Movement-based education with a focus on SEL opportunities
By Mark S. Torrie
In the small neighborhood of Harrington Park in Bergen County, a movement is brewing. This movement, a free initiative that arrived on our shores via the UK, combines movement-based education with opportunities to enhance social and emotional learning for students and staff. Best of all, it’s accessible to anyone and can be done in as little as 15 minutes, three times a week.
In fact, walk into Harrington Park School in the morning – or really any time of the day – and you’ll be amazed to see the blushing little faces running around the backyard, alongside their teachers, enjoying of the sun. The buzz is palpable. Whether the students run all the time is entirely up to them. As individuals, groups or with staff, they choose the level of intensity in a way that not only works on physical fitness, but improves their brain performance and provides additional opportunities for social interaction during the school day. .
A movement based on movement
What is this movement? The Daily Mile is the brainchild of former Scottish teacher Elaine Wyllie MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). Ten years ago, as headmaster of St. Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling, Scotland, Wyllie became aware of pupils’ lack of physical fitness and decided to take action. She understood the relationship between physical well-being and overall student outcomes, so she created an easy-to-implement initiative that changed the culture of the school.
Sometimes the best idea is the simplest, and Wyllie has proven it. She instituted a 15-minute-a-day program that encouraged students to run, jog, or walk around the school grounds to improve their overall fitness. Staff were also encouraged to participate to set a good example for students. Students have been out in hot weather (it rarely gets hot in Scotland), cool weather, cold weather and even bad weather. Within six months, Wyllie recognized the impact of those 15 minutes not only on the physical condition of the students, but also on their behaviors in the classroom.
The program quickly spread to my native Scotland and south to the other countries that make up the UK. From there it traveled around the world and is currently used in over 86 countries. Over 3 million children worldwide have signed up to participate and it’s easy to see why.
Along with the extra exercise, students set goals, track their progress, and get SEL opportunities along the way to develop key personality traits. The Daily Mile website (thedailymile.us) contains resources that teachers and guidance counselors can use to supplement their positive experiences.
Collaboration: Root Cause and Effect at Harrington Park
During the 2020-21 school year, with limited gym equipment available due to COVID protocols, our physical education team came up with the idea of instituting a walking initiative in which our students would attempt to walk the distance from Harrington Park, New Jersey, to my home town of Forfar, Scotland.
In addition to the daily walk, the students tracked their journey through the website created for the program. Students learned about the history, geography and culture of the New England states, Canadian provinces and countries crossing the great Atlantic Ocean. The culminating event took place when pupils entered ‘Forfar’ and were greeted by a piper outside the school, followed by a personal video message from children in Scotland.
The success was evident and the interdisciplinary nature of the initiative led to a question: how can we scale this across the whole school? Born out of a conversation in the spring between the physical education and guidance departments at Harrington Park, we decided to mobilize the SDGP (self-directed growth plan) process and see if other teachers would be willing to try it. with their students. Luckily for us, the ever supportive Harrington Park admins jumped on it and so it started in September 2021.
For my part, I was still not sure of the receptivity of the teachers. I suspected that the emphasis on the new school year would be to try to make up as much as possible for the past 18 months.
We all know teachers have so much to do that adding yet another requirement was a concern for us, but those fears were misplaced. I presented the initiative on the first day of school and it was met with an extremely positive response from my colleagues. Not all classes have registered, but many have, and so for the 2021-22 school year, approximately 50% of our students have reaped the rewards.
What does the data say?
As part of the SDGP process, it is imperative that data be collected along the way to measure the varying levels of success observed throughout the school year in order to drive future adjustments and improvements to the initiative. Fortunately, the Daily Mile offers the ability to measure aspects of physical, cognitive, social and emotional well-being of students and staff.
For the physical component, the health office provided body mass index (BMI) data from physical exams of students who were recorded at the start of the school year. This is completely anonymous so as not to violate HIPAA laws and was re-evaluated in late spring for benchmarking – no one but our school nurse knows which students match which BMI. This may prove futile in providing meaningful data, but BMI was chosen over weight because as students grow they will inevitably become heavier.
