Monday, 26 December 2011

Resolutions to Move You!

New Years is traditionally a time for making resolutions.  Webster's dictionary defines a resolution as a "firm decision to do or not do something" Every year hundreds of people take stock of their situation, make a firm decision and promptly fail. Most resolutions are what Mary Poppins called pie crust promises - easily made - easily broken.

Its the keeping, not the making, of the promise that often proves difficult. provides excellent tips about how to make a resolution stick. The site suggests folks come up with a plan, do it quickly and write it down. Make sure the plan has some depth and length and is flexible enough to roll with any adversity that might impede progress. Add to these ideas the development of a support group. Let others know about the goal and the possibility of the resolution lasting more than a few days increases dramatically.

Dr. Mike Evans has a resolution for consideration. Watch his Youtube video 23 and 1/2 hours where he outlines "the single best thing people can do for their health". Dr. Evans is an advocate for walking one's way to better health. His 9 minute video speaks for itself, but its main message asks people to resolve to be active at least 30 minutes per day. Evans comes at his topic the other way round, suggesting people limit sleeping, eating and sitting to only 23 and 1/2 hours a day! Sounds easy, but as mentioned, promises are easier to make than to keep.

Resolutions have implications for education too. The resolution process is simply effective planning, followed by acting in a person's best interests. Getting active has its own rewards in improved health, which in turn leads to improved capacity for learning. Being organized and fit for success gives everyone a better chance to deal with education matters!

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Best Present Ever

" All the stockings were hung by the chimney with care
    In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there"

With the holiday break now upon us, all that remains is the anticipation of opening some special present Christmas morning. Or perhaps, with work commitments complete, there's some last minute shopping still to complete in the search for that perfect present for someone else.  Regardless of whether its trying to figure out what someone has picked for you, or pondering what to get for someone else, everyone would like to find the best present ever.

One way to go is to give a better you to the world. Dr. Leslie Becker- Phelps of Psychology Today summarizes this approach nicely. Concentrating on the four domains of better organizing personal and professional commitments, taking care of one's health, accepting present personal limitations and setting realistic goals for the future can help make a person more present, and subsequently more of a gift to be around.

Diane Dutchin makes a different pitch at The Positivity Blog. She suggests that time is the greatest gift people can give or receive, and using it wisely is the best way to reward ourselves. So this holiday, now that we have some time away from the work place, I encourage everyone to give themselves some time for reflection on how to improve things for ourselves and for others. I'll be following my own advice and taking a break from Education Matters too. Watch for my next posting just before New Year's.  May the Christmas holiday be all you hoped for and the New Year bring you much joy and laughter!  
"And I heard him exclaim, ere he rode out of sight,
      Merry Christmas to All, and to All a goodnight!"

Saturday, 10 December 2011

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen- Reducing the Stress of the Season

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen
                      Let nothing ye dismay!"
                                                      Victorian Christmas Carol 

The Christmas countdown is nearly done. A few more sleeps and the holidays begin. For some the break will be a welcome change. For others it may be like leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Holiday breaks can sometimes be more stressful than the work place! It is not uncommon to hear relief in people's voices when they get back to work when they say that the stress of the holidays is finally behind them!

It need not be that way. The whole point of a break is to allow folks to relax and recharge, not run themselves ragged with a rush of holiday events and travel. Christmas can be a particularly stressful holiday.  With its continuous messaging of family togetherness and the need to give the perfect gift, Christmas can become a pressure cooker, magnifying personal and family issues to the boiling point. 

Signs of Christmas stress in both children and adults can include emotional outbursts, anxiety, anger, physical illness, withdrawal and depression. Despite the calls of carols wishing a merry Christmas to all and exhorting "Joy to the World", mental health workers consistently cite December as their busiest month. Christmas has the dubious honor of being both the most anticipated and most dreaded holiday on the calendar. A recent blog in "Psychology Today" reports nearly 50% of people polled about holiday stress, experienced a significant degree of Christmas anxiety.

So what's to be done? Moderation, organization and staying connected can be key to a happy holiday. Not doing anything to excess, maintaining a good balance of recreational, restorative, social and festive activities, and keeping one's expectations and commitments in check can reduce the holiday pressure. Planning ahead and being selective in maintaining regular routines, and doing things with people you like and trust will also help keep the holidays from becoming overwhelming. Sharing the good times is important, but keeping in touch with folks who care about you can be vital.

Being sensitive to stress, and finding our own ways to deal with it, can help to make the holidays the break we all hope for. Check out a list of ways to reduce Christmas anxiety at 65 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress. Better yet, develop your own set of sure fire stress busters. Whatever your holiday plans, here's wishing you a calm, restful and joyful holiday season so that after the break you can return to education matters healthy, happy and ready to take on the challenges of a new year.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas In The Classroom

December is here, and with it comes a building anticipation for the holiday season. This year some people will no doubt be looking forward to the holiday break  even more  than usual. Increasingly, however, there seems to be a question of just how much influence the festive season should have on classrooms. 

First, there is the annual discussion around what to call the break. While most of mainstream Canadian society continues to refer to the vacation period as Christmas break, there is a rising sensitivity to other traditions and cultures. Such sensitivity is recognized in the BC provincial government's official designation of the time off in the standard school calendar as the "Winter Vacation Period". Santa may reign supreme on tv, and in commercial advertising, but December also hosts a number of other festivals and observances including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati, the Christian Nativity and even Festivus! Regardless of name or purpose, some time away from school to spend with family and loved ones is most welcome at this time of year.

