December 6, 2016

The #MaxYourDays Mural: Celebrating Physical Literacy Journeys

Last summer, I stumbled upon an incredible ad from The North Face. The ad is called “Max Your Days” and it features a variety of people living some crazy adventures all within the span of a single day (well, at least that’s the feel they were going for). Check it out:

Aside from having some incredible shots and making me jealous of the people in the video’s lifestyles, the message behind the ad really resonated with me. To “Max Your Days” is to get the most out of every day. To get the most out of every day is to get the most out of life.

Isn’t that what we, as physical educators, want for our students?

Part One: The Students

I started to think about how we could make that idea of getting the most out of life a central theme of our physical education program here at St. George’s School of Montreal. I fell in love with the other theme of the ad, adventure, and got excited about how adventure is an idea students can grasp and get behind. Who doesn’t love to think that, at least one day, they will live their wildest adventures (whatever those adventures may be – what is adventurous to you may be very different than what is adventurous to me).

An idea started to form and I ran with it…

At the start of the school year, I had each of my classes watch the “Max Your Days” video. As a group, we discussed what it meant to “max your days” and why getting the most out of life is something we all desire (after all, we only live once). The way I worded it to the students was that maxing your days means living as many adventures as possible, no matter how big or small. That’s why we put “adventure” at the top of our pyramid.

The students were then invited to participate in a musical hoops-style activity. Students would move through a playing area filled with various hoops (one hoop per two students). When the music stopped, the students quickly ran to a hoop which they found themselves sharing with a fellow student. Both students would take the next two minutes to discuss all of the “adventures” they lived over the summer. After the next round, students would share what adventures they hope to one day live. For the third round discussion, students would discuss with their partner what skills/knowledge/concepts/tactics/attitudes they needed or would need to live the adventures of their lives. Finally, after the last round, students would discuss the role they believe health plays in getting the most out of every day.

When I called the students in, I had them share the answers their different partners had shared with them (as opposed to sharing their own). We then talked about the people in the video. “What was the one thing all of those people had that was the key to all of their adventures?” Through our discussions, the students came up with health as the greatest wealth, the most important key to living as many adventures as possible (which is also aligned with our school’s founding principle that “health must come first”). Upon realizing this, it now made sense to put “health” at the base of our pyramid.

But what about that middle portion? What goes in that place that is enabled and contributes to health all while allowing us to focus on getting the most out of every day, to live as many adventures as possible?

That’s how I introduced the idea of physical literacy to my students.

To help them understand, I used SHAPE America’s student-friendly definition from their Student-Friendly National Standards for K-12 Physical Education that they released earlier this year: “Being physically literate is a fancy way of saying that you know how to be physically active and that you enjoy being physically active”.  I explained that physical literacy comes from having the skills, knowledge, understandings and values you need in order to be motivated to participate in physical activity your whole life. I showed them how, in physical education, we focus on develop those things in a fun, safe and challenging learning environment.

Each and every class, when we go over the What/Why/How of that lesson, I make sure to tie (or, better yet, have the students tie) the “WHY” of that lesson back into the Adventure Pyramid and back into their own physical literacy journeys. By doing so, I’m doing what I can to tie meaning into the day’s lesson and help my students develop a better understand of the “lifelong journey” aspect of physical literacy.

But the students were only the start…

Part Two: The Parents

Like most schools, my school has a curriculum night at the beginning of the year where parents come in to talk to the homeroom teachers about expectations, methods, curriculum, etc. Us #physed teachers are there, but parents rarely have the time to come see us. Knowing this, I asked my principal if Alex (my teaching partner/sister-in-law) and I could talk to the parents at the beginning of the evening when all of the parents were assembled in the gym.

I was given three minutes to talk. You better believe I made them count!

Rather than focusing on units or P.E. procedures, assessment or trips… I focused my presentation on the “WHY” of physical education. Taking yet another page from my friend Terri Drain’s book, I had parents reflect on how they were/are physically active during their grade school years, during their college years, and today (as an adult, as a parent, and as an employee). I made parents realize that they have been on a journey of physical literacy throughout their entire lifetime and that the fact that each of them had lived very different journeys from one another was something that should be celebrated. I defined physical literacy using the definition I’ve become most comfortable with: competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities, in a variety of environments, that enables individuals to engage in health-enhancing physical activity throughout their entire lifetimes. From there, the role of their children’s physical education experience became easier to understand: to maximize their kids’ physical literacy potential so that they can get the most out of life.

The presentation was well received and I had a lot of parents come talk to me afterwards about how they want to help their children discover their physical literacy journeys.

Part Three: The #MaxYourDays Mural

So now that the students are developing a better understanding of physical literacy and the parents are aware of its role in regards to getting the most out of life, how do we continue to celebrate and reflect on physical literacy throughout the school year?

Well, I made a board for that.

I sent an email out to parents, faculty and administrators asking them to send me pictures of themselves or of their family being active outside of school. The idea was to create a board that celebrated the unique journeys each of us are on in terms of physical literacy. Two weeks ago, with a massive amount of help from my school’s art teacher, the board went “live”. Here’s what it looks like:

Sorry about the blurred images: I have to protect my students’ identities. You know the drill…

The mural has this central message that serves as an advocacy tool for physical literacy when Alex and myself aren’t around to do so. The mural is also a living project: I want people to continue to add to it over time (especially when the seasons change and kids get active in new environments), so I make it easy for everyone to understand how to do so.

I edited each submitted picture (which I received about 200+ of) to showcase the physical activity being performed, the people involved in it and their role within the school. As much as this is a project celebrating unique physical journeys, it’s also one that celebrates the awesome school community at St. George’s School. The editing took a while, but not nearly as much as the cutting and glueing (which, again, would have been impossible without our amazing art teacher… especially considering I’m terrible at using scissors!)

The project has really taken off and has become a traffic stopped for people walking in the halls! Students are always excited to show their friends how they have been active (they hang off the cubbies underneath the mural… I swear they’re going to rip the wall down!), parents spend time looking at it at the end of the day when they are waiting to pick up their kids from after-school activities, and all visitors stop to take a look when they walk by (the mural is massive and takes up a large part of the hallway wall)!

The best part about the mural is the fact that it doesn’t have an “end goal”. Just like physical literacy, it will continue to grow and evolve over time. When both boards are full, photos will spill onto the walls around them and fill up our hallway. I can’t wait to see where it will go!

One More Thing

As much as I’m excited about the mural, I’m always trying to think one step ahead in terms of how I can make things better and more interesting. Here’s a glimpse into my long, long term goal for the #MaxYourDays mural:

Pictures are cool and all, but when it comes to physical activity, they don’t tell as great as a story as video does. Some families have been sending in videos as well as pictures of their children being active. In those cases, I thought it would pretty fun to have some of the pictures come to life via Augmented Reality. The idea is that AR-enhanced photos would have a different colour frame. I would create a small sign explaining how to interact with those special photos and which app to use (I’m currently using Aurasma, but I’m not sold on it). As parents/visitors walk by the mural or wait for their child, they could bust out their phone, launch the AR app of choice, and watch as our physical literacy mural magically comes to life before their eyes!

Like I said, it’s a long, long term goal!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! I’d love to hear how you celebrate physical literacy at your school, so feel free to leave a comment in the section below.

Thanks for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
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