Supporting Learning about Mental Health in Elementary Health and Physical Education Webinar |

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Supporting Learning about Mental Health in Elementary Health and Physical Education Webinar

Thursday, February 27, 2020 - 11:34

In January, Ophea hosted two new webinars (one in English and one in French) with a specific focus on understanding Mental Health as a health topic in the 2019 Ontario Elementary Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum.  With the goal of enhancing teacher confidence, the webinar examined implementation and assessment ideas in support of mental health literacy, a new topic within the Healthy Living strand. The webinar also afforded the participants exposure to a myriad of evidence based resources.

We would like to thank our two presenters for hosting both the English and French versions of this webinar:

  • Andréanne Fleck Saito is a Registered Social Worker and Implementation Coach with School Mental Health Ontario, a provincial implementation team designed to support Ontario School Districts to enhance the mental health and well being for all students. Andréanne has acquired over 20 years of experience working in community, private, and school-based settings providing direct service and advocating for child and youth mental health.
  • Karen Trotter is the consultant for Student Health and Well-Being for the Conseil Scolaire Catholique Providence in southwestern Ontario. She has been teaching for 23 years, 18 of which have been dedicated to the delivery of the Health and Physical Education curriculum from JK to grade 12. She is an Ophea Ambassador, a longtime member of Ophea’s Safety and Injury Prevention Advisory Committee and of the Ontario Association for the Support of Physical and Health Educators (OASPHE) Executive. She is passionate about the health and well-being of all students and staff and advocates strongly for quality daily physical education.

We would also like to thank our participants for their active engagement and insightful feedback throughout the webinars.  Many diverse stakeholders from across the education sector and public health were represented.

View the full webinar on our YouTube channel and read the overview below.

What role do educators play in developing mental health literacy in students?

“Mental health is an essential component of overall health. Learning about mental health from a young age and further developing knowledge and skills in this area throughout their school years will help students to be healthier and more successful in their daily lives and as contributing members of society in the future. It will also help them build awareness about when and how to access mental health supports, when needed. 

By embedding mental health in the regular education experience, Ontario schools have an opportunity to contribute to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. When young people learn to care for their mental health routinely, just as they care for their physical health, they are more likely to reach out for help early when they are not feeling emotionally well.” Educators are well positioned to help students learn about mental health and to identify and support students who may be struggling with their emotions and behaviour.” Educators recognize that everyone has different experiences with their mental health and as such it is a topic to approach with sensitivity. It is important to know our students and take into consideration the vast experiences they bring to our classrooms. Educators present knowledge objectively and work with students to share their thinking and understanding as we progress through the learning. An important comment that was reiterated throughout the webinars was that it is important to remember and reinforce that as teachers we are not evaluating our students’ mental health nor are we responsible for diagnosing or treating mental health problems. 

“When addressing all topics, but especially ones that can be challenging to talk about, it is important to give students an opportunity to explore all sides of the issue to promote understanding. Educators should also reflect about their own bias and need for support and/or reliable information. Facts should be presented objectively, and students given the information they need to make informed decisions. It is important to set ground rules so that discussion takes place in a setting that is accepting, inclusive, and respectful of all.”[1]

Where is Mental Health Literacy addressed in the 2019 Elementary H&PE curriculum?

Mental Health Literacy is a topic within Stand D: Healthy Living of the 2019 Elementary H&PE curriculum. “Curriculum expectations related to this topic provide a specific progression of learning across the grades that is designed to develop students’ mental health literacy. This learning is integral to the development of social-emotional skills and the understanding of connections between physical and mental health that are incorporated across the curriculum.” [2]

As with every specific expectation within the curriculum, the Mental Health Literacy expectations are clearly linked to specific Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) expectations from Strand A of the 2019 Elementary H&PE curriculum. “This strand helps students develop social-emotional learning skills, to foster overall health and well-being, positive mental health, and the ability to learn, build resilience, and thrive. In all grades, learning related to the expectations in this strand occurs in the context of learning related to the other three strands and is assessed and evaluated within these contexts.”[3]

The SEL skills are tagged in square brackets after each specific expectations, and use these identifiers: A1.1 Emotions, 1.2 Coping, 1.3 Motivation, 1.4 Relationships, 1.5 Self, 1.6 Thinking.  Here is a Grade 4 Example (D2.5):  “demonstrate an understanding of how choices they make every day can have a positive impact on their mental health (e.g., taking time to identify what they are feeling [doing a “self check-in” regarding feelings]; getting adequate sleep; engaging in genuine, face-to-face social interaction; being physically active; using mindfulness strategies; having connections to responsible, caring adults; taking part in something “bigger” than themselves that involves giving back to the community) [A1.2 Coping, 1.5 Self, 1.6 Thinking]”[4]

Participants on the webinar highlighted the following as key components of Mental Health Literacy:  Awareness, prevention and promotion, relationships, reducing stigma, supports within the school and greater community, and strategies for coping with daily stress.

What is Mental Health Literacy?

