Whole-child education powers healthy society

Former superintendent Jonathan Raymond presents "Equity is Empathy” at DA’s CAO Summit in July
By: | May 30, 2019
Former superintendent and DA CAO Summit speaker Jonathan Raymond says whole child education prepares students to become the stewards of American democracy.Former superintendent and DA CAO Summit speaker Jonathan Raymond says whole child education prepares students to become the stewards of American democracy.

Former Sacramento City USD Superintendent Jonathan Raymond doesn’t put too much weight on whole-child education: just the enduring health of America’s democratic society.

Raymond, now an education leadership consultant, made his case for meeting the needs of each unique learner in his book, Wildflowers: A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America (Stuart Foundation, 2018). His “Equity is Empathy” workshop at the District Administration Leadership Institute’s Chief Academic Officer Summit in Atlanta, July 15-17, continues his push for taking each child’s learning style into account in designing instruction.

His CAO Summit session will also focus on compassion as a crucial trait for leaders who want to create a welcoming environment in which all learners can flourish.

For chief academic officers who want to adopt whole-child education, what are the key tenets of your approach?

I like to say whole-child education educates young people’s heads, hands and hearts.

It’s really important that young people learn critical thinking, are creative, can advocate for themselves, can work well together in teams, and can take control of their ability to learn.

And it’s really important that they can see, feel and touch what they’re learning so that it’s real and has meaning in their lives; so that it can help them face the challenges that exist in their communities and in society as a whole; and so that it prepares them to help advance our democratic institutions and humanity.


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For learning to be real and impactful, it also has to come from the heart. We have to show young people how to be empathetic and compassionate—to understand that differences are normal and healthy.

What role do learning differences play in whole-child education?

It’s really important that we recognize learning differences in designing courses of study and intervention. We need to tailor, facilitate and guide learning.

Children are very capable once they know that they are seen and visible, and that they have a voice and, sometimes, choice. Children have an innate curiosity and desire to discover, and we have to figure out a way to unlock and unleash this sense of wonder.

How can CAOs follow the “equity is empathy” philosophy in their work?

When we’re empathetic, we recognize that the best way to ensure that our young people have a sense of empathy and compassion is to educate them holistically. For some children, it’s about having really challenging college and career pathways and academies. For others, it’s ensuring that we have art and music in our schools. And for others, it’s making sure that they have access to good college and life counseling.

It’s about meeting children where they are. It’s about asking the question: “What does every child need to be most successful?”

In your workshop, what improvements will CAOs learn to make in their districts?

I try to enlighten them by saying this work is both external, by leading organizations, and it’s internal. To do this work really well, some things need to shift inside, and that’s being really clear about “What’s your purpose?”’ and “Why are you in this work?”

It’s about asking if we, as leaders, are creating a shared vision about the changes that need to be made. And it’s about having a daily ritual or practice that helps us stay focused on those things that are moving us toward our vision and purpose. It’s about asking if can we ignore the distractions—and there are lots in our complex organizations and systems.

I provide some simple tools to help them become better team leaders and listeners, and to create learning organizations that are able to think systematically but are designed locally.

What are some other ideas that would inspire educators?

So much of this work really is about asking questions. I like to use the traditional Masai greeting: “And how are the children?” It shows what they value most as a culture and a society.


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For my work, it’s returning to the time when progressive educators such as John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner understood how children learn and how their brain develops. They understood that education was for a much bigger purpose—that it was to prepare young people to be the next generation of stewards of democracy and society.

It ultimately starts with a question such as: “How is this good for kids?” I often say to folks I’m working with: “Imagine if we started every school board meeting with that question. Imagine if a superintendent started every cabinet meeting with that question.” If we did, I think we’d be at a different place.


Interested in curriculum and instruction leadership? Keep up with District Administration Leadership Institute’s CAO summits.