Teaching the Whole Child: The Four Indispensable Aspects of Education

What if the key to narrowing the achievement gap was to focus on closing any serious gaps in student motivation? It is entirely possible for teachers to markedly inspire, influence, and embolden every student, but only when they do so in a manner that honors and embraces the four elemental needs of all children.

Imagine what would happen if every teacher placed an equal emphasis on developing the self-control, self-confidence, self-expression, and self-efficacy of each of their students. Wouldn’t this whole-child approach better prepare all children for the rigors and requirements of education, as well as for life in general?

Thankfully, today’s parents and teachers are waking up to the fact that academic achievement is inextricably intertwined with growth in social, emotional, and even soulful learning. As a result, we must also accept that each of these educational components is no more or less vital than the other three and that all four aspects of child development must be addressed holistically and equally, right from the beginning.


“Soft” Skills are Actually Substantial and Significant

When it comes to successful and satisfied human beings, be they adult or child, there are no “soft” skills that brought them to and sustain them through such contentment and conquest. The touchy-feely, warm and cozy, fired up and rarin’ to go aspects of teaching not only matter, they are essential for deep, lasting learning.

Emotional intelligence, social smarts, and soulful sustenance are not just fluff to occasionally add to the rigors of knowledge and knowhow; they are the determining factors between truly fulfilling one’s potential and merely marking time until the last bell rings. All four avenues to achievement and self-actualization are connected, complementary, and equally crucial. We must no longer diminish the importance of any vital skill by referring to it as “soft.”

Therefore, teachers must all at once (and on an ongoing basis) capture their students’ hearts, hopes, minds, and manners! Not only is it ultimately possible for every teacher in every circumstance to rouse all of this essential student motivation, it is requisite. For without such a comprehensive approach to meeting children’s elemental needs, we cheat kids out of an optimal educational experience and fail to fully inspire the immense promise that resides in every student.

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The Firm, Fair, Fascinating Facilitator

The teaching method that meets these four fundamental needs of children is found in being a firm, fair, fascinating facilitator (the Four Fs of Teaching). When teachers consistently furnish their students with structure and stability (firmness), empathy and encouragement (fairness), passion and practicality (fascination), as well as comprehension and capabilities (facilitation), every child inevitably thrives.

Through this inclusive approach, students quickly learn that their dutiful classroom cooperation and courtesy only enhance an educational environment that also abundantly supplies them with community and celebration, curiosity and creativity, and clarity and cohesion. The close interplay between these four aspects of education is what truly makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

You see, successful teaching is not just about classroom management. As much as some assume, it is not all about relationships either. Likewise, it is not entirely about engagement. And even though the powers that be try to convince us so, it is not solely about standards-based instruction. These one-sided approaches only serve to misrepresent the depth of what every student requires, as well as the richness that resides within every child.

Great teaching is of course equally about each of these four aspects, and it is high time we steady our course. The enduring combination of firmness, fairness, fascination, and facilitation offers every teacher the foundation and flexibility to achieve that greatness.


Thorough Motivation is Key

Students fortunate to be in a Four Fs teacher’s class are thoroughly motivated—not just by the old-school doctrine of  “I must” (because my teacher confidently, calmly, and firmly enforces their class procedures) but by three additional enticements:

“I should” (because my fair teacher bolsters, values, and praises my efforts, ideas, and accomplishments).

“I want to” (because my fascinating teacher offers me personally meaningful, engaging opportunities for choice, creativity, challenge, collaboration, critical thinking, commentary, and making connections).

“I can” (because my teacher as facilitator empowers me to access and interact with concepts and tasks that are complex and unfamiliar).

Thus, a child who is completely motivated by thoughts of “I must, I should, I want to, and I can” quickly decides, “I will!”

When teachers transform their students’ thoughts into actions, they move them from being passive consumers of knowledge into active producers of insight and intellect. There simply is no room or rationale to be distracted or disruptive when students have been given the essential structure, support, stimulation, and skills to excel.

Indeed, a firm, fair, fascinating facilitator provides their students with four persuasive reasons to respect, risk, respond, relate, and rise to the occasion!


Avoiding Extremes

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can quickly become a liability, especially when it obscures or casts aside other educational aspects that are equally as beneficial. What many teachers fail to realize is that an overemphasis or de-emphasis of any one or more of these crucial learning components throws this four-part balance out of whack and only restricts a child’s personal growth, not to mention the realizing of that child’s full potential.

Therefore, teachers must resist rushing headlong into pedagogical and curricular choices without considering how their actions may jeopardize or overshadow other vital needs a child may have. No matter how well intentioned, zealous, or self-sacrificing a teacher may be, kids do not flourish amongst extremes:

Chronic control and continuous carte blanche both inhibit kids socially. Excessive teacher firmness only creates resentment and retaliation, while insufficient adult leadership results in student irresponsibility and recklessness.

Coddling and callousness both hinder children emotionally. A glut of what may seem to be fairness actually prolongs dependency and immaturity, while a withdrawal of adult attention and encouragement can cause student insecurity and self-doubt.

Constantly catering to and constricting kids both hurt them soulfully. Hollow fascination does not move students forward with purpose and direction, while a dearth of passion and pertinence is boring at best and demoralizing at worst.

Complacency and causing confusion both hold back children academically. Fake facilitation dumbs down content and lowers expectations, while convoluted curriculum and cursory instruction devoid of scaffolds, supports, and strategies keep kids in the dark.


Rely on Balance and Fundamentals to Motivate Students

By contrast, firm, fair, fascinating facilitators comprehensively and proportionately motivate their students to courteously cooperate, dauntlessly participate, ardently invest, and progressively achieve—often all at the same time and, more importantly, all with the goal of kids increasingly exercising these four elemental skills independently and with aplomb. This steady balance in having their four basic needs met is what all kids intrinsically respond to and internally crave.

