President Points

Oftentimes I have lots of ideas but it can be difficult to bring them all together. As I was struggling to write the introduction for this article I received this email from a student: 


Dear Mr. Schmidt,

I wanted to thank you for all that you have taught me this school year. I know that life is far from ideal at the moment, but I am very appreciative of everything that you have done to make the class meaningful within the remote learning environment. At the beginning of the year, I can remember the day that we went to run trails. It was definitely one of my favorite classes because there were so many aspects of nature and just looking around took my mind off of the stresses of school. I was able to hear birds from all over, feel the overgrown plants brush on my ankles, smell the dirt covering my shoes, and I could feel the sun shining through the trees as it hit my head. 

Your class opened up my eyes to the importance of balance. I often had a sole focus on one aspect of healthy living, whether it was my diet or exercise. One would get attention and the other would suffer. When I started to learn about new ways to look at both, I started applying them to my life. One thing that I tried to put into practice was, “Don’t look at it as what you have to do, but what you get to do”. I started to think about it when I was “too tired” or “had too much homework” leading up to a workout. Even though it took up a considerable amount of time, rowing during the school year was what got me up every day: it was something that I got to do, not had to do. 

Learning that not everyone has a mindset in which they view exercise as a gift has made me extremely appreciative that I have learned to develop a good relationship with exercise. Instead of a chore, it is an escape from the challenges of life. I apologize if this is long-winded, but I am very thankful for all that you have taught me this year and I hope that you and your family are doing well!

She put into words better than I think I ever could what I want students to get out of my class. She demonstrated an understanding of my “WHY”. I hope you notice while reading this article that I write about Health and Physical Education combined because I feel we need to do a better job of bringing these two areas together as one. In the Health Classroom, we need to lead by example, demonstrating for teachers throughout our schools how we can embed movement within our lessons.  In the Physical Education Classroom, we need to embed health skills from our National Standards throughout each of our lessons. Moving forward in these trying times I want to share some thoughts with you about how I think we can do better. I hope you agree, but if you disagree I think this is at least a place where we can begin to have a dialogue on the ways we can best serve our students and our communities. As I said when I accepted the Presidency in 2019 we need to; Embrace Challenge → Start the Conversation → Advocate →  SHAPE PA  


I firmly believe that every challenge is an opportunity and as a whole community we are currently facing the biggest challenges that we have come across in our lifetimes. The COVID/health care crisis, the tragic death of George Floyd, and the rise in mental health issues have had a huge impact on all of us and will continue to do so as we look to return to school in the fall and onward. Through these challenges, many people have learned how our physical, mental, and social vulnerabilities can harm us. I believe that by recognizing and embracing these vulnerabilities we can do better for our students and those students can then impact our entire community. Through Health and Physical Education, we have a voice and an opportunity to help students to develop their overall physical, mental, and social wellness skills. Traditionally we have taught skills and activities and oftentimes assume that people understand and see the benefits from these skills and activities. I believe we need to renew our focus on being more deliberate in teaching students the valuable health skills they need for personal and community lifetime wellness. Most importantly we need to teach our students how to better value themselves and each other so we can build stronger individuals and communities. 

To accomplish this in our classrooms we must find ways to respect differences and include everyone regardless of their backgrounds or readiness level. We must differentiate lessons and levels to best meet the needs of all students. We must follow a progression from teacher-directed lessons that introduce students to many forms of lifetime related wellness skills and activities. We must provide guidance but allow students to make choices as to how they will be physically active and at what levels of intensity to best meet their individual needs at the moment and align with their goals.

On our return to school, I believe that we all should include a Lifetime Wellness for All Unit. I encourage everyone to add a unit at all grade levels focused on introducing health skills and lifetime physical activities that meet the needs of all students. We don't need to do away with everything we've been doing.  We do need to make sure that all people realize there is a path to wellness at a health-enhancing level regardless of their current wellness status. This Lifetime Wellness for All Unit should introduce a focus on nutrition fundamentals, aerobic fitness, strength training, and any other activities that lead to opportunities in lifetime wellness. Other units throughout the year can then tie into and reinforce these concepts. We also need to recognize that only 5% of adults will participate in a team sport beyond their school years, for this reason, we should place our main focus on lifetime wellness activities while still incorporating some sports for those students that choose it. 

Students should be exposed to a myriad of activities and then given guided choices as to which ones they prefer.

Student activities and choices should be logged over time so students can start to see the connection between the physical activity and wellness choices that they make compared to how they feel. Dr. Michelle Segar talks about exercise motivation and the right versus the wrong "why" in her book, No Sweat.  It is very important for us to understand what motivates people to be active in the long run. As teachers, we have often talked about health and disease avoidance as reasons for exercise, however, Dr. Segar discusses through her research that she has found these factors are valid reasons they do not motivate us. Health reasons focus on making us feel like we should exercise which often equates it as a chore. In her "right why" she talks of framing exercise as a gift that helps us to feel better now. 

Physical activity not only makes us feel better it can reduce anxiety and improve mental health. I have been incorporating her methods throughout my health and physical education classes for a couple of years now and found them to be extremely effective as evidenced by student feedback and participation. 

To begin to differentiate the lessons we need to help students identify their needs and goals. I believe most students fall into one of two buckets with some overlap:

  • Performance-based. These students are motivated by accomplishments in training for some sort of physical activity. Students in this category most likely thrive on individual accomplishments and compete against others or outside standards. Many HPE teachers come from this background and may better identify with these students.

