What the Health?

Today, on  World Health Day, I submitted this letter (but as a more abbreviated essay version) to the Edmonton Journal (I’ll let you know if and when it gets published…) regarding the place of HEALTH in our Education curriculum. Until then, enjoy it here! It is Alberta, Canada focused but hopefully the content and references can be useful in your jurisdiction as well! Onward and upward.

An Open Letter to our Premier and Ministers of Education and Health

Dear Honourable Premier Notley and Honourable Ministers Eggen and Hoffman,

As you well know, Alberta Education is currently revising the K-12 curriculum for all subject areas. According to the website[1]:

We are looking ahead to the future and working to ensure that provincial curriculum continues to give all students the best possible start in life and meet the demands of living in the 21st century. …placing a greater emphasis on 21st century competencies and literacy and numeracy across subjects and grades. This approach will help build an even stronger foundation for student success in a dynamic, global society and economy.

While literacy and numeracy are fundamental elements of any education system there is another element that is glaringly missing. Health. If we truly desire ‘student success in a dynamic, global society and economy’ we cannot afford to ignore the foundational role of health in today’s increasingly sedentary, inactive and unhealthy society. I am writing to all three of you because we should be long past the days of segregating education and health. Therefore, from both a health and education perspective, here are five reasons to re-imagine the value and purpose of health and physical education in schools.

  1. In 2002, the United Nations stated[2]: “Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they can face in life, and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the 21st century.” What this means is that literacy is no longer limited to ‘reading and writing’. Physical literacy and health literacy are critical elements of education that help address societal challenges and teach essential life skills for effective citizenship.
  2. Therefore, physical and health literacy are just as important for the development of contributing citizens as ‘traditional’ literacy and numeracy. While Alberta students consistently score well among developed nations in PISA[3] tests (2nd in Sciences, 3rd in Reading and 14th in Math) where we’re falling down is health. Canada was ranked 17th out of 29 ‘rich nations’ for overall child wellbeing in a 2013 UNICEF report[4]. We need to pay more attention to health in our curriculum and give it equal priority with literacy and numeracy.
  3. Our kids aren’t healthy. The 2017 ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth[5] found that of children aged 5-17: only 9% get 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; only 24% meet the guidelines of no more than 2 hours of recreational screen-time per day and 33% have trouble falling asleep. Add to this what we know about deteriorating mental health (which physical activity also addresses) and decreased nutrition for kids and we are in trouble. Big trouble. Still want to marginalize health and physical education?
  4. Health and education are inextricably linked. The more educated you are, the healthier you are. And, the healthier you are the more educated you’ll be! Over and over again, the data says that if you add more physical education in the day it won’t lower your academic scores[6]. As an example, girls who had physical education for 70 or more minutes per week attained significantly higher reading and mathematics scores than did girls with 35 or fewer minutes per week[7]. Alberta has surpassed the $20 billion mark – almost 40% of our provincial budget – in health spending[8]. Now more than ever, we need to invest in our future – a healthy future. Investing NOW in healthy schools, including prioritizing health and physical education, can save millions in future health costs[9].
  5. The whole child. In health and physical education we teach students to understand and take care of their own bodies, to make informed decisions and lead healthy active lives. This knowledge and application is essential to becoming a contributing citizen of Alberta and the world. In physical education, we teach students to move with confidence and competence in a variety of environments. As well, movement is essential to who we are as human beings; it is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan. The health and academic benefits of physical education are important, but are truly just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the diverse terrain of life. Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical. “…physical education is important because movement is joyful, pleasurable, provides intrinsic satisfaction, and can be personally meaningful and central to the human experience”[10].

Premier Notley, Minister Eggen and Minister Hoffman, as we continue down the road of curriculum re-design, I challenge you to follow the evidence and prioritize health. Implementation of a quality health and physical education curriculum is the BEST way to ensure that ALL students have the opportunity to be well: now and for the future.

[1] https://education.alberta.ca/curriculum-development/why-change-curriculum/

[2] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/education-building-blocks/literacy/un-literacy-decade/un-resolutions-and-other-related-documents/

[3] http://www.cmec.ca/508/Programs-and-Initiatives/Assessment/Programme-for-International-Student-Assessment-(PISA)/PISA-2015/index.html

[4] https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc11_eng.pdf

[5] https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/thought-leadership/report-card/2016

[6] Sallis, J.F., McKenzie, T.L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., & Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects  of health related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70(2),127-134.

Shephard, R.J. (1996). Habitual physical activity and academic performance. Nutrition Reviews,   54(4), S32-S36.

Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 1.

