I have been blessed to have the opportunity to speak throughout our country on the issue of childhood obesity and student achievement. After speaking at these events, I am often asked “What can I do to bring about the type of change that you talk about in my school?” Often there is a concern about funding or about taking away from academic achievement. We can make changes in classrooms very easily, changes that will not take away from academic achievement, but that will boost them significantly.
Let me start by telling a bit of my story. I became a principal in 2005, I was the third principal in a matter of one year and started the principalship in January. Prior to that, the school had 3 principals in a 15 year time period. Change was going to be slow and challenge was significant from a leadership perspective. I was also a single parent, raising a son on my own. Fast forward to January of 2006, the combination of pressure to improve my school and a lack of personal care caught up to me, at age 35 I had a minor heart attack at school and had to leave on a stretcher. That got my attention as well as the attention of my staff. We decided to make a change, a big change in our campus. Together, we came to realize that stress was literally killing us as educators and that if we felt it as heavily as we did, how was it effecting students? My purpose with this writing is to answer that question and give you things that you can take to a principal to bring about substantial change in the classrooms on your campus. In the course of the next year we implemented an hour of physical activity for every kid, every day. I encourage the teachers to participate as much as they like with the students, I required that they integrate physical activity, health and wellness into the core content areas. In other words, instead of just teaching math, we taught math using movement, using health, and using student experience with both. Additionally, we invited our local hospital in to provide staff development, full lipid panels for the whole staff both at the beginning and the end of the school year, and rewarded teachers for participating. Our results were astonishing….by 2007 our students had achieved 3 years of academic growth in a two year time period, 95% of my 8th graders passing the 9th grade Algebra test, a decrease in BMI across grade levels, and a 27% drop in staff absences. We were a runner-up in the North Carolina Association of Administrators Trail Blazer Award, received a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and won the North Carolina Prevention Partners School of Excellence. We did all of this with an hour of physical activity everyday for every kid. How did we do it?
Below are three strategies, we call them the “Core 3 Strategies” that you can easily implement in a school that can get kids moving and that won’t cost a penny!
- Switch recess to before lunch vs. after lunch. This subtle change has profound effect. Student throw-away of food decreases significantly because kids are not rushing to finish quickly and go play. Additionally, lunch becomes a more social time, allowing students to talk and chat with friends and eat at an acceptable and digestable pace.
- Flexible scheduling for recess. In my school, I don’t tell the teachers when to take a recess / physical activity break, the kids do! If students look flat, disinterested, or sluggish, I encourage my staff to get them up, to take them outside for 15 minutes, and then to come back in and regain focus. This also allows instruction and learning to guide the break vs. a schedule. The last thing that I want is for a teacher to be in the middle of an engaging and robust discussion with students on a topic and have to stop half-way through because it is “time” to go to recess.
- Incorporate physical activity breaks throughout the day and into instruction. If students are doing centers, have them move as part of the activity, rolling dice and doing a the number of reps that come up of an exercise prior to tallying or adding. Moving with punctuation and capitalization, stand for a capital in the sentence, sit for lower case, punch across the body for a comma, etc. My incorporating movement or small breaks, even for a few minutes, kids are moving, expending energy and gaining focus.
What are some of the roadblocks that you are holding you back from making these changes? What are some other ways that students, teachers, and parents can incorporate movement into the day? My experience is that fear that teachers will not be able to bring kids back to focus stops many of us from trying these strategies, what is your experience with this? At Core Purpose Consulting we want to help suggest and implement strategies to improve test scores, improve retention of strong educators, and guide the implementation of policy, strategy, and instructional practice that lead to these desired outcomes….where do you stand on this issue?