90-Day Extreme School Makeover: Movement Edition

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Do you want students to engage in physical activity beyond their scheduled PE class?

Are you looking for ways to increase student engagement and transform your school’s culture?

Would you like students to thrive (not just survive) — and have teachers and administration rally around a whole-child initiative that can improve outcomes for all children?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, but aren’t sure how to make it happen, read on for details of the extreme school makeover that took place in just 90 days at Idlewild Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A Principal’s “Aha Moment”

In March 2019, I attended a district-required Leadership Instructional Team (LIT) meeting with my school leadership team. Keith Kraemer, PE resource teacher, co-facilitated the session and started the training with a “prepare the brain” activity. Immediately I was on my feet, crossing my midline, and the room was filled with laughter.

Keith addressed the unexpressed thoughts circulating in a room full of principals, literacy specialists, and lead teachers when he stated, “I am not the literacy expert, but I am here to increase engagement and help you process and retain the information you learn to today through movement.”

He was successful.

After an eight-hour training session, I was still 100% focused and attentive. What I learned that day was transformative in more ways than one.

Growing up I was not a model student when it came to classroom behavior. Teacher comments on my report cards always stated things like, “Larenda won’t stay seated. She is easily distracted and constantly moves around the room talking to her friends.” When my mom would ask me to explain my behavior, it was impossible because I simply didn’t know why.

However, everything changed on that day in March 2019 when it finally all made sense … I needed movement to learn. In order to stay engaged and focused on the learning targets of the day, physical activity was required.

For the first time in my life, I walked away from a learning experience knowing I would retain the information presented. Moreover, I felt rejuvenated and inspired.

From this experience, I kept asking myself, “If strategic movement helped me … it will also help my students.”

Immediately, I started to reimagine how I could transform my school to increase movement, mindfulness and sensory learning for all 1,100+ students. I decided if I was going to do this, I wanted to GO BIG!

Idlewild’s Extreme School Makeover Plan

To make this dream come true, I worked for several months in partnership with our district physical education specialists, Kim Morton, Keith Kraemer, and Andrew Romberger, to create the “just right” movement plan for my school.

Our goal was to ensure the movement plan was solidly in place by the end of the first semester — or in 90 school days. It consisted of four parts:

  1. Create Active Hallways
    First, we decided to eliminate the requirement — found in many elementary schools — that students walk quietly in straight lines through the halls, making what primary teachers call “bubbles & duck tails” with their mouths and hands.

    To ensure our students had the autonomy to move throughout the building we installed more than 1,000 decals on floors throughout the school. The decals were designed by the central office PE team and purchased through our district’s Graphic Production Services department. They allow students to skip, hop, jump, zigzag and even bear crawl as they head to their classroom in the morning, leave class to use the restroom, transition to lunch or special area classes, or simply need a brain boost.

    Hallway
  2. Provide Quality Staff Training
    I know from the extensive amount of time I’ve spent observing teachers over the past decade as a school leader that most teachers do not have planned opportunities for strategic movement embedded throughout their instructional day. Therefore, if we were going to make this movement transformation happen, I knew we had to train the most influential people in the building — our awesome teachers and staff members.

    During back to school training, the central office PE team provided a half-day B3: Brain, Body, Behavior workshop. This training consisted of the “what, why, and how” to use movement in the classroom and how to become a B3: Brain, Body, Behavior teacher.

    I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never seen my team as enthusiastic and excited as they were on that day; especially after they each received a set of 160 B3 task cards!


  3. Access to Teacher Resources
    It’s amazing how painter’s tape can transform a classroom! In addition to providing all classroom teachers with B3 task cards, I purchased rolls of colored painter’s tape off Amazon to make grids, shapes, lines, etc. — all to create B3 activities inside classrooms. I even created more than 15 B3 stations outside my office to use when students are rewarded or need a reset.

    Incorporating movement can be practically free. The secret is to rethink and redesign your classroom to maximize floor and wall space.

    Hallway 2
  4. Create B3: Brain, Body, Behavior Labs
    Many of my principal colleagues have created B3 labs in mobile units or media centers in their schools — but I was fortunate to have two open classrooms, which we used to create B3 labs for grades preK-2 and 3-5. These labs were developed with help from our central office PE staff.

