by Erik Carlson, Head of School
As I began the process of “getting to know” Saint Andrew’s in 2013, I met with parents, teachers and administrators, all eager to introduce to me the School’s culture and community. One constant in these conversations was the significance of the School’s Mission -- “developing as fully as possible the intellectual, spiritual, physical, and social capacities of each student” – in everyday life at Saint Andrew’s. Community members told me, again and again, that Saint Andrew’s was a school that offered a balanced education with a genuine focus on the “whole child.”
The opportunity to join such a community excited and energized me then, and as I reflect on the school year, I feel excited and energized again. Why? Because while the primary purpose of a whole child education is clearly to benefit the child, I think it is also true that meeting the needs of the whole child helps us become whole adults. It is fulfilling, energizing, and profoundly satisfying to watch a child whom you have supported as a whole person – not just as a test score or a GPA, but as a multi-faceted and fascinating person – grow, learn, and succeed.
A teacher who focuses solely on a child’s algebra prowess or literary skills misses the opportunity to be proud of that child when she shines on the volleyball court, befriends the new kid in class, or overcomes shyness to speak in front of a group. An educator whose focus is on the whole child, however, has a hundred opportunities each day to see the impact of her guidance and leadership. Those myriad opportunities to glow with pride provide a well-deserved reward to whole child educators -- one that helps them remain engaged (and engaging!) in the classroom and beyond. As the Head of Saint Andrew’s, watching our teachers focus on the wholeness of each student, and watching those students thrive as a result, generates the excitement I feel today.
Engaged teachers also bridge the gap from school to home, allowing parents to become more whole as well. A school-age child spends the majority of his weekday hours in the company of adults other than his parents. How wonderful it is when those adults commit to really knowing their students – both as scholars, and as unique individuals. Such teachers not only make learning more relevant in the classroom, but can connect with parents as they share specific accomplishments that are meaningful for their particular child. An educator who recognizes and shares a student’s intellectual, physical, spiritual and social strengths and challenges – some of which might only manifest themselves in a school setting – helps parents better support their children at home. A strong community of whole child educators working closely with parents allows a Saint Andrew’s education to extend well beyond the school day.
It’s important to note that focusing on the whole child does not mean putting academics on the back burner -- quite the contrary. In recognizing the importance of the whole child, educators help create children who have a desire to learn – who, you might say, have a disposition toward learning. It’s a deep, well-rooted disposition, brought about by teachers who focus on strategies, rather than just solutions; who tailor their lessons to meet their students’ needs and interests, rather than relying on staid didacticism; and who help children see challenges – academic, yes, but physical, spiritual and social, too – not as intimidating obstacles, but as exciting opportunities for growth. Academic excellence, rather than being discarded in favor of a whole child focus, actually flows from that focus. Eager, confident, life-long learners are the result.
It is a joy and an honor to participate in the “whole child” educational experience, which our community members are so eager to describe. Whether a Saint Andrew’s student, a teacher, an administrator, or a parent, we all grow as a result of our School’s focus on the whole child this year, and that’s an accomplishment of which we can all be proud.