Just how much classroom time should be dedicated to learning about and/or celebrating such events before the holidays also generates considerable debate. Some jurisdictions have gone so far as to ban Christmas celebrations from instructional time. The Fort Worth Independent school district recently put the kibosh to all forms of Christmas cheer within the boundaries of the instructional day. ( see School District Bans Christmas ) According to a district spokesperson, the reasons are twofold: Classroom time should be reserved for learning and the district doesn't want to alienate non-Christian students. Children and staff are free to observe holiday traditions before or after the bell, just not inside the instructional day.

However, the Fort Worth district's position appears to be very much in the minority. A Google search of  "Christmas in the Classroom"  returns over 119,000,000 possible websites. Like a child let loose in Santa's workshop, a teacher seeking Christmas resources has nearly endless options.  Tying activities to curricular learning objectives is easy. Many websites make the connections quite clear. 

For example, consider teAchnology. This site bills itself as "the online teachers resource" and being "all about the art and science of teaching with technology". Here educators can find links to hundreds of Christmas lesson plans. Many of these combine elements of popular culture with curricular learning objectives across a wide range of subjects and grades. Intriguing examples  include steps for proper care of reindeer, plotting the speed and trajectory required for maximum efficiency for Santa's sleigh and the utilization of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" to teach elements of literature as well as ethical questions of human nature. With a little imagination, seasonal themes are co-opted to make learning more interesting, fun and engaging.

Like any resource, online websites need to be selected and used with care. Just because something is on the internet doesn't make it a good fit for classroom use. As always, it is the teacher who needs to determine what, why and how a resource fits into prescribed curriculum and appropriate classroom use. Rather than debate the value of seasonal activities, educators can use and adapt the opportunities the holidays present. Perhaps like the Grinch, we should spend less time considering how to keep Christmas from coming and invading our learning time, and find ways to embrace the season and enhance the learning of all !

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Finding the Help We Need: The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre

Many of us have heard the expression "it takes a whole village to raise a child. Sometimes the  combined effort can get complicated. The family of a student with special needs for example, will, over the course of the child's school career, likely deal with a bewildering number of well intentioned people and agencies. Our complex social service network can include multiple levels of contact from a myriad of ministries, community organizations and service providers.  Just knowing where to start can be a daunting task, especially if the challenge is in the mental health or addictions area.

Increasingly families are turning to the internet for information. Even online the search for help can be bewildering. What sites are reliable? Which ones can truly direct and assist families in search of help? Fortunately in BC there is a site based out of BC Children's Hospital that can offer help. The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre is a provincial resource centre working to link children, youth and their families with appropriate resources and information in all areas of mental health and addictions.

The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre is designed to support BC children, youth and their families to find and use the resources they need in order to make informed decisions and gain access to appropriate services. The Centre, located at Children's Hospital in Vancouver, but accessible from anywhere in the province, is a free, actual and virtual resource for all BC families.  The Centre offers information and resources on a wide range of mental health and substance use issues affecting children and youth. These include, but are not limited to; depression, anxiety, attention deficit and behavioural problems, child/youth eating disorders and substance use.  

A visit to the Kelty's website @ immediately shows the depth and breadth of resources available not only to families, but also to educators, health professionals, individual parents and youth. Convenient pull down menus provide a visitor with straight forward direction to resources and connections around the topics of healthy living, substance use, mental health and, perhaps most importantly, how to find help.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Kelty Centre is that is can provide parents and youth with direct, live peer support. A Parent Peer Support Worker from F.O.R.C.E. (Families Organized for Recognition and Care Equity) is available to support parents/caregivers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10am - 5pm. A Peer Support Worker for Eating Disorders  is available to support anyone struggling with disordered eating and eating disorders on Monday 10am-1pm and Thursdays 1-4pm (other times by appointment).

Dealing positively with issues of mental health can be a challenge. Getting connected with accurate and helpful resources can help but knowing where to start and what to believe can be a bewildering roadblock. The Kelty Centre can help. Whether one needs information, direction to resources or even more immediate assistance, the Kelty Centre is a place to start. Take a look at their site and spread the word. The Kelty is a resource that's there for the whole province. When it comes to looking after the health of our students we may be from from and wide across the province, but it still remains for all of us to work together to raise our children with all the support they need.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

To Sleep - Perchance To Dream

"To sleep, perchance to dream-
ay, there's the rub."

Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)
 Its no accident that by Act III of Hamlet, the title character is struggling to maintain his sanity. Not just haunted by his father's ghost, and beset by the machinations of his dysfunctional family, Hamlet is also suffering from serious sleep deprivation. While most of us never have to struggle with "a sea of troubles" like those faced by the Prince of Denmark, busy complex lives are a fact for 21st century learners. Both adults and students alike never seem to have enough time to get everything done. The demands and pressures can lead to disrupted lives where sleep quickly falls to the bottom of the priority list. Too often seen as an expendable optional activity, sleep is actually essential for maintaining good mental health.

Why we sleep is a hotly researched topic. There are many different theories as to why humans sleep. Whether it is to rest or regenerate the brain and body systems, or whether its just a biological quirk, what's not in dispute is that we all need adequate amounts of sleep, and that the amount needed can vary depending upon our age. Ten hours is a pretty good benchmark for school aged children. Slightly more for younger children, slightly less for teens, the amount can vary person to person. 

Until the 19th century sleep patterns basically followed the sun. The invention of  the electric light bulb changed everything. With lights, television and other electronic distractions available 24/7, sleep time became discretionary and optional. Its little wonder sleep deprivation is a primary source of disrupted learning. The Sleep Research Division at Harvard Medical School reports;

"When persons are sleep deprived, focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and people lose their ability to access previously learned information.

