Whole-School Physical Activity Programmes: A Culture of Well-Being

Dr. Aaron Beighle
Physical Educator, Professor, Author
University of Kentucky


School-based physical activity programmes offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being. Much has been written about the importance of a wellness in schools, including its role in addressing physical, mental, emotional, and environmental health (WHO & UNESCO, 2021). Similarly, the evidence continues to mount regarding the impact of whole-school physical activity programmes on physical, mental, emotional and social health of the entire school community including students, faculty, parents, and stakeholders (Brusseau, Fairclough, and Lubans, 2020). It follows that whole-school physical activity programmes offer an ideal foundation to develop or solidify well-being in schools.


To best understand how physical activity serves as the foundation for well-being, it is important to quickly review the benefits of physical activity. The physical benefits of regular physical activity are well documented and established (USDHHS, 2018). These benefits include decreased chance of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and increased life expectancy. Physical activity can also provide social benefits such as personal growth, social integration, social change, leadership development, and empathy. The emotional benefits are less known but equally well documented. These include decreased anxiety, decreased depression, and lower levels of stress. In recent years, the cognitive benefits such as executive function, memory, focus, and problem solving.


Further, physical activity behaviours and experiences by nature offer endless authentic opportunities for conceptual learning. These concepts include relationship building, creativity, systems, and connections. For example, an afterschool adventure programmes offers an excellent opportunity to expose students to ecological systems while engaging in physical activity. Physical education lessons offer ample opportunities to address Social Emotional Learning. A simple task like finding a partner offers the chance to teach social awareness, respect, and empathy for others. Opportunities for teaching other concepts such as equity, diversity, inclusiveness, challenge, responsibility, and social skills present themselves regularly during physical activity. For all of these reasons it follows that “School-based physical activity programmess offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being”.


Imagine the following scenario. It’s 7 am at The Berwin School. In the auxiliary gymnasium several faculty are engaged in an early morning beginners yoga class. Across the school, a group of students and faculty are learning traditional South American dances during a before-school multicultural activities programmes. The traditional school day starts with teachers greeting students and then leading groups in a five-minute “warm-up” for the day including stretching and movement in classrooms. During class time all students are afforded the opportunity to self-select breaks, including physical activity breaks, when they feel they are needed. Students learn to identify their personal signs of losing concentration or increased fidgetiness early in the year. Also, during the day some teachers use physical activity to teach concepts as needed. Recess is offered PreK-12. This is a time students select their own activities and often faculty engage with the students.


Early in the year, the physical education curriculum exposes students to the various activities possible during recess. This includes student governed “leagues” for non-traditional activities. Also at recess, a local company allows employees to serve as mentors and recess supervisors for students. Following the school-day the school is bustling with afterschool programmes including an adventure education/environmental education session for faculty and students lead by a local recreation organisation and an internal youth sports league for middle school students who do not wish to engage in competitive athletics.


Later in the evening, a year 3 literacy night is held with stations throughout the school. In the gymnasium, students guide their parents through that week’s physical education stations. Each station has instructional signs specifically designed in collaboration between the physical educators and the year 3 teachers to ensure alignment with classroom content related to literacy. Simultaneously, the high school basketball teams have their season opener in the high school gymnasium. And at 8 pm another physically active day at The Berwin School comes to a close. As this quick example demonstrates, the possibilities are truly endless with so many offerings to meet the needs of the entire community.


Globally, the role of schools in promoting physical activity and well-being are beginning to be recognised. Programmes in Bulgaria (BG Be Active), Ireland (Active School Flag), and the USA (CSPAP), to name a few, are working to develop this culture in schools. While the exact components of these programmes differ, in general these programs seek to provide a multi-faceted systematic approach to promoting physical activity. Components include physical education, school-day physical activity, out of school physical activity, staff involvement, and family/community engagement (CDC, 2019). Clearly these components are not new; however, a whole-school approach to physical activity is new in that it works to take these components from silos to a system designed to promote physical activity and whole-school well-being. While beyond the scope of this post to discuss the volumes of work associated with the components of whole-school approaches, below offers brief overviews of the components.


Physical Education: Physical education guides students on a journey of making physical activity an meaningful part of their lives (Pangrazi and Beighle, 2020). This includes learning psychomotor skills and strategies as traditionally thought of as physical education. But also, students learn about themselves. They learn what activities they enjoy, why they enjoy those activities, and how they can use activity to contribute to well-being. In addition, every lesson in physical education offers authentic learning experiences related to Social Emotional Learning, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice to name a few.


