Ten years ago, a traditional physical health and education (PHE) program would have been captured by images of students being involved in competitive sporting activities, long lines waiting for a turn and single-function drills regardless of need. Grades rewarded excellence and often, many students struggled to ‘fit in’ or even maintain participation. Fast forward to today and a totally different picture is seen. This is because of the global shift to a concept driven curriculum and physical literacy that has been nothing short of revolutionary in its impact on student learning in physical and health education.
Concept driven PHE instruction produces fewer pressures on students to be proficient in competitive sport and provides greater emphasis on challenge through choice and individual improvement goal setting. In other words, PHE today is all about developing physical independence and physical literacy. These terms are routinely used in progressive PHE pedagogy but they also receive definitive clinical backing from the field of movement, rehabilitation and functional training. Gray Cook, a world leading physiotherapist and founder of Functional Movement Systems (FMS), states that the main goal of physical education should be to develop healthy and capable human beings who can be confident and competent to take care of their own health and fitness throughout their life. But how do you connect educational theory with classroom practice? The synergy of theory and performance occurs when PHE students test themselves physically, usually against a baseline test that they performed with support from the teacher and specific online resources. This is how the International School of Belgrade (ISB) redesigned its PHE curriculum to explicitly include Functional Movement Systems (FMS) as the underlying philosophy when vertically articulating PHE units of inquiry with the simple slogan: Move well before moving often.
Functional Movement Systems (FMS) in the ISB PHE Curriculum
The FMS philosophy states that a person needs to have a solid foundation of functional movement patterns on top of which they will build strength, speed, agility, and sport specific skills. What you do not want to do is to layer fitness on top of movement dysfunction. FMS was therefore purposefully inserted into the ISB curriculum because it was seen to provide the PHE teaching team with a significant tool to help students develop greater understanding and awareness of their movement weaknesses. It can do this through a simple battery of tests designed to reveal mobility and stability deficiencies in key fundamental movement patterns (such as squatting, lunging, stepping, crawling etc…) that one might do at home, work or sports. In accordance with the principles of developmental kinesiology, FMS ‘corrective exercises’ could also be learned and this will help a person improve mobility and subsequently learn how to control increased range of motions and how they should be incorporated into all aspects of daily life.
The Why, What & How
The reason why we decided to make this big shift in our PHE and Co-Curricular (CCA) programs is that we recognized the need to empower our students to be able to take care of their own health and fitness in a way that is safe, efficient and supported by various scientific studies. As stated above, we wanted to design our curriculum in a way that will develop physical independence in our students and athletes and that will help them to move better, feel better and perform better, as well as to put them on a path to a lifelong fitness journey. Our PHE curriculum supports our CCA program by implementing principles of FMS into our team’s warm ups and physical preparation sessions, in the hope it would reduce the incidence of injuries in our students/players and underpin their performance in competitions.
In our PHE program, we use a vertical planning model, in which we build upon the knowledge gained in each previous year of the program. During our fitness units for grades 6 and 7, instead of standardized fitness testing at the beginning and the end of school year, we are introducing basic components of fitness to our students and exposing them to a variety of different fundamental movement patterns such as running, jumping, crawling, climbing, squatting etc. This gives our students a chance to explore different forms of movement and to develop body awareness, coordination, strength and most of all, plasticity of their central nervous system, by exposing them to a variety of sensory stimuli. Dr. Ed Thomas, one of the world leaders in physical education, highlights the positive effects that adequate physical activity can have on students’ academic scores.
In grade 8, we are introducing FMS as a movement screening tool to our students, and they have a chance to understand basic concepts of mobility, stability, motor control and functional movements. They get to inquire why it is necessary to have a certain baseline of functional movement patterns and how these can be transferred to other sports and activities of daily living. We teach our students how to screen themselves for movement deficiencies and how to design corrective exercise plans that will help them improve their movement patterns. They get the chance to learn how to use foam rollers, a variety of different mobility exercises for the body regions that tend to get stiff and tight, stability/motor control drills etc… After they learn how to improve fundamental movement patterns, we introduce the basics of functional training, as a way to load those patterns in an adequate way, that is in line with the latest trends in the world of strength & conditioning of athletes.
As students progress to grade 9, we are introducing CrossFit as another very popular and beneficial way of achieving and maintaining fitness, in a way that is in line with the principles they had the chance to learn in the previous year of the program. They are using the exercises and knowledge obtained and upgrading it by broadening the range of activities they can implement in their workouts. Students are asked to design two or three week plans, guided by the principles of programming in CrossFit and perform their programs in class.
By grade 10, students should have a broad knowledge and understanding of functional movement patterns, functional training and CrossFit, so they are asked to combine all of these methods in designing a 6-8 week plan that they will use to prepare themselves for different community events at ISB, such as the 5km ‘Dragon Run’ trail race.
ISB’s Partnership with FMS UK
The PHE Department at ISB has been very fortunate to have been supported along this journey by members of administration who saw the benefits of this change in philosophy and need for students to take ownership of their movement journey.
We were able to get funding and create a collaborative fitness center that we call the Dragon’s Lair. This space is used by students and teachers as a place where they can participate in functional training and work on their personalized exercise programs, guided by the principles of FMS philosophy. The former Principal Ms. Kristine Greenlaw was instrumental in getting this space for the PHE Department and supporting the messaging within our school community. We have also been fortunate that our new Principal Mr. Aaron Kane is also supportive of the program and has supported our initiative to form a relationship with FMS UK, who will provide us with a bespoke FMS platform that our students and teachers will use. The FMS software will give each user a unique movement program that will improve weaknesses in each individual’s movement competencies.
Using FMS for Staff Wellbeing
The FMS UK software will be available to all students in Grades 8, 9 & 10 initially and will also be used by all consenting staff members. The focus for staff will be improving their physical wellbeing and helping them to better enjoy their time on campus. There are many different views on physical wellbeing and how it can impact mental wellbeing. Here at ISB we definitely believe that if staff members are physically feeling well, then their mental capacity and performance in the classroom will be improved. This is especially important when linked with a good diet and regular exercise.
Special thanks to Kristine Greenlaw, Fmr Upper School Principal & Aaron Kane, Upper School Principal