Students have many dimensions, and the most successful students use their high school experience to learn and thrive in all areas, not just academic performance. At its core, learning is about growth and development, and if approached in a holistic way, high school offers many opportunities for all different kinds of learning. Let’s look at some of them!

What is Holistic Learning?

Before we can break it down, it’s important to uncouple the idea of “learning” from grades and test scores. Those are markers of academic performance, and they have a useful place in measuring progress. However, due in part to the competitiveness of the college admissions process, we often place too much importance on this one dimension of learning. And that means many other dimensions are overlooked. Below, we list the various dimensions of learning that when approached holistically, will help students prosper.

Academic: The academic dimension of learning, as we’ve mentioned, is the one we all think of first. However, true academic development goes well beyond GPA or ACT scores. You learn and grow not just by performing well on tests, but by retaining the information you have learned, utilizing it appropriately when the need arises, and practicing higher-level skills like critical thinking.

Psychological: The psychological dimension has to do with mental and emotional well-being. Ideally, high school is a time to learn valuable life skills such as recognizing and managing your feelings, being able to express your needs and desires, and caring for yourself in a way that supports personal health and wellness.

Social: The social dimension is all about relationships with those around you. Growth in this area might look like learning how to be a good friend, romantic partner, son/daughter/child, or co-worker. You can work on developing qualities like loyalty, forgiveness, and setting clear boundaries, along with strong communication skills that allow you to forge connections with others.

Spiritual: The spiritual dimension is about your deeper self, however you define it. Spirituality can be developed through a traditional religious path, but it can also mean thinking about meaning and purpose in your life more broadly. Spiritual exploration allows you to have a clearer sense of who you are and how you want to relate to the world around you.

As you’ve probably guessed, a modern high-school education primarily focuses on the academic dimension of learning, with some opportunities for growth in the social dimension as well. This means that students who wish to address the other dimensions of themselves must forge their own paths to some extent.

How can you do this? First, realize that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. On the contrary, it’s best to look for ways to address these dimensions as they naturally arise.

Here are a few ways to learn outside of school:

    • Allow yourself to make plans with friends when you have spent a significant amount of time on schoolwork.
    • Participate in family activities that support well-being, such as taking a walk or preparing a healthy meal together.
    • Be on the alert for signs of burnout, anxiety, or significantly high levels of stress. Talk to your family and seek the guidance of a professional if necessary.
    • Engage your friends, family, and/or spiritual leader(s) in conversation about your values and what you want out of life. This might tie into conversations about career or college major, but it should relate in a broader sense to your feelings about your purpose.

There is no doubt that holistic learning requires effort. Students who pursue this path are going against the status quo of how our current academic system defines “education.” However, the work it takes to go against the grain is absolutely worthwhile. Not only will you gain a better perspective on the role of academics in your life (very important, but not everything), you’ll also be growing and learning in other dimensions.

We promise that your academic performance won’t suffer as a result! On the contrary, students who work to learn on multiple levels often perform better, without the high levels of stress and burnout that all too often accompany good grades.

The academic pathway of good grades → good college → good job may bring you happiness, but that is not guaranteed. A better way to ensure happiness is to learn and grow in all aspects of your life, which will ultimately help you build a life of meaning and purpose.