In addition, their interpretation of events may be affected. People lose their ability to make sound decisions because they can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behavior. Judgment becomes impaired.

Being chronically tired to the point of fatigue or exhaustion means that a person is less likely to perform well. Neurons do not fire optimally, muscles are not rested, and the body’s organ systems are not synchronized."

Sleep deprivation does not discriminate. Whether one is a learner or a teacher, the need for a good night's rest remains important. Education is a collaborative effort. Whether its exhausted educators or sleep deprived students, the result is still ineffective learning and increased frustration. In a world filled with diversions, new emphasis needs to be put on the importance of a good night's sleep and the discipline people need to exercise to ensure they get it. Adults need to set an example and provide guidelines for children. In her book "Different Learners, Identifying, Preventing and Treating Your Child's Learning Problems", educational psychologist Jane Healy identifies some common sense steps that can assist in ensuring proper sleep levels are achieved. Some of these include:
  1. Modeling appropriate routines - children model their behavior after the adults in their lives
  2. Establishing and sticking to regular bedtimes
  3. Establishing and maintaining a regular sleep routine
  4. Avoiding vigorous, exciting, frightening or highly physical activities directly before trying to go to sleep.
  5. Limiting evening screen time. Computers, cell phones and other electronic media should be turned off and kept out of the sleeping area. 
  6. Prior to bedtime face time should trump screen time every time. Engage in calming pleasant activities
  7. Make sleep and self care a top priority.
Although these suggestions are aimed at children they work well for adults too. Ironically, the internet contains dozens if not hundreds of sites with more ideas and information about the need for and value of adequate sleep - just limit your screen time to regular waking hours! 
The last of Healy's suggestions might be the hardest, yet most important. Self care cannot be an optional activity, nor can people assume that mind and body will rebound or recalibrate by default or through extended endurance of poor routines. Doing right by ourselves and our students takes planning, commitment and follow through. Or as Polonius might have put it;
"This above all: to thine own self be true". Getting a good night's sleep and helping others to do the same,  needs to be a priority for maintaining the health and mental sharpness of all learners.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Resiliency: The Art of Bouncing Back Better

Ever wonder why some people seem to be able to deal so much better with adversity than others? We've all heard the cliche's "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" or  "When life serves you lemons, make lemonade".  Easy to say - harder to do. And yet most of us know  persons who remain upbeat no matter what the situation, people who deal with life's tougher moments and still come through as good or better than before.

The ability to deal with, and bounce back from tough times is called resiliency. Clinically defined, resiliency is the capability of an individual to cope with stress and adversity in ways that are both effective, and allow a person to respond constructively to future challenges. In other words it's how to deal with tough times and come back better than ever. for 21st century learners, coping with an ever changing and uncertain world, resiliency is a much needed skill.

Everyone admires resilience. The big question is where to find it? Is it something a person is just born with? Is it genetic or a product of circumstance? Some people believe that resilience is some sort of random magic: that people either have it or they don't. Others believe resiliency comes from a variety of internal and external factors: that it is sometimes inherent in a person's nature, but that it can also be developed, or impeded, within a person depending upon external influences and circumstances.

One thing experts do agree upon is that resilient individuals are better able to cope with change, and even if we are not certain where resilience comes from, we do recognize its characteristics. Resilient individuals are positive, focused, flexible, organized and proactive. Resilient individuals see life as challenging but full of opportunities. They make goals and determinedly forge forwards to attain them. They are open to different possibilities and options and develop strategies to deal with the unknown. Ultimately they are forward looking. they engage with their surroundings and work with them. They are survivors, by and large, happier and more content than most people.

Resiliency should not to confused with motivation. Anyone who has faced a difficult decision knows how easy it can be to procrastinate to delay the moment of truth. Resilience does not trump Newton's first Law of Physics.  A body at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. Instead, resilience, or its lack, becomes evident once the force has been applied. Resilience shows up in to how a person reacts to adversity. Patience may be a virtue, but jut sitting around waiting for something good to happen is neither efficient nor effective as a resilience strategy.

As adults working with children we need to both model and develop resilience for both our students and colleagues. The antithesis of resilience is burn out: with its attitude of indifference, apathy and inactivity. Being resilient takes effort and resources. Not everyone has the strength of will to do things completely on their own. Children need to be taught to enlist and be the support of others. Together we can all seek and share the load. Resilience  involves being willing to adapt one's style to suit the situation. Some people respond best to encouragement, some require a firmer nudge; the key is to support people in a positive manner.  Relentless optimism is not nagging, and positive insistence is not running a person down till they want to quit, contrary to what reality television shows portray. Ironically it is is the perseverance and resilience of regular people on such shows that makes them popular. More than anything, we need to remember to build some fun and reward into the task. Just because something is hard doesn't mean it has to engender feelings of hopelessness. Real resilience includes learning to laugh at adversity, finding ways to overcome it and celebrating even the smallest successes.

Adversity and change are hard. Life happens and its not always easy. Helping each other to cope and succeed is a good thing. By staying positive, focused, flexible, organized and proactive we can deal with most of life's challenges. When things get hard we can, through our own efforts, or, with the help and support of others get through and come out better for the experience. Resilience is not about sailing through life unchallenged, but rather about how we deal with challenge. Like another cliche states "its not how many times you get knocked down, it what you do when you get back up that matters". Resilient folks bounce back and push on better than ever!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Promoting Positive Mental Health Practices In Schools

21st century learners exist in a complex and often confusing world.Consequently, the issue of student mental health is more important every day. Healthy, happy children learn better, and there is a growing recognition that the psychological well being of students is affected by factors present within and surrounding students. Mental health can be measured not only in the absence of symptoms or problems, but also in the resilience of individuals to cope with the anxieties and stress that they face, both at school and in the worlds they live in.