Understanding the relationship between mental health and mental illness is an important first step in developing mental health literacy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”[5]

The Public Health Agency of Canada extends this understanding, defining positive mental health as “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity.” [6]

Mental illness is defined by the Public Health Agency of Canada as a range of illnesses that “are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning.”[7]

A great diagram that visually supports students in understanding the relationship between mental health and mental illness is the Dual Continuum Model. [8]The Grade 7 Healthy Living expectation for Mental Health Literacy D1.6 used the example:   “Mental health and mental illness are like physical health and physical illness. A person can be in good health but have a diagnosed illness. We don’t say that someone who has a diagnosed health condition, such as diabetes or asthma, is ‘unhealthy’. If they make healthy choices, as circumstances allow, such as getting adequate sleep, being physically active daily, and eating healthy nutritious foods, they can maintain their health while still having a diagnosed illness. The same is true of mental health. If a person takes care of their mental health, as best they can, and has a sense of well-being and resilience, they can be mentally healthy even if they have a diagnosed mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder or depression. Whether or not we have a diagnosed mental illness, our mental health is impacted by our feelings, thoughts, and actions, and by our experiences and circumstances in our day-to-day lives.[9]

How to assess and evaluate to improve student learning

Many of the mental health literacy learning expectations can be assessed and evaluated through conversations with and observations of students that occur over time. Examples could include but are not limited to:

  • Student Self Assessment or Reflections
  • Exit Pass, Journal Entries
  • Student-Teacher Conferences
  • Anecdotal Recording Charts

The assessment and/or evaluation tool should reflect the categories of assessment (Knowledge/Understanding, Thinking, Application, Communication). A valuable reference is the Ontario Ministry of Education Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools.

What are some considerations for program planning?

Each of these instructional strategies are from the webinar where they are linked to grade specific expectations. 

  • The Cognitive Triangle: What we think affects how we feel and act. What we do affects how we think and feel. How we feel affects what we think and do.[10] 
  • Feelings Chart: How might your body Look/Sound/Feel like when you are feeling certain emotions (e.g., happy, angry, embarrassed, or stressed)?
  • Mindful Moment Toolkit: Create a toolbox with students to use that includes strategies on how to cope with the feelings they go through. One example could be journaling where students explore thoughts and feelings through written words or drawings.  Consider creating a mindful moment toolbox in your gymnasium or classroom for students to access anytime during H&PE or class.
  • What Size is your Problem?  Identify what a ‘pebble size’, ‘rock size’, versus ‘boulder size’ problem is and how to manage the feelings when going through these challenges. Co-create strategies that can help ‘shrink’ the problems.
  • W.A.L.L.S Acronym to prevent Stigma: (Watch your Language, Ask Questions, Learn More, Listen to Experiences, Speak Out)[11]
  • Co-develop A Healthy Relationship Recipe: Talk about what students’ value in a healthy friendships and what ‘ingredients’ are needed. Discuss their roles in a friendship and how one can support the other during a challenging time (e.g., spending time together, being available to talk).
  • Role Play Scenarios: Identify how to recognize, accept and manage emotions through role playing scenarios. Use student generated examples from personal experiences such as day-to-day classroom/recess interactions.
  • Create an Anti-Stigma Campaign: Support students in recognizing how their words, actions and attitudes can contribute or prevent stigma and how they can work to ensure Stigma is not something they are a part of in their daily lives at home, school or in the community.
  • ME, WE, US: Create a list of ‘Me/We/Us’ strategies that students can use to help build a sense of positive mental health. Example: ME - Finding ways to embed movement during the day, taking time to enjoy doing a hobby. WE - Calling up a friend to spend time together. Going to play at the community centre or playground with a group of friends. US - Volunteering in the community. Helping a teacher out in the classroom.

How are mental health and physical activity connected?

It is important to note that lessons and discussions around Mental Health Literacy and well-being do not have to happen in the classroom alone.  We know the impact and benefits of daily physical activity. Consider taking students through a variety of traditional (basketball, floor hockey, and badminton) and nontraditional physical activities (e.g. yoga, Tchoukball, tobogganing) and ask them to make connections to how they feel before, during and after physical activity (both physically and mentally).

Additional Supports


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[1] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 40). Retrieved from

[2] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 44). Retrieved from

[3] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 25). Retrieved from

[4] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg.  178). Retrieved from

[5] World Health Organization. (2018). Mental Health: Strengthening our Response. Retrieved from

[6] Public Health Agency of Canada. (2018). Mental Health Promotion Guideline, 2018. Retrieved from

[7] Public Health Agency of Canada. (2019). Mental Illness. Retrieved from

[8] Canadian Mental Health Association- Ontario. (2017). What is Mental Health and Mental Illness?. Retrieved from

[9] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 256). Retrieved from

[10] Patanella, M (2018). The Cognitive Triangle. Retrieved from

[11] Canadian Mental Health Association (2016). Can We Talk (pg. 11). Retrieved from