How Fit to Learn Supports Teacher Health

January 13, 2016

Donna Calder, an 11-year veteran of Chicago Public Schools, had taught science for a decade when she switched to teaching health at James Wadsworth Elementary School at the beginning of this school year. Donna began to look for any and all health-related professional development opportunities, and that’s how she got involved in Fit to Learn.

Fit to Learn provides practical methods for making health and wellness a regular part of the school experience while meeting academic standards in math, reading, science, social studies, art, music and more. Just as important, Fit to Learn is about networking with fellow colleagues and developing lifelong skills.

It’s not just the students who benefit from the methods supported by Fit to Learn. We’re currently in the process of reviewing CPS’ wellness policy, and we’ve found that staff modeling healthy lifestyles for students is an important part in creating an overall healthy school culture.

We know that a teacher’s own approach to wellness makes a big impression on children. For this reason, one of our key program objectives is to have teachers model healthy behavior and integrate healthy habits into daily learning through nutrition education and physical activity. In our mid-year survey of Fit to Learn participants, 100 percent of teachers said they have made improvements to their own diets and 86 percent said they have increased their physical activity.

Donna is one of those teachers. “Teaching about health made me more conscious of what I’m putting on my own plate,” she says.

And that extends to her physical activity. Donna received a Fitbit activity tracker for Christmas last year, and said she usually reached her physical activity goal two days a week. Now, she meets that goal five days a week. “I want to be a good role model for my students,” she says. “I go to work with gym shoes or comfy shoes on so I can do yoga with them. I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’m making more of a conscious effort to do those things.”

Role modeling is so important for students, Donna says, because it’s key that students see the healthy behavior in action, rather that just hearing about it. “It’s not just, ‘Do as we say,’ it’s, ‘Do as we do.’”

Donna says the first few weeks of eating better and getting more physical activity are hard, but then you start to feel so much better. “That’s what really did it for me,” she says. “I feel like I have a ton of energy. That in of itself is so good because I need so much energy to hang out with the kids.”