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Look Through a Health Lens

by Jenn Flynn APPLE Schools | October 17 2019

So often, wellness is seen as an add-on or another thing to plan, sign up for or delegate. When promoting health in schools and school communities, I hear the same hesitations over and over—the last thing people want is another thing on their to-do list to squeeze onto their plates. At APPLE Schools, we work hard to examine existing initiatives that are already happening in our office or in schools we serve through a health lens. This means looking at what’s already going on and using creativity to add a fun and healthy spin on what might require little to no extra time or effort.

This month, I thought I’d share some examples of how we, at the APPLE Schools office, and people in the schools we work with integrate workplace wellness into a regular schedule. In no particular order:

  • Potlucks. In many APPLE Schools staff rooms and our office, potlucks are standard practice. Why not try something that’s less work for everyone? Here’s a healthy spin on the ol’ potluck: we’ve tried salad clubs, build-your-own wraps/burrito bowl/taco stations and even a baked potato bar! Individuals sign up to bring one ingredient, ready to share, for the group to add as a topping, base or condiment for the meal. It sure is easier to bring cut-up cucumbers versus a full appetizer for all to share. Plus, there are usually plenty of leftovers for the healthy meal to last for a second lunch—bonus! In addition to the healthy food, these activities bring people out of their offices or classrooms to eat and socialize with peers while working on social and emotional wellness too!
  • Staff meetings. How often does your staff get together to meet? Our office hosts weekly meetings and many of our schools have them monthly. Looking at meetings through a health lens ensures that people can find ways to participate or learn as a group in a healthy way. For example, encouraging people to take stretching breaks or stand during the meetings. Building in walking sections where small teams can talk about problems or brainstorm solutions while moving and modelling new daily physical activities as a team is another fun way to add in some movement while learning about a new resource. Being intentional about building in these components takes the idea from a wish to a concrete action.
  • Bulletin boards. Adding health messages to information boards in the staff room or hallways is an easy way to promote messages that inspire wellness. Put up a sign by the elevator encouraging people to take the stairs, share information about walking routes nearby or healthy practices people can try out or, like at Greely Road School in Fort McMurray, post these monthly calendars that have actions for happiness around the staff room. Gentle nudges in our environment can help support healthy habits daily.
  • Birthday celebrations. Everyone has a birthday and workplaces can create connections and celebrate each other by recognizing these special days for staff. Instead of a standard cake, candy or pie party, the easiest switch is to try and provide something more nutritious, like a fun fruit display or sparkling water with juices and fresh fruit bar. Other fun, creative ideas I’ve seen include a card from the principal with a free pass to a local recreation centre, a birthday board where staff write notes of gratitude for the person who is being celebrated and a book donation to the school library on behalf of the staff member.

Looking at initiatives that are already planned, budgeted for or happening and asking, “does this send a health message and support our vision of healthy staff in healthy schools?” goes a long way to promote and sustain wellness not only for staff, but for students, families and community members. Do you have a fun way to look at something through a health lens? Be sure to share it with us!

Jenn Flynn

As the executive director of A Project Promoting healthy Living for Everyone—better known as APPLE Schools—Jenn is a superhero committed to seeing Alberta’s healthy school communities flourish. While her talents in the health and wellness arena are many, they are possibly eclipsed by her ability to balance spoons off her nose. Just don’t ask her to do anything amongst a flock of birds—otherwise known as Flynn-brand kryptonite.