an unconventional education

Merlyn was the teacher of the child King Arthur, or so it’s been told.

He was a teacher who relied on unconventional methods to teach his lessons. His methods were experiential, profound and effective, and led the future king to reflect on humanity, values, and ways of being.

I hope to continue to be inspired by this, as I reflect on my own teaching practice and invite you to join the discussion.

Merlyn for the 21st century is among us. We are Merlyn.

Leader Character for Sustainability

Leader Character for Sustainability

Note: the content of this post is an abridged version of a paper I wrote for my M.Ed in Sustainability, Creativity and Innovation at Cape Breton University. 

Educators at all levels have been called upon to help meet the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2016). These goals make clear that, through education, we need to prepare our students to take leadership for sustainability in all spheres, from social justice to economy to science. Goal 4 is to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” (United Nations, 2016a); this includes the target to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development…” (United Nations, 2016a, p. para 7) The UN is calling on everyone to make positive changes towards a sustainable future, and the UNECE’s model of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (United Nations Economic Commisison for Europe, 2016) provides educators with the competences necessary to make that happen in schools.

However, knowledge alone does not translate into action (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). People need to be empowered to act: they need to know that they are capable of being change-makers. Thus, students need opportunities to practice in school, through the use of new pedagogies that allow for real-world action projects. Concurrently, leadership skills and character strengths must be developed, enabling students to access these strengths and take action.

Many schools and schools of thought have developed their own lists of leadership traits, dimensions, characteristics or skills to be valued and developed. Today, we need leaders to ensure that the Earth and its inhabitants are capable of supporting the rapid growth of the 21st century. We need leaders who will help us meet the sustainable development goals as outlined by the UN (United Nations, 2016). We need young people to grow up knowing that they have the leadership qualities, skills and character traits necessary to enable them to be agents of positive, sustainable change.

As education continues to innovate, and new pedagogies are embraced in more and more schools around the world, students have an unprecedented opportunity to develop leadership. Educational leaders and organizations are emphasizing entrepreneurship, innovation, and “21st century skills” – all of which call for such commonly touted leadership traits as collaboration, creativity, perseverance, and initiative ( O’Brien & Murray, 2015; P21, 2016; Zhao, 2012).

Which leadership traits do we want to reveal and nurture in our students today so that they will be making responsible, ethical, and sustainable decisions tomorrow? Based on leader character frameworks from different fields as well as the principles of sustainable development, I have drafted a framework of Leader Character for Sustainability (LCfS).

LCfS recognizes that in order to become change agents, students need to feel empowered to do so. Hungerford and Volk (1990) draw on various models to show that responsible environmental behaviour results from an intention to act which in turn is facilitated by a mix of personality factors, knowledge of action strategies, and action skills. They show that while environmental sensitivity and in-depth knowledge about issues are critical, action is not taken unless people feel empowered to act. I would add to this that leader character traits are essential to this feeling of empowerment.  ESD, therefore, cannot simply be about acquiring, or even creating knowledge. Inherent to any ESD curriculum must be the use of new pedagogies that lead to the development of leader character traits and skills, from an early age.

Leader Character for Sustainability (LCfS)

LCfS framework

Growth Mindset 

Growth mindset, put forward by Carol Dweck (2006), allows for students to know that they can improve and learn. This is associated with persistence and resilience. It is also connected to creativity and optimism (Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, 2015), which I believe are essential to problem-solving and innovation. Having a growth mindset is necessary for the development of all of the other traits.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is associated with problem-solving and judgment in many of the frameworks. Critical thinking is crucial for LCfS because students must learn to evaluate and analyse the information that they are getting and using. They must decide what actions to take and what steps are necessary.


It could be argued that collaboration is not a strength but a skill. However, I include it because in today’s world, we are called upon to collaborate in every sphere and across physical and virtual space. Innovative solutions to problems are possible when we combine strengths to achieve a goal. The Earth Charter calls for a “new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility” (Earth Charter International, 2000, p. 4). Collaboration is essential to the understanding that we are interconnected.


Compassion for self, for others, and for the more-than human world will allow us to have empathy, will encourage social awareness and justice, and will permit us to consider the views and experiences of others. This is an essential virtue that may help to temper other virtues in the framework such as Drive.


Humility involves knowing one’s place in the world, and understanding one’s fundamental connection to all other living and non-living things on the planet. It requires self-awareness, which is an essential leadership skill in terms of knowing our strengths and weaknesses, our biases, and our beliefs. Curiosity is also associated with humility, in that it leads to a desire to continually learn.