[7] Carlson, S.A., Fulton, J.E., Lee, S.M., Maynard, M., Brown, D.R., Kohl, III, H.W, & Dietz, W.H. (2008). Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: Data from the early childhood longitudinal study. American Journal of Public Health, 98(4), 721-727

[8] http://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/alberta-health-spending-rises-over-20-billion-even-as-province-tries-to-bend-the-cost-curve

[9] Tran BX, Ohinmaa A, Kuhle S, Johnson JA, Veugelers PJ (2014) Life Course Impact of School-Based Promotion of Healthy Eating and Active Living to Prevent Childhood Obesity. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102242. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102242

[10] Blankenship, B.T. & Ayers, S.F. (2010). The role of PETE in developing joy-oriented physical educators. Quest, 60, 171-183.

 

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program for this message…

Never fear, the next post in my physical literacy series is coming. SLOWLY, but coming.

For now, this YouTube video caught my eye and I wanted to say just a few words about it. Please watch – then read.

Novak Djokovic vs. Dylan Alcott – who is ‘more’ physically literate?

Before you answer the question, let me remind you of the definition of physical literacy:

“In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life-course.” (Whitehead, 2010)

Got an answer? Before you share it, in all fairness I should let you know that the question is flawed. Sorry.

Key points from the definition: as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, maintaining purposeful physical pursuits, throughout the life-course.

Long story short? Physical literacy is a journey – not a destination. It is a winding path not a linear road. It is individualized, not standardized. Therefore, there is no need to worry about achieving some arbitrary endpoint or to make ridiculous comparisons about who is more physically literate than who. Go back to the video – see how Dylan has to help Novak operate his chair?  Individual endowment. In another video of the same event Dylan drops this comment after Novak misses a few shots:

“…the  movement is your weakness.” 

Wisdom.

Dylan’s endowment includes using a wheelchair to play tennis (and how!). Novak’s endowment includes using legs to play tennis. Different. Both demonstrate physical literacy.  Note that I purposefully don’t say,  “Both are physically literate.” That would indicate an end point. Remember: journey – winding – individual endowment.

Ramifications for physical education teachers? HUGE. I’ll leave you with these two thoughts from Margaret Whitehead:

“The uniqueness of physical education lies in its ability to enable each individual to realize, nurture and develop his [sic] embodied capabilities and thus become more fully human.” (Whitehead, 2013, p. 35, emphasis mine)

“Our mission or challenge is to DO ALL WE CAN to ENABLE ALL to make progress on their individual PHYSICAL LITERACY JOURNEY.” (Whitehead, 2013, caps and bold mine)

An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

We join our hero as he realizes it has been over 3 months since his last post…

Speaking of Physical Literacy Part 3: An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

Right. So suddenly it is 2016. MARCH 2016! I am not sure how so much time went by since my last post – oh wait, I know – life! Life got in the way. And work.  Definitely work. Anywho…

What follows is a lead in to a rough framework that explores the implementation side of physical literacy. The post is loosely based on a talk I gave on October 22, 2015 at the Manitoba Physical Literacy Summit ‘Moving it Forward’. As well, I am working with an exceptional graduate student to design and implement a research project that will use a similar framework in high school physical education (more on that later!). Here goes.

If you recall, the last post in this series was about experiences and stories. So, please consider this story of an experience (brilliant segue, what?)…

PE, recess and lunch were always my favourite subjects in school. Perhaps it was a connection to my life running around on the farm but I found it tough to adjust to school and sedentary life. Opportunities to be active during the school day were not only my favourite times, they were critical to who I was as a person. My problem on this particular school day began with the excitement of heading to the local church basement for PE and ended with a frightening experience no grade two-er should have. I never forgot my PE clothes and shoes. NEVER. This day was no different. I had my shorts. I had my t-shirt. I had my shoes. As we were changing in the tiny bathroom of the church basement, however, I realized I had forgotten something. My regular underwear. I had neglected to put briefs on under my long johns…

 

longjohns

EDITORS NOTE: for those from more southerly climes, long johns are full coverage thermal underwear and completely necessary for about 8 months of the year where I live. Thank you.

