Shaping the Future: inspiring children and youth to be healthy learners

by Kathy Cassels

This week our colleagues in Alberta at Ever Active Schools held their 5th annual Shaping the Future Conference.  Like our Healthy Schools Leadership Conference, now in its 8th year, (save the date it will be held Monday May 5th), the conference brings together a wise mix of people considering how best to inspire children and youth to be healthy learners.

The pre-conference session hosted by Alberta’s Healthy School Community Wellness Fund was organized by the stages of the healthy schools process.  In the “create a shared vision” stage, Bill Gordon took the time to remind us why we specifically were participants at the conference.  He suggested it wasn’t because of our depth of knowledge in health but rather because someone acknowledged us as a role model when they saw our passion, love for the work and the laughter and respectful relationships we nurture and maintain. In “determining the priority issues”  Gail Diachuk; Alberta’s Healthy Schools Coordinator brought home the message, it’s not only changes to learning processes but so too a cultural shift in the systems we work in in order to achieve our goal of healthy learners.

Examining assumptions and shifting thinking was a key focus throughout the keynotes and concurrent sessions.  Young Riley Christensen’s keynote started us off when he shared his own artistic impressions of his autistic brain.  His brains ups, downs and swirling around that we don’t see but so often judge and continued when Brenda Herchmer highlighted Five Major Shifts in leadership as we move from Traditional to Community leaders.  They included:

Traditional → Community

Hierarchy → Network

Fixed → Dynamic

Predictable → Emerging

Reform → Transform

Linear → Holistic


Brenda also challenged us to step away from the 50 plus years of buying ourselves out of responsibility and to step into taking ownership for our health, well-being and how we can each make a difference.   In her work with organizations and individuals she sees an emerging sense that people very much want to make a difference and are looking for ways they can contribute. She told us today’s leaders do not look for followers, they create other leaders.

An inspiring session led by Kate Storey from Healthy Schools, Healthy Futures was about their next steps for their work being focused on  reflective practice.  She told us it’s one thing for schools to have an action plan but, how is it going? Their research questions included:

  • What progress have schools made on their school action plans?
  • What have they learned while implementing their action plan? and,
  • What new insights and learnings have been incorporated into the next version of their action plan?

As the conference came to a close, a presentation by Dr. Phil McRae asked us to consider “How we will create our preferred future?”  Especially as technology rapidly shifts and blurs the online – offline reality that we live in today, when the ringer on the smart phone is turned off but is always connected to the internet.  He shared information from Media Smarts‘ recently released report – Life Online: Canadian students are more connected, more mobile and more social than ever.  The report found more children than ever at earlier ages are connected with fewer parental guidelines and/or oversight.  He offered 4 key areas for a child’s healthy brain and overall development:

  • positive human interactions
  • actively  connecting to the physical environment
  • Free play, and
  • opportunities for creative problem solving

As I packed myself up to come home, I took another look at the beautiful natural environment that we had been learning in with plenty of time to connect with others and nurture our own health and wellness in outside spaces for walking, running, ice skating, cross country skiing to name a few, I was struck how the conference addressed so apply coined by Phil McRae “a preferred future”.   Yes there is much to do, many journeys to travel but connecting it all a strong moral purpose, the healthy development of our children, families and communities.


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