Charting a Course

More on the Authorship

By the time you read this, our new ED/CEO Melanie Davis will be stepping into the leadership role of a proud and energized organization. Please join me in welcoming Melanie to the PHE Canada team.

If you didn't get a chance to meet her at the 2017 Healthy School Communities (HSC) National Forum, hosted on unceded Algonquin territory in Kanata, Ontario, this past November, you'll have another chance at our 2018 conference in Whistler, BC, from May 17 to 19.

The HSC National Forum brought together 175 leaders and practitioners from across Canada to explore topics such as outdoor play enablers and constraints, flattening educational hierarchies, supporting LGBTQ+ and transitioning students, social-emotional learning, and embracing indigenous perspectives.

All of these topics were organized as units of meaning or investigation within a comprehensive school health model with extensions to the home and community. Students, teachers, staff, administrators and parents are all sub-groups being impacted by such things as shifts in health-related behaviours and changes to physical activity levels and societal pressures and priorities about schools should address in their curricula and environments.

Comprehensive school health is entering a mature phase of concept diffusion amongst leaders in educationally focused NGOs and provincial, territorial, federal and district education and health leadership. However, public understanding of student, teacher and school wellness is fractured into sub-topics that become educational trends or fads. Resiliency and outdoor play are two hot topics of late, frequently presented as central to student wellness. While these are important, as a driver of change PHE Canada is also engaged in big-picture and holistic thinking, aimed at engaging around primary factors that influence wellness.

The HSC National forum took steps to address the lack of a consciously shared effort on primary prevention factors, resource alignment and advocacy around school/student wellness. PHE Canada, Ever Active Schools from Alberta, the Directorate of Agencies for School Health in BC (DASH BC), the Ontario Physical & Health Educators Association (OPHEA) and the Pan-Canadian Joint Consortium for School Health (JCSH), with the support of the McConnell Foundation brought together 26 multi-sector organizations working in some way with student wellness or comprehensive school health. The "Towards a Better Way" meeting laid the groundwork for what could be a more cohesive and strategic way forward. Those involved asked each other questions such as: Where are we situated as organizations across the country? What are the mission overlaps? Where are we duplicating efforts, competing, and collaborating?

The group plans on meeting for a second time in January to continue the conversation, at the Ever Active "Shaping the Future" conference in Lake Louise, Alberta. While more meetings won’t directly address the source factors of physical, mental, and environmental wellness, actions arising from those meetings might. I’m optimistic that this group has the will and influence to target clear messages to the general public, teachers, administrators and politicians regarding the importance of student and school wellness as the foundation on which all secondary learning occurs.

Through the November excitement we also had some trials. On October 30, the national office building in Ottawa was flooded and the staff had to run the HSC Forum on Nov. 2, 3 and 4 without access to their servers and documents. They were as efficient as an eight-person rowing crew in a choppy sea. They kept the boat right-side up, didn’t worry about small splashes and powered forward towards one goal.

While the Forum was a success despite the stormy conditions, we’ve since found out that our PHE Canada home base will likely be unavailable due to flood damage until January. During this time, staff members are being creative and resourceful in their home offices, finding ways to meet obligations and get things done. If you’re reaching out to the national office in the next few weeks and experience any delays in response, they may just be busy bailing the boat as we adjust to a slightly longer period of time out of the office than expected.

In health and gratitude for our community of supporters,


Brian Storey, PhD