During School Physical Activity:  Recess is the portion of the day in which students select the activities they engage in usually on a playground, field or gymnasium. However, recess also offers an excellent opportunity for students to apply other concepts such as justice and empathy while engaged in activity. Classroom-based activity involves either engaging in physical activities designed to teach content through movement or providing physical activity breaks as a means of allow students to refocus. As mentioned in the above scenario this can be teacher lead or student selected and can take place in the classroom or in sensory rooms/hallways.


Out of School activity: As the name suggests this includes any activity outside of the school day. They key here is that the school is the central “hub” of the movement experiences. Examples includes after-school enrichment programmes, youth sports, clubs, leagues, and interscholastic sports.


Staff Engagement: Staff burn-out and well-being is central to whole-school well-being efforts. Thus providing staff what they want to improve well-being is essential. This approach also fosters staff engagement and increases sustainability. This can include staff classes, activity sessions, social events, or simple RAKE (Random Act of Kindness for Educators) throughout the year.


Family/Community Involvement: In many schools the families are the community. In other schools, local businesses and organizations are also involved. Regardless, this is an essential component of a well-rounded culture of well-being, particularly as it relates to physical activity. Family nights, family classes, open gyms, and open playground dates are just a few ways to incorporate families and communities in these well-being efforts.


School-based physical activity programmes offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being. The possibilities for using physical activity as a tool for promoting well-being for everyone in a school community are endless. The beauty of this approach is that it can be tailored to the needs of each specific school, its students, its faculty, its families, and its community in their efforts to promote well-being for all.



World Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; 2021. Making every school a health-promoting school: global standards and indicators for health-promoting schools and systems. Authors. Geneva.

Brusseau, T., Fairclough, S., and Lubans, D. (2020). The Routledge Handbook of Youth Physical Activity. Taylor & Francis. New York.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (2018) 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Authors. Washington, DC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Increasing physical education and physical activity: A framework for schools. Authors. Atlanta.

Pangrazi, R. & Beighle, A. (2020). Dynamic physical education for elementary school children (19e). Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.





Dr. Aaron Beighle is an internationally recognised scholar of physical education and school-based physical activity promotion at the University of Kentucky. Beighle regularly collaborates with schools and organizations interested in physical education as well as youth physical activity promotion. He has written more than 100 research-based and practical articles as well as six books, most notably Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children. Aaron recently contributed to make the widely used lessons plans for this book available via dynamicpeasap.com. Dr. Beighle presents internationally on strategies for maximising the impact of physical education and other school-based physical activity promotion efforts.

A Partnership Approach: Empowering Collective Efficacy through Data, Collaboration, and Alignment

Montessa Muñoz, Educator
Chad Dumas, Consultant and Author

It is no secret that the belief that one’s actions impact others is tightly correlated with actual improved student learning. Some might call it self-fulfilling prophecy, others efficacy. Going back to the Pygmalian in the classroom research (Rosenthal and Jacobsen, 1968) we know that teacher expectations drive student performance. And more recent research from Hattie (2018) places this concept among the highest predictors of student achievement. We as educators and schools can, do, and will improve outcomes for kids to the extent that we believe that we actually can.

Knowing this is true, however, does not make it magically happen in schools. It is only the first step. Developing a strong sense of collective efficacy, built upon individual educator efficacy, happens through deliberate actions focused on instructional practices (as opposed to mere managerial issues). Our experience, as a building principal supported by a district administrator, is that both levels of the system support and enhance each other. As such, we will highlight three major areas of our partnership: the collection and use of data, collaborating on instructional improvement, and aligning a culture committed to student success.



Prior to an in-depth look at these three areas, let us provide some background. The setting from which most of these experiences derive was a high-poverty, high-diversity, lower-performing school and district. When Montessa arrived as principal (one year following Chad’s arrival at the district level), the building had grade-levels with the percent of students proficient on various benchmarks near single digits. Despite having more than 90% of students from poverty with a high proportion of English Language Learners (ELs), through the application of the ideas presented below, the school became a national model and achieved more than 90% of students reaching benchmark on multiple assessments.

We know that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are an effective route to building collective efficacy (Voelkel and Chrispeels, 2017), and our district’s first priority was in doing this work. As such, from a district perspective, we honed in on the advice of DuFour, Dufour, Eaker, and Many (2010). For a more detailed discussion, please see Dumas and Kautz (2014); suffice it to say that the district emphasized three areas for leading PLC implementation: Limit initiatives (i.e. focus the work), build capacity, and create systems for mutual accountability. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on building-level actions taken to build individual and collective efficacy.