…and was therefore in a bit of a conundrum. I couldn’t wear my shorts with my long johns, I couldn’t wear my shorts without my regular underwear. I agonized about it until everyone else left the change room and decided to just head out in my jeans and t-shirt so no one would know of my problem. Surely the PE teacher would understand? As I headed over to try and quietly explain my embarrassing dilemma to the enormous ex-football player who was my teacher, he stopped everyone and singled me out. “Doug, you forgot your gym clothes! Come over here!” I sheepishly slunk over to the centre of the basement and was ready to explain my situation when suddenly I was swept off my feet, lifted high into the air and pinned against the ceiling. “Why do you not have your gym clothes?!?” Three quick, relevant facts. Number one, there was no way I was explaining myself in front of the whole class. Number two, I could barely keep myself from peeing my pants, much less actually talk. Number three, I stutter badly when forced to respond verbally under pressure. Therefore, I said nothing except for a few stuttered grunts. After a little more uplifted condemnation fornot being changed, I was forced to sit out for the rest of the class. Although I kept a brave face for my friends, (“That was so cool how he lifted me up so high”) inside I was embarrassed, frustrated, mad and ultimately – helpless. (Gleddie & Schaefer, 2014, p. 9-10)

Now that you’ve read my story (thanks!) answer me this: Why would someone who underwent that sort of humiliation and embarassment go on to have a career in physical education? Why wouldn’t that experience have turned me off of physical education for life? John Dewey, the renowned education philosopher, would probably have answered the question somewhat like this:

 

Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. (1938, p. 25)

 

I think that I had been ‘inoculated’ or ‘vaccinated’ with WAY too much educative experiences of movement and play to be turned off by one mis-educative experience – no matter how humiliating. Dewey went on to say that there are two key aspects to experience. The first is the immediate:

“Yes, this was good.” OR “No, this was not.”

The second aspect emerges when we consider the influence of the current experience on future experiences. Quite simply – I knew deep down in my soul that the one mis-educative experience with my long johns did not have the power to impact the future already set up by my countless educative experiences with movement and physical education. This idea is enormously important – now put it away for a moment and keep reading… Hopefully, you are already familiar with at least the definition of physical literacy if not the whole set of philosophical underpinnings (here’s a hint… It’s so much more than fundamental movement skills!). What I want to focus on, however, is physical literacy praxis. And no, I did not spell ‘practice’ wrong…

Etymology: From Ancient Greek πρᾶξις ‎(prâxis, “action, activity, practice”)

Noun: praxis ‎(plural praxes or praxises)

  1. The practical application of any branch of learning.

  2. (philosophy) The synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. (en.wiktionary.org)

 

 

 

Love it! Take a closer look: the synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. If you remember way back in the Travel Agents post, I quoted Margaret Whitehead as saying:

“Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey. (Whitehead, 2013)

This is PRAXIS! This is what physical educators can do with the theory! Or, as John Dewey put it,

“…upon them devolves the responsibility for instituting the conditions for the kind of present experience which has a favourable effect upon the future.” (Dewey, 1938, p. 50)

 

 

 

 

This is where my rough framework for physical literacy praxis fits in. Here is a visual to get you started.

Slide5

 

We leave our hero as he realizes that this post is getting way too long…  Hopefully, he doesn’t wait 3 months before the next one and leave us all hanging…

TO BE CONTINUED!

BE a Travel Agent

Speaking of Physical Literacy, Part 2: Becoming Travel Agents

travelIn March 2015, Ever Active Schools hosted a Physical Literacy Summit in Calgary, Alberta. I was invited to close the Summit and chose the following title for my talk: Becoming Travel Agents for a Storied Physical Literacy Journey. I also revised and refined this keynote for another Summit hosted in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2015.

My purpose in choosing this title and topic was to bring together the life-course aspect of physical literacy with the concept of storied lives. Since we know that physical literacy is a journey, not a destination, I thought the metaphor of travel agent was appropriate. Travel agents facilitate key experiences and assist with the progress of our travels. However, no one comes back from a trip and shows you their itinerary – no way. They tell you stories. What follows here is a synopsis of how we might become travel agents for Canada’s children – helping them to build a storied physical literacy journey.

In the last post, I shared a definition of physical literacy. Today, I want to add the idea of moral purpose.

“A compelling and inclusive moral purpose steers a system, binds it together, and draws the best people to work in it” (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009, p. 76)

In other words, “Why do you do what you do?” I feel that for those of us who work with children and any form of physical activity – health, education, sport, recreation and home/family – physical literacy can be that moral purpose. Here are some quick examples of compatible goals/vision statements found within each of these sectors that can connect to a moral purpose of physical literacy. Although these examples are specifically from Manitoba (woot, woot – shout out!), I would be VERY surprised to find much difference in other regions.

  • Health: “…to meet the health needs of individuals, families and their communities … A health system that promotes well-being…”
  • Sport: “…a goal to advance the health, social and recreational benefits of sport and the overall performance of Manitoba athletes…”
  • Education: “…ensure that children and youth have access to an array of educational opportunities to experience success to prepare them for lifelong learning and citizenship…”
  • Recreation: “…enable Manitobans to fully develop their innate capabilities and creatively use their energies, while enriching their lives and improving their health and sense of well-being.”
  • Home/Family: Hmmm… Would there be any parent that would disagree with the above values and goals for their child?