Promoting positive mental health needs to be a goal for effective and caring schools. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) " Fostering the development of positive mental health by creating supportive environments and addressing the broader determinants of mental health are key to the promotion of positive mental health". The Canadian Joint Consortium for School Health (JCSH), recognizes that schools are source of social connection, safety and belonging for many students and encourages schools to adopt healthy school policies, promote positive social and physical environments, use appropriate teaching and learning activities and to partner and collaborate with families and other organizations with a similar focus on youth education.

Reprinted below are the JCSH's checklists for schools and positive mental health. How does your school stack up?

Healthy School Policies
does your school......
  1. provide alternatives to zero tolerance policies that allow for continued school connnectedness  and restoration for challenging students?
  2. ensure that all staff and students are held accountable for upholding and modelling rules pertaining to respect and appropriate behavior?
  3. have policies that contribute to the emotional and physical safety of all students?
  4. accommodate the learning and social needs of all students, including those with special needs?
  5. offer ongoing pro d related to positive mental health?

Positive Social and Physical Environment
does your school.....
  1. encourage and allow students to participate in decision making?
  2. foster an atmosphere of empathy, trust and cooperation?
  3. have a welcoming student centered environment?
  4. showcase student achievement?
  5. design physical spaces so that students can easily access facilities?
 Teaching and learning  
does your school.....
  1. provide students with an enhanced understanding of diversity?
  2. incorporate culturally relevant themes into its instructional activities?
  3. offer students opportunities to learn and use social skills?
  4. accommodate individual learning needs?
  5. support the autonomy of learners by listening to student perspectives?

does your school....
  1. interact with home regarding learning issues?
  2. adopt policies that ensure collaboration community and government organizations?
  3. offer opportunities for participation in school - community action groups or committees?

For more information regarding Positive Mental Health please see "Schools as a Setting for Promoting Positive Mental Health: Better Practices and Perspectives". This 80 page plus document gives examples of good practice, and is designed to encourage dialogue and action in this are, with the goal of improving mental health outcome for Canadian students. It can be found at

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Living and Learning in Interesting Times

Many people have heard the phrase, "may you live in interesting times". Less well known is the fact that it is actually one of a sequence of three statements; the other two being, "May you come to the attention of those in authority" and "may you always get more than you wish for". Taken together, these three statements are  quite ironic. They seem to wish a person well, when actually they are a curse, wishing the recipient far more stress than they ever bargained for.

These statements could easily apply to today's schools. Who wouldn't support a school system that is interesting, brings students more than they hoped for and is overseen by well intentioned authorities? Much is made of the need to engage students, to prepare them for an uncertain future and ensure that they are overseen by alert, caring and responsible  people. While such efforts are honorable and well intentioned, for many students school is already stressful place, and the urgency with which the new education agenda is being promoted must be tempered with an ethic of care and calm.

The world is already a fast and confusing place. Many students lives are programed from the moment they wake until late into the evening. If its not school, then its after school activities, a job or even just an active social life. Even unscheduled time is filled with stimulation, as kids get wired into  their computers, smart phones, ipods or television sets.  Its little wonder that some students tune out, shut down or display any number of anti social behaviors. For many, such behaviors are defense measures against the bombardment of relentless stimulation.  Research indicates that stress and other mental health issues now impact as many as one in four students.

In our district we like to talk about developing students who are not just the best IN the world, but also best FOR the world. To do that we need to consider what is truly in best interests of students and take steps to promote personal wellness and positive mental health at least as much, if not more, than the academic, technological and active social agendas. While it is important for students to engage and be active with the world around them, it is even more important that they have a healthy base from which to launch their efforts. Keeping well needs to be more important than keeping busy. Considerations such as sleep, nutrition, and healthy recreational activity, where the focus is fun, rather than constant competition, need to be in the forefront of the new education agenda, not tacked on, and dealt with as wishful after thoughts.

There is no doubt that we do live in interesting times, It is also interesting how many of us yearn for the "good old days" when life was simpler. Its important to remember that for our students the future is now. What will they remember when they look back? As we prepare them for an unknowable future, we also need to do our part to provide students with a less stressful and healthier present. Taking the time to advance an agenda that emphasizes personal care, wellness and positive mental health has a positive impact on that future. In a world where instant results and a constant pressure to achieve are increasingly the norm, we must take the time to make sure a 21st century education is really a blessing  and not just an ironic curse.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Comprehensive School Health: Making it Work Together

 More than ever schools are places where students connect and interact socially, as well as intellectually, with their peers and their community. As a consistent presence in the lives of children, schools give students a sense of community, safety and belonging. Health and education professionals need to work together to take advantage of this opportunity to create a framework for supporting improvement of learning and for developing healthier and happier students.

Its undeniable that education and health are interdependent. Healthy students are better learners, and better educated individuals become healthier citizens! We need to find ways to recognize, develop and strengthen this link; to bring forward initiatives that improve both health and educational outcomes, and allow students to learn and internalize healthy behaviors that can help them both during and beyond their school years.