The collection and use of data

Building individual and collective efficacy, in our experience, is grounded in the collection and usage of data. Data was collected by students, teachers, principal, and central office staff.  It was posted in classrooms, along hallways, around the cafeteria, in the staff lounge, and on the desk of the principal. In central office, the main conference room displayed data from administrator learning meetings, and a spider-like radar chat was prominently displayed in the office of the director of learning. Data could not be missed.

The weekly newsletter to staff from the principal listed goals and progress. Instructionally, 80% of students were to be on-task in any given classroom, and the principal collected and reported this weekly from classroom walkthroughs. For reading and mathematics, data was charted weekly, and scores on the school-wide common writing rubric was charted monthly.

In order to display the data, it had to be collected. Progress monitoring was previously done by non-classroom teachers. This changed (with some push-back, but surprisingly little). Classroom teachers are the rightful owners of progress monitoring and the data provided by this work. District common assessments and benchmarks, DIBELS, easyCBM, and common team-based formative assessments (known as LtoJ in our case) formed this foundation.

Having the data collected and displayed is only the beginning, though. The more important work is in talking about it. All. The. Time.

Data was a focus in evaluations, PLC meetings, at the start of each staff meeting, and in school-wide daily announcements about student and classroom “All-Time Bests” (ATBs). Student artifacts were shared by staff in team and school meetings, building confidence of staff as they talked about what they saw from students. And, believe it or not, students themselves, all the way down to kindergarten, were involved in graphing and tracking their own and the classroom’s progress.


Images 1 and 2: Students chart their own progress—including Kindergarten



Office referral data was reviewed once per month by the Positive Behavior and Intervention Support (PBiS) team. Attendance data was reviewed weekly by a team that included the principal, counselor, nurse, and social worker. Math and reading benchmark data were formally reviewed three times per year.

A partnership with the University of Nebraska helped build capacity to collect meaningful student performance data, set decision rules, configure aim lines, and adjust practice accordingly. Little by little, over time, our mindset changed around data. It changed from expecting someone else to hand us some standardized test score to us doing the collecting, analyzing, and using our own, far more meaningful results of students’ learning. Needless to say, seeing the impact of our work on students built efficacy both individually and collectively.


Collaborating on instructional improvement

Just collecting and using data, by itself, however, does little to increase efficacy. This work must be accomplished with learning to improve our practice so that the results will improve. Enter a laser-like focus on collaborating for instructional improvement.

In combination with district-wide efforts, the school had a total of four areas of focus: 1) Engagement strategies, 2) Explicit phonics and vocabulary instruction, 3) Four Block Writing instruction, and 4) Social-Emotional Learning/Proactive behavior strategies.

Regarding engagement strategies, we sent four staff members to a national Kagan training to then come back and help other teachers develop these skills. Not only did this experience build the capacity of these four staff members to be better at engaging their students, but they then taught other teachers how to implement these strategies. Efficacy became integrated into their identities.

The same research project from the University of Nebraska mentioned earlier helped focus on explicit instructional practices. The intense focus on these strategies to teach phonics and vocabulary instruction were then a focus of professional learning and data collection. For example, frequency of choral and physical responses, the use of white boards for formative assessment, and tracking the explicit use of research-based vocabulary instruction strategies to ensure students know and can apply key words.


Figure 1: A walkthrough observation form used to collect and use instructional data



The district had embarked on a four-block writing strategy years before, and school leadership decided to reinforce this work. Staff learning, PLC conversations, and data collection were key tools in ensuring the quality and fidelity of implementation of these practices. Further, the school used vertical teams (K-2 and 3-5) that included EL, Title, and Special Education to ensure consistency of language and structure for writing instruction. And a school-wide rubric was developed and used on common writing prompts to track progress and inform changes to practice. Finally, writing exemplars were identified and reviewed regularly to create a standard of quality writing in the school.

Finally, understanding and proactively addressing SEL and behavioral issues was a focus of the school. We know that students must feel safe, and the adults in the building are responsible for doing this. So the school implemented “families” where each adult led a group of six students (one from each grade level) who met throughout the course of the year to build community and relationships with each other. The school also worked diligently to faithfully implement PBIS to ensure that our core processes and interventions were helping all students self-regulate. Part of this involved holding Friday assemblies to celebrate team and individual accomplishments of students and staff. And finally, the counselor taught “Second Step” materials while teacher’s facilitated classroom meetings.


