Friday 29 March 2019

A Pre-Service Teacher’s Induction to Comprehensive School Health

Most likely if you are reading this, you are already a seasoned teacher in the field, passionate about seeing children and youth become healthy in mind, body and spirit. Good news, there are more teachers coming your way with the same passion for Comprehensive School Health! Pre-service teachers at the University of Calgary currently engage in learning and discussion regarding Comprehensive School Health (CSH). Each seminar, our cohort discussed the connections between education and health—mental, emotional and physical.

Designing, participating and engaging in a university level course specifically around Comprehensive School Health (CSH) shows the directive shift and importance of the education system taking health seriously. As a pre-service teacher, having a course requirement to learn about CSH is a statement about the value of health moving beyond just physical education teachers.  CSH is a responsibility from all education partners, including: admin, teachers, parents, community stakeholders and students, to think about, and act on, what it means to be healthy. Thinking about positive steps towards mental wellness, physical wellness, school culture and the four pillars of CSH, gives me the flexibility and tenacity to bring these into my teaching practices.

When I envision myself as a health champion, I picture a teacher who incorporates social-emotional learning in classroom and provides a space for the conditions where students can learn, thrive and grow as citizens in society. Before embarking on the journey of becoming a teacher, in working front-line with adults and youth experiencing homelessness, addictions and mental health issues, I saw the extremes of unchecked trauma and mental illness. I encountered stories from young adults (20-24) who had expressed how difficult school was, and how they felt no one cared for them or believed in them. The more I worked in the front-line, the more I felt the need to work with youth in schools in order to foster resiliency skills for young people to become healthier adults. Teaching provides the avenue for ongoing realistic change. It is encouraging to have Comprehensive School Health education for future teachers and students, as it is clear that students can only learn when they feel safe, valued, heard and healthy.

The CSH course provided me with further inspiration to foster healthy attitudes and behaviours with students. In front line work, we often talked about how we model healthy attachment models for our clients who have experienced many adverse experiences in their childhood, whether they are aware, it is powerful for people to have healing adult figures in their lives to help model physically and emotionally healthy lives, and responses to stressors. Comprehensive school health (CSH) is needed as “research has shown [CSH] is an effective way to enhance [the] linkage improving both health and educational outcomes and encouraging healthy behaviours that last a lifetime” (Joint Consortium for Health, n.d., p. 1). This course has continued to solidify my ideas in incorporating holistic education that goes beyond academic growth. I often think about the young adults I worked with who were homeless, and wonder if their well-being was considered in a comprehensive way, could their present reality be different? This course, coupled with my experiences, solidify my belief that healthy behaviours and attitudes towards students will provide the conditions for them to feel safe to explore health themselves.

In many ways this course has validated my goals as a burgeoning teacher, to be a champion for my students' social-emotional health. I truly believe that if students can learn how to gain self-efficacy skills and self-regulation skills then they will be able to be better equipped with to deal with anxiety and recover from stressful situations as the Canadian Education Association (n.d.) has found. The CSH courses were comprehensive in providing an understanding of body image, mental health, toxic stress and other areas. However, I believe one area that I would like to future explore as a teacher is how to manage teacher well-being. One of the surprising ways the course has impacted me is hearing the level of stress and anxiety from fellow colleagues. When teachers are considering many layers of teaching and learning, curriculum, program of studies, CSH, when do teachers have the time to focus on their own mental health and be champions for themselves? I believe that in order to truly teach students how to be healthy and to have a growth mindset, I will need to be critically reflective and take the time to foster my own health. I am mindful of burnout in education. While CSH addresses health for students, considering attrition rates in teachers, whether it be from stress, mismanagement of time, disillusionment with education, mental health etc., a future for myself as a teacher is to take time in understanding teacher well-being.

In the future, I hope to be a health champion for my students and to be a champion for my colleagues and peers, as life is increasingly hectic and teaching is busy. As I continue to teach, I want to balance the stressors in life but also find joy, resilience, and self-growth in order to be a health champion for my colleagues and students.

Canadian Education Association (n.d.). How can we best support student mental wellbeing?

Joint Consortium for School Health. (n.d.) What is comprehensive school health?.       Retrieved  from  pager_-_July_2016.pdf.

Submitted by: Sarah Lee, University of Calgary, Faculty of Education Student