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Teaching the Whole Student: Engaged Learning With Heart, Mind, and Spirit

reviewed by Marjori Krebs - February 05, 2018

coverTitle: Teaching the Whole Student: Engaged Learning With Heart, Mind, and Spirit
Author(s): David Schoem, Christine Modey, Edward P. St. John, & Beverly Daniel Tatum (Eds.)
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620363046, Pages: 292, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Reflective, practical, integrated, purposeful, deep, meaningful, engaging, vital; these words emerged as I read Teaching the Whole Student: Engaged Learning With Heart, Mind, and Spirit, edited by David Schoem, Christine Modey, and Edward P. St. John. As I attended a meeting just last month with liberal arts faculty and employers, I was reminded of so many of the themes of this book. A non-profit organization, focusing on increasing the number of college degrees and credentials in our community, hosted this gathering to assist faculty in understanding what employers are really looking for when hiring college graduates. The employers spoke of professionalism, but also of empathy, collaboration, reflection, self-improvement, and the ability to read and understand the culture of the organization. These same themes are repeated in the book as the authors describe their inspiring experiences teaching each student’s heart, mind, and spirit.

Not only do the authors make clear that teaching the whole student is an important strategy for increasing retention and graduation rates, with increased individual commitment and connections of learning to life; but they also explain that this approach is good for the community, by increasing the number of problem-solvers and critical thinkers prepared to face and heal society’s ills. This type of teaching opens up the world of service, where graduates can use their knowledge along with their hearts, minds, and spirits to make the world a better place.

Students who engage in this type of holistic teaching and learning become graduates who not only want careers to support themselves and their families, but also become citizens who consider their roles as community members vital to a sustainable civilization. As Schoem points out, students don’t just bring their minds to our classrooms, so in order to engage with our students, we need to connect with their whole being.

The authors of each chapter passionately and purposefully share their common approaches to teaching the whole student, including how to know our students; how to open classroom dialogue to allow for student stories, laughter, and tears; how to engage students in conversations about controversial topics; how to guide respectful conversations focusing on complex issues with varying viewpoints and solutions, encouraging them to question their own assumptions; and how their diverse experiences can serve as a bridge across the diversity divide. Finally, authors explain through diverse settings, courses, and experiences, how to connect our various subject areas with our communities, meeting the needs and answering the questions of those living around us, thus removing the learning from the hallowed halls of the ivory towers and relocating learning out into our streets and communities. The Reflection Questions provided at the end of each chapter encourage the reader to personally connect with the content, challenging us to consider similar approaches and concepts within our own roles in higher education.

Teaching the Whole Student is divided into three parts: “Part One: Whole Student Learning Approaches,” “Part Two: Engaged Learning and Teaching in Practice,” and “Part Three: Integrative Pedagogy.”

In Part One, Chapter One, Pattengale provides a succinct list of the top 20 strategies for retention, where the number one strategy is helping students discover their “life purpose” (p. 22). I was struck by his comment that “the dream needs to be stronger than the struggle,” and that helping students determine their purpose, through recognizing their “Life Wedge,” (p. 30) can guide them in navigating those struggles. In Chapter Two, Manning’s vignettes help us to see into the heart of a teacher striving to integrate her pedagogy with social justice issues to enlighten her students. She explains that she sees “teaching as a spiritual act” (p. 52), and her stories show how her integration has a deep impact on her students’ growth.

The authors in Part Two share specific strategies for how to engaging learners’ hearts, minds, and spirits. Several authors call us to return to Dewey (1916/1966) and his laser focus on experiential learning, and also to Freire (1970/1994) to instill hope in our students. Malnarich, in Chapter Three, refers to Freire’s concept of “critical hope—solution-oriented action informed of truth-telling, clear analysis, and compassion” where Malnarich insists we consider “how we might give our students the practice in here to do what is so necessary, and so essential to democracy out there” (p. 72). He tells compelling stories of those living critical hope, and how he created Learning Communities on his campus to instill critical hope in his students’ lives.

In Chapter Four, Schoem explains that teaching is relational and he shares his meaningful experiences where he honors “each individual student as a unique, extraordinary person (p. 81).” He shares the step-by-step, purposeful actions he takes within his classes to create teaching and learning communities, from individual appointments during office hours, to personal reflections on readings, along with community-based activities that bring to life the theoretical concepts in his class. Included in this chapter is an overview of the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program, a model program in engaged learning. Crowfoot, in Chapter Five, makes a direct connection to engaged learning and environmental sustainability. His historical references to environmental tragedies inspire us to educate our students to take action against these local, yet global, concerns.

Dressel points out in Chapter Six that in order to be able to approach these environmental issues, or, in her case, religious and ethnic issues, teachers must have strong relationships with their students. She explains the importance of this student-centered approach to create a “warm, empathetic, nondirective teacher-student relationship” (p. 136) to give students space to openly confront deep-seated prejudices. She explains how she directs students to face religious and ethnic conflicts head on, through open dialogue.

Galura, in Chapter Seven provides the reader with a much-needed explanation of service learning and how to incorporate this strategy into our classrooms. He defines service learning as a strategy where “service and learning goals are of equal weight, and each enhances the other for all participants” (p. 155). Within the chapter are descriptions of various student experiences with differing levels of engagement, and focuses on the importance of reflection to bring meaning to these experiences.


In Part Three, Integrative Pedagogy, the authors connect this holistic approach by bringing together learning, different areas of campus, diversity, and assessment. Heft, in Chapter Eight, explains the importance of teaching how to participate in open dialogue, no matter what topic is being discussed, and valuing the diversity of opinions. He connects this idea with his experiences as a Catholic leader of higher education. Locks, in Chapter Nine, presents her detailed, quantitative study (atypical in this field) on the impact of engaging learners in higher education with “diverse others” (p. 193). She begins with a dynamic description of her own background and experiences moving from the Bay Area to the Midwest, and provides interesting statistical analyses of different experiences of college students and their personal growth through those experiences. Her findings “affirm the importance of positive engagement with diverse others in accord with previous research...” and that “such interactions can mediate the potential negative effects of predominantly White pre-college environments and racial tension” (p. 214–215).

The authors of Chapter Ten bring us back to what some might call a limitation of this approach to teach the whole student: assessment. The authors recognize that as a result of increasing calls for accountability, many outside entities dictate how we conduct teaching and learning in higher education, and as a result, have created more data-driven decisions on college campuses. They explain that there is space in this assessment era for non-cognitive measures of achievement and growth. This chapter is important because assessment is often one of the first excuses faculty make about why this whole student approach could not be incorporated.

Finally, in Chapter Eleven, the editors provide an excellent, succinct overview of all the major concepts and themes of the book: relational learning; connecting the classroom to the world; diversity, social justice, and democracy; engaged learning; intergroup dialogue and community; course content; reflection; learning outcomes; personal growth; and social change.

I very much enjoyed this book, an excellent compilation of thoughtful, detailed, meaningful experiences of faculty who are teaching the whole student. Their stories are inspiring to those of us who are willing to consider engaging each student’s heart, mind, and spirit. With both the theoretical underpinnings and the practical stories and examples, others will be inspired and challenged to create similar meaningful learning experiences within their own classrooms and communities.


Dewey, J. (1916/1966). Democracy and Education. New York: Free Press.

Freire, P. (1970/1994). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 05, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22264, Date Accessed: 11/27/2021 6:45:15 PM

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About the Author
  • Marjori Krebs
    University of New Mexico
    E-mail Author
    MARJORI KREBS is Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico, is a teacher educator who focuses her research on experiential learning, project-based service-learning, teacher preparation, and teacher professional development.
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