Fundamental Principles for High-Quality Health & Physical Education Programs

Students smiling for pictureIt’s back to school time and PE teachers everywhere are energized to achieve a well-planned, inclusive, high-quality HPE program.

I believe that it is a shared responsibility amongst all staff in a school community to provide a healthy school environment – one that supports the promotion of well-being that all students will develop mental and physical health, a positive sense of self and belonging, and the skills to make positive choices. Research has proven that healthy students are better prepared to learn. But we know that every school needs a champion to promote and advocate for high quality HPE programming. Perhaps your department is thinking about how you might just do that this school year.

Reflect on how the key messages of your HPE program are reflected in your school. When someone enters your school, can they feel or observe the pulse of your school?  When our son was in second grade, he came home and said, “Mom, I got caught!” I paused for a moment and thought “Oh no…what do you mean you got caught?” He responded saying, “ I got caught eating something healthy!”

The HPE specialist at the school was promoting the key messages of the HPE program with a healthy eating initiative, “Who Got Caught?”, and posted images on the wall, near the gymnasium, of students and staff eating a variety of healthy foods. Before long there was this excitement in the school about healthy eating that supported the students to learn and promote overall well-being.

The revised Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculumestablished on five fundamental principles, ensures the implementation of a well-planned, inclusive and high-quality program.

Let’s take a look at the 5 Principles and think about how they can guide your implementation of your HPE program this school year…

  1. Health and physical education programs are most effective when they are delivered in healthy schools and when students’ learning is supported by school staff, families, and communities.

Initiatives such as “Who got Caught” certainly can lend to building a healthy school and allow opportunities for students, staff and the community to connect. Adults in the school act as positive role models for healthy active living.

The Healthy Active Living: Keep Fit, Stay Healthy, Have Fun (Grades 9/10) resource by Thompson Educational Publishing, allows teachers to connect with families on a regular basis about their son or daughter’s progress in Health and Physical Education. Outcomes of HPE affect people throughout their lives from womb to bloom and so this resource can help bring back the important conversations about healthy active living on a daily basis between school and home. 

This resource uses a “flipped classroom” model where content is read prior to class and then knowledge is applied in the context of a HPE classroom or gymnasium.

  1. Physical activity is the key vehicle for student learning.

We know that there is a positive correlation between physical activity and student learning. Active kids are more fit to learn; they are more attentive and focused and show increased positive mood and behaviour. So think about your HPE class…

  • Are you maximizing participation of all of your students?
  • Is joy of movement emphasized to ensure students become and stay active throughout their lives?
  • Do you expose your students to a wide variety of physical activities and movement forms in multiple environments to develop physical literacy?
  • Are all students given the opportunity to develop their physical fitness through moderate to vigorous exercise?
  • Are differentiated opportunities provided to allow students to practice to increase their skill through physical exploration?

  Students jumping lets move sign

  1. Physical and emotional safety is a precondition for effective learning in health and physical education.

Students may not always remember all that you taught them but they will remember how much you care. Creating a safe respectful learning environment can provide a sense of belonging for students, increase student confidence in their own ability and increase student engagement and outcomes.

Reflect on how you ensure a positive learning space that is safe, inclusive and supportive for all your students. Check out a previous blog of mine how to make your PE class more engaging and inclusive. 

In addition here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Do you ensure that all students can “start where they are” meaning activities are modified or adapted as needed to ensure all students have a entry level to participate?
  2. Do you ensure that exercise is presented always as a positive healthy experience and not as punishment?
  3. Are the activities chosen and health related topics that are introduced reflective of your students’ diverse backgrounds so that there is personal relevance?
  4. Are explicit steps taken to support students to develop healthy relationships and ensure that bullying and harassment are prevented in all learning spaces?
  1. Learning in health and physical education is student-centred and skill-based.

This principle reminds me of one of my mentors and great leaders of Health and Physical Education, the late Dr. Andy Anderson, an international scholar, researcher and teacher of Health and Physical Education at OISE. Andy’s educational philosophy was “every child is a champion” meaning, we as HPE teachers need to meet the diverse needs and abilities of all our students and ensure that they all experience success. Modified, small-group activities can allow for maximum participation and opportunities for skill improvement. Student choice and challenge of activities keeps the focus student-centred and maximizes student learning and improvement.

I like to use the idea of “choose your challenge” whereby students can adapt the level of challenge of activities with different types of equipment used, complexity of movement form, group sizes as examples. Finally, remember to share learning goals at the beginning of every class and co-construct success criteria of learning with your students to encourage student engagement and self-assessment.

  1. Learning in health and physical education is balanced, integrated, and connected to real life.

Think about ways in which you can integrate learning in health education and learning in physical education so it is reflected in both home and community environments. Students can apply their knowledge in various settings in the community; for example, a family wellness night whereby the community is invited to share in the learning of the students with respect to healthy active living. Perhaps a pedometer challenge following Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope can enable students to make cross-curricular connections between health and physical related learning with curriculum initiatives such as literacy, numeracy and environmental education.


A final thought…

I will leave you with a healthy school initiative that an elementary principal once shared called:

3 up, 2 down flag sign

This initiative resonates with the fundamental principles of a high quality HPE program. At the beginning of the school year the staff decided on this shared initiative to build a healthier school environment for their students to learn and thrive.

What 3 things would you want to increase in your school to improve student learning? What 2 things would you like to decrease that may impede student learning?

The staff at this elementary school decided on and acted as role models for the following:

3 UP  = Increased opportunities for physical activity, increased opportunities that all students start their day with a healthy breakfast via a school breakfast program, and increased awareness of the importance of sleep

2 DOWN = Decrease sugar intake and decrease screen time





4 Responses

  1. This was an extremely informative and helpful blog. It put things into perspective reminding me of the inclusivity our HPE environment should be striving for in schools and life. HPE is an environment which reflects so much of life. It is a social and professional responsibility we have as HPE teachers to help students realize the importance HPE has in life regarding social connections, mental health, physical well-being and how all of this can influence our emotional and spiritual health.

  2. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing Carolyn! Looking forward to a summer in the ABQ for HPE through OISE with yourself and Michael! Loved the ideas and positive reinforcement being emphasized on a school community level rather than a classroom to classroom basis. I think it is also worth mentioning that there is a distinct need (especially with the COVID-19 issues and experiences that students have had) to offer activities like “Speak-Outs”, especially in regards to the application of sports and athletics in the midst of the changes in day-to-day life. Physical literacy is important-but so is mental health awareness and personal management.

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