Other frameworks have identified traits such as Justice and Honesty. I propose the virtue of Respect because it is necessary to honour and respect all of the human and the more-than-human world. Respect compels us to consider the responsibility we have toward future generations, all people and life on Earth, and the environment. If we have respect for all life – both present and future – we will act in a socially and environmentally responsible way. In the 7 Grandfather teachings, the Bison teaches us not to be hurtful to ourselves or others (Georgian College Aboriginal Resource Centre, 2014).


Accountability means taking ownership for one’s actions and accepting the consequences of those. It means acting in accordance with one’s beliefs. If we have respect for all life, being accountable leads us to right action. In leading for sustainability, we must be accountable to such frameworks as the Earth Charter and to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A person who is accountable also takes responsibility for learning and for the development of skills and virtues.


Courage appears in different forms in all of the frameworks I examined. Courage is essential to LCfS because it allows us to take the risks necessary to innovate. It is associated with self-confidence, integrity, tenacity and perseverance. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in and to be accountable to your principles. To be a change-maker requires the courage to act.


Without drive, we will have no action. We can have knowledge and empathy and a desire for change, but we need the passion, initiative, and vigour of Drive to make those changes happen.

A note on integrity and temperance

I intentionally left out some significant leader character strengths. Integrity seems almost universally identified as a leader character trait and I believe it is here, too. However, the qualities that it comprises are already represented in accountability, courage, respect and humility.

Temperance is an important strength as well, but if we are going to act for sustainability, it may be counterproductive to emphasize temperance. To be blunt, it’s not time for temperance. It’s time for action.


Crossan, M., Gandz, J., & Seijts, G. (2012). Developing leadership character. Ivey Business Journal.

Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., & Seijts, G. (2013). In search of virtue: The role of virtues, values and character strengths in ethical decision-making. The Journal of Business Ethics, 113(4), 567-581.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House .

Earth Charter International. (2000). The Earth Charter. Retrieved 11 27, 2016, from Earth Charter International : http://earthcharter.org/invent/images/uploads/echarter_english.pdf

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2014). A rich seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. London: Pearson.

Georgian College Aboriginal Resource Centre. (2014). Ojibwe teachings – 7 Grandfather teachings. Retrieved 11 15, 2016, from Anishnaabeg Bimaadiziwin: An Ojibwe People’s Resource: http://ojibweresources.weebly.com/ojibwe-teachings–the-7-grandfathers.html

Hungerford, H. R., & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing learner behaviour through environmental education. The journal of environmental education, 21(3), 8-21.

O’Brien, C. (2016). Education for sustainable happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Routledge.

O’Brien, C. (2016a). Sustainable well-being framework. Unpublished document shared through personal communication.

O’Brien, C., & Murray, S. E. (2015). Sustainable wellbeing, creativity and innovation. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 2(1).


P21. (2016). Life and career skills. Retrieved 11 26, 2016, from Partnership for 21st Century Learning: http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework/266

Peterson , C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and vitrues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seijts, G., Gandz, J., Crossan, M., & Reno, M. (2015). Character matters: Character dimensions’ impact on leader performance and outcomes. Organizational Dynamics, 44, 65-74.

United Nations. (2016). Sustainable development goals. Retrieved 11 26, 2016, from Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

United Nations. (2016a). Sustainable development goals: Education: Goal 4 targets. Retrieved 11 26, 2016, from Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

United Nations Economic Commisison for Europe. (2016). Education for sustainable development: The strategy. Retrieved 1 24, 2016, from UNECE: http://www.unece.org:8080/environmental-policy/education-for-sustainable-development/about-the-strategy-for-esd/the-strategy.html

World Economic Forum. (2015). New vision for education: Unlocking the potential of technology. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

Zhao, Y. (2012). World class learners: Educating creative and entrepreneurial students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Two-eyed seeing for well-being education

Well-being is being talked about a lot in schools and in education scholarship. Many schools boast prioritizing well-being and seem to base their programs on something like Carney’s model: Lifestyle choices, strength-based education, and meaning-making.

In discussing Martin Seligman’s (2011) and Patrick Carney’s (2015) models of well-being, many sustainability educators noticed that there was something crucial missing from both: Nature and our connection with it.

Two-eyed seeing, or seeing issues or topics through “western” eyes as well as through traditional or First Nations eyes, allows us to bring Nature into the well-being equation. This way of seeing does not pit traditional knowledge against “new” schools of thought; rather, it allows us to use both to paint a more complete picture.