  • Lifetime Wellness-based. These students are not interested in competing with others or measuring themselves against outside standards. I believe these students are the ones that are often turned off to physical activity through our traditional approach. 

These differences lead to my belief that we should look at Lifetime Wellness for All as a model for what health and vitality can be, and teach our students to eat right and incorporate lifestyle fitness throughout their lives. We can do this in ways that meet the needs of both types of students previously mentioned. 

Here are some suggested ideas for ways to incorporate this philosophy through teaching skills around nutrition, aerobic fitness, and strength related fitness:

  • Nutrition: Traditionally considered part of the classroom health curriculum, it's hard to believe in today's world there's anything that impacts students and all humans more than nutrition. The science is very clear cut that we need to be eating more whole clean foods and limiting the number of processed foods we consume. This field can be especially difficult because so much research is done by special interest groups to forward their own mission. Unfortunately, that mission is not often in the best interest of individuals. We should be presenting students with a consistent message not to diet but to simply eat healthily. The difficulty lies in that simply eating healthy is not that simple when we are faced with bad choices at every turn. We must be very deliberate in choosing whole clean foods that are best for us. What is a whole clean food? Ideally, it is something that is naturally grown and preferably local: these include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans. If people choose to eat meat and dairy it should be limited and not the main source of calories in their diet. It too should also be locally sourced and free from hormones and antibiotics. One of the best resources I have found on this topic is a book titled “How to Eat” All of your food and diet questions answered, by Mark Bittman and Dave Katz MD

  • Aerobic fitness: Most students today and adults in the past can identify aerobic fitness with being made to run at a pace that is at an aerobic threshold and not comfortable as part of their youth sports training or physical education programs. This usually occurs with little to no instruction on running technique. For these reasons it is imperative that we teach students proper running techniques (POSE, Chi, or Good Form running) and then get them to slow down and run in their aerobic zones which can be much more comfortable and social. We can and should encourage students to talk (practice the talk test) throughout their runs. These methods are important lifetime skills for all students. 
  • Strength-related fitness: The focus of strength-related fitness should again be based on the student involved in the training. In Health and Physical Education all students should focus on improving techniques and mobility over-focusing on the volume of weight lifted. I believe many performance-based students spend too much time focusing on the amount of weight lifted increasing their risk of injury. Focusing on technique and mobility will lead to improved lifetime wellness and decrease the risk of injury for all. This is an area that has not been addressed adequately by many coaches and trainers.

Differentiation ideas:

Students that are more performance-based can choose to add-in aerobic threshold runs and anaerobic intervals to their training to work on individual performance and speed. Students who are lifetime wellness-based can begin at their own readiness level whether that is walking/hiking or jogging in their aerobic zone. Regardless of what group students identify with they can choose to work alone or with others as they meet their personal goals for the day. These goals can change from day to day based on many factors including how a student is feeling, whether they have outside activities planned after school or any other number of factors. I would even suggest the possibility that students could perform higher intensity level activities as out of class assignments if they choose and are able to document the work through the use of technology. I found that many students were much more likely to exert themselves during remote learning when they didn't have to be hurried in changing and getting to their next class. We could capitalize on this by giving students options as we move forward.

Performance-based students can focus on perfecting their techniques and really keying in on improved mobility. Since these students are most often involved in extracurricular activities involving strength training already, time in our classes could be best spent on perfecting their techniques while helping students around them. They could also focus on regenerative exercises if they choose such as yoga or foam rolling. If they are out of season or do not already incorporate strength training in their extracurricular activities this would be a great time for them to formulate and practice a plan for strength and performance development. Students who are focusing on lifetime wellness should most likely perform many of the same activities but choose a level of intensity that meets their current needs. In returning to school this fall it would be best to focus on activities that all students have access to on a regular basis. This includes many bodyweight exercises in activities that can be done indoors or outside. There are many great examples including yoga, MovNat, HITT training, and others.

Why is Health and Physical Education so important?

While maintaining a healthy lifestyle may not be a great motivator for exercise and physical activity they are a great justification for why Health and Physical Education is so important and should continue to be included in schools for the benefits it offers to students and society as a whole. Today in the United States 71% percent of adults are overweight or obese, the lifestyle-related disease accounts for the vast majority of adult death and disability, mental health issues continue to rise as suicide is the second leading cause of death in our youth, and we continue to struggle with social justice issues. Up until now, we cannot objectively say that our Health and Physical Education Programs have had a positive impact in these areas. While this is a very complex issue we can do a better job of teaching health skills with a consistent message to help lower the previously stated incidences. What areas of focus can we address to prevent items related to the healthcare crisis from happening? What is our ideology and how can we be more consistent in delivering it to best meet the needs of students? In the media today both fitness and nutrition information is oftentimes deliberately confusing to promote students and adults receiving mixed messages that lead to confusion and therefore gullibility. One area to start is to look around the world for places where people have lived the longest and healthiest lives and then try to figure out why this is the case. Fortunately, Dan Buettner and his team at National Geographic have already done some of this work. The Blue Zones Study found communities around the world that have lived long and happy lives. From these studies they have derived The Power 9 which are behaviors they find consistent between these communities. Looking into this, how can we encourage our students to learn from these lessons and better meet their needs by adding years to their life and life to their years? 

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