One initiative is Comprehensive School Health (CSH).  Google Comprehensive School Health and you will find that it is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in student educational outcomes, while also addressing health topics in a planned, integrated and holistic way. (or just find CSH at!) CSH focuses upon four inter related pillars - social and physical environment, teaching and learning, healthy school policy and partnerships and services. Many communities and school districts have any number of initiatives driven by local or provincial mandates that fit into one or more of the four pillars. The real challenge is coordinating agencies and policies to create a harmonious and effective CSH program.

The benefits of Comprehensive School Health are realized at many levels. In the classroom CSH facilitates improved academic achievement and can lead to fewer behavioral problems. In the broader school community students learn skills that allow them to be physically active and more aware of other factors that affect health such as sleep or nutrition. Healthier students maintain better habits for a lifetime, helping to reduce the stress on community health services.

So how do schools and districts move towards achieving comprehensive school health? Formally recognizing that healthy young people learn better and achieve more is a start. Districts and schools committed to CSH understand that school can directly influence student health and behavior. They encourage healthy lifestyle choices and promote student health and well being. They incorporate health into all aspects of school and learning. At district level steps need to be taken to establish formal links between the education and health systems. Together both systems need to engage and encourage the participation and and support of families and the community at large.

Creating links is more easily said than done. Most folks will agree that actions that promote better health and education are good but few have concrete suggestions as to what should be done. Talk is cheap, action takes time and resources - commodities that are in short supply in both health and education. It is exactly this scarcity that makes the need to act even more important. As resources get stretched tighter and tighter it will be only through collaborative effort and partnerships that things will get done. 

Need and circumstance recently brought representatives from SD 60 together with representatives from Northern Health and the Ministry of Children and Families. Grappling with a particular situation brought the need for joint consultation and efforts more sharply into focus, and a schedule of regular meetings has been developed. It remains to be seen what might come out of our joint efforts, but the positive step is that we are meeting. Alone schools and health authorities can only do so much. Working together we can all do more. Hopefully together we can find ways of making Comprehensive School Health a reality for the students and families we serve.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Physical Literacy - A True 21st century Skill

 Schools spend a lot of time working with students around literacy. Most people understand literacy to have something to do with books or reading, but really it means much more. In its broadest terms literacy has to do with competence and knowledge in a specified area. There is a growing awareness that schools need to consider more than just the academic development of their students; that attention needs to be paid to students physical well being as well. More than ever students should be physically as well as academically literate.

Physically literate individuals consistently develop the motivation and ability to understand, communicate, apply, and analyze different kinds of movement. They demonstrate a variety of movements confidently, competently, creatively and strategically across a wide range of physical activities. Their skills enable individuals to make healthy, active choices that are beneficial to and respectful of their whole self, others, and the environment. These skills also translate to other aspects of their schooling and help develop a healthier, happier and more competent student. There is definitely truth to the phrase "Mens sana in corpore sano -a sound mind in a healthy body.

PHE Canada (Physical Health and Education Canada) is an organization, made up primarily of educators, that has been promoting physical education programs for the generation of healthier citizens for 75 years. PHE Canada believes physical literacy is about developing student attitudes so that children can engage in a variety of physical activities with poise and confidence. PHE Canada believes schools can be the drivers to engage and condition students to see physical activities as fun and necessary aspects of daily life.

Spend some time on an elementary playground during break time and you can easily see that younger students are willing participants in physical literacy. The energy and effort that goes into a recess break is truly inspiring. Move to a middle school or a secondary school and the energy levels seem to drop. At some point schools become serious places dedicated to academic pursuits and physical exercise starts to be more like work than fun. Ask a group of fourth graders to race the length of a play ground and you'll likely get left in the dust. Ask a group of grade 10's and you'll more likely get ignored or be met with reasons not to. 

Physical literacy is not about creating elite level athletes. It's about keeping people active. Isn't it ironic that in a world that seems fixated on body image and waist line watching, more attention and resources aren't dedicated to the sort of positive preventative maintenance that physical literacy represents? Any adult who has tried to drop a few pounds can easily attest to how hard it is to correct the situation after the weight has gone on. How much better would it be to develop generations of students who view physical activity with confidence, enthusiasm and as a necessary part of daily life?

Its not like schools are unaware of the issue. Quality DPA - daily physical activity has been part of the BC Curriculum since September 2008. The ministry requirements, guidelines and resources can be found at Its one thing to set out the expectation however, and completely another to make it happen. Physical Literacy needs to be legitimized, promoted and profiled in positive ways. Ministry definitions of DPA don't help this cause. DPA is described as "endurance, strength and/or flexibility activities done on a daily basis".  Webster's dictionary defines endurance as " the ability to sustain an unpleasant or difficult process without giving way". The whole concept of sweat equity makes all exercise sound like an unpleasant investment.

Physical literacy should not be about enduring. It needs be about enjoying processes that are seen as fun, not difficult! The whole point of physical literacy is to give students the confidence to try, learn and master skills that will sustain them for a lifetime. As schools move towards developing 21st century learners it will be increasingly important to include physical literacy on the learning agenda. Valuing physical activities and keeping them fun and accessible for all will engage students more than many more "serious' academic initiatives. Since a bi-product of active energized students is a greater receptiveness to learning, physical literacy might be a better route to literacy in other areas as well. Perhaps Descartes got it backwards. Surely there's got to be more to school than just being there, Instead of "I think therefore I am"  21st century learners need to declare "I move, therefore I think!"

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Movies In The Classroom: The Sequel!