    The goal was to incorporate purposeful lab stations to help develop students’ visual, proprioceptive vestibular, auditory and tactile sensory systems. Often, I hear teachers complain how students have difficulty sitting still — they can’t stay focused and they wiggle and fidget all day.

    Utilizing the B3 labs and allowing students to move throughout the day helps them control their bodies, improve concentration, and regulate their emotions.

    Student rocking in red sled

Acknowledging the ‘What Ifs’

As with anything deemed a “new” concept in education, I knew there would be opponents to change. Therefore, it was important for my team to know that while these changes required stepping out of comfort zones and taking risks, they had my full support to try anything.

In addition, I wanted them to know they had full autonomy to go as far as they wanted with movement — or to ease in at their own pace.  

I openly shared my reservations, so my team knew they weren’t alone. I wanted them to know that I shared many of the same concerns: 

  • What if changing the expectations for safe and orderly hallway movement ended badly?
  • What if someone got hurt?
  • What if the lesson breaks were too long and vast amounts of instructional time was lost?
  • What if the noise in the hallway distracted students in classrooms from learning?

We had to rally around the idea of embracing our worries and doubts about what could happen as a result of changing our mindset — we were going to permit unstructured movement in the hallways, pause core instruction to get students moving in the middle of lesson, change the way we used recess time, and so much more.

While this path was completely unknown to us as educators, we knew it was absolutely the right thing to do for kids. Most importantly, we were going to do this together and learn from each other.

Extreme School Makeover: Early Results

We are more than 100 days into our movement “movement” and I’m 100% confident that we created an extraordinary plan. Our work continues to make a positive impact on student outcomes and has improved our school community:

  • Behavioral Incidents – 65% reduction of behavioral incidents from this time last year. 
  • B3 Labs – 100% of teachers use the designated lab for their grade level at least once a week.
  • Active Hallways – 100% of teachers provide students with the opportunity to freely move during transitions using the Active Hallway decals.
  • Active Classrooms – 100% of teachers implement movement in their classrooms ranging from “brain boosts” to purposeful integration of B3 cards into lesson plans and students’ personalized learning instructional playlists and choice boards.

When I surveyed teachers and asked why Idlewild has been successful implementing B3 and physical activity, some responded:

  • “The staff has been educated on the benefits of B3 and have been provided the resources (task cards, decals, training, labs) to successfully implement it.”
  • “Excitement from the principal”
  • “The whole staff is on board, which allows this to be more than something to talk about, but something that becomes a part of the school culture.”

I strongly encourage every educator and principal to rethink school structures to increase movement throughout their school building. The importance of play and physical activity are undeniable.

It’s simply not enough to focus only on core subjects — kids (and adults) need to move.

Here’s what some of our teachers had to say when asked how they would convince another teacher or principal to implement B3 or physical activity into their classroom or school:

  • “Try it for a week and see the difference in student engagement”
  • “You will have a happier class of students and a happier teacher when all of you have participated in exercise.”
  • “I would say some things come and go but being active and having movement really is important and it isn’t a fad.”
  • “Engagement=performance=increased test score=bonus for you!”

All of us must do our part to change the game for kids! Increasing movement is a win for everyone, so what are you waiting for? 

Extreme School Makeover at #SHAPESLC

If you’re considering implementing a movement makeover in your school, join me and the Charlotte Mecklenburg-Schools health and PE central office team at the SHAPE America National Convention in Salt Lake City for our presentation, “Extreme School Makeover: Movement Edition.” 

You’ll learn more behind-the-scenes information about Idlewild’s program and leave the session inspired to get your school moving!

I'm a Presenter badge for SHAPE America National Convention & Expo 2020

Additional Resources


Larenda Denien
Larenda Denien

Since 2014, Larenda Denien has served as the principal of Idlewild Elementary School, a Title I, partial Magnet School in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has 17 years of experience as an educator, 11 of which have been in educational leadership. She can be reached via email at Larenda.Denien@cms.k12.nc.us. Follow on Twitter @PrincipalDenien and @IdlewildES.