Aligning a culture committed to student success

Developing individual and collective efficacy, grounded in data usage and an instructional focus, manifests itself in a culture that is committed to student success. In our work, this culture was advanced through the alignment of several structures: High expectations, Practices, and Teaming.

Using data and focusing on instruction will do little good without high expectations–for each other and for each student and family. This begins with learning each student’s name, and ensuring that we are not “dumbing down” expectations based on race, socio-economic status, gender, or other characteristic. Further, it involved celebrating successes for students, as well as staff–both individually and in teams. And it involves ensuring that instructional practices are in accordance with having high expectations (Marzano, 2007).

Finally, high expectations shows up in how we partner with families. We found parents ready and willing to help with translating, interpreting, and providing food for myriad events. We encouraged their involvement in other ways, too, like in the structured Dads of Great Students (D.O.G.S.) program, and in providing lists of how and when parents could volunteer for the school.

Second, this culture required the alignment of multiple practices. All work aligned towards the identified school improvement goals. This included ensuring that monthly professional learning time focused on the priorities, and that teachers were the ones leading the professional learning.

Previously-identified interventionists transitioned to instructional coaches. They were trained in Jim Knight (2007) processes, and attended monthly support meetings and trainings with other coaches across the district. These same coaches led instructional rounds with staff throughout the building in an effort to de-privatize practice. And the coaches met with the principal once per week to plan specific professional learning and supports.

Finally, the high expectations and alignment were reflected in how the school worked as a team. Grade-level teams met at least two times per month. Vertical teams (K – 2 and 3 – 5) met once per month to blind-score student writing samples based on the school-wide rubric. And grade-levels from across the district met the remaining one time per month for establishing common district-wide expectations.


Figure 2: A sample action planning tool to assist with aligning all priorities




Efficacy is built on collaboration. While compliance may get short-term results, long-term gains and sustainability will only happen through working together. This means that all levels of the system are collaborative, for we can’t expect principals to build collaborative environments when the district is top-down and compliance-oriented.

The work of building efficacy is hard. Mindsets don’t change overnight. Creating an environment of caring for kids that includes high academic standards is completely doable. The work of collecting and utilizing data, collaborating on instructional improvement, and aligning a culture focused on student success can happen in any school and district. And the partnership approach between the district and school are fundamental. The question in our minds isn’t, “Can we do what it takes to meet the needs of every child?” Rather, it’s “When and how will we start?”




DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities (Second edition). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dumas, C., & Kautz, C. (2014). Wisdom from the factory floor: For best results, limit initiatives, build capacity, and monitor progress. JSD, 35(5), 26-34.

Hattie, J. (2018). Collective teacher efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie. https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/

Knight, J. (2017). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Rosenthal, R, and L. Jacobsen. Pygmalion in the classroom: teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.

Robert H. Voelkel Jr. & Janet H. Chrispeels (2017) Understanding the link between professional learning communities and teacher collective efficacy, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 28:4, 505-526, DOI: 10.1080/09243453.2017.1299015


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We would be delighted to read your thoughts below.


Storytelling as a way of mapping student learning

Jonathan Butcher, Primary School Principal
Aisha Kristiansen, EdTech Integrator
Berlin Brandenburg International School


Like any great navigation system, learners, teachers and families need to have a sense of direction, in order to know past, present and future destinations. The ‘OECD Learning Compass 2030’ provides a framework for understanding the learning landscape, so that schools can start to reimagine learning possibilities and empower students to shape a positive future for our world. With this in mind, the Primary School team at Berlin Brandenburg International School have worked incredibly hard to charter the systems and structures that would support this approach to education.



Understanding By Design – Developing Knowledge, Values, Skills and Attitudes


The Primary School’s overarching focus on highly effective teams – and a review of our work as a pedagogical collective – determined that the IB PYP enhancement focus took us beyond a mere redesign of the planner. Instead, we placed team dynamics and effective collaborative planning at the forefront of our efforts. Within this, there were four central drivers:


1. Capitalise on highly effective teams

2. Concept-based inquiry planning

3. Being intentional, identifying critical curriculum areas

4. Getting to the core of documentation


With the help of leading concept-based inquiry thought leaders – Carla Marschall and Rachel French – the school built a shared understanding of the Inquiry Cycle. We developed a backwards by design model, whereby teachers intentionally planned for the development of knowledge, values, skills and attitudes in our learners. As documented by Professor John Hattie in his Visible Learning research, shaping ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’ meant that we were chartering the learning terrain for our students, and giving our teachers a strong sense of collective purpose and direction. The primary goal of the planners was to provide a rich, transdisciplinary and collaborative story of the learning journey.