PBS's long running series Masterpiece Theatre has weighed in on the debate over film use in classrooms. The series, known best for bringing classic literary works to the screen, has its own learning resource page and offers teachers the advice reproduced below:

PBS Masterpiece Theatre - Learning Resources For Teachers
Why Study Film in the Classroom?
Anyone who has ever watched a movie with a classroom full of teenagers knows that students are comfortable with film and understand its power. By high school, they have watched thousands of movies and television shows and unconsciously understand the basic tools and conventions of the medium. Although they may still treat it chiefly as passive entertainment, they can often be sophisticated interpreters of the interplay of sound and image. They know -- often without knowing they know -- that the close-up on an actor's face signifies something different emotionally from a long shot of an actor across a distance. They know that certain kinds of music indicate that a dramatic event is about to happen, and they know that "fuzzy" camerawork can signal a dream sequence or flashback in which we are inside a particular character's mind or point of view.

In fact, students may know how to interpret film better than they know how to interpret literature -- especially the classics. Some teachers feel this is the very reason not to use film in the language arts classroom: isn't showing movies a waste of time when students have such a reading deficit already? Yes -- but only if students watch film passively.

The goal is to encourage English teachers to see film not as a guilty pleasure -- not as just the "reward" at the end of reading a book -- but as a legitimate means to enhance literacy. Contemporary thinkers on media literacy have argued that the same habits that a good reader brings to a written text are those that a critical viewer brings to a visual text; enhancing one effortlessly enhances the other. In both, a critical thinker predicts, makes connections, infers, asks questions, and interprets. In both, meaning is made through the details of character, theme, plot, mood, conflict, and symbolism. For both, we must guide students to be active interpreters.

Over thirty years ago, media education pioneer John Culkin argued that "We live in a total-information culture, which is being increasingly dominated by the image. Intelligent living within such an environment calls for developing habits of perception, analysis, judgment, and selectivity that are capable of processing the relentless input of visual data.... [Because] schools are where the tribe passes on its values to the young, schools are where film study should take place." Three decades later, Culkin's assertion resonates more than ever.

Using Film to Interpret Literature
Written texts can be  inaccessible to students. For many, the settings and historical context are foreign to them, the complex language hinders fluent reading, and the scale of books can seem intimidating. Where the camerawork between Portia and Shylock in the courtroom scene of The Merchant of Venice makes their mutual animosity clear, students might not register the same emotional intensity in the written dialogue. Even contemporary classics such as The Road from Coorain and Almost a Woman often prove challenging, particularly for reluctant or unenthusiastic readers. And yet, we want them to understand these works because they have something important and enduring to say. Using film is a way to help them do this, whether with the filmed version of the same story, in whole or in part, or a companion text that complements the themes, characters, setting, or conflicts of that story.

Film teacher John Golden suggests beginning to think critically about film by starting with a personal film inventory of one's own viewing history. First, have students make a list of ten films they have loved. (You might want to make a master list on the board of everyone's "best picks" when the class has finished.) Then have students choose a partner and take turns talking about one film each, telling each other a little about the characters, plots, settings, points of view, themes, and moods that made these films so effective. Compare and contrast the selections students made. What are the most memorable scenes from their films? Why?

Teacher Tips
Consider these ideas, suggested by teachers, for new and different ways to use film.
  1. Consider showing the film version of a literary work first, rather than last, or begin your reading with short scenes from the film version. Because students are so visually oriented already, having them analyze character, look for themes, make predictions, and make observations about the film first can help them see these elements more easily when they turn to the literature.
  2. Use film as a mini-lesson, to highlight a skill or literary element you want your students to practice. For example, let them make predictions from the opening scenes of a film, then ask them to practice predicting while reading.
  3. Don't feel you have to show an entire movie; clips of key scenes can be enough. Be sure to prepare well in advance when showing clips. You may want to show just one (from two to ten minutes long) or make a tape of clips that show a range of film techniques or plot and character development.
  4. Instead of showing the film version of a work of literature you are reading, consider choosing a companion film. This can be a work with similar themes, protagonists, characters, or settings; a film of the same genre; or a film version of another work by the same author. For instance, a coming-of-age story about a young man might be enhanced by showing The Road from Coorain or Almost a Woman, two stories about a young woman's coming of age. (See the rest of the site for more ideas).
  5. Begin class the day after viewing a film by having students write about or discuss which images or scenes stayed with them most strongly. Help students constantly ask themselves, "How did I feel during that scene, and how did the filmmaker make me feel that way?"
  6. If you are showing an entire film, use pre-reading strategies beforehand. Having students do a simple K/W/L exercise works as well with film as it does with literature for "activating schema," or prior knowledge, and for setting expectations.
  7. Try assigning small groups or individuals in the class just one cinematic or literary technique to track as they watch a film. For instance, one group might observe characterization or mood; another might watch for camera angles or lighting.
  8. Have students write before, during, and after viewing a long film. They can do this with a by using sentence starters such as "I wondered.... /felt.... /thought.... ," or by writing to a prompt specific to that film.
 The commentary and ideas above were copied from I recommend you to visit the site yourself for links to other resources and further advice as to how films might be appropriately used to support student learning.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Movies in the Classroom - Another View

Recently, a delegation of parents at our School Board meeting voiced concerns about the use of movies in classrooms. Their questions centered around the content of some films and around what rights they had as parents to be informed about what their children might view. Some also asked about how often and how long videos were used in the classrooms and whether Hollywood movies were replacing instruction.

Using media to support instruction is a time honored practice. Used appropriately, motion pictures can hi-light ideas, inspire debate, energize and engage students. Used excessively, or inappropriately media can bore students to death, or expose them to controversial, even dangerous images. No one is suggesting that movies should never  be shown in schools. The challenge is to determine what materials are suitable, how they should be used and to what degree parents should be informed.

