This is the second of nine installments about how I attempt to teach the whole child. Last week’s blog dealt with how I teach Emotional Wellness in Physical Education and Health and not Math, Science, or Social Studies or other areas of teaching. It also discusses how I believe it is every teacher’s duty to teach the entire child. After writing my original blog on why I teach Physical Education and Health, I received feedback from Shrehan Lynch (@misslynchpe) that there are currently nine dimensions of wellness that are being taught at the collegiate level. Armed with that feedback and the encouragement of Mel Hamada (mjhamada) this has now morphed into a nine-part blog series. I fully expect that I am derelict in my teaching of several areas of wellness. This blog series will allow me to highlight those areas I need to improve.
This week I will analyze the what, how, and why, of my student’s occupational wellness learning journey. Occupational wellness is defined as:
Occupational Wellness is the ability to achieve a balance between work and leisure time, addressing workplace stress and building relationships with co-workers. It focuses on our search for a calling and involves exploring various career options and finding where you fit. Link
You may be asking yourself how can I possibly be addressing occupational wellness at the elementary/middle school level? I would counter with School is my student’s occupation. They spend over 35 hours a week in school, they have to balance school work with leisure time, have school-based stress, and their peers are their co-workers with which they have to build relationships. School definitely encourages students to find their calling and is based almost solely on the idea of finding a future career. Going to school is my student’s occupation.
In Physical Education and Health I try to minimize the amount of work that I give students to finish outside of class. I allow them to make up any work during lunchtime or whenever a teacher is willing to give them free time. This lessens the load of work they are expected to complete outside of school which directly impacts their leisure time.
When I see my students for the first time that week I ask them what did they do outside of school that was fun or movement based. Phrasing my question in this way shows them that I value their free time and expect them to have fun and relax in their leisure time. There are some Physical Education teachers that give their kids a backpack filled with tools that will encourage them to move when they get home. This is a great way to encourage our students; however, leisure time is really up to the choosing of our students. Some find movement activities enjoyable while others want to play video games or read. I am careful not to make judgments about what they are doing. After all what we consider to be leisurely is solely up to the individual.
This brings us to the subject of stress. Stress comes in two forms, eustress, and distress. Eustress is what we consider to be good stress. This stress helps motivate us. Eustress is when our students respond to a stressor (something that causes stress) with positive feelings. I think of eustress as a challenge the students willingly embark on. This could be the parameters we set for the students during a TGFU unit or a rubric that we give out for a project in Health. The students will usually respond positively and work toward the goal. Goals do not always have to be extrinsically set. Students may create stressors themselves in order to help them attain a goal. The point is they react positively to the stressor and it motivates them to accomplish a goal or task.
Distress is what most of us think of when we hear we hear the word stress. It causes anxiety and fear. This does not help or motivate our students. It puts them in a perpetual state of fight or flight. This distorts their thinking, causes high blood pressure, and over time can negatively affect the various body systems. It can cause depression or suicide. A local area middle school saw the negative results of distress on their students.
In the previous school year, 120 middle and high school students were recommended for mental health assessments; 40 were hospitalized. And on a survey administered by the district, students wrote things like, “I hate going to school,” and “Coming out of 12 years in this district, I have learned one thing: that a grade, a percentage or even a point is to be valued over anything else.” Link
I teach a full unit of eustress and distress in 5th-grade health. We discuss how exercise can decrease distress by releasing endorphins as well as allowing the students to refocus their attention for a while. One of the biggest ways teachers can decrease distress is making our class a place where students want to be. This means we have to understand that not everyone wants to be in our class. Some students fear moving in front of others. We have to minimize this fear, which can only happen if we understand it.
Another way to alleviate stress is to make sure we are culturally competent. If we don’t understand our student’s cultures we can increase their stress. This can show in the way we speak to them, microaggressions that may unknowingly occur, or expectations that may be inappropriate. The only way to combat that is to become culturally competent regardless of what anyone else in your department or school believes.
The final way that I address occupational wellness is by encouraging my students to find their passion. This is something we discuss in 5th-grade Health as well. The discussion centers around what their passions are and how can they get paid to pursue that passion. We also discuss multiple intelligences and how reading, math, and writing aren’t tests of their worth. They measure one part of their schooling and that is all.
I will address building relationships with their peers when we discuss interpersonal wellness.
You might be surprised by how big of a role occupational wellness has in our teaching. It is imperative that we recognize this wellness as being equally important to every other wellness. If we exclude one wellness we aren’t teaching the whole child are we?