Winter 2018

Improving the School Community Through Health and Physical Education

Perhaps this is true in all provinces and territories however since I live and work in Ontario I am focusing on what I live each day as a physical educator in Ontario. Since the Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) released a revised Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curricula on February 23, 2015 for both elementary (K-8) and secondary (9-12) level students, the larger Ontario community has offered both positive and negative appraisals and even protested its content at times. Still, full and obligatory implementation of these revised curricula began in September of 2015.

The 2015 H&PE curricula is larger at approximately 220 pages, it is much larger than the previous 40 page curricula and involves the whole person in terms of health and wellness. For instance, the curricula suggests healthy, active living benefits both individuals and society in many ways- by increasing productivityhealthy, active living benefits both individuals and society in many ways – for example, by increasing productivity and readiness for learning, improving morale, decreasing absenteeism, reducing health-care costs, decreasing anti-social behaviour such as bullying and violence, promoting safe and healthy relationships, and heightening personal satisfaction. (OME, 2015a, p.7)

Of note are the benefits, and belief that H & P.E. can decrease “anti-social behaviour such as bullying and violence, promote safe and healthy relationships, and heighten personal satisfaction” (OME, 2015a, p.7). The Health and wellness of a school is an ongoing daily challenge since bullying, an unfortunate familiar occurrence, is widespread, global and not unique to one ethnicity, culture, or gender. The behavior can be linked to all ages (Cook, Williams, Guerra, Kim & Sadek, 2010) and some suggest bullying is “a form of aggression, characterized by repeated psychological or physical oppression, involving the abuse of power in relationships to cause distress or control another” (Carr-Gregg & Manocha, 2011, p. 98).

This oppression “is generally understood as the domination of subordinate groups in society by a powerful (politically, economically, socially and culturally) group” (Mullaly, 2002, p. 27). All stakeholders need an “understanding of the complexities and origins of the oppression that exists in our society and impact on individuals. It encompasses many theories including, but not limited to “radical, structural, feminist, anti-racist, critical, and liberatory frameworks” (Campbell, 2003, p. 2). We move against oppression by “challenging our perceptions and assumptions, critically analyzing what we know and recognizing power in interpersonal relationships. However, anti-oppression work cannot end there. For any real change to happen, we must also work to restructure systems and institutions” (Springtide Resources, 2008, p. 2), to improve the lived educational experience. We must reach into the community since, parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethno-cultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models. It is therefore important for schools and parents to work together to ensure that home and school provide a mutually supportive framework for young people’s education. (OME, 2015a, p.13)

Given this understanding of oppression coupled with the belief that bullying is “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated” (Gladden, Vivolo-Kantor, Hamburger, & Lumpkin, 2014, p. 7) demands that stakeholders act.

Historically it was Olweus (1993) who explained, “a student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more students” (p. 9). Of course it is a negative action, when someone intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury or discomfort upon another…negative actions can be carried out by words (verbally), for instance, by threatening, taunting, teasing, and calling names. It is a negative action when somebody hits, pushes, kicks, pinches, or restrains another by physical contact. It is also possible to carry out negative actions without use of words or physical contact, such as by making faces or dirty gestures, intentionally excluding someone from a group, or refusing to comply with another person’s wishes. (Olweus, 1993, p. 9)

Bullying is an intentional act of harm that happens recurrently over time (Carr-Gregg & Manocha, 2011). The Ontario H&PE curricula use the term bullying 48 times within the elementary (K-8) document and 28 times in the secondary (9-12) document. As well, teachers are informed of “personal safety topics [that] focus on developing skills to identify, prevent, and resolve issues in areas such as bullying, peer assault, child abuse, harassment, and violence in relationships” (OME, 2015a, p.37). This is important since victimization research has revealed that school performance of those who are bullied often respond with reduced academic performance, withdraw and/or increase absenteeism (Carr-Gregg & Manocha, 2011).

Bullying in schools is serious as there are enduring, negative effects on those involved (Carr-Gregg & Manocha, 2011) for instance bullies often exhibit antisocial personality disorder traits, along with anxiety and substance abuse (Carr-Gregg & Manocha, 2011). Perhaps this is why Ontario Physical educators are being asked: Are intentional steps being taken by educators and students to build skills for healthy relationships and ensure that bullying and harassment are prevented, or addressed if and when they occur, in the change room, the gym, outdoors, and in all learning spaces? (OME, 2015a, p.51)

Moreover, each curricula actually includes prompts for the educator via scripts:

Teacher prompt: “What is an example of social bullying? Physical bullying? Verbal bullying?”