How appropriate a film may be for classroom use is determined by a combination of factors. There are legal considerations, such as copyright, to consider. Does the film have relevance to what is being taught? What rating did the film receive? Is it age appropriate? How much of the film should be used? What is the purpose of showing the film? How might parents react to their child seeing the film? All of these questions should be considered before a teacher puts a picture before a class.

There are lots of good websites on this topic. Alberta Education has a 48 page guide about using film in the classroom (  Another good site is 50 Best Movies for Middle School  and yet another can be found at All these sites contain basic common sense recommendations about previewing the material to be shown, knowing the ins and outs of relevant legal and copyright issues, and being aware of the sensibilities and feelings of target audiences and their parents. They also give tips on how to best utilize media as a resource. Good media use needs to  scaffold and support good teaching; not be a substitute for it.


Keeping parents informed about what, why and when their children will be viewing is also important, especially if the materials being considered are in any way controversial. Keeping parents, and principals, in the know, can prevent misunderstandings and difficult post viewing conversations. Whether by means of email, notices home or the collection of pre-viewing permission slips, telling parents about what’s going to be showing is good practice. It provides teachers with the means to pre-empt parental concerns and demonstrate that lessons are organized with a greater purpose than how to kill an hour or two. It also allows parent to be heard and have their legitimate concerns dealt with before they grow into bigger issues.


Ultimately, better communication is the answer. Teachers and parents need to know why a film is to be used. Effective use of media can be an exciting way to support learning. It should not be used thoughtlessly or as electronic babysitting. Parents need to know that teachers care, and can appropriately excite and engage students. Used well, film can help a teacher get their point across. Used otherwise, films in the classroom are pointless, possibly dangerous and likely a waste of time.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Running A Great Extra Curricular Season

Considering that the physical fitness of students is always a hot topic, it worth noting that another district cross country season wrapped up Wednesday at Kin Park. Thanks to Principals Doug McCracken and Donna Holland for keeping this athletic activity going by hosting events this year. There were over 140 runners at the event at Upper Pine and over 130 at Ambrose. All this from basically only 6 schools. Imagine the size of events the district could host if all, or even just most of the elementary schools participated.

 An interesting thing about x-country running is that it needs virtually no equipment, costs next to nothing to run and involves as many kids are as willing to show up. The skills involved are simple - move your feet, left, right repeat, breathe - and have fun. The whole event Wednesday ( three different age groups - 6 different races) was completed in about an hour, presentations and all!  Transportation was the only real cost. It's also an activity where rural schools can compete on par or better with town schools. All you need is access to a little bit of geography!   And....... running is good exercise for everyone!

If other schools are interested in getting on board, or even hosting their own event next year its easy to do. There are lots of resource people available within the community willing to help you organize a race! Just ask your local running club!  If you have questions as to how hard it is to run such an event just ask the administrators who ran this year's events.  Until recently neither of them had extensive experience with this  sport.  Now they are both savvy veterans!

There is a perception out there that running is hard work, but really, running is what kids do! Anyone who has supervised an elementary playground or even been in a middle school hallway at break, knows that student energy is not the problem. Running is a life time sport - one that people can continue well into their adult years, and one that gives an instant sense of accomplishment. Whether a runner is the first or last across a finish line they've still successfully completed a challenge - instant positive feedback.

Thanks and congratulations go out to all the coaches too. Even in this interesting time several teachers, parents and administrators came out to assist with this sport! At a time where everyone is looking for ways to keep kids active without breaking the bank or clogging up the calendar, it amazing that cross country running is not more popular! Given the success of this year's events I'm already looking forward to next year. I'm betting I'm not the only one!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Giving Thanks

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day and like many people spent some time thinking of things to be thankful for. It has been a busy start to the school year. Job action has been hard for everyone and it has been especially difficult to find quiet moments in which to regroup and recharge. None the less there are always things to be thankful for. For me two key moments came in the form of responses from former students. One came to see me. The other visited virtually via twitter.

The first student was a young man I had taught years ago who was looking for a reference for his university applications. It had been a few years since I had seen him last and more than a few since he had been one of my students. He made his request and we reminisced a bit about his time in my class. He remembered mostly the good times, the assignments that had made him think and the fun he had learning. He concluded by thanking me for being one of his "better" teachers. "Your class was never boring" he smiled, "considering that it was English that's saying something!" I happen to think that English should never be boring, but I truly appreciated the praise. Its nice to be validated as a teacher.

The second student visit came via a response to a tweet I had sent out last week in recognition of International Teachers Day. "Can you remember your favorite teacher?" I had asked. This student responded in a way that really made me smile. Not only could she remember her favorite teacher - she had a favorite for every stage of her education. She listed her favorite elementary, secondary, college and university teachers. I didn't make the list, but that was ok. It made me feel good that she had so many fond memories of educators who had helped her along the way!

These students' visits and encouragement came at just the right time! I'm glad that they have fond memories of teachers and of learning. Cliche or not, they reminded me that I work in a profession that gets to make a difference in the lives of so many people. And for that I am truly thankful!

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Value of Down Time

The new school year is a week old, and what a week it was. The excitement of staff and students returning to schools is always tempered by related anxieties and stresses like organizing into classes, meeting various requirements relating to class size and composition and generally just getting the year off to a good start. There have been some long days, and given the current realities, there are likely more of them to come.

