Christina Theokas on Whole Child Design and the Turnaround for Children Toolbox

Turnaround for Children Toolbox

Today Tom is talking with Dr. Christina Theokas, Chief of Applied Science at Turnaround for Children, about the Whole Child Design movement and the new Toolbox from Turnaround for Children.

The Turnaround for Children Toolbox is an online hub created by educators, for educators and is backed in science, research and passion. With this tool you’ll be able to create a supportive environment, cultivate developmental relationships and build students’ knowledge, skills, and mindsets,

Christina formerly was at the National Center for Urban School Transformation, where she studied the teaching practices, systems and structures, and leadership of high-performing, urban schools and worked with educators to implement those strategies in their schools. She has studied and written about opportunity gaps for students of color and the low-income student experience.

Let’s listen in as she speaks with Tom about why whole child education matters more than ever and how educators and edleaders can get started with implementing these mindsets and approaches in their strategies.

Dr. Theokas began as a developmental psychologist and started her educational leadership journey at an alternative school. Here she rapidly learned about the ways in which a therapeutic environment can inform disciplinary actions. “We ask kids to survive in the system, without the necessary supports,” she said.

Alongside a team at Turnaround for Children, Christina has been working on the Whole Child Design movement, developmental systems thinking approach that focuses on the child and the environment around them. “Embedding a whole child purpose in a school requires you to think about each individual child,” she said. “Then we’re no longer thinking about sorting, tracking, etc. […] We have to disrupt and dismantle the systemic inequities that have been built in from the very beginning.”

On the relationship between SEL and Whole Child, Dr. Theokas noted that the sector has the momentum to build from SEL curriculum. Right now she views SEL as being separate from academic supports, but they need to be connected. To support educators and the increased demand for self-care and Whole Child Design, Turnaround for Children released their Toolbox in the Spring of 2021. This is an online resource hub that is backed by science to help educators strengthen their Whole Child practice. It is for those who learn better by doing and enjoy learning in community. The Toolbox consists of the Whole Child Design Blueprint, Well being index, Tiered Supports and much more.

“We just believe in learning by doing and doing it in a community of practice,” she said.

When asked how she keeps learning, Dr. Theokas shared that she has a relentless curiosity and is always fascinated by seeing how new learnings apply to what we already know.

Key Takeaways:

[:08] About today’s episode with Christina Theokas.
[:52] Tom welcomes Christina Theokasto to the podcast.
[1:22] Christina shares about her original introduction to whole-child learning and development.
[3:59] What is whole-child learning and development?
[6:25] Is social-emotional learning (SEL) a subset of whole-child learning and development?
[8:38] As the Chief Applied Science Officer at Turnaround for Children, Christina elaborates on why the team has worked on a toolbox that summarizes the science of learning and development for educators.
[12:42] About the tiered support resources within the Toolbox.
[14:42] About the Well-Being index that is a part of the Turnaround for Children Toolbox.
[16:24] Is there a secondary version and an elementary version of the Well-Being Index?
[16:47] How often does Christina recommend that teachers use the Well-Being Index?
[18:20] Is the Toolbox for teachers, school leaders, policymakers, parents, or everybody involved with education?
[21:21] How will this dynamic resource change over time?
[23:32] About Turnaround for Children’s Building Blocks for Learning resources.
[25:32] The importance of student agency.
[26:27] Christina’s parting words of advice for teachers and school leaders in getting started on their whole-child journey.
[27:58] How Christina stays focused and productive as an individual learner.
[29:23] Where to learn more about the Turnaround for Children Toolbox.
[30:00] Tom thanks Christina for joining the podcast.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

Subscribe to Our Podcast

This podcast highlights developing trends in K-12 education, postsecondary and lifelong learning. Each week, Getting Smart team members interview students, leading authors, experts and practitioners in research, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership to bring listeners innovative and actionable strategies in education leadership.

Find us on:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.