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Creating health champions

January 05,2017

Comprehensive School Health course to be required for all pre-service teachers

By Clayton MacGillivray, Werklund School of Education

Werklund School students discuss wellness approaches with community partners at the 2016 Health Champions Conference.

Werklund School students discuss wellness approaches with community partners at the 2016 Health Champions Conference.

Plans for improving the health of students often begin and end with recommendations for the removal of junk food from school vending machines and more physical education.  But Shelly Russell Mayhew says well-being is much more than simply cutting out snacks and being active, which is why the Werklund School of Education has introduced a one-of-its-kind Comprehensive School Health (CSH) course for pre-service teachers.

Beginning in 2018, all students pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree will be required to take the course as part of the core curriculum – a first for Canadian teacher training programs.

“Healthy students make better learners and all teachers are positioned to influence the health, wellness and development of their students regardless of subject specialty,” says Russell Mayhew, an associate professor in the Werklund School.  “School wellness is not solely the responsibility of the health or physical education teacher; however, most BEd students in Canada are not provided with any wellness education in their program.”

Russell Mayhew explains that CSH is a framework that considers multiple dimensions of wellness and how they relate.

“CSH is not just about eating well and moving around. Equally, or perhaps more importantly, and certainly relatedly, is a positive social environment.”

For this reason, Russell Mayhew says the course, which was crafted in collaboration with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Ever Active Schools, takes a holistic approach by focusing on the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, environmental and occupational dimensions of wellness.

“For example, research tells us that teachers and principals experience considerable uncertainty about how to respond to the mental well-being concerns of students. Our program addresses this challenge.”

During the course, students will apply evidence-based health knowledge to teaching practice and school culture; read evidence-based reports and engage in experiential and practical activities during a block week of focused learning followed by five weeks of ongoing classwork; and engage in self-reflection about values, attitudes and knowledge related to personal health and wellness.

“This course provides the theoretical foundations, research base, community resources, and experiential learning to create the capacity for future teachers to be health champions,” says Russell Mayhew.

To ensure the course is relevant to K-12 schools, the core committee met with CSH experts from post-secondary institutions, government, school jurisdiction partners, school health organizations and the Alberta Teachers’ Association to gain their input on course content as well as critical aspects of school wellness.

The origins of the class go back to 2009 when faculty members provided a three-hour in-class professional development opportunity to 18 Werklund School physical education students.  From this, the program grew into a two-day health conference that saw more than 150 students voluntarily sign up for optional learning outside of class time before being incorporated into the BEd program.