Using Whole Child Development to Grow Emotional Intelligence

By Guest Author | February 28th, 2018 | No Comments

Laura Seuschek explains how teaching the whole child can help foster empathy and community impact in students.

Systems of education should foster and grow individuals who are well-rounded critical thinkers exhibiting empathy and a desire to contribute to their communities. Yet teachers today are often required to focus mainly on test scores. Regrettably, teaching to the test drives instruction in many instances. Doing so fails to account for the whole child.

Many factors play into a student’s learning and synthesizing information. What are stakeholders doing to raise intelligent, emotionally fulfilled, healthy adults capable of caring for themselves and others? For too long educators have not taken health and well-being sufficiently into account. Yet research shows that students who are able to regulate their emotions, assess their thinking processes, and show empathy toward others are the ones who succeed in school. These are the students who grow up to contribute most to the workforce and society.

So how do you grow students’ socio-emotional, cognitive, creative, and physical capacities to shape them into future contributors to society?

Social and Emotional Learning

There is a growing body of research that provides evidence that emotional regulation is critical to academic success. Many public school programs instruct teachers to identify different emotions and understand how emotions impact a student’s ability to learn. Students are taught strategies they can implement to manage their emotions in a healthy way. The end goal is for students to be safe, make responsible decisions, and complete daily tasks. Self-awareness, self-management, and social skills are three of the focal points of social and emotional learning. Practicing positive social skills when engaging in project-based learning helps students to handle conflicts — now and in their personal and professional relationships later in life. Learn more about how to implement a project-based learning initiative in Wisewire’s self-paced workshop.

In some instances, teachers address the emotional aspect of learning by having a calm corner of the room where students can go when they feel overwhelmed. Often these spaces have pictures of calm scenes, low lighting, and charts that illustrate different emotions. Calm corners are typically stocked with stuffed animals, stress balls, and books about feelings. Instead of administering “time out” as a punishment, a calm corner is presented as a place where students can think about their emotions, calm down, reassess, and rejoin the class when they are ready. Strategies are also put in place to increase students’ self-management, or what they do with an emotion when they feel it. These strategies include teaching positive self-talk, engaging in breathing exercises, and going to the calm space in the room.

Cognitive Learning

Metacognition is the ability to be self-aware and to self-assess. This enables students to take ownership of their learning. It includes having a growth mindset, through which students can use self-talk to navigate an intellectual challenge or obstacle. One way to do this is to modify instruction to meet student needs. If you don’t have any resources that can help with this, check out Wisewire’s content ecosystem. It allows users to develop custom learning resources that cover all aspects of whole child development.

So how do you grow students’ socio-emotional, cognitive, creative, and physical capacities to shape them into future contributors to society?

An important role of the teacher is to plan opportunities for students to monitor their own learning and thinking by providing them with the tools to do this (such as text structures, graphic organizers, and mind maps). Questions can be worded in an open-ended way, enabling students not only to answer, but also to ponder how they arrived at their answer. They range from “right there” questions that display a student’s knowledge of a subject to “deeper” questions that allow students to synthesize and evaluate the knowledge they’ve acquired. Such higher-order questions often present students with the opportunity to explore the process by which they arrived at a certain conclusion or solved the problem in a certain way. “It’s the journey, not the destination,” so to speak.

Creative Learning

Weaving creativity into a lesson requires skilled, trained teachers. Creativity enables and empowers students to generate multiple ideas, synthesize information, construct models, and contribute different points of view. One district in Austin, Texas, has partnered with a non-profit organization called MINDPOP to implement a program called the Creative Learning Initiative. It is piloting the program, complete with written activities and lesson plans, within some of its schools by providing teacher training and coaching using creative learning strategies. These include strategies such as “narrative pantomime,” in which students pantomime what happened in a particular section of a story or sequence of events, and “collage,” in which students create a collage of abstract or concrete images related to a topic. Implementing creativity into lesson plans provides a way for students to synthesize and analyze information; it makes these higher-order thinking skills more accessible to all learners by giving teachers strategies to implement that will make this happen.

Physical Learning

A study published in 2008 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that increasing physical activity has positive influences on memory, concentration, and classroom behavior; it may even result in small gains to GPA. The private sector, as well as districts themselves, have come up with solutions to get around the lack of funding. In-school programs, such as GoNoodle or Work Out for Wellness, strive to bring physical activity into the classroom so students can get the recommended amount of physical activity per day. This not only increases physical fitness but also has a positive impact on student engagement. Students who are physically active have better blood flow to their brains. Those who are sedentary are likely to get bored with the material being covered and have poorer health.

As the pendulum swings in education yet again, educators find themselves at a crossroads. They will still hold students accountable for high academic success, but their approach may look a lot different in the near future. In considering the whole child, institutions of learning will undoubtedly have a more profound effect on students and communities.

If you are looking to learn more about what it means to educate the whole child, then get a head-start with this Wisewire resource on Edmodo.


Laura Seuschek is Chief Creative Officer of Wisewire, a learning experience design company that develops smart technology solutions and easy to use standards aligned content for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Laura has more than 20 years’ experience in developing product strategy, learning design and systems that help deliver learning content to be portable and accessible.

About the Author: Guest Author