Interestingly, BMI increased steadily in almost all classes tested. This was interesting because to determine the impact of the Daily Mile on students’ physical well-being, we probably needed to measure body fat percentage, but we currently don’t have the capability. So we replaced it with BMI, which increases with weight gain but doesn’t really take into account weight gain due to muscle growth and other changes.
The second aspect of the physical assessment deals with cardiovascular endurance. Students at the beginning, middle and end of the year recorded the number of laps they completed in 15 minutes. Cardiovascular fitness improved in every class tested from the beginning of the school year to the end of the year. In fourth grade, there was a slight dip in the middle of the year. This could be explained by the harshness of winter and the lack of weather on the Daily Mile during this period. However, overall, the benefits to students’ cardiovascular systems are consistent and positive.
The remaining components of cognitive, social and emotional learning were tracked and tested in various ways. The SEL component includes mood meters, self-reflection journals, goal setting, goal tracking, and a host of other activities provided by the Daily Mile. The main cognitive learning tool was the use of a Daily Mile video which was transformed into an Edpuzzle assignment which reminds students that their success in life is intimately linked to their personal health and well-being.
Next steps (pardon the pun)
Harrington Park staff will continue to monitor the benefits of the Daily Mile for our students. Additionally, the Guidance Department will push into classrooms to focus on some of the SEL activities aimed at developing key character traits in students. The key here though is to keep getting kids outside, rain or shine, and keep them moving. Scientific literature shows that increased movement, vitamin D absorption, and the release of endorphins in the brain all lead to happier, healthier people.
The final aspect of the SDGP process was to finalize data from all components and then begin to analyze areas of strength and positive growth, as well as areas that could be improved in the future. This was presented to the administration, superintendent and school board in early June before the end of the school year. All the staff members concerned were present and testified to the benefits observed during the past school year.
With the overall success we’ve had over the past year, it’s fair to say that Harrington Park will continue and expand the initiative into the 2022-23 school year. Details are yet to be finalized, but discussions have taken place to ensure a 15-minute block for middle school students to hang out and let off steam while PreK-4 grades will remain as is and upgraded when students need them.
Mark S. Torrie is a health and physical education teacher at Harrington Park School in Bergen County. He can be contacted at [email protected]
What are stakeholders saying?
58% of our fourth graders said they felt happy after completing their daily run. 81.1% said they felt more focused and able to pay more attention to their work in class. In addition to these statistics, 91.3% of fourth graders think the Daily Mile is a positive initiative and one that should continue in the future.
Quotes from staff members involved in the initiative appear to support the students’ findings. When asked if teachers thought the Daily Mile contributed to their own health and mental well-being, responses included:
- “Yes, it feels good to go out, get some fresh air, take off the mask a bit and see the faces of the students again.”
- “Exercise is important for your well-being! Getting a mile is rewarding for me, it clears my mind and gives me a fresh start for the next part of my day.
- “Yes. The fresh air is great for my own reflection on my practice, and I connect with my students in ways that I usually couldn’t.
Vice-Principal Ross Herbert says, “Students and teachers enjoy the Daily Mile because it gives them time to break from the hectic nature of the school day to stretch their legs, enjoy the weather and spend time together. Students and staff have commented that the Daily Mile is not only invigorating, but also refocuses them.
Principal Jessica Nitzberg believes that “The Daily Mile has been a strong unifying and collaborative initiative. No matter the grade level or subject, every day students and staff have the opportunity to step out into the fresh air to exercise, connect with each other, and reset.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic group we have spoken to are parents and their perception of the new initiative is again overwhelmingly positive. A parent I had a recent conversation with said, “I think the Daily Mile allows educators to provide opportunities for students to educate themselves and motivate themselves to be more aware of their well-being and to fight against the inactivity that has plagued many of our young people. children. Plus, it allows educators to go beyond the traditional classroom setting to keep kids active.