In reading Nicole Bell’s chapter in Deer & Falkenberg’s Indigenous Perspectives on Education for Well-Being in Canada (2016), it was clear to me how western, positive psychology theories of well-being and Indigenous perspectives on the same come together to form a much more complete and holistic model of well-being that includes our connection and inter-connection with Nature.

Mino-Bimaadiziwin means “living life in a good way” in the Anishinaabe language. Bell (2016) describes how “the teachings of mino-bimaadiziwin and the life stages which inform that life path provide insight into achieving balanced and healthy living”.  Interconnectedness is a key element of well-being in the Anishinaabe culture. Like Seligman, Bell asserts that, according to Anishinaabe tradition, “living a good life communicates that one’s spirit and relationships must exist in good healthy ways”. In fact, there are many similarities between Seligman’s and Carney’s models and the teachings of mino-bimaadiziwin. However, Bell goes on to describe how these relationships include that which we maintain with the Earth. 

“(the first being)…teaches the Anishinaabe people to have the utmost respect for the Earth, as they depend on her for their survival.” (Bell, p. 8) This is exactly what I’ve been reading from my colleagues’ recent reflections on modern-day well-being models — that we must also include our relationship with the Natural world in well-being education, since we cannot “be well” while disrespecting that which gives us life.

Recognizing our interconnectedness is another aspect of Anishinaabe teaching that speaks so strongly to a sustainable perspective on well-being. “Anishinabe (way of life) is an understanding that everything is alive and that everything is related….As a people, we are of the land, the four winds, the directions, the seasons, and the great circle of life”. (Bell, p. 9).

Mino-Bimaadiziwin also connects with Carney’s well-being model in that it is strength-based. It asks us to “recognize your gifts, and…that you have answers” (Bell, p. 9). However, she reminds us that, in keeping with the spirit of interconnectedness and an ecological worldview, we are to strive for collective achievement rather than individual goals. Again, here, we can see how well the models work when we use two-eyed seeing.

Bell goes on to explore life-stages and Anishinaabe education. Again, here, are many links to Carney’s model, in that each life-stage has strengths and goals associated with it and that Anishinaabe education is a “holistic education (which is) the positive development of the whole child in relation to his/her world…(and) fostered in a positive way through the school, home, and community” (Bell, p.13).

The notion of holistic education brings together the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of learning. This teaches interconnectedness: among all aspects of a person as well as between the person and the rest of the human and more-than-human world. This ecological worldview is then extended to bring us to the idea of what some refer to as “place-based learning”:  “Anishinaabe knowledge…has to be ecological, where the knowledge is contained within the land of the geographic location of the nation” (Bell, p 17). She goes on to say that knowledge comes from its people and that “each nation culturally determines for itself how it knows what it knows”.  This is place-based education, seen through Anishinaabe eyes.

To read this article with two eyes was affirming to me. The knowledge we need to build a sustainable vision of well-being is out there, and has been for a long time.


Bell, Nicole. (2016) Mino-Bimaadiziwin: Education for the good life. In F. Deer & T. Falkenberg (Eds). (2016). Indigenous Perspectives on Education for Well-Being in Canada. (pp. 7-20). Winnipeg, MB: ESWB Press.

Carney, P. (2015) Well-Aware: Developing resilient, active, and flourishing students. Don Mills (Canada): Pearson.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. Toronto: Free Press

Nature Affluence in the City

I live in a beautiful place. Surrounded by the sea, forest-covered mountains, rivers and streams. Sea birds and driftwood are the accessories on my morning walks. The wind is ever present (whether I like it or not). Every season brings natural wonders: tracks in the winter, buds in spring, storms in fall and the amazing beauty of summer.

And here I am today, in the living room of the home I will be moving to in 2 months’ time. A home in a city where concrete covers the Earth and smog fills the air.

Where will I find my daily dose of Nature here?

Opening my senses, I believe I can find it. It will take a bit more mindfulness, but already this morning I have been encouraged by what I’ve seen, heard, smelled, and felt.

I was awoken by birds at 4:30 am.

The first thing I saw when I opened my curtain was a cardinal hopping along the fence outside my window.

A walk in the neighbourhood showed me cherry blossoms, flowers, and new spring shoots in people’s gardens.

My run later today will bring me to a forest trail.

My daughters are blowing dandelion puffs and bringing me forget-me-nots from the flower garden.