Student: “Social bullying could include leaving someone out of the group, refusing to be someone’s partner, spreading rumours in person or online, or totally ignoring someone. Physical bullying could include pushing someone, pulling hair, or knocking a person down. Verbal bullying could include name calling, mocking, teasing about appearance, including weight, size, or clothing, and making sexist, racist, or homophobic comments in person or online. Any of these kinds of bullying could cause emotional pain.” (OME, 2015a, p.140)

These scripts complete with prompts allow educators to prepare with advance organizers and visualize how they can prepare to introduce sensitive topics. Research further informs these curricular inclusions for example Fluck (2017) found “peer pressure” was a key factor and motive in many instances (p. 582). Bullies also suggest revenge as a motive as well as sadism and power yet victims believed bullying just happens or perhaps is a demonstration of power and bullies often justify behavior linking it to revenge (Fluck, 2017). The Fluck research lists revenge, fun, social status (power), deserved attack (revenge), being different (ideology), peer pressure, provocation, self-defense, coping with emotions, antipathy and thoughtlessness as prevalent elements in bullying. Within the elementary curricula another teacher script aids the educator suggesting an educator ask:

Teacher prompt: “What kind of support will the person who was bullied and the bystander need?”

Student: “They need to be listened to and given a chance to express their feelings about the harm that has been done and to contribute their ideas about what needs to be done to put things right. They need to be given help to make sure the bullying stops. They might be afraid and may need counselling to recover emotionally from being bullied or witnessing bullying. (OME, 2015a, p.198)

The use of these prompts and scripts is essential as educators may not have the necessary background nor training in this area yet bullying must be dealt with as bullying effects the victim’s mental and physical health triggering loneliness, peer rejection, enduring anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, suicide ideation, and psychosomatic problems (Vessey, DiFazio, & Strout, 2013) as well as an aversion to school (absenteeism/truancy) due to the unsafe environment (Shetgiri, 2013). The student may complain of headaches and migraines while experiencing panic attacks, and frequent illnesses (Aluede, Adeleke, Omoike, & Afen-Akpaida, 2008: Walden & Beran, 2010). In response educators can turn to outside agencies, internal supports, the H & P.E. curricula and trained educators.

Within the secondary H & P.E. curricula there are many actions possible. One is to refer to Bullying – We Can All Help Stop It: A Guide for Parents of Elementary and Secondary School Students, at BullyingEN.pdf. (OME, 2015b, p.209). The educator is also reminded that under the [Ontario] Education Act (s.1(1)), “aggressive and typically repeated behaviour by a pupil, where (a) the behaviour is intended by the pupil to have the effect of, or the pupil ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to have the effect of, (i) causing harm, fear, or distress to another individual, including physical, psychological, social, or academic harm, harm to the individual’s reputation, or harm to the individual’s property, or (ii) creating a negative environment at a school for another individual, and (b) the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability, or the receipt of special education” and where the intimidation includes the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written, or other means. (OME, 2015b, p.208)

Research has informed this section of the act and continues to influence change in society just as the new H & P.E. curricula is developed to build a healthy community, students are taught how they can contribute by “making programs available that discourage bullying, help people respond to it, and promote social justice, equity, and inclusiveness (OME, 2015b, p.171). While some may see these efforts as interventions designed to increase self-esteem, this may not “result in decreased levels of bully perpetration. Similarly, intervention efforts designed to reduce bully perpetration may not result in increased levels of self-esteem” (Rose, Slaten & Preast, 2017, p. 168). Bullying is a personal problem and a community challenge that exists in classrooms, schools and our larger society that requires, in this case, informed H & P.E. teachers who can enact the current curricula to improve the health and wellness of all.

Dr. Thomas G. Ryan has been teaching since 1985. He began teaching at the Secondary level and taught Law, History and Special and Physical Education. Thom then moved to the Elementary level teaching mostly within Special Education. He continues to teach preservice students within Health and Physical Education and is teaching within Graduate Studies at Nipissing University.
Aluede, O., Adeleke, F., Omoike, D. & Afen-Akpaida, J. (2008). A review of the extent, nature, characteristics and effects of bullying behaviour in schools. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 35(2), 151–158.
Campbell, C. (2003). Anti-oppressive social work. Promoting equity and social justice. Halifax. Author. Retrieved from website
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Walden, L. M., & Beran, T. N. (2010). Attachment quality and bullying behavior in school-aged youth. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 25(1), 5-18. doi: 10.1177/0829573509357046

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