Teaching for the Whole Self

Proceedings of The 4th World Conference on Research in Teaching and Education

Year: 2022



Teaching for the Whole Self

Sandra Kroeker



Teaching for the whole self is not a new concept, but paradigm shifting to ‘whole self teaching’ is slow. There are many definitions of what it means to teach for the whole self and pedagogies involving this teaching have different understandings of what this practice means (Brookfield, 2015; Flook, 2019). For the purposes of this project, the operational definition of whole self teaching is to understand that students “need to grow and learn in their relationships, identity, emotional understanding, and overall well-being [because they are] are multi-dimensional ‘whole’ beings whose development is complex and rich” (Flook, 2019, para. 2). Therefore, the whole self is a dynamic, complex system, full of relationships, not a linear, fixed box in a vacuum.

In order to teach for the whole self, one must first understand what the whole self actually is and must also have an understanding of complex systems theory and its interactions. Felten and Lambert (2020) state that relationships are integral to the teaching and learning experience and are “flexible and adaptable” (p. 12). Therefore, relational thinking is compatible with dynamic interactions and complex systems theory, which are my theoretical frameworks. This type of thinking, however, seems to be incompatible with standard, traditional teaching practices with positivist ontologies and epistemologies, which could explain the slow shift towards whole self teaching. This paper aims to discover what exactly the whole self is by exploring what elements are involved and how we can use this knowledge in our teaching. But before we can truly shift to whole self teaching, there are some obstacles that need dethroning. For example, before we can understand holism and the dynamic, fluid, interactions between complex systems, we need to dismantle Cartesian dualism, reductionism, and materialism.

I will explore the disconnect between traditional and whole self teaching by working through some obstacles slowing down this shift, explore what constitutes the whole self, and how we can apply contemporary understandings of a complex self in our teaching. The first part will challenge Cartesian dualism and explore elements constituting a whole self. I will use Cartesian dualism’s definition of the self as a mind-body interaction as a springboard to discuss the many other complex systems involved in the whole self and show that there are more types of intelligence than just math and verbal. Since Cartesian dualism and traditional understandings of self are outdated and incompatible with complex systems theories and quantum physics, I will then discuss some complex systems theories and use them to falsify reductionism (which is still taught as fact in traditional, dominant discourses). The last section will discuss how a new definition of the whole self as a complex system can be applied to the classroom. For example, does this new understanding of the whole self change our definition of intelligence? How might this produce different ways of teaching, and how might this create new ways for students to express their learned knowledge. I know this sounds like a lot, but this is the curse of a transdisciplinary thinker. Therefore, this paper will explore 1) what the whole self is and what elements are involved, 2) what are some obstacles slowing the shift to whole self teaching, and 3) how to apply contemporary understandings of the whole self in our teaching. There will be four breakout room activities throughout that will help you understand how the concepts can be used in our teaching.

keywords: Whole Self; Complex Systems Theory; Quantum Physics; Relational Approach; Contextualism.