I am eager to plant a pollinator garden and to put out bird feeders. I am excited about exploring the city by bike and finding the Nature that exists here, between the rivers and the mountain. I look forward to connecting with Nature IN my city, rather than feeling like I have to “escape”.

I am nature-affluent in my current home, where I sometimes don’t even see the forest for the trees. Here in my new home, I will have to be more intentional about finding it, noticing it, and appreciating it. But I am fortunate to know that this connection to nature will stay with me, even as I take root in the city.


Leader Character, Outdoor Learning and Living Schools: making it happen

Leader Character, Outdoor Learning and Living Schools: making it happen

In her 2016 book, Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being, Catherine O’Brien demonstrates how living schools/campus contribute to the development of Leader Character (O’Brien, 2016, chapter 12). She writes, “I am convinced that understanding leader character is imperative if we are to realize the full potential of … New Pedagogies” (p. 148). The ways in which Living Schools can promote the development of leader character and 21st Century Skills is made clear in her tables and text.

But educators who have heard of living schools are wondering how to get there: a seemingly overwhelming task. I took this inquiry opportunity to ask, “how can New Pedagogies be the seed that grows into Living Schools?” It was clear to me that Leader Character development was the one of the key elements linking new, transformative pedagogies and Living Schools.

Through the lens of New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, I examined inquiry-based learning and project (passion, product, and problem)- based learning (PBL) to see how they could be used to develop leader character in students and teachers alike. Then I looked at outdoor and nature-based learning. The links I made between leader character and each of these pedagogies are below.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning is “an approach to learning that is directed by questions, problems, an hypothesis or a challenge that individuals and groups of learners work together to address” (Learning for a Sustainable Future, 2014). Inquiry can take several different forms but in all cases is highly student-driven and is designed around the interests of the student. In order for a student to be successful in inquiry-based learning, he or she must work on developing the following leader strengths*:

  • Critical thinking (judgment)
  • Analysis (judgment)
  • Creativity (transcendence)
  • Problem-solving
  • Open-mindedness, flexibility (collaboration)
  • Initiative (drive)
  • Takes responsibility, ownership (accountability).

These strengths, of course, are necessary to succeed, but are also (and more importantly) developed through participation in inquiry-based learning.

*note: Leader character strengths are taken from Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, (2013), as quoted in O’Brien, 2016, pp. 148-157

Project-Based Learning

PBL stands for Project, Passion-, Problem and Product-based learning. There are variations among the four but we will stick with Project-based learning for the purposes of this article. Project-Based Learning is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge” (Buck Institute for Education, 2016). Similar to inquiry, it is student-driven and responds to a question. Often a product is involved, for example, a physical product or an event, and students are expected to present their finished work to an authentic audience beyond the classroom.

A student’s success in PBL is dependent on developing the following leadership character strengths:

  • Accountability
  • Critical thinking
  • Reflection (Humility)
  • Authenticity (Integrity)
  • Resilience (courage)
  • Creativity (Transcendence)
  • Interconnectedness/cooperation (collaboration)
  • Passion, initiative (Drive)

Again, as in all transformative pedagogies, leader character is developed through mentoring and coaching, reflection, and self-evaluation.

Depending on the projects chosen, the following strengths can also be developed:

  • Temperance
  • Justice
  • Humanity

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) lists the following character traits to be developed through character education (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014):

  • Honesty (integrity/ justice)
  • Self-regulation (temperance)
  • Responsibility (Accountability)
  • Hard work (drive)
  • Perseverance (Courage/Drive)
  • Empathy (humanity)
  • Self-confidence (courage).

It is clear how these character traits link with the Leader Character strengths described by Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno (O’Brien, Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being, 2016a, p. 157).

These new pedagogies require leader character traits but also help to develop them. This is important when trying to implement a system-based concept such as living schools. As Fullan and Langworthy remark,

“the inherent change model by which new pedagogies spread is different because the change comes from all levels. The new learning partnerships between students and teachers, teachers’ influence on their peers, and learning conditions shaped by leaders all converge to enable change. The difference that we see is that many changes start simultaneously and spread via multi-faceted pathways” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014)

It is thus essential that teachers and students who would like to see system-wide change happen at their school develop the leader characteristics that will allow the pathway to open up from the classroom to the rest of the school. Those characteristics will be developed through the practicing of deep learning pedagogies and students and teachers will be better equipped to lead change.