Fortunately the weekend brought beautiful weather - just the ticket for folks to get outside and enjoy some restorative recreation. I spent the weekend at a golf course - not playing mind you, but running a mower and caddying in the club championship. I enjoy the solitude that working on the course affords and the caddying gave me a chance to watch better golf than I can play.

The decision to caddy rather than play was easy. Caddying is interesting but not particularly stressful. Playing is a whole other story. I get more than enough stress all week at my regular job. Hitting a little white ball might sound cathartic, but searching for it in the woods or standing over a three foot putt is not. For educators weekends need to include some relaxing downtime - activities that allow us to recharge and re-energize in order to come back to the new week ready to roll.

There's always the temptation at the beginning of a school year to immerse oneself into the job. There's an upside to such efforts. They allow a person to be incredibly organized and informed. The downside is a single minded focus that can lead to the exclusion of everything else. The old slogan "All work and no play......." still applies! Finding a healthy balance is essential.

If the school year is like a long distance run, then September is its sprint start. Like any race however, a fast start is important but finding a sustainable pace is critical. So be prepared, but also take some time for yourself. September is an exciting high energy month, but value time away from the job too! That downtime might be just the thing that keeps you going strong long after the initial rush of September has faded.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

First Day Jitters

Tuesday will be the first day for students of the 2011/12 school year. For some students it will be an exciting adventure, a chance to be see old friend or meet new ones; some thing to be looked forward to. For many others school represents a huge source of anxiety.

For years I related well to the first group. I loved the first day back. School was fun and easy. I cruised through decades of first days, first as a student, then as a teacher and now as an administrator. If I had trouble sleeping the night before opening day it was the sort of sleeplessness one has before exciting occasions like Christmas. I never understood folks who lamented the end of summer like they were losing their best friend.

Until this year. This year is a little different. This year we are all starting the year under the cloud of job action, and for the first time, I have a better sense of how folks who are anxious about going to school truly feel. Let me be clear. I'm not expressing an opinion about the current state of teacher bargaining. Labor relations are what they are, and the current situation is all part of how the system works. All I'm suggesting is that this year, due to new and different circumstances, I'm more alert to the anxieties that many people feel with the annual approach of a new school year, and its unsettling, to say the least.

That the current labour situation will one day be resolved is certain. It's also a certainty that every year lots of students  enter school, not with eager anticipation, but with nervous energy or even a sense of dread. As this year starts we can do a lot to ease the anxiety of others. Our education system, with all its quirks and circumstances, is one of the best in the world.  As this year unfolds it's important that we support one another,  both those who are looking forward to coming back and those who are more than a little anxious. Taking care to connect with others we can all accomplish great things, maybe even quiet those first day jitters and make school a better experience for everyone!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Group Wisdom

As part of our recent district advance school administrators had to share knowledge with each other as part of an exercise referred to as their "Ticket Out the Door". The topic on deck had been mentoring and how we, as an admin team could better support on another. Over the past few months several members of the team had become new fathers so, as the last piece of business of the day, and in order to physically be able to leave the session, admin team members were to write out the single best or most important piece of information they knew or had been told about bringing up babies.

The results were both enlightening and entertaining. As the collector of the information I got to read, edit and collate the offerings, and then present them to the group the next day. Here's a sampling of what the team had to say: sleep when they sleep - enjoy the baby"s inside time, things get complicated once they get out, clean diapers replace the soiled ones; not the other way around, and read with and to the baby daily.

There were lots of comments about taking the time to enjoy babies while both they and the babies were still young, encouragement to support their partners in the child rearing exercise, even a suggestion as to how many babies might be optimal. Some of the comments were humorous, some heartfelt, all sincere. The point of the exercise was not to come up with a definitive list, but to demonstrate that working together, our district leadership team is pretty smart, and that by sharing their experience they can be effective mentors to each other.

This is my 23rd year working in SD 60, and my 30th as an educator. I can remember walking into rooms and marveling at how much older and smarter everyone looked. At this year's advance most of the folks appear to be younger than me. Those of us who used to be the ones asking for help or guidance, suddenly find ourselves fielding, rather than asking, the questions. Its not always comfortable, especially when we don't always know the answers.

Collectively we have a better chance of figuring things out. Just like we did with the new baby question, we can work together on any challenge and come up with some positive options.  As the year ahead unfolds, BC educators are going to face a number of challenges. Thankfully,  through collaboration and mentoring efforts, we will be able to tap into the wisdom of the group, and together,  get through them!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Education Matters

Welcome to my blog, Education Matters. Picking a Title is always a tricky thing. A title needs to be informative and catchy. It should give readers a hint of what to expect without being too explicit or dull and direct. I like my titles to have more than one meaning.

Folks who know me understand that, as a teacher of English, I enjoy playing with words and challenging the ways people think. My former students, my family, and some colleagues are all painfully aware of my affection for bad puns and clever word play. (Well I think its clever - others tell me it can just be annoying!) That's why I'm so pleased with my title. Matters can be either a noun or a verb! I could be saying that education is important- that it matters (and it does!), or I could be saying that I'll be writing about educational matter - topics relating to education (and I will!) Its like when students used to ask me if the answer was one thing or another. If they asked if the correct response was one option or the other I would invariably say yes, and then ask them which one they thought might be the best and why. Some students were confused, others amused, still others frustrated by my unwillingness to simply give them the answer. The important thing was - they all had a response - and that was what I was aiming for.

Its what I'll be going for here too! No matter what I'm blogging about, whether its the importance of some educational initiative or simply a riff on the topic of the day, I hope to elicit some thought and response. After all, education matters matter - don't they?