focused attention on the child and flipped the educational equation to place that learner at the center. Taking this child-centered focus to the next level would mean empowering students as coagents in their own education. This means not just providing "choices of three projects," for example, but truly engaging them as co-constructors of how they learn as well as what they learn. And as the student's role changes, so must the teachers: The teacher's role becomes more one of pedagogical expert and learning curator and less of content deliverer.
Advancing agency in this way helps students develop self-direction skills and the ability to navigate challenges and solve problems.

Key Whole Child Indicators on Student Empowerment


Whole Child Spotlight: On Student Empowerment-table



Our teachers and staff develop and implement academic and behavioral interventions based on an understanding of child and adolescent development and learning theories.

Engaged1Our teachers use active learning strategies, such as cooperative learning and project-based learning.
Engaged2Our school offers a range of opportunities for students to contribute to and learn within the community at large, including service learning, internships, apprenticeships, and volunteer projects.
Engaged3Our school policies and climate reinforce citizenship and civic behaviors by students, family members, and staff and include meaningful participation in decision making.
Engaged5Each student in our school has access to a range of options and choices for a wide array of extracurricular and cocurricular activities that reflect student interests, goals, and learning profiles.
Engaged6Our curriculum and instruction promote students' understanding of the real world, global relevance, and application of learned content.
Engaged8Our staff works closely with students to help them monitor and direct their own progress.
Supported5Our school staff understands, and makes curricular, instructional, and school improvement decisions, based on child and adolescent development and student performance information.
Challenged2Our curriculum and instruction provide opportunities for students to develop critical-thinking and reasoning skills, problem-solving competencies, and technology proficiency.
Challenged5Our school works with families to help all students understand the connection between education and lifelong success.
Challenged6Our curriculum and instruction include evidence-based strategies to prepare students for further education, career, and citizenship.
Challenged7Our extracurricular, cocurricular, and community-based programs provide students with experiences relevant to higher education, career, and citizenship.

Visit for more information on the indicators.

Your school can advance student agency by adopting a Whole Child approach to education. Get more information on ASCD's Whole Child tenets and the new Whole Child Network at

Sean Slade has more than 25 years of experience in education in a career that has encompassed four continents and five countries. He is currently the director of Whole Child programs at ASCD. He is a regular guest columnist for both the Huffington Post and The Washington Post, commenting on areas of school reform that relate to education, health, well-being, resilience, and school climate.

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