However, we are not quite there yet: Living schools are more than places where deep learning happens. We still need a connector to bring us there. Living School attributes include:

  • demonstrating a concern for the living world;
  • A commitment to the health and well-being of all, including the natural environment;
  • Incorporating outdoor teaching and learning;
  • Developing environmental and sustainability literacy;
  • Developing strong ties to the community;
  • Explicitly exploring the links and interdependence between human health and the natural world;
  • and more  (O’Brien, 2016b)

How can we use new pedagogies to bring these attributes to our schools?

Outdoor and Nature-based Learning

There are many levels and types of outdoor education, starting from environmental education at school and going all the way over to adventure education and expeditionary learning. Here I would like to focus on nature-based/outdoor learning close to school.

Outdoor learning requires students to be self-aware and aware of their environment and of each other. There is an element of responsibility and personal management that comes with being comfortable in the outdoors. Students collaborate and share. They must often wait (for the right weather, for the animals to appear, for the plants to grow). They live through a certain amount of uncertainty and adversity. They are also in their environment, their community: they see how everything is connected and how they are connected to everything. Their curiosity is stimulated and they are given a chance to satisfy this curiosity.

As such, Leader Character strengths developed through outdoor learning include the following:

  • Transcendence (through appreciation of nature)
  • Collaboration
  • Humanity (through empathy and consideration of others)
  • Humility (through curiosity and realizing one’s place in the world)
  • Self-awareness
  • Temperance (through prudence, calmness, and patience)
  • Accountability
  • Courage (through tolerating adversity & uncertainty)

I believe that through outdoor and environmental education, and taking it further to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and in connecting to our world though transformative pedagogies, we can develop the leader character strengths in ourselves and in our students that will give us the drive, courage, and vision to make change happen in our schools. I would venture to say that outdoor learning is the bridge between new pedagogies and the Living School.

When we first heard of Living Schools the question came up for nearly everyone : “This sounds great, but how on earth can we make it happen?” Health-Promoting Schools and Living schools require system-wide change and support and cannot come to be if there is not widespread support from all levels. But I believe that new pedagogies, including outdoor learning, can strongly influence the development of the leader character traits that are essential for students and teachers to become change-makers. Teachers must intentionally focus on the development of these traits through the use of new pedagogies.

concept-mapThis is a concept map that I created when I was putting all my ideas together. At the centre of the image is new pedagogies and one individual teacher.  I hope it shows the influence that outdoor learning can have on all of the other advantages that come with new pedagogies (the green line). I also tried to depict that leader character is pervasive throughout (orange line),  because it is both developed through new pedagogies and  is strongly linked to the Living School concept (O’Brien, 2016a). Finally, I saw that the risk-taking that is so highly prized in new pedagogies is also the strength that is required by students, teachers, and administrators to become change-makers. If all of these qualities are put to use for the well-being of all, then we are well on our way to the Living School.


Buck Institute for Education. (2016). What is project-based learning (PBL)? Retrieved 11 03, 2016, from BIE: http://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2014). A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. London: Pearson.

Learning for a Sustainable Future. (2014). Connecting the dots: Key strategies that transform learning for environmental education, citizenship and sustainability. Oshawa, ON: Learning for a Sustainable Future.

O’Brien, C. (2016a). Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being. New York, NY: Routledge.

O’Brien, C. (2016b). The Ethos, Attributes, and Practice of a Living School (draft).

O’Brien, C., & Howard, P. (2016). The Living School: The emergence of a transformative sustainability education paradigm. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 10(1), 115-130.

VIA Institute on Character. (2016). The VIA Survey. Retrieved 11 03, 2016, from Viacharacter.org: https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey





[1] Leader character strengths are taken from Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, (2013), as quoted in O’Brien, 2016, pp. 148-157

[2] Attributes taken from a draft document shared by Catherine O’Brien, October 2016, with students in the M.Ed course “Health-Promoting Schools” at Cape Breton University

Women’s voices and in-class participation in college: Who is speaking up in your classes?

There has been much talk of women in the workplace and how difficult it can be for a woman to make her voice heard. Women are interrupted, talked over, and not given credit for their ideas.

But what about in a college classroom? In an environment where a high percentage of our students are women, are their voices being heard as much as their male peers? And what can we, as teachers, do to encourage women to speak up and participate in class? Continue reading “Women’s voices and in-class participation in college: Who is speaking up in your classes?”