Margaret Whitehead expressed this very concept of a shared moral purpose at the International Physical Literacy Conference in Banff (2013).

Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey.

What if all areas touching on physical activity bought into and operationalized physical literacy? Powerful. Efficacious. Life changing.

Since we can’t MAKE someone physically literate, it becomes our mission to: Provide enriching and enhancing environments in which kids can have positive, educative experiences. What might this look like? To go back to Margaret Whitehead’s talk in Banff (2013) she shared the following about creating experiences to foster physical literacy:

  • Rewarding and enjoyable – fostering motivation
  • Positively effect self confidence and self-worth
  • Enable progress and have success in a wide range of pursuits
  • Empower decision making
  • Enable appreciation of life-course physical activity
  • Energize for proactive participation

Therefore, our roles, whether in education, sport, recreation, home/family or health, are to be travel agents for a storied physical literacy journey. Travel agents don’t send everyone to the same place! They take time to get to know you, your dreams, skills, passions, past experiences – then they craft an experience that meets YOUR needs. When you get back home, you don’t shares clinical, dry details of your trip. NO! You tell stories. Stories of risk, surprise, joy, learning and new experiences. If you need a refresher on the power of story – check this out.

I encourage you to become physical literacy travel agents to help kids (or adults!) take steps on their individual journeys. As you do so, remember:

1294380_684473301578022_2005795376_oIt’s about relationships – take someone along – connect across sectors.

SkiingWhere do we want kids to go? Where do THEY want to go? Choose destinations with the CLIENT’s needs at heart – not yours.

 kayak

Explore and try new things… Nuff said.

 cliffs

Take (acceptable) risks!

Hike

Remember, it’s a life-long journey! The value is in the journey – not the destination.

Be a travel agent.

Do what’s best for kids.

Enable ALL to make progress on their PL journeys

LIVE Storied LIVES.

findthejoyinthejourney 1

To order the shirt, go here (no % 4 me, just love the shirt!)

Speaking of Physical Literacy…

Over the past 9 months I have been privileged to be able to speak at a CdnPLnumber of Physical Literacy ‘Summit’ type events across Canada. After reviewing my notes and doing some thinking about the many conversations with individuals very passionate about physical education and physical literacy, I have just realized that I have yet to write a blog post exclusively on physical literacy! I use and explore the term with my students. I speak about it. I tweet about it. I read about it. I am beginning to research it. I am incorporating it into a PE textbook. Guess it is time to blog about it! So here goes my first swing – a short three point introduction to the topic. I hope to have two more physical literacy posts ‘on deck’ (see what I did there?) to follow in December.

Firstly, let me just remind you (and myself) about the definition of physical literacy. We will dive into the ramifications of this definition later, just wanted to get it in your head again! Margaret Whitehead (2010) states:

“In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life-course.”

Secondly, let me state that I am whole-heartedly, unequivocally, undeniably, explicitly, enthusiastically and for reals on board with the concept of physical literacy. I believe that we are standing on the threshold of a HUGE opportunity for physical education. Here’s why:

  • Literacy is an expanding concept as shown by this United Nations definition from 2002, “Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they can face in life, and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first century.” It is about time that the physical aspect of who we are is embraced instead of being divorced and downtrodden.
  • Physical literacy as a concept includes a language and vocabulary that educators (and parents and kids) can understand. Most times when I explain it to educators unfamiliar with physical or movement education they go, “Oh! Well that makes sense!”. The connection with what we should be doing in physical education is rock solid and connects strongly with overall educational goals.
  • We have an unprecedented opportunity (and momentum) for collaboration, cross-sector appeal/uptake between physical education, sport, recreation, family and community. If we do this right – everybody gains. Especially the children.  Common, consistent messaging and practice!
  • Physical literacy can help to remind us that physical education is a necessary, crucial, essential and vital part of a viable education system. It can also remind us that we must strive to be better. Better teachers. Better physical educators. Better motivators. Better learners. Better advocators.

Thirdly, this super-on-board status of mine does not mean that I have fears. Specifically I have two big ones: that physical literacy is interpreted and applied as no more than a bigger focus on Fundamental Motor (Movement) Skills and; that the concept somehow loses momentum and dies without accomplishing implementation and accountability change. More detail to come on these later…

That’s it for this introduction. The next two physical literacy focused posts will feature ‘Readers Digest’ version of two talks I have given recently at the aforementioned Summits:

  • Physical Literacy Praxis: Moving from theory to practice (and back again!)
  • Becoming Travel Agents for a Storied Physical Literacy Journey.

 

Stay tuned!