Evidence of Learning – Core Foundations


For the planning to be effective, we used the phrase ‘compelling evidence of growth’, as a gold standard of what we wanted to document. The compelling evidence of growth would provide the basis for developing student agency and transformative competencies, so that learning and teaching was both personalised and engaging, and within the zone of proximal development. We started to look closely at student work, in order to gain a shared understanding of achievement and implement future steps. This would allow the teams to plan for intentional action. These conversations had a two-fold effect. Tuning staff into what great learning looks like, whilst consciously planning to make learning visible for our students.


Like any great story, we needed a climax and that came in the form of evidence of impact. Through reviewing the cognitive, health, social and emotional data for our students during rich collaborative planning conversations, the teams received affirmation that they were heading in the right direction. These discussions also provided a catalyst for next steps, so that students were experiencing ‘just right’ learning, resulting in excellent outcomes in growth. This evidence would also be used to create powerful, reflective and highly personalised learning stories.


Partnerships Within and Beyond the Classroom – Capturing and sharing ‘Learning Stories’


By late 2019, our school’s position on the map was clear and the direction was set. We had established a clear purpose for our learning stories, which was for students to build their metacognitive skills to reflect on their journey and to establish strong partnerships beyond the classroom. Evidencing learning was a term that was understood and became widely expected amongst our staff. Capturing compelling evidence of growth, and sharing these stories through Seesaw and our social media channels, provided our families and the community with a window into learning, especially when doors were closed to the outside world.


The Anticipation-Action-Reflection (AAR) cycle of the OECD Learning Compass 2030 states that learning ‘is an iterative process whereby learners continuously improve their thinking and act intentionally and responsibly, moving towards long-term goals that contribute to collective well-being’. Giving students an authentic audience to share their learning improves the quality and impact of their story. It provides a detailed map of their learning journey, so that students can be proud of their travels, whilst engaging in reflective discussions about how to grow. The learning stories also created a platform to celebrate the action part of their learning and ensured student agency.


Reflecting on the Journey


As outlined above, our next step is to ‘zoom in’ on the reflection piece. As Hattie highlights:


There are many misuses of this term (reflection), and it does not mean looking back to where we think we have been. It is more a “disciplined way of thinking” and more often the more powerful notion of reflection is “seeing your learning through others eyes”, seeking and using feedback about progress, checking our cognitive biases (especially confirmation bias), and adjusting our learning to more effectively attain the expectations developed in the anticipation phase. 


Supporting our students to take an ‘outsider looking in’ approach to their learning will continue to enhance the quality of student learning and achievement. Similar to intentional planning, compelling evidence of learning and rich learning stories, this next developmental phase will take a shared agreement and collective effort by our team. The work has already been piloted with our Early Education students through the ‘Growing Up Project’. For this initiative, our youngest learners are being challenged to create new value, reconcile tensions and dilemmas, and take responsibility within an ethical framework. It is grounded in Hattie’s view of true and authentic reflection. This project has been shortlisted for the Ethical Values Category for the International Schools Awards. For more information about the project, please visit – https://iscresearch.com/international-school-awards/ethical-values/


And of course, embedded throughout this journey is a strong focus on high quality feedback, but perhaps that’s a story for another time…


Berlin Brandenburg International School is the ECIS Member School of the Month for January.





BBIS homepage





OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030. “The OECD Learning Compass 2030.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development, https://www.oecd.org/education/2030-project/teaching-and-learning/learning/


Hattie, John, “Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie.” Visible Thinking,



Hattie, John, “Thought Leader Written Statement.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development,




What do you think about the points raised in this post? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Jonathan Butcher holds a M.Ed in International Education, and continues to learn how to maximise learning through meaningful projects. At a time where the world needs compassion, innovation, and action, he is committed to working with others to call for Education for Sustainable Development. Jonathan is the Primary School Principal at Berlin Brandenburg International School.


Aisha Kristiansen holds a M.Ed in Leadership and Gifted & Talented Education. She has worked in a range of curriculum and leadership roles, which have focused on placing students at the centre of the learning process. She is currently working as the EdTech Integrator at Berlin Brandenburg International School.