Health-Promoting CEGEPs: A call for comprehensive school health at the post-secondary level

Since the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion was published in 1986, much has been written about Comprehensive School Health (CSH) as it applies to K-12 schools. Schools are a logical choice of setting for the promotion of public health (Samdal & Rowling, 2013), since after the home and family, they are the most important environment for children (Martin & Arcand, 2005). There is also a great opportunity within schools to implement principles associated with CSH such as physical education, health and nutrition services, counselling and psychological services, and family-community involvement (Samdal & Rowling, 2013). It is established that one’s health affects one’s ability to learn, and that one’s education has an impact on one’s health (Bassett-Gunter, Yessis, Manske, & Stockton, 2012, p. 2).

But a growing body of research has demonstrated that at the post-secondary level, students are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues (McKean, 2011). In Quebec this year, 176 777 students are registered throughout the 48 colleges in the network (Fédération des CÉGEPS, 2016). These students, typically beginning college life at the age of 16 or 17, are at the age when mental disorders often manifest themselves (McKean, 2011), and are often for the first time living away from home and dealing with a multitude of new stressors. Are these students, who are actually some of the least likely to meet physical activity, sleep, and nutrition requirements (Versaevel, 2014), benefiting from the theory and implementation of Comprehensive School Health? How are the principles of CSH reflected currently in CEGEPs, and how can they be further integrated into policy and programs?

A look at the statistics shows us that the 15-24 year old age group are not necessarily well set-up to deal with the stressors of Cegep life. While Cegep students tend to have better lifestyle habits overall than do the general 15-24 year old population (Fédération des cégeps, 2010), they still score low on general lifestyle habit indicators.

About 50% of 15-24 year olds consume only half of the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables (Fédération des cégeps, 2010). Many Cegep students are living away from home for the first time, and no longer have their parents providing healthy meals and snacks for them. The higher cost of produce, and the perceived difficulty in preparing them, keeps students away from these foods, and pushes them towards more processed foods.

Physical activity is known to prevent disease and improve concentration, creativity, memory, and academic success; however, only 59% of 18 to 24 year olds identify as “physically active” (Ministère de l’éducation, du loisir et du sport, 2007). While this number is higher in Cegep students, many are still choosing inactive transport and inactive leisure activities. As for overweight and obesity rates, while this number decreases with the amount of schooling, in Quebec, 32.6% of youth aged 15-24 were overweight in 2004 and 6.9% of that population qualified as obese (Fédération des cégeps, 2010).

Also in Cegep, students are exposed to alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity and are more and more willing to experiment with those. The age group in Quebec with the highest rate of consumers of alcohol (89%) is 20-24 years old (Fédération des cégeps, 2010).

Sleep is another important factor that contributes to physical, emotional, and mental health, including stress and academic performance (Versaevel, 2014). While lack of sleep is probably not new to most Cegep students, post-secondary students often have lifestyle habits that can lead to chronic sleep deprivation (Versaevel, 2014). This is also related to part-time jobs that are held by 72% of Cegep students (Fédération des cégeps, 2010).

Le syndrôme de la première session or “first semester syndrome” has been suggested (Roy, Mainguy, Gauthier, & Giroux, 2005) as a symptom of the difficult transition that students make in going from high school to Cegep. In moving away from home, students find themselves at a new school, in a new town, far from their families and their friends. Roy (2005) suggests that these stressors, added other academic and life stressors, contribute to the higher dropout rate in first semester, as well as lower academic performance. Other lifestyle habits could also be affected, as students have less mental space and actual time for physical activity, proper nutrition, and sleep.

It’s clear, then, that the Cegep population is in need of a holistic, systems-wide approach that encompasses mental, physical, and emotional well-being in order to positively affect retention rates and academic success (Canadian Association of College & University Student Services and Canadian Mental Health, 2013). In looking at my own Cegep, and in referring to the principles and pillars of CHS/HPS, I was able to identify several measures that have been put in place to address these concerns, and some areas that could use some work.

Cegeps have all put in place a “Student success plan”. The plan at my Cegep aims to prioritize student success and engagement as well as community engagement with the college (Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, 2012). This plan is used by all stakeholders at the Cegep to ensure that strategies are implemented in an school-wide manner. Some of the principles of the Success Plan include:

  • curricular, extra-curricular and intra-mural activities to increase student engagement and a feeling of belonging;
  • Particular attention to first-semester students and a personalized follow-up for all students;
  • All personnel involved in the implementation of the plan.

The plan translates into direct action in the creation of the student schedules; the design of the physical environment; the involvement of students and staff in extra-curricular activities, clubs and events; and providing support services for students with special needs.

