The Whole Learner – A Much Needed Shift in Education

Learner Blog Post

By: Erin Corcoran – Educator (8th grade English), parent, wife, Zensational Kids student

Parenting took a long time. Doctors, shots, more doctors and excruciating waiting. Reality set in after spending more time figuring out how to create a child rather than how to become a mother. Adoption finally made sense. There were children, I mused, in this world that needed me as much as I needed them. My own universal connections. According to an ancient Chinese belief, there is an invisible red thread connecting those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break. So, I called on all of my knowing and faith, grabbed hold of that red thread and motherhood of two amazingly beautiful Chinese girls was born. Like teaching, parenting was what I was born to do. You see, I am a caretaker by nature. A teacher, a motivator, a nurturer of kids’ souls. A cheerleader for the underdog. I connect with them. I understand them. I hear their souls cry out for acceptance, trust and love.

As an educator I work hard building, creating and manifesting a classroom environment where every child feels safe, valued and connected. So it only made sense that as a mother, I would knowingly and effortlessly tap into the essence of my two very different children to bring about their highest selves. With the evolution of change and what has become mainstream America, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Now more than ever, I felt the anxiousness in my children as I urged them with fear inducing phrases like “hurry up…we are going to be late”. I saw the detached look in their eyes while trying to engage in daily conversation just to compete with their iPhones and Chrome books. I sensed their frustration as I imposed yet again, another short-lived but well intentioned rule about putting the phone in the middle of the table while we eat , no face timing in the bedroom or electronics need to be plugged in downstairs at 8. I worried about their friendships that were now playing out over text, Snapchat and Google hangouts with minimal words and a myriad of misunderstandings, hurt and confusion. This never ending battle and current lifestyle held my intuitive parenting hostage. How much is too much? I repeatedly contemplated. I mean, schools are on board with increased screen time, how bad could it be? I rationalize.

You see, my students and my own daughters have begun a fierce battle with this new fast paced and less connected society. Gone are the days of playing, creating and being, only to be replaced with schedules, to dos and screens. Forget verbs, they are now anxious nouns who are a part of a collective group of children struggling to find their way with the constant intensity of extracurricular, social and academic demands. This battle is exacerbated with the increase of technological distractions that send waves of impulsivity throughout their developing bodies.

One only needs to hear their child or student respond with a “Wait……what???” after giving them specific directions to know that they are, indeed, struggling. Our children are being diagnosed with anxiety, ADHD and depression at alarming rates. Cruelty, apathy and bullying are on the rise. And although my students are consistently scoring very high on standardized tests, which is always highlighted in my yearly teacher review, I can’t help but think that this focus is drawing our attention as educators and parents away from the bigger picture of what is really going on with our kids. Clearly, the majority of them are passing yearly tests but are demonstrating less and less resilience and problem solving ability than ever before. They can use just about any app or computer program to create beautiful projects, yet they are struggling with their own self-awareness and focus. The bottom line: they are strongly connected and disconnected at the same time. They want answers without wondering. They are doing rather than being. They are results driven and reflection starved.

So, I wondered, how can we protect our precious children in these highly competitive environments that are so results driven and technologically focused? Clearly, just being their cheerleader isn’t enough.

I began to take stock in my own experience as an overcommitted and thinly stretched wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, tutor and mother. I began paying attention to my own life with kindness and curiosity. In wonderment, I began to see how stress was affecting my executive functioning skills, my memory, my relationships, my health and my overall well-being. Slowly, I reinvented my morning workout sessions. I began incorporating morning practices of quieting my mind and using specific feeling based intentions to start my day. I immersed myself in reading and journaling that resonated and connected with my heart. I surrendered to my body and slowly began to engage in movement that felt opening and connected using breath in an effort to unite my mind and body. These new practices and an increased sense of focus, compassion and calm got me thinking. Could these same tools be used for my children? Could the power of mindfulness help my students better connect to themselves and others? Thinking even bigger, could this help them connect to learning?

This new revelation sparked my passion to bring these powerful tools I had discovered of mindfulness, meditation and yoga, to my own children and students.

And so began the experiment of a lifetime. At home, we started connecting thoughts and feeling to breath. Instead of allowing my daughters’ anxiousness or frustration to implode, we utilized breath and breathed through it. At times of elevated stress and anxiety, we incorporated postures of movement that promoted relaxation and the opening of their bodies to allow energy to flow freely.

At school, I guided my students through 5 minute meditation practices at the beginning of class along with perspective shifting insight into daily reading and writing. I began to see that focusing on breath, movement and thought brought a consciousness to the classroom that allowed students a deeper connection to themselves, to each other AND to their learning.

Enter mindful awareness.

Instantly, students were coming into my classroom eager to sit and be still. They craved the break and reported a much greater sense of calm. Our class conversations focused on shifting perspectives without judgment to allow for better understanding. Empathy was on the rise. Reading and writing took and inward shift.

Using thought provoking reading strategies in text analysis, accountable student driven discussions, activated writing opportunities coupled with meditation, movement and breath work allowed students to become keenly aware of their ability to understand themselves not only as learners but as individuals. Their ability to connect to the characters they read and wrote about mirrored insight into themselves and others that allowed deeper connections to unfold. Building these patterns of awareness in the classroom with mindful curiosity and kindness provided my students with a stronger self-identity and self-acceptance. These social emotional skills, which are being phased out of the traditional classroom, teaches children to communicate effectively, cultivate relationships, build empathy, provide problem solving strategies and alleviate stress. However, most importantly, my students began to realize they now were becoming equipped with a new set of tools — an unintended awakening far greater and more important than a score on a standardized test.

I believe all children deserve access to this kind of mindful awareness and learning. I believe our kids need it. I envision a world where every classroom incorporates these techniques and values them as much as content learning.

So, imagine your child learning how to focus through breathwork and meditation while also learning how to recognize the energy within their body that may need to be moved out before they can focus and then learning the tools to do just that. All without judgment.

Imagine your child connecting to their emotions and then through activities that allow them to see multiple perspectives, develop a deep empathy and understanding of the characters in stories like real live people. In turn, this allows them to celebrate their own amazingness and uniqueness. All without judgment.

Imagine your child connecting to their body through movement in a way that opens energy blocks, increases strength, flexibility, awareness and confidence. All without judgment.

Imagine your child connecting to themselves as a learner, demonstrating resilience and the ability to self-regulate their thoughts and behaviors. All without judgment.

This is teaching the whole learner.

Learning is not just cerebral. It’s deep. It’s connected. It’s soulful. It’s whole.

For more information on The Whole Learner Experience please visit

or email at