#Ophea100 Learning Series: Understanding the Relationship between Physical Education and Truth and Reconciliation | Ophea.net

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#Ophea100 Learning Series: Understanding the Relationship between Physical Education and Truth and Reconciliation

Monday, November 8, 2021 - 14:51

What does Health and Physical Education have to do with Truth and Reconciliation? Why is this relationship important to consider? And what needs to be addressed to create meaningful change in our educational systems?

On Monday, August 30th 2021, Ophea hosted a webinar that provided a space for educators, Health and Physical Education specialists, school administrators, and policy leaders to think about the relationship between Health and Physical Education and Truth and Reconciliation. This webinar provided direction on how to respond to the calls for Truth and Reconciliation, and why it is important to do so.

We would like to thank Janice Forsyth as the presenter of this webinar. Janice is a member of the Fisher River Cree First Nation, is an Associate Professor in Sociology and Director of Indigenous Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. Her research focusing on Indigenous-settler relations in Canada told through the lens of sport has garnered significant national and international attention. In 2012 she was named a recipient of the Premier's Research Excellence Award for Ontario. Furthermore, The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, published in 2015, cited several of her publications, demonstrating how her research is relevant well beyond sport. And in 2019, she was elected to the College of the Royal Society of Canada for her research and leadership in Indigenous sport. Janice is currently the vice-president for the Aboriginal Sport Circle, a national not-for-profit that advocates and supports Indigenous-led sport development in Canada, and on the Board of Directors for Ophea.

This webinar also gave the opportunity for participants to deepen their collective awareness of this history to ensure ongoing reflection in their roles in school communities.

Access the full webinar on our YouTube channel

Movement is an expression of cultural values

“Think about how different cultures value moving bodies and how cultures place different values on those bodies.”

Janice started with a critical thinking exercise that involved showing participants various images of people engaged in different types of movement culture, such as hip hop. crumping, and ballet, asking listeners to note their first words, thoughts, or emotions. For instance, they were asked to reflect on which movement they immediately considered beautiful, healthy, startling, curious, or threatening. Then they were asked to reflect on ‘why’ they felt that way and consider how ideas about race, social class, gender, disability, and so on, shaped their views, thus exposing their own cultural attitudes about what is ‘appropriate’ physical activity. In doing so, participants were able to see how their attitudes reinforce or challenge socially acceptable ways of being active, with the implication being that some types of activities are encouraged while others are not, or may even be discouraged through policy and legislation, with even deeper implications tied to the domination and marginalization of certain groups of people.

In the Health and Physical Education curriculum, “the attitude with which teachers approach health and physical education is critical, as teachers are important role models for students.”[i]One of the fundamental principles of this curriculum focuses on the physical and emotional safety of the learners. Taking the time to understand students’ diverse backgrounds when topics, games, and activities are introduced will contribute to a positive, safe, and inclusive environment. As part of effective teaching practice, teachers are encouraged to reflect on their underlying assumptions about Health and Physical Education, and how their attitudes and beliefs shape their planning and delivery of the curriculum.

Physical Education is a type of socialization

“What does Health & Physical Education have to do with Truth and Reconciliation? Why is this relationship important to consider?”

How we view physical movement for ourselves is connected to how we teach our students in Physical Education, and this is impacted by our personal cultural values and experiences. For example, in Grade 3, C1.4 students are learning how to send and receive objects of different shapes and sizes in different ways, using different body parts, at different levels, and using various types of equipment. An educator may introduce how to perform an underhand throw using their dominant hand or throw and catch a ball using scoops. However, as educators we must also take the time to recognize the diversity in our classes and find opportunities to recognize the range of ability, cultural backgrounds, and the history behind the activities, games and sports we choose. There is no way to work effectively with our students when culture is ignored or trivialized.

“There has been a genuine upswing in Truth and Reconciliation over the past few years, as it has been driven by the multitude of inequities that COVID-19 has intensified for different groups of people.”

As we continue to learn about the thousands of unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children, this public information is an awakening for us to take the time to understand the complex stories of what happened in those schools. Equally important, this learning should also lead us to better understand how Indigenous people resisted and responded to colonial systems and structures in Canada, with the result being a more balanced and honest version of Canada’s past and present, This balance,  rooted in Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and experiences, is the ‘truth’ that should guide us through reconciliation.

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action report[ii] addresses the ongoing impact of residential schools on survivors and their families. This Report also provides a path for government and Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada to create a joint vision of reconciliation. Understanding the significance of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for Canadians informs us about what happened in residential schools and documents the truth of Survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience.  

Janice asked participants to consider “How many opportunities have you had since 2015 to discuss how Physical Education is tied to Truth and Reconciliation?” She shares that in her own research and practice, Physical Education and Sport have not yet received as much attention as they should have when it comes to Truth and Reconciliation, making it challenging for educators to have the knowledge, skills, and understanding to lead meaningful conversation and practice in their roles in the school community. However, as educators, we need to continue to re-examine how we understand and deliver the curriculum in a culturally responsive way.

Understanding the broader context between Physical Education and Truth and Reconciliation is central to moving forward

“What needs to be addressed to create meaningful change in our educational systems?”

It is our responsibility to know, understand, and address the legacy of colonialism within the land now known as Canada. Access our Blog with Drs. Jenna R. Lorusso, and Janice M. Forsyth, titled A Research Agenda to Better Support Indigenous Students and Indigenous Content in Ontario Health and Physical Education, highlights four research priorities that can be developed to inform Ontario teachers’ support of Indigenous students and Indigenous content in Health and Physical Education and school-based physical activity and health programming.

Meaningful Health and Physical Education emphasizes building relationships with local Indigenous nations to understand perspectives which consider Health and Physical Education as part of an interconnected whole, where ‘being well’ has cultural meaning, such as knowing your language, history, and/or traditions. Participants were encouraged to seek out and explore other Truth and Reconciliation models for support within their schools, connected to a specific discipline, Indigenous-specific contexts, as well as mainstream settings. It was shared that local context is most meaningful, as where each of us works and lives is situated on specific lands of specific people. Specific histories and practices need to be incorporated into schooling practice.

It’s important to note that our journey towards reconciliation is ongoing. While many school boards in Ontario observe November as Indigenous Education month, we encourage all educators to reflect on, acknowledge, and share each month about the information and resources needed to better support Indigenous students and decolonize their classroom content.

Let’s keep the conversation going! Share with us @OpheaCanada on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To stay up-to-date on Ophea professional learning offerings, resources and supports sign up for Ophea’s e-newsletter eConnection.


[i] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9-12: Health and Physical Education (pg. 15). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf