Educators release book about teaching ‘whole child’

Yvonne Marquez

A new book by nine UT Elementary School teachers and administrators shares two ways to improve teaching: communication and interaction between students and teachers in low-income and high-minority schools.

“Teaching to the Spirit of Every Child: Lessons Learned in Urban Education” gives examples to prospective teachers and curriculum specialists to apply in classrooms.

Melissa Chavez, UT Elementary School executive director, said the school’s goal is to not only use research-based instructional methods that came out of UT but document their success to share with the world.

“Our focus of the book was response to intervention and social and emotional learning, how that has led to the success of our school and how we weaved those two research-based methods into all of our practices here,” Chavez said.

Chavez said social and emotional learning teaches children about resiliency and about solving problems. She said it’s about teaching them about empathy and knowing about feelings they have themselves and being aware of others’ feelings.

“We do use these methods because we believe that we have to teach every aspect of the child, the ‘whole child,’ not just the subjects,” Chavez said. “We have to teach them intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally.”

Education professor Angela Valenzuela said
urban schools are faced with achievement gaps, high dropout rates, overcrowded classes and de facto segregation in schools and neighborhoods as minority youth become concentrated in certain areas.

“Austin is very segregated by both race and class, mainly due to residential segregation,” Valenzula said. “If people are able, they’ll buy into a more expensive neighborhood, and if they’re not able to then they are forced to attend a public school.”

Valenzuela said there are inequalities within urban districts, such as the quality of teachers and quality of curriculum, which is focused on tests that can affect a student’s learning. She said urban students don’t have the opportunity of rich curriculums or innovative pedagogies that other rural or suburban schools have.

“There are exceptions, but there is a pattern in race and class with educational opportunities within districts,” Valenzuela said.

Rose Tran, one of the authors of the new book, said teachers must understand not only the content area of what they are teaching but understand the child as well. She said urban students deal with poverty, so teachers are aware of it.