Preparing Teachers to Educate Whole Students: An International Comparative Study

reviewed by Sofia-Eleftheria N. Gonida & Stuart A. Karabenick - August 08, 2019

coverTitle: Preparing Teachers to Educate Whole Students: An International Comparative Study
Author(s): Fernando M. Reimers & Connie K. Chung
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682532372, Pages: 320, Year: 2018
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Throughout the world, economic, social, and demographic changes along with scientific and technological advancements have produced major challenges for education and further increased the complexity of educational processes. New approaches are needed to address how these global changes affect learning outcomes, school communities, and positive youth development (Gonida & Lemos, 2019; Greenfield, 2018). These changes include providing citizens with key cognitive, social, and emotional competencies necessary to function in 21st century society (Reimers & Chung, 2016) and preparing them to contribute to social progress, peace, and sustainability (see UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2015). These desirable outcomes cannot be achieved, however, unless educators are prepared to provide these competencies, a challenge that this book seeks to address.

By adopting an international comparative perspective, the editors support a holistic or whole-child approach to education. Among the competencies associated with this perspective are critical thinking, creativity, self-regulated learning strategies (e.g., planning, monitoring, and evaluation), curiosity, and innovation. Other competencies include intrinsic motivation, emotional understanding and regulation, communication and collaboration skills, leadership, intercultural understanding, conflict resolution, character, and citizenship and civic engagement (see also Reimer & Chung, 2016). The editors and authors argue that educating students to ensure these competencies requires that teachers be knowledgeable and properly trained. Instead of approaching such teacher effectiveness as an individual characteristic, however, they consider critical teaching skills as an informed practice “situated in a social context” (p. 9). This perspective emphasizes the significance of schools and other educational agencies as systems that should constitute optimal learning environments in which teachers are supported to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes, intrinsic motivation, character, and persistence to support their students.

To this end, the book presents the results of a research project on holistic education conducted by the Global Education Innovation Initiative (GEII) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Within this framework, educational initiatives and programs from seven different countries supporting whole-child education were identified. Specifically, the volume describes programs in Chile, China, Colombia, India, Mexico, Singapore, and the United States. While the programs are all distinct from one another and context-specific, they share the goal of developing competencies among teachers, school principals, and other staff in order to educate students holistically.

Despite their many differences, the editors have successfully made clear how education practices may transcend national and cultural boundaries. Specifically, the programs presented in the book move beyond a focus on students’ academic achievement and cognitive skills to focus on social and emotional competencies that have been consistently associated not only with learning outcomes but with psychological well-being and resilience (see, e.g., Cefai, Bartolo, Cavioni, & Downes, 2018). Consistent with its overall goal, the volume includes information about how teachers and school principals have opportunities to learn and improve via multiple methods within the school context itself. As Jiang and Ma (Chapter Three authors) nicely state, “a whole-child education requires a whole-school approach” (p. 73). Thus, schools are theorized as changing organizational cultures that become “learning ecosystems” (e.g., p. 73, p. 262) for both students and teachers. Further, most of these programs have been applied to schools with disadvantaged students who are especially vulnerable to school failure and poor socio-emotional functioning. Professional development of teachers and school principals has the potential to help disadvantaged students enjoy a better education, increase their likelihood of school success, become more resilient and, ultimately, have a better life.

This book succeeds in its mission for several reasons. First, it acknowledges the necessity of the whole-child education, which transcends the emphasis on pure cognitive competencies and embraces social and emotional competencies as fundamental to academic success and well-being, social progress, and sustainability. Second, it advocates for a theory of educational change through teacher professional development. Third, it provides examples of real-life systemic interventions, spreading the message that large-scale teacher professional development programs can be successful in different cultural contexts. Last but not least, together and individually, the authors emphasize that educational change occurs via collaborative partnerships among educators, scientists, policy makers, and all other stakeholders, including NGOs. In doing so, they provide hope that creating “caring communities” for all members of a school community (e.g., Baker, Bridger, Terry, & Winsor, 1997; Henderson & Milstein, 2003) is feasible despite the many challenges.

There are, however, two important issues that, with the exception of only few chapters (e.g., the Leadership in Education Program in Singapore and the UNETE’s model in Mexico), might have received greater emphasis, particularly in the introductory and concluding chapters. The first is regarding teachers’ motivation to be actively engaged, efficacious, and committed to programs supporting holistic education. Educational reforms depend on teacher change to be successful. Accordingly, taking into account that in-service teachers are usually resistant to changing their instructional and pedagogical practices, they need to be convinced of the value of holistic education for learning outcomes, psychological well-being, character development, democratic citizenship, and a better society in general. They must also be made aware of their critical contribution to the above as a result of their broadened professional identity and role in the educational system. We usually take their democratic ethos and vision for a democratic society for granted, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Without well-educated, highly motivated, open-minded, and committed teachers, schools are less likely to become forces for positive change in society.

The second issue we think deserved more emphasis has to do with the outcomes of these programs. Although we understand the authors’ perspective about the scope of their chapters, detailed quantitative and qualitative evidence based on measurable results that indicated the effectiveness of these programs would have been extremely important. It would have been important to know, for example, which aspects of the programs were more effective, and which were not. Such information would suggest potential refinements or adjustments for further improvement. Above all, we would be able to have empirical data to develop future evidence-based programs for holistic education. Such programs constitute powerful motivators for decision makers, teachers, and school leaders who will ultimately implement these programs.


Baker, J. A., Bridger, R., Terry, T., & Winsor, A. (1997). Schools as caring communities: A relational approach to school reform. School Psychology Review, 26, 586–602.

Cefai, C., Bartolo, P. A., Cavioni, V., & Downes, P. (2018). Strengthening Social and Emotional Education as a Core Curricular Area across the EU. A review of the international evidence, NESET II report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Gonida, E. N., & Lemos, M. (Eds.) (2019). Motivation in education at a time of global change: Theory, research and implications for practice. In S. A. Karabenick & T. Urdan (Series Eds.), Advances in Motivation and Achievement Series, Vol. 20. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.

Greenfield, P. M. (2018). Studying social change, culture, and human development: A theoretical framework and methodological guidelines. Developmental Review, 50, 16–30.

Henderson, N., & Milstein, M. M. (2003). Resiliency in schools: Making it happen for students and educators (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Reimers, F. M., & Chung, C. K. (Eds.). (2016). Teaching and learning for the twenty-first century: Educational goals, policies, and curricula from six nations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 08, 2019 ID Number: 23028, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 6:43:56 PM

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