This measured, commonsense approach to educating and nurturing students has nothing to do with conformity or constriction, however. It actually is the only means to cultivate the optimal conditions for a safe, sympathetic, satisfying, scholarly classroom environment.


Honoring and Attending to Individual Needs

Of course, children sometimes need more persuasion or support in one area or another, so savvy teachers keep their students humming along by also conscientiously attending to any particular needs that manifest. In fact, being attuned and responsive to what each student may need at the time is the true definition of fairness. Such attention proves to students that their teacher is on their side. As a result, Four Fs teachers routinely find that their students are on the teacher’s side as well.

Although individualized attention, assistance, and feedback are crucial, also know that the more consistency and equilibrium a teacher supplies, the less specialized, extreme intervention their students will require in a classroom that is at once tough, tender, tantalizing, and transparent for all—and in all the right amounts!


A Powerful, Four-Pronged Approach

Experienced educators well know that nothing is a magic bullet– not for closing the achievement gap, not for motivating each student, and not for making every teacher highly effective. These challenges are too complex to blithely assume we can conquer them all with panaceas, platitudes, or pixie dust.

Nevertheless, doesn’t the potent four-part combination of students choosing to act out of mutual regard and eager responsiveness and deep involvement and growing proficiency sound like a much surer and sanity-preserving game plan than constantly battling the all-too-common defiant, distant, disinterested, “don’t get it” attitudes many teachers encounter from their woefully unmotivated students?


The Importance of Motivation for Every Child

Obviously, there are some students who already are sufficiently self-motivated. Gratefully, these kids just do not seem to need much supervision, reassurance, direction, or assistance. Whether all this beneficial behavior is the result of adult intention or happy accident, it is a relief and a pleasure to interact with kids who meet their parents and teachers more than halfway.

What we must realize, however, is that every single child is born with the same natural motivation to please others, to form relationships, to explore and create, and to acquire the knowledge and skills in order to thrive in the world in which they live. We must hold fast to the belief that within each child resides the capacity to be delightfully trustworthy, self-assured, fulfilled, and talented.

However, sometimes the very people whom children look to for guidelines and guidance neglect to assume their proper leadership positions and fail to show kids exactly how to tap into their immense potential. Consequently, the innate positive, productive tendencies and inner drives explained above lay uninspired or are inadvertently suppressed in too many children.

If we are honest with ourselves, the youthful aggression, attitude, aloofness, apathy, and anemic achievement many adults contend with both at home and at school often stem from or are exacerbated by the same adult extremes outlined above. Yet instead of merely taking all the credit for the “good” kids or blaming everyone else for the “bad” ones, parents and teachers would better serve every child by providing them all with a steady stream of leadership, love, laughter, and learning.

We do children a great disservice when we “allow” them to figure things out all on their own; when we wait around for them to summon their focus, fortitude, and fidelity all of their own accord; or when we micromanage their every move without a thought to how they will ever manage all by themselves.

Rather, the purposeful, practical methodology of a firm, fair, fascinating facilitator leaves nothing to chance or to chronic caregiving. A Four Fs teacher employs consistency and balance in order to model and guide students to increasing independence, responsibility, and self-sufficiency.


If You Make It Your Own, You Will Own It

Undoubtedly, we must honor the freedom of individual teachers and individual students alike to find their own ways to embody and respond to these four universal tenets of education and motivation. Since force is the enemy of influence, inspiration, and innovation, the details and decisions each teacher or student chooses are ultimately up to them. Therefore, individual expression and self-determination are absolutely encouraged!

The only non-negotiable element is that all four aspects of student motivation must be applied and accepted consistently and equally. For without this common foundation and agreement between teachers and students, there will be no real autonomy, artistry, imagination, or ingenuity for either adult or child because both will lack the four core components that actually ignite, enable, and embolden such flourishing.

There is no true buy-in without motivation, and the balanced combination of firmness, fairness, fascination, and facilitation intentionally allows students and teachers to find their own ways of expressing themselves. In fact, when teachers convince a challenging child that acting in the best interests of the group (including those of their teacher) actually coincides with one’s own self-interest, this sets a precedent for positive, mutually productive behavior.

Adversaries suddenly become allies, and the entire class works with a camaraderie and common purpose that is a joy to observe for teachers and parents alike. Proper, proportional adult influence indeed creates marked effects! Otherwise, how do you account for the exact same students acting accordingly and enthusiastically in one class with one teacher and acting act out in another class with another teacher?


Willingness, Wisdom, Wonder, and Worth

All students can handle following some basic rules and routines, even a bit of necessary compliance, when they realize that doing so allows for the joys of relationship and recognition, relevance and recreation, as well as readiness and refinement, to flow. Firm, fair, fascinating facilitators lavish their students with these crucial gifts and are rewarded by the progress and pleasure their students regularly display.

If you want to create a classroom filled with willingness, wisdom, wonder, and worth, the Four Fs offer you a sound path to do so—all while retaining the freedom to be the unique teacher only you can be, as you inspire and support your students to be the special individuals they all must be.


In what ways do you firmness, fairness, fascination, and/or facilitation to meet the needs of your students? How does a whole-child approach help to motivate children? Please share your ideas, opinions, and experiences in the Comments section below.

Empowered Parents #1 seller

For more on attending to the whole child and how teachers and parents can be allies in education, read the latest book by Robert Ward, Talented Teachers, Empowered Parents, Successful Students.

This article is featured in the free #EduMatch collaborative eBookSnapshot in Education 2016, chapter 6. This book is also available in print and Kindle versions on Amazon.

You can also listen to an audio version of this article here: 


Read an interview with the authors and the editor in Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q&A in Education Week magazine.


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