Foundations for a Healthy School
Students’ learning in health and physical education helps them make informed decisions about all aspects of their health and encourages them to lead healthy, active lives. This learning is most authentic and effective when it occurs within the context of a “healthy” school. The implementation of the health and physical education curriculum is a significant component of a healthy learning environment that supports well-being.
The Ministry of Education’s Foundations for a Healthy School identifies five interconnected areas that together inform a comprehensive approach to developing a healthier school. (The five areas align closely with the K−12 School Effectiveness Framework.) This comprehensive approach ensures that students learn about healthy, active living in an environment that reinforces their learning through policies, programs, and initiatives that promote healthy, active living. The five areas are as follows:
- Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning
- School and Classroom Leadership
- Student Engagement
- Social and Physical Environments
- Home, School, and Community Partnerships
Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning
The implementation of the health and physical education curriculum provides students with a wide range of opportunities to learn, practise, and demonstrate knowledge and skills related to healthy and active living. Instruction and implementation of the curriculum can lay the foundation for students to make choices that support healthy, active living outside instructional time. In order to ensure effective health and physical education programs, it is important for teachers and school administrators to participate in focused professional learning opportunities.
School and Classroom Leadership
School and classroom leadership focuses on creating a positive classroom and school environment by identifying shared goals and priorities that are responsive to the needs of the school community. This can include integrating healthy schools policies and programs into school improvement planning processes; establishing a collaborative learning culture that fosters innovation; ensuring that policies and procedures related to student well-being are in place; and collecting and using data to identify priorities and inform programming.
Student engagement refers to students identifying with and valuing their learning; feeling a sense of belonging at school; and being informed about, engaged with, and empowered to participate in and lead academic and non-academic activities. Student engagement is strengthened when opportunities are provided for students to take leadership roles in relation to their learning, the learning environment, and their well-being; when students are supported in developing the skills they need to be self-directed, self-monitoring learners, through the use of assessment for learning, assessment as learning, and assessment of learning approaches; and when the diverse perspectives of students are taken into account in school decision-making processes.
Social and Physical Environments
Healthy, safe, and caring social and physical environments support learning and contribute to the positive cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development of students. The social and physical environments can affect both conditions for learning and opportunities for physical activity and healthy living. Sustaining physically healthy and socially supportive environments involves providing ongoing support for the development and maintenance of positive relationships within a school and school community; considering how these environments are influenced by various features and aspects of the school premises and surroundings (e.g., buildings and grounds, routes to and from school, facilities in the school community); and considering the availability of appropriate material and equipment used for various purposes on school premises (e.g., visual supports, program materials, technology).
Home, School, and Community Partnerships
Home, school, and community partnerships engage parents, extended family, school staff, and community groups in a mutually beneficial way to support, enhance, and promote opportunities for learning and healthy schools policies, programs, and initiatives. These partnerships can involve engaging and coordinating services, expertise, and resources that are available, within the school and local community, from a wide array of groups (e.g., school council, student council, public health units); and making connections with the broader community through on-site programs such as child care and family support programs. Partnerships can also be formed that draw on services, expertise, and resources that are available beyond the local community (e.g., in regional, provincial, or national organizations).
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared in the preamble to its constitution, which came into force in 1948, that health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Today, Health Canada considers the following to be “determinants of health” (that is, factors and conditions that can have a significant influence on a person’s health): income and social status, employment and working conditions, education and literacy, childhood experiences, physical environments, social supports and coping skills, healthy behaviours, access to health services, biology and genetic endowment, gender, culture, and race/racism. Other recent models describe and group the factors differently and include additional factors, such as stress, food insecurity, care in early life, and Aboriginal status.
Together, such factors affect an individual’s overall state of physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. They influence not only whether a person stays healthy or becomes ill but also the extent to which the person possesses the physical, social, and personal resources needed to identify and achieve personal aspirations, satisfy needs, and cope with the environment. These factors also have an impact on student learning as a whole, and are strongly connected to learning in health and physical education. Although students have varying degrees of control over these factors, it is important to be aware of them as contributing factors in student performance. It is also important to recognize the value of personal strategies that can be learned and practised to foster well-being in the face of stressful and challenging life circumstances.