Saturday 22 July 2017

Conference Grant Recipient: Tonita Craig - Conference Reflection

HPEC / GEOEC 2017 No Limits - Education for Everyone, Everywhere 

I don’t know who had the clever idea to combine the Health and Physical Education Council conference with the Global Environment and Outdoor Education Council but, whoever it was, this person needs to be praised. As a new member of both councils and a first time conference goer, I was thoroughly impressed. Now, some may argue that, as a first timer, I could very well be easily impressed. That’s possible. Others may suggest that any conference held in the striking Rocky Mountains is bound to be inspirational based solely on the merits of the setting. Also possible, in fact, very much so. Still, location in itself is not enough to make a fantastic conference. Add great organization, a fantastic selection of sessions presented by knowledgeable and passionate educators and an atmosphere humming with positive energy and, well, what you get is, No Limits. 

The conference slogan -No Limits - Education for Everyone, Everywhere- was aptly chosen and the theme resonated in every aspect of the weekend. It began with an early morning mountain bike excursion guided by Palisades Education Coordinator, Paul Langevin. A brisk ride on a variety of trails in the crisp, mountain air with a diverse group of riders set the tone for the day -take risks and get outside as the effort will be rewarded. 

The benefits of risky play, joy and nature-based learning was reinforced by an inspirational keynote presentation from Dr. Douglas Gleddie. In a society focused on the elimination of risk, Dr. Gleddie’s view on risk assessment and management was refreshing. He maintains that by engaging with the outdoors children develop critical skills, learn to assess their own risks, challenge themselves and develop resiliency in ways not always possible in the classroom or gymnasium. As a Division 2 PE teacher, I found myself reflecting the outdoor classes I have led that were successful examples student engagement, teamwork and problem solving. This keynote not only gave me cause to reflect on those engaging lessons that our class enjoyed but inspired me to continue to take learning outside and expand the experiential learning opportunities for my students. 

So, I have taken my class outside, now what? The conference offered many different sessions to equip educators with practical games to engage large and small classes in a variety of environments, including the outdoors and the gymnasium. Presenters Andy Raithby, Dawn Watkins and Craig Jones offered sessions on Circle Games and games for large groups with resources for PE teachers of all grades. These highly engaging games were simple, with minimal equipment and setup -vital criteria for PE teachers with large classes of young students (or presenters with large groups of adult educators). Literally, these games could be played by everyone, everywhere. 

As anyone who teaches in a K-12 rural Alberta school can tell you, we tend to wear many hats. You may teach many different age groups and classes, coach multiple sports and fill a variety of school roles. Thus, the diversity of the conference sessions was invaluable. One of the final sessions of the conference, Loose but Intense: Stress Management for Athletic Achievement, addressed student athletes and competitive sport in schools. Vincent Mireau, a high school football coach and school counselor, recognized the unavoidable existence of stress in our students’ lives, its role as both a motivation and a hindrance and the importance of enabling students to manage their anxiety by taking risks and learning from failure. As a senior high school coach, it seemed to be an appropriate session to attend even if it was a departure in theme from the previous sessions I had experienced. In this opinion, I was mistaken. Rather than a departure from my previous sessions which embraced the themes of positive relationships, resilience, risk taking and mindfulness, this final session actually helped to reinforce them in a different context. 

“HPEC/GEOEC 2017 - No Limits: Education for Everyone, Everywhere” lived up to its promise. There are no limits for anyone - student, teacher, young, old, experienced or novice, recreational or elite. We all have similar goals when it comes to health and physical education. There are no limitations for where and when we can experience mindful learning opportunities -mountains, wetlands, playgrounds, gymnasiums, fields and classrooms. The conference slogan, No Limits - Education for Everyone, Everywhere, was aptly chosen and that theme resonated in every aspect of a fantastic and educational weekend.