“Motivation, engagement and student voice are critical elements of student-centred learning. Without motivation, there is no push to learn, without engagement there is no way to learn and without voice, there is no authenticity in the learning. For students to create new knowledge, succeed academically, and develop into healthy adults, they require each of these experiences” (SEF, pg 22).
It has been exciting recently to find evidence that our SGDSB theory of action is no longer simply a theory on paper; there is beginning to be a shift in our classrooms to integrate student centered approaches that are recognized as being beneficial to all students – with the goal of achieving a greater sense of belonging, which we believe leads to improved academic achievement, and thus, overall well-being for all. In many classrooms, the voices and interests of the students are being increasingly heard and aligned with curriculum, and assessment for and as learning is growing in use. Student voice is also growing, and the role of the educator is becoming more of facilitation. This evidence, when analyzed, is telling us that we are beginning to collectively recognizing the impact of our work as we deeply integrate our beliefs into actions that lead to the further development of what we believe are “healthy schools”.
When we think about how student centered learning environments promote a sense of belonging that contributes to positive well-being, the revised (2015) Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum comes to mind as a strong tool to further support the achievement of this goal. When you read this document through a “well-being lens”, you see the curriculum expectations as supporting our work in an integrated manner. The Living Skills expectations, which are integrated into the three overall strands (Active Living, Movement Competence, and Healthy Living), are comprised of personal skills, interpersonal skills and critical and creative thinking skills, and help to make the learning “personally relevant to students” (OHPE, 2015, pg. 22). These skills are truly reflective of the student centered environment: our Conditions for Learning are each evident, as is the Assessment for and as Learning strategies and focus on goal setting.
Ontario Health and Physical Education Document, 2015, pg 24
It is important that we have a conceptual understanding of this document as not just applying to the “gym” portion of our daily schedules, but as a vision for how classroom and school environments – the learning, physical and social environment – can be structured. Students need opportunities to “learn about themselves—their interests, skills, strengths and aptitude – and others, and to develop and promote well-being,” through both “informal instruction and learning opportunities within and outside the classroom/learning environment (e.g., classroom discussions, hallway and recess conversation, before and after school programs, activities and interactions on school grounds” (Foundations for A Healthy School, 2014, pg. 3). These opportunities lead students to developing strong living skills, which are captured by the body of curriculum expectations that “help(s) students develop a positive sense of self, develop and maintain healthy relationships, and use critical and creative thinking processes as they set goals, make decisions, and solve problems” (OHPE, 2015, pg. 23). Self-regulated learning and meta-cognition are two important parts of our student centered goal, both of which are embedded in this document.
This belief is further evident through the “front matter” of the document, and explicitly indicated in several of the overall goals of the health and physical education program:
Students will develop:
- the living skills needed to develop resilience and a secure identity and sense of self, through opportunities to learn adaptive, management, and coping skills, to practice communication skills, to learn how to build relationships and interact positively with others, and to learn how to use critical and creative thinking processes;
- an understanding of the factors that contribute to healthy development, a sense of personal responsibility for lifelong health, and an understanding of how living healthy, active lives is connected with the world around them and the health of others.
The Importance of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum is stated perfectly on page 7 of the document and is worth taking the time to develop a full understanding of.
This curriculum helps students develop an understanding of what they need in order to make a commitment to lifelong healthy, active living and develop the capacity to live satisfying, productive lives. Healthy, active living benefits both individuals and society in many ways – for example, by increasing productivity and readiness for learning, improving morale, decreasing absenteeism, reducing health-care costs, decreasing antisocial behaviour such as bullying and violence, promoting safe and healthy relationships, and heightening personal satisfaction. Research has shown a connection between increased levels of physical activity and better academic achievement, better concentration, better classroom behaviour, and more focused learning. Other benefits include improvements in psychological well-being, physical capacity, self-concept, and the ability to cope with stress. The expectations that make up this curriculum also provide the opportunity for students to develop social skills and emotional well-being. This practical, balanced approach will help students move successfully through elementary and secondary school and beyond. In health and physical education, students will learn the skills needed to be successful in life as active, healthy, and socially responsible citizens.
As a district, we have been working on (and continue to work on) the notion that our adult learning needs to be integrated and aligned so that we do not see everything in “silos”. This is a big idea that is important for our student learners as well. This document provides an opportunity for students to learn and use related concepts into several subjects, thus seeing learning as increasingly relevant and transferable. It also provides schools with the opportunity to align their overall school big ideas with the goals of our theory of action. The front matter of this document is worth the read!
Until Next Week…Last week was Bully Awareness Week; a week which many of our schools approached from a strength-based perspective (e.g. Kindness Week). How might the front matter of the Health and Physical Education document further support a whole school approach to well-being?