Saturday, 28 September 2013

Comprehensive School Health Northern Style

This week representatives from Northern Health sat down with with SD 60 executive staff to discuss ways of improving an already solid working relationship to promote better comprehensive school health. Comprehensive School Health, or CSH, is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in students' educational outcomes while addressing school health in a planned, integrated and holistic way. The CSH framework helps educators, health practitioners, school staff, students and others to work together to create an environment that makes schools the best place possible to learn, work and play. It is important to recognize that CSH does not require more work; it is just a way of working that becomes everyday practice.

CSH is built upon four key pillars. These pillars are the physical and social environment, teaching and learning, partnerships and services and healthy school policies.  Put a different way CSH works to establish patterns of healthy living,  healthy eating, healthy relationships and healthy practices.  There are benefits to improved comprehensive school health for staff, students, parents and communities. The website of Healthy Schools BC is a one-stop" access point for all healthy schools information in BC. 

The Directorate of Agencies for School Health (DASH - BC) is the umbrella organization that brings together all the partners dedicated to promoting, supporting and facilitating the creation of healthy schools in BC. The key premise of a healthy school is that healthier students learn better and that better educated students are healthier. Healthy schools, also known as health-promoting schools, work with partners from the health and education sectors, and with those from the boarder community, to help students to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Northern Health and SD 60 have a long history of working well with each other. It remains to be seen what improvements we can make in furthering the goals of comprehensive school health through closer and more formalized relations. Sitting down this week was a good start. Getting to know each other better and publicizing our common goals can only help in the effort to make improved school health a reality for all.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Running For Fun and Other Benefits

Satchel Paige stated in his Six Rules for A Happy Life, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you!"  Satchel ranks as one of history's greatest pitchers, but his words rang true for me this week as I served as the pace rabbit for our district's first elementary cross country meet of the season.  With over one hundred young runners lining the start lines for both races I was never so glad to be on my bicycle. Even then, the front runners made me work hard to stay ahead of them.

Traditionally cross country running can be a hard sell for elementary athletes. While I've been involved as a runner since my own elementary days, running has got a bit of a bad rap over the years as an activity described as long and hard and not much fun. The truth is most kids love to run! The negative view of running is more commonly held by adults whose running days are long behind them. Starting up after years of inactivity can be hard and unpleasant, and many adults project their own feelings about running onto children. If its hard for them, surely it can't be good for little people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Authorities such as Runners World  and Spark Peoples Nancy Howard  outline multiple reasons why children should be encouraged to run. Our bodies were made to run, and these days, with video games, social media and other sedentary activities competing for students' time, cross country running is a good defense against child obesity.  Participaction Canada warns that the current generation of children are in danger of being "heavier, fatter, rounder and weaker than they were a generation ago."

Being physically active has many benefits. It not only contributes to better over all health but can also lead to improved performance in the classroom.  The American Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, in its June edition highlighted the connection between children´s fitness and better grades. Investigators found that children who were fit had the best academic achievement, scored the highest on tests and received top grades; these scores were regardless of gender or if the students had gone through puberty. The stereotype of the weak nerdy bookworm is a fallacy. As well, fit children have a better chance of growing into fit adults.

Helping to generate smarter and healthier students, cross country running is  a sport that is available to everyone. Opportunities exist to run both on a team or as an individual. Equipment is limited to proper clothes and a good pair of shoes, access is wide open and practice opportunities are unlimited. Kids can run as much, and as long, as they are having fun. Good coaching is beneficial, but running really is an activity where adult supervision is optional. Unlike other organized sports, running can be an anytime anywhere equal opportunity sport. Our district has four more cross country events scheduled this fall. I may not be able to attend them all, but here's hoping they all attract hundreds of student runners.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Dealing With Wrongness!

The first weeks of school have passed and hard realities are setting in. After the initial rush of excitement, many staff, students and parents have had to deal with varying levels of frustration and challenge.  Whether its the uncertainty of the current labor climate, dealing with the disappointment of not getting the perfect school,  teacher, class or timetable or just the frustration of trying to get everything done with limited resources, many of us have had to deal with things going wrong this week.  As the Rolling Stones once sang "You Can't Always Get What You Want!  Its how we deal with the challenge that determines what happens next.