The school also has several resources related to sexual and mental health. A nurse is on site once a week for STI prevention, education and treatment. There is a social worker in the residence as well as one available to all students on appointment. A suicide prevention and education committee has been put in place.

The physical environment of the school is important, and steps have been taken to create bright, spacious study rooms and student life spaces such as the cafeteria and locker areas. A network of hiking trails with a lookout has also been constructed behind the school and green space abounds.

With a small student body, it is difficult to offer a wide range of clubs and activities. There are a couple of sports teams and recreational sports that students can participate in. There is an active student association and many interesting socio-cultural clubs and groups. One that stands out is the “Cellule Interculturel” or intercultural group; this group was created in response to the relatively large proportion of international students at our Cegep and aims to connect students from different cultures through discussion, activities, workshops and events. These groups and clubs are often coordinated by a teacher who takes on the task as part of her workload –  in other words, the school is financially supporting such initiatives).

While many steps have been taken to address student success, engagement, mental health, and retention, I would suggest that a wider, whole-school approach to health and wellness should be implemented.

One element that is in development at the Cegep level is the idea of cross-curricular, or common competencies. These competencies, strongly present in the Quebec Education Plan (for primary and secondary schools), can be a uniting force for school personnel, who are all responsible for the development of these competencies. At the moment, five common competencies[i] have been identified by the Minister of Education but they are not required to be assessed in Cegeps. I would suggest that, according to a Healthy School Community approach, these common competencies could help to include the “everyone” pillar of HPS in teaching and learning (Bassett-Gunter, Yessis, Manske, & Stockton, 2012). It could also help to integrate learning across subjects and across disciplines. In addition, common competencies could allow for the “health-education synergy” called for by the Healthy School Community approach (Bassett-Gunter, Yessis, Manske, & Stockton, 2012).

Addressing the issue of physical activity and lifestyle behaviours should be done on an institutional level, with all personnel (teaching and support staff) involved in the promotion of positive lifestyle choices. On a policy level, the Cegep should enforce an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables at the cafeteria and could perhaps even subsidize the potentially higher cost of these.  Workshops should be offered to students newly away from home, on how to cook with fresh produce, legumes, and lean meats. Since the cost of healthy food items is often higher than that of prepared and processed foods, a partnership with the local grocery stores could result in a discount for students on produce, or perhaps more radically, an open-dumpster policy that would encourage students to come and pick over about-to-be-discarded food (that hasn’t actually made it to the dumpster yet) and take it home for free!

A major barrier to regular physical activity is long, cold winters and the high cost of a gym membership. Studies have demonstrated that using campus recreation facilities increase feelings of belonging, connection to peers, mental and physical health, retention rates, and academic performance (Cressy, 2011). By offering significant discounts to all students on memberships to the weight room, pool, and gymnasium, students could exercise regularly even in the colder months. As well, introductory fitness, sport, or dance classes could be offered for free to allow students to begin forming positive physical activity habits (Cressy, 2011).

Mental health issues are significant in Cegep and the lifestyle behaviours of 17-24 year olds don’t help. According to McKean, promising practice in the prevention of mental health issues includes “screening & early detection, help-seeking, supporting students with mental illness/disability, student services, and academic policies” (2011). In addition, as Versaevel (2014) concludes, “creating a campus environment that supports students in managing stress, eating nutritiously, being physically active, and getting adequate sleep will enable students to maximize their intellectual functioning and scholastic achievements”. This must be done through a whole-school, all-personnel approach to health and education, by implementing policy and integrating health and educational objectives into all activities at the Cegep.

[i] The competencies are: Solve problems; Use creativity; Adapt to new situations; Exercise sense of responsibility; and Communicate (Ministère de l’éducation, loisir, et sport, 2009)

Works Cited

Bassett-Gunter, R., Yessis, J., Manske, S., & Stockton, L. (2012). Healthy School Communities Concept Paper. Physical and Health Education Canada, Ottawa.

Canadian Association of College & University Student Services and Canadian Mental Health. (2013). Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach. Vancouver, BC.

Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles. (2012). Plan de réussite, de persévérance scolaire et de diplomation. Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, Gaspé.

