Creating an H&PE Space that’s Bully Free

As Health and Physical Education (H&PE) teachers, the goal of maintaining both a physically as well as emotionally safe classroom is often on our mind. Physical safety is a relatively easy concept to overcome; use your common sense, act as a cautious parent and refer to your school board policies and the Ontario Safety Guidelines.

Emotional safety isn’t as easy. In H&PE, students are learning new skills, participating actively in a public space, exploring, learning, succeeding, and making mistakes in front of classmates. We’re discussing many personal topics which might be sensitive in nature (substance use, mental health, puberty), some of these topics are visible to the eye or they might be invisible, but they are personal all the same.

So, how can teachers create a space free of bullying that allows students to learn and grow? Here are a few of thoughts, and we would love to hear yours too!

1. Create an Emotionally Safe Environment
Emotional safety is a crucial aspect of a healthy learning environment. Teachers should provide a space for learning which emphasizes the importance of treating students with respect at all times, highlights the significance of being sensitive to individual differences, and provides an inclusive learning environment that accommodates individual strengths, needs, and interests. Students should be safe and feel supported when they make mistakes and they should work together and encourage each other. The Health and Physical Education environment should be one of support, not one of fear.

2. Focus on Living Skills
Thanks to the revised Ontario H&PE curriculum, educators can use nearly every opportunity that comes along in H&PE—whether it’s an argument over which team went out of bounds, a kid who feels discouraged after missing a shot or a student’s question about managing stress—to talk about conflict resolution, self-awareness, and a variety of other life skills that can help students to build resilience and interpersonal skills as they move throughout their day.

By authentically examining personal skills, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking skills in real life situations, students develop a positive sense of self, develop and maintain healthy relationships, and use critical thinking processes as they set goals, make decisions, and solve problems. They learn to get along and they learn how to respond when they don’t. They will learn to make choices that protect their safety and health, and they learn to become independent thinkers and responsible adults who are capable of developing strong relationships and who are committed to lifelong healthy, active living.

3. Be Present and In The Know
Depending on the facility available to you in your gym, there may be hot spots of bullying, ones you know and ones you might not. Reflect on the culture and rules associated with change room use. Are there stairs or hallway areas that go unsupervised? Consider as a core activity to have students participate in a “dot-mocracy”. Using stickers highlight areas on a map of the school that are known for bullying, then do something about it! Share this information with your division team, school safety committee, and consider having student leaders move fun and play into these areas and bullying out.

Self Check:
Wondering how your H&PE program is both physically and emotionally safe? Consider reflecting on some of these self check questions from the elementary Ontario H&PE Curriculum, 2010:
• Is instruction designed to ensure a positive experience in a safe environment for all students?
• Are all school board safety guidelines being followed?
• Are activities being modified as required to ensure that all students are included?
• Is exercise presented as a positive and healthy experience rather than being used as punishment?
• Does the program restrict activities in which students may be eliminated from play, and thereby deprived of opportunities to participate, practise, and improve?
• Are teams designated in ways that are inclusive and fair, avoiding potentially insensitive methods of selection (e.g., having teams chosen by student captains)?
• Are students’ diverse backgrounds taken into account when health topics are introduced, to ensure that discussions have personal relevance and that topics are addressed with sensitivity?

Looking for activities and lessons to support an inclusive and emotionally safe H&PE program? Check out those available for free, in English and French, from Ophea.

What strategies do you use to ensure your program is safe physically and emotionally? Share them here!

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