Recently I discovered the ideas of "wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz. Aside from being amazed by the fact that there is a vocation dedicated to the study of what happens when things go wrong, Schulz's explanation of how people react when things don't go their way, really resonates with me. Basically Schulz condenses our response to people who won't agree with us as a progression of ignorant, stupid or evil.

If someone doesn't agree with us, we figure it must be because they don't have all the facts. If they had all the facts, they surely wouldn't disagree with us.  It follows they must be ignorant! However, there are situations where others do have all the facts, and they still won't give us what we want. That's when we decide they must be stupid. If they were mentally competent, they'd agree with us, wouldn't they? Finally, if the other person has all the facts,  is mentally competent, but still won't agree with us, we demonize them and begin to think of them as evil. Obviously they are deliberately choosing not to do what we think should be done, causing our frustration levels to boil over.

Getting angry and frustrated  is easy. Pile on more challenges, and anger can give way to feelings of rage, helplessness or hopelessness. Fortunately people are able to adapt and rebound in the face of adversity. The ability to withstand stress and pressure is our level of resilience.  According to the PBS program, This Emotional Life people can improve their capacity for resilience at any time of life.  The program's webpage states:

   "Being resilient doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events.

Resilience is also not something that you’re either born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience also comes from supportive relationships with parents, peers and others, as well as cultural beliefs and traditions that help people cope with the inevitable bumps in life.  Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span."

Factors that  can contribute to resilience include positive relationships with family and friends, apositive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities, a willingness to seek other help and resources and seeing yourself as an active participant rather than as a victim in the process.
Resilience can stem from coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies, such as substance abuse.  Finally helping others and seeking positive meaning in your life despite difficult or traumatic events can help when it all seems to be going wrong.  Dealing with adversity is a challenge we all face.  When faced with situations that don't go as we'd hoped, we can choose to get mad or wallow in a sense of wrongness - or we can choose resilience, adapt and work at finding constructive solutions.  Like the Stones song says "You can't always get what you want - But if you try sometimes well you might find You get what you need"

Monday, 2 September 2013

Getting Past the Jitters

A new school year begins Tuesday, and while many staff, students and parents eagerly look forward to opening day, there are others for whom the end of the summer may not be such a happy time. Whether heading back to familiar surroundings, starting out for the first time at a new school, or simply reacting to the change in season and circumstances,  its certain that the first day of school creates some anxiety.  How one deals with first day jitters helps set the tone for the rest of the year. Regardless of whether one is a parent, student or staff member,  successfully getting past that first day is very important.

For parents the reaction to back to school can depend on many factors. Parents new to the whole school process tend to be more anxious than veterans. Ad campaigns like Staples "They're Going Back" try to suggest that many parents experience a sense of relief and liberation in sending their children off to school. In reality many of them share their chidren's anxieties. I know my wife never once saw September as the "most wonderful time of the year". The transition from a summer full of family adventures with our three children, to routines doing homework and early nights was seldom easy or fun. TLC's Education website offers parents "5 Coping Mechanisms Parents can Share With Their Children".  These include modelling a positive attitude towards school, keeping the lines of communication open, and making a few preparations before the big day. Perhaps their best advice is to be solution oriented and to avoid the sort of sweeping statements like "this is going to be a big year for you!" or "Don't worry - it will all be fine" that may add to the pressure students could be feeling. Instead, congratulate them on being courageous and determined and encourage them to be themselves and do their best.

And if parents and students are anxious, one can just imagine the way staff feel. In preparing for a new school year, staff strive to create a positive caring learning environment where everyone feels safe and can do their best work.  Sites like's Voices provide teachers with lots of practical first day tips like getting to know all the students names as quickly as possible. Provincially, both the BCTF and the BC Ed Plan offer advice to educators about how to best prepare for engaging student learners. Locally, its been my experience that our school staffs are tight knit groups, more than willing to collaborate, help each other out and support one another in making their schools and classrooms great places for students to learn and grow.

Every school year brings its share of challenges.  Feeling anxious about change is natural.  Being pro-active, prepared and positive  can go a long way towards dealing with any opening day jitters. While heading back to school may never be a cause for celebration, it doesn't have to be a major source of anxiety either. I'm looking forward to the coming year. No doubt it will have more than its fair share of anxious moments, but I'm confident that staff, students and families will find ways to  deal with them. Here's hoping everyone gets past those first day jitters and has a great 2013/14 school year.