Not Learning Loss, But Healthy Development

In the face of loss during this pandemic, another way of rising up is taking place. Educators and medical personnel are talking about what it means to move forward. One of the groups has put out essential guiding principles for equitable whole-child design of learning environments.

This banding together is one of the best outcomes from disasters we face. Our human need for banding together, to weather the storm together, and to make sense of it all together is powerful. Below is one group’s framing of 5 guiding principles for us to consider.

This is why we, as part of a group of educators, scientists and community partners, are launching the Essential Guiding Principles for Equitable Whole-Child Design. However, despite this clarity and alignment, it is challenging for districts and schools to implement truly integrated classroom and school environments. Progress has been impeded by both historical traditions and current policy built on dated assumptions about teaching and learning.

Taken together, they are the essential ingredients to healthy development, learning and thriving.

Positive developmental relationships. The key characteristics of a developmental relationship include emotional caring and attachment that create trust and support learning and growth. The emotional connection is joined with adult guidance that enables children to learn skills, grow in their competence and confidence and become more able to perform tasks on their own and take on new challenges. Developmental relationships can both buffer the impact of stress and provide a pathway to motivation, self-efficacy, learning and further growth.

Environments filled with safety and belonging. Children learn best when they feel physically, emotionally and identity safe, when their cultures are represented and valued in their learning communities and when they feel a sense of membership and connection. Learning communities that have shared values and routines, communicate worth as well as high expectations and demonstrate cultural affirmation create calm and ignite students’ capacity for engagement and creativity.

Rich learning experiences and knowledge development. Rich learning experiences are those that fully engage and challenge students and help them discover what they are capable of. These experiences are both personally meaningful and intellectually challenging, building on students’ prior knowledge and experiences, and helping students build skills and knowledge within their zone of proximal development. Students learn best when they are engaged in authentic activities and are collaborating and working with peers to deepen their understanding and transfer knowledge to new problems and settings.

Development of skills, habits and mindsets. Social, emotional, academic and cognitive skills are essential for productive engaged learning, work and life. These skills include personal and social awareness that support self-regulation and social skills, executive function skills that support organization and self-direction and habits that support a growth mindset, resilience and perseverance. When integrated with content, these skills work together to produce higher order 21st century skills like problem solving, collaboration, metacognition and critical thinking.

Integrated support systems. Learning settings that are designed with many more protective factors in place – including health, mental health and academic supports such as tutoring and mentoring – will enhance engagement, achievement and fulfillment in learning. These include the opportunities to extend learning and build on interests and passions.

The Science of Learning and Development Alliance, April 8, 2021
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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