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Cultivating Healthy Environments

by Brian Torrance Ever Active Schools | December 10 2015 | 2 Comments

For those who know me, I’ve referenced this statistic many times—that is, that an average 30% of teachers are leaving the profession within the first five years of their career, and in some parts of the province the number is as high as 40%.

The most common reasons cited for this statistic?

  • Other career aspirations
  • Loss of passion
  • Family moving to urban centre
  • Teacher burnout (i.e. teaching full time and teaching several different subjects, some perhaps outside of the teacher’s areas of specialization) 

As an optimist at heart, this is the kind of thing that might keep me up at night! But I think there are many health-focused approaches that can change the tide, protect teachers from burnout and keep them joyful of their chosen profession. Of course, from a comprehensive school health lens, I’m making the relationship that healthy staff will stay in the profession longer. While that’s not likely true for all reasons noted above, I think it certainly is for some.

So, where to focus all our positive energy? How to cultivate healthy environments that grow passion and enthusiasm rather than deplete it? I think there are three main ways we can do this.

Focus on our Environment

Social and physical environments affect our happiness, motivation and personal health. Our schools have incredible potential to not only be buildings of learning, but buildings of health. Venturing beyond the school walls, when we take learning outside and into nature we cultivate creativity, imagination, stress reduction and natural play. I see this amplified as I watch my own children enjoy the outdoors—they are different little people when they have connected with nature. I see it in myself and among my colleagues. At any age, our environment plays a role in overall health. A Calgary outdoor advocacy group made a t-shirt for students that says, “Teacher, take me outside.” Staff should also heed this advice—take the time get outside and reap the benefits.

Focus on Kindness

One year at the Shaping the Future conference we brought up researcher Jim Diers. Jim is, hands down, one of the most positive people I have ever met. He looks at the strengths of a community and the strengths of people and mobilizes that into community development. One of his examples involved an initiative to make smiling and eye contact a norm among a particular group. The results were with powerful and left people feeling a greater connection with one another. The power of kindness—even very small acts of kindness—can be transformative to an environment.

Encourage Collaboration

Ever Active Schools works with the Kainai Board of Education on a number of wellness initiatives. The school had initiated an “Ever Active” club for their students to attend where they would get off the bus and participate in a half hour of physical activity each morning. Staff were also involved as they connected with peers and students on the outdoor track in the warmer months and in the school hallway during the winter. When asked if the participants would do this on their own, most responded, “No.” The primary benefits of physical activity are great but, it seems, making connections, enjoying group support and shared experiences were the determining factors for success.

Brian Torrance

As Director of Ever Active Schools (EAS) and relentless supporter of health and wellness in all respects, Brian is committed to addressing comprehensive school health issues through his work with EAS. So it’s particularly embarrassing for Brian that he’s unable to throw a Frisbee. That said, he’s made up for this ten-fold through the achievement of his crowning glory: a six-minute 'beer mile.'

Lorna M. Alberta Health Services - | December 14 2015 10:46 AM

Great insight Brian!

Earlier this fall I learned about a teacher in Camrose that spent the entire day outside teaching all subjects... the school was overwhelmed by the positive response from parents.  Apparently, children came home from school actually wanting to tell their parents about their day and what they learned.  The teacher refelected that it had been one of his best days as an educator.

I think that when teachers have the support to be creative and think outside the box that they are more effective and passionate about their work.  I admire those administrators that nuture creativity and collaboration in their staff. 



Matthew M. Alberta Health Services - | December 15 2015 1:13 PM

Thanks for this Brian!

The power of kindness is contageous. This makes me think of one school that, instead of giving "secret santa" gifts during the holiday season, gave back to their community instead. The school hung new socks on all of the staff mailboxes during the month of December and filled them with compliments. Before the break, all staff "opened" their stockings and then donated the socks to a local homeless shelter. Staff at the school commented on how good it made them feel, and that it was one of the few holiday celebrations that they actually remembered for many years to come.