Cressy, J. (2011). The Roles of physical activity and health in enhancing student engagement: Implications for leadership in post secondary education. College Quarterly, 14(4). Retrieved 10 06, 2016, from College Quarterly: http://collegequarterly.ca/2011-vol14-num04-fall/cressy.html

Fédération des CÉGEPS. (2016, August 26). Communiqués: Stabilité du nombre d’étudiants au CÉGEP. Retrieved 10 6, 2016, from Fédération des CÉGEPS: http://www.fedecegeps.qc.ca/salle-de-presse/communiques/2016/08/15917/

Fédération des cégeps. (2010). Portrait de santé des jeunes Québécois agés de 15 à 24 ans. Quebec City: Fédération des cégeps.

Martin, C., & Arcand, L. (2005). Guide for the education community and its partners: For the educational success, health and well-being of young people. Ministry of Education, Quebec, Quebec City.

McKean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in post- secondary education settings: A literature and environmental scan to support planning and action in Canada. Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, Toronto.

Ministère de l’éducation, du loisir et du sport. (2007). Pour un virage santé à l’enseignement supérieur, Cadre de référence pour une saine alimentation et un mode de vie physiquement actif. Ministère de l’éducation, du loisir et du sport, Quebec.

Ministère de l’éducation, loisir, et sport. (2009). General Education: Common, specific, and complementary to programs leading to a diploma of college studies. Enseignement supérieur: Direction générale des affaires universitaires et collégiales, Québec.

Roy, J., Mainguy, N., Gauthier, M., & Giroux, L. (2005). Étude comparée sur la résusite scolaire en milieu collégial selon une approche d’écologie sociale. Cégep de Saite-Foy, Sainte-Foy.

Samdal, O., & Rowling, L. (2013). Introduction. In O. Samdal, & L. Rowling, The Implementation of Health Promoting Schools: Exploring the theories of what, why and how. New York, NY: Routledge.

Versaevel, L. N. (2014). Canadian Post-Secondary Students, Stress, and Academic Performance – A Socio-Ecological Approach. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository.








Summative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom: Part 3 of 3

Summative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom: Part 3 of 3

This is the final post in a 3-part series on assessment in project-based learning at the post-secondary level. Part 1, Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom, introduces why we need to assess PBL in an authentic way, and why assessments need to be modified for a college population.

Part 2, Formative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom, provides ideas and tools for evaluating students’ progress and learning along the way. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at how to award grades to students for project-based work, and I’ll provide some examples of tools you can modify for use in your own classrooms.

Summative Assessments will contribute to the student’s final grade and so need to be as clear and objective as possible. Ideally, students should know exactly how they will be assessed from the outset of the project. Students should also participate in defining the assessment criteria for the project.

Continue reading “Summative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom: Part 3 of 3”

Formative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom: Part 2 of 3

Formative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom: Part 2 of 3

This is part 2 in a 3-part series on assessment in project-based learning at the post-secondary level. Part 1, Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom, introduces why we need to assess PBL in an authentic way, and why assessments need to be modified for a college population. 

Formative Assessments allow teachers and students to see how they are progressing through the project and the content. There are no grades attached to these assessments. They can be used to show students what they understand and what they still need to work on, and they can also be useful for teachers to know what they might need to spend more time on in class. There are many different types of formative assessments that can be used; we will examine a few of the ones I’ve used in PBL.

Continue reading “Formative Assessments for PBL in the College Classroom: Part 2 of 3”

Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom: Part 1 of 3

Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom:  Part 1 of 3

This is part 1 of 3 blog posts exploring the assessment of Project-Based Learning in the college classroom. 

Project-Based Learning (PBL) has surged in popularity in primary and high schools in recent years. Teachers are using it more and more, and school districts are promoting it as a way to develop “21st Century Skills” in students – the skills they’ll need to face an uncertain future in the workforce as adults. Schools such as High Tech High in California have been built around PBL, with extraordinary results.

While it’s exciting to see the students engaged in projects, as teachers we need to ensure adequate assessment. Assessment has an effect on learning – just as a well-designed assessment can positively affect learning outcomes, so can an incongruent assessment have a negative impact on learning (Van den Berg, Mortelmans, & Spooren, 2006). It is important, therefore, that we pay considerable attention to the assessment modes we choose to use, and how and when we use them. Continue reading “Assessing Project-Based Learning in the College Classroom: Part 1 of 3”

Passion-based learning

Passion-based learning

Today I read a chapter from Don Wettrick’s book, Pure Genius: Building a culture of innovation and taking 20% time to the next level.

Reading this chapter on 20% time was a wonderful moment in my day. It turned out to be exactly what I needed to read today. Continue reading “Passion-based learning”