How Educators Can Foster Safe Physical & Emotional Environments in H&PE
(This article was written and first published by Ophea, and is used with permission. To learn more visit Ophea.net)
We all learn best when we feel safe and included. The 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum for elementary and secondary students takes this to heart. In fact, one of the curriculum’s fundamental principles is that physical and emotional safety is a precondition for effective learning in health and physical education. This means that regardless of their individual differences, interests and abilities, when they step into the gym or the health room today’s students can expect to feel safe, included and capable of success.
Enjoying H&PE starts with feeling safe.
While helping students to feel safe and supported should be a priority for all subject areas, in many ways, it’s especially important in H&PE. After all, if we want students to develop physical literacy (the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities) they need to first feel safe enough to take risks and make mistakes in front of their classmates. “Unlike in other subjects, in physical education you don’t have a book or a desk to hide behind,” points out Kathy Doherty-Masters, a Healthy Active Living Consultant with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. In the gym, students’ learning is on display for all to see.
Meanwhile, in the health room, a range of topics is discussed—and whether the topic at hand is human development and sexual health or healthy eating, educators must tread cautiously. “What one person might view as a sensitive topic, another might not,” explains Heather Gardner, Ophea’s Curriculum Consultant. For example, learning about how to make healthy food choices could be a sensitive topic for a student whose family is struggling to buy groceries, and discussing substance use and abuse may be especially difficult for a student whose family has been affected by substance abuse. It’s important to create an environment where, regardless of their backgrounds and experiences, students can feel safe asking questions and expressing opinions.
Most importantly, however, part of the curriculum’s overall vision is that students will not only develop the comprehension and capacity to lead healthy, active lives, but also the commitment to do so. Put quite simply, if a student feels unsafe, they’re going to dread H&PE instead of enjoying it—and that’s a big problem. “[As H&PE teachers] we’re the main vehicle to get these kids to learn the content that will create lifelong habits for being healthy and active,” explains Russ Minnis, an H&PE teacher at École St-Jean-Baptiste in Amherstburg, Ontario. “If we don’t use good practices to make students feel safe, we could lose a whole generation of students.”
(Read the full article here)