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Changing School Culture, One Step at a Time

by Chris Fenlon-MacDonald Ever Active Schools | June 27 2019

Let me paint you a little picture. It was mid-way through the 2013 school year, if I remember correctly, when I attended a professional learning opportunity exploring physical literacy. Dr. Dean Kriellaars, the keynote, spoke on the importance of movement throughout our day. At one point in the day, he mentioned that we need to get creative and think outside the box if we want to promote the development of physical literacy and nudge physical activity behaviours in schools.

Building the Box

Upon returning to my school, I attempted just that. Armed with a roll of painter’s tape, I taped two patterns (similar to hopscotch) on either side of the hallway. I didn’t tell the students at the time what I was doing. To be honest, I don’t think I knew exactly what I was doing, either. What I did know was that I wanted to increase student physical activity. What I didn’t know was that I was doing so much more.

After some creative fundraising and the official ‘go ahead’ from our school leadership, we replaced floor tiles with intentionally designed colour patterns. It took the better part of a school year to replace them, but it happened! During this time, I began calling the initiative ‘Don’t Walk in the Hallway’ and used the hashtag #DontWalkintheHallway on social media to promote the work. In fact, the driving force in naming the initiative was a job interview with Ever Active Schools where I was asked to present a health-promotion idea to an interviewing panel—Don’t Walk in the Hallway was that idea.

As we prepared to replace the floor tiles in our hallways, we also planned to research the impacts of Don’t Walk in the Hallway in our school. When all was said and done, the initiative increased physical activity at the school by a total of 872 steps on average each day. But it seemed like that wasn’t enough.

Creating a Bigger Box

I vividly remember speaking with Dr. Kriellaars after we discovered the results of the study. In that conversation, I told Dean that I felt we were not making a big enough impact and that the results were not as great as we had hoped. What he said at the time didn’t resonate with me until my first year with Ever Active Schools, after a formal Don’t Walk in the Hallway resource was created. He said, ‘It is making a difference; a big difference. It’s changing the physical activity culture in schools.’

Normalizing the Box

That statement is what resonates with me today and what drives the work of Ever Active Schools' professional learning in the area of activity permissive learning environments. Normalizing physical activity is the grand outcome of the Don’t Walk in the Hallway initiative. We’ve seen an increase in schools, architects and many others using concepts like Don’t Walk in the Hallway to make intentional designs in the built environment. Regardless of what they are called, be it sensory pathways or otherwise, they are normalizing physical activity in an environment that otherwise may have looked different for staff and students alike.

Physical activity has broad impacts on health and learning outcomes and, simply put, is fun for everyone! By thinking creatively, we can all build school communities that normalize physical activity. After all, physical activity is not a break from learning, it is learning.

Chris Fenlon-MacDonald

This juggling, elementary-school-teaching supernova works to enhance school health and well-being through his role as provincial education coordinator with Ever Active Schools. Chris’s star shines brightest when his feet are firmly planted on the ground—rather than attached to a bungee cord, where the feeling of falling, bounce, bounce, bounce, SNAP (just kidding Fen-Mac) isn’t nearly as terrifying exhilarating as promoting school health and wellness.