health moves minds students practicing respectful listening

How health. moves. minds.™ Led to Positive Changes in Our School and District

When I was asked last spring if I would like to participate in the pilot of SHAPE America’s new health. moves. minds. program, I felt a sense of professional commitment to the mission of our national organization and state affiliate organizations.

Immediately, I said yes.  

I was excited to learn that the focus of the health. moves. minds. program is mental health and wellness because I had already recognized that there is a critical need to focus more attention in this area.

As I learned more about the program and reviewed the health. move. minds. materials, I soon realized I wanted to spend more time on this initiative because it was exactly what my students needed.

Implementing the health. moves. minds. Program

Because I am the only physical education teacher for two schools, it is very difficult to provide all the programming I know my students should have. I decided to spend eight full weeks focusing on health. moves. minds. in order to make the most impact.

Each of the eight weeks had its own theme, and in addition to the lessons I taught in PE class, classroom teachers were asked to incorporate activities around those themes:

  • Fill Our Buckets
  • Random Acts of Kindness
  • Mindfulness
  • Attitude of Gratitude
  • Healthy Friendships
  • Move More-Feel Better
  • Helping Hand
  • Reflection

I received a lot of positive feedback from my colleagues and from my students regarding these activities, especially one that had them evaluating supportive vs. toxic behaviors in relationships.

Lesson Plans and Activities for health. moves. minds.

The four health. moves. minds. lesson plans are very comprehensive and include some wonderful resources (posters, skill cards, etc.) that are very thoughtfully designed with a lens on equity and representation. I really appreciated this as my students were able to see themselves in the pictures.

What I found in implementing these lessons — and in designing additional lessons — was that the objectives are clearly defined, measurable and relevant. This made planning easier because I was looking at activities with a focus on which ones would best help students grasp concepts or practice particular social skills, rather than a sport skills theme or simply what I thought would be fun.

These clearly defined, relevant objectives were apparent not only to me, but to my students as well. This made a big difference with student engagement because they understood the immediate relevance of what they were learning.

health. moves. minds. students practicing a mindful minute

Program Highlights

There were so many positive moments throughout the health. moves. minds. pilot program, but here are just a few highlights:

  • Helping a second-grader (with an IEP and a BIP) who really struggles with emotional regulation use the Better Breathing technique that he had learned to regain control. He was trying so hard not to lose it. As we stood facing each other and breathing together, I could actually witness the tension leaving him and it was truly awesome!
  • Seeing a photo taken by the school’s art teacher of a kindergartner in the supply closet during a lockdown drill — independently doing a Mindful Minute to help him maintain his composure.
  • Receiving my first-ever spontaneous thank you note from a parent that was completely unconnected to teacher appreciation or a special event outside of our regular PE classes. The student struggles with some mental health issues, and the parent was so appreciative that we were covering this important subject in school.

Benefits for the School District

Completing the health. moves. minds. pilot program led to many exciting changes in our district.

First, I came to the realization that we really need to overhaul our curriculum to include health and social and emotional learning (SEL) objectives. Then, we need to build our units around those objectives.

This doesn’t mean we won’t continue to teach all the skills, strategies, and game play that we’ve always taught, it just means our units will be organized around the health and SEL objectives and we will be using our games and activities as vehicles to explicitly teach those objectives. This will be the key to rigor and relevance for our students.

Next, I had a conversation with the head of our district wellness committee. We were talking about mental health needs and I shared my excitement about the health. moves. minds. program. She told me she could get me into a meeting with our superintendent and to have my elevator speech ready.

The meeting with the superintendent led to another meeting with our administrators and several colleagues to discuss new curriculum design. We have been given the green light to collaborate on a new wellness curriculum that addresses health, physical education, and SEL objectives.

Over the summer, I was able to attend SHAPE America’s Professional Learning Institute on SEL, where I gained some great insights that will be helpful with this work.

In addition, our district’s physical education teachers will be tapped to be the wellness ambassadors for our schools. We will attend the district wellness committee meetings and carry information back to our buildings, making sure the wellness committee’s objectives are being met. (This is important because this committee’s work is tied to our district’s nutrition funding).

Because our superintendent recognizes the importance of this work, we have been promised an increase in staffing so that within two years, those of us at the elementary level will each be responsible for only one school. (We advocated for and received a .4 increase in staffing immediately and completed hiring for this school year.)

health. moves. minds. student creating feelings crossword

Teaching Students About Mental Health Issues

Just this week, an incident occurred in my class that reinforced how crucial it is to address mental health with our students — and how the health. moves. minds. program can help.

During our health. moves. minds. pilot program, we spent a week (Helping Hand Week) focusing on how to recognize when we need to ask for help and when our friends may need help — and what to do if this happens.

Because this is a difficult topic, adults sometimes want to believe that elementary students are not ready for it or that it doesn’t apply to them. However, recently a fifth-grader came up to me in class and reported that another student in his group was refusing to work with the group and was saying she “wants to ‘suicide’ herself.”

I thanked him for telling me and then spoke with this student. What I got from our conversation was that she was feeling very overwhelmed by the academic rigor of fifth grade. I offered a few immediate options that might help: taking a break and doing some breathing, going for a walk to get some water and clear her head, or working with another group.

She wasn’t able to make a decision for herself (a concern by itself), but when I facilitated a move to a new group who enthusiastically welcomed her, she was able to move forward in the moment. I again thanked the child who reported to me as he was leaving the gym after class.

I also shared all of this with our social worker who followed up with the appropriate protocol. I am grateful that my students were able to talk about this and that this child is not just suffering in silence.

While other pilot school coordinators may share the wonderful fundraising opportunities that are available through the health. moves. minds. program (which is also important and very helpful in elevating our HPE programs), what this program did for us was to really highlight the value of the work that we do to the decision-makers in our district. We now have seats at the table as we move forward, and I am excited for our future!

Additional Resources

Amanda Amtmanis

Amanda Amtmanis is a physical education teacher at Macdonough Elementary School and Spencer Elementary School in Middletown, CT. In 2019, she was a pilot school coordinator for SHAPE America’s new health. moves. minds.™ service-learning program. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaAmtmanis.