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Using wellbeing programmes to boost engagement in PE

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

In this week's blog, we explore how schools can use early intervention mental wellbeing programmes to engage those young people who may feel disengaged in physical education.


By focusing on their mental wellbeing, it can be a great way of taking the focus away from skills and performance and tap into areas where a young person may be struggling in their life. Our founder, Neil Moggan, takes up the story.

Intent

Post Covid, we had a group of year eight girls who were struggling with their mental health, friendships and general confidence, and it was affecting their willingness to engage in their PE lessons.


Year 8 can be a tricky year anyway for some girls' engagement as they go through puberty and start to recognise social pressures more and this was even more evident post lockdown.


Creating psychological safety

We wanted this lesson to be the first step to re-engage the group in PE. We wanted to create a psychologically safe environment where the girls felt comfortable, and free to take part without feeling judged, under threat or worried about their performance. We also wanted to give our young people greater ownership over their PE lesson.

Learning objectives were as follows:

Head: To understand the link between physical activity and mental well-being and to develop our self kindness.

Hands: To take part in a range of physical activities to boost mental well-being.

Heart: To try our best and create a safe environment for everyone to thrive.

Implementation:

The first thing we did was to meet and greet our young people in an ultra positive way. We did this by using face, voice, and body to smile and welcome young people to the class. We high fived those students on entrance and made sure our voices were attuned and positive.


Introducing RISE categories

When introducing the lesson we stressed that the focus was purely on improving their mental well-being through being physically active rather than the girls being judged or assessed. We introduced the 4 RISE categories and how each category could benefit their mental wellbeing in a different way. (Click on this link for our previous blog on the 4 RISE categories)


Student ownership

We gave students a range of physical activities from the RISE programme that we could offer in our sports hall and explained to the girls that we would create a carousel of activities that students could choose to take part in at their discretion.


After giving them a range of options, they voted for a circuit of skipping, a punchbag and small sided games of football and dodgeball.


Benefits of physical activity on mental well-being

We then explained how each activity would benefit their mental well-being. For example, the team games of football and dodgeball would help them have that social connection we all need, which would release oxytocin and make them feel loved.


We encouraged the girls to demonstrate their leadership skills by creating their teams and making everyone feel welcome as and when they joined the activity.


With the punch bag they were able to take their very obvious stress and frustration out in a safe and controlled way.

Skipping enabled their amygdala to be calmed through repetitive activities that increased the window of tolerance and helped them feel more motivated.


Skipping also enabled them to play skipping games they used to play in primary school to trigger their play system in a caring environment.


Prioritising relationships

It was really important that we were as positive as possible with youngsters to create a classroom that was wrapped in care so that our children felt psychologically safe.


As the girls took part in the activities that most appealed to them, we would go round and talk to them to show an interest in their lives and deepen the relationship. Investing in these relationships was critical if we were going to re-engage the group over the coming weeks and months.

Developing Self Kindness

Halfway through the lesson, we stopped the girls from their activities and did some work with them around self kindness. We asked the girls how they would support a friend who had made a mistake.


We asked them what advice they would give them, and then asked them to contrast that with how they would speak to themselves with their inner voice if they had made the same mistake.


Most of the girls recognised that they would be a lot harsher on themselves than they would their friend.


We then talked about the importance of being kind to ourselves through being mindful of our inner voice, and how their relationship with themselves is the most important relationship they will have, as they are stuck with their inner voice for the rest of their lives.


Exit ticket challenge

The girls then returned to their preferred activity for the rest of the lesson. To exit the classroom we set the girls the challenge of telling us which 'Rise' Category of activity they had enjoyed the most, what specific activity they had completed and finally how the activity had improved their mental wellbeing.


We got some great responses from the girls showing they had taken a lot from the lesson. Keeley said ‘My favourite activity was the stress buster through using the punchbag. It helped me get all my stress and frustration out and I feel a lot calmer now.’


Sarah said ‘I preferred dodgeball which is an inclusive team game, I loved playing with my friends and we had a lot of fun. It was nice to laugh with them and exercise together.’

Impact:

The lesson proved to be a great first step in re-engaging the group within Physical Education. When analysing why the lesson was such a success, the girls gave us some brilliant feedback:


They really enjoyed the freedom to choose their activities, they loved the emphasis on prioritising relationships over performance and they thrived on the supportive, non judgemental environment we created for them.


Creating a blueprint

It gave us a blueprint on how to move forward with them so that they would love being physically active for life and understand how it can benefit their mental wellbeing.


In the weeks that followed, the girls would regularly ask for this style of lesson so we incorporated more of this with additional self-care tools to help them improve their mental wellbeing and develop their engagement in Physical Education.

How we can help you - Your Enhancing Engagement Scorecard and Taster Course:

We have created an enhancing engagement scorecard to help you track your progress in implementing Trauma Informed PE practice.


This scorecard acts as a valuable tool for self-reflection and continuous improvement. Click here to try our 2 minute scorecard.

We hope you found this week's blog insightful, we would love you to join our community of teachers committed to transforming the life chances of their children. Please make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to join us so you don’t miss the next edition.


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