This month’s Thriving Faculty member is Dr. Joy Butler, an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC.
Thriving Faculty is a monthly column that highlights UBC faculty who exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities.
What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
I believe that we all face the same major challenge, which is to find balance in our lives as we juggle our efforts to be effective professionals, informed citizens, caring partners and family members, and at the same time, take care of our own bodies and psyches. Aboriginal culture offers the medicine wheel as a symbol of the kind of balance we need to strike between the various parts of our lives and our identities. (See wellness wheel on the walkabout website.) It can be hard to find this kind of balance as the world heats up, becoming increasingly more intense and ‘wired.’ In the pressurized world of academia, we are subject to information over-load, competing demands for action and compassion burn-out. When this overwhelms our defenses and our immune systems compromised it is even more important to pay attention to our health.
Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning.
In general terms, to be better educated puts us at an advantage when it comes to health and wellbeing, in that better educated people usually earn more, and thus enjoy better access to such things as health care, healthy diet, and safe, comfortable housing. Speaking more specifically about my own discipline, Physical Education, I would argue that the relationship between health and learning is more conscious and more direct. The current PE curriculum aims to educate the whole human being through the physical, as they reject the separation Descartes set between the body and the mind. This stands in contrast to older, more traditional approaches that focused on educating the body through techniques and drills. My own research looks at the social dimensions of PE and sport education. I believe that team games provide important opportunities to learn about and practice healthy equal relationships, and to develop the qualities we need to be effective citizens – attributes like fairness, empathy, and sound decision making. We don’t become or stay healthy and well in isolation, but in the cultures and relationships in which we are situated.
Please describe the role of your own mental health and wellbeing in your teaching, research and service to the community?
To state the obvious, no one enjoys a crabby, worn out professor, and no one can be creative when they haven’t had enough sleep or fun! Though it’s hard to maintain self care at the same time as keeping up with grading, class preparation, research, committees, writing and reading, it’s important not to let oneself get into a downward spiral. I’m not perfect in this regard, by any means, and have found my wellness wheel to be quite bumpy at times but I do try to take stock regularly and make adjustments.
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
I exercise every day. In the morning, I begin with a short but intense physical workout that I have practiced for so many years I could do it in my sleep! Good habits are crucial when it comes to exercise, and my workout is perhaps a good illustration. I don’t think about whether or not to do it, I just roll out of bed and begin. I like early morning exercise because it kick starts all those interrelated systems, such as the brain, the digestion, and the cardiovascular neural networks. I have two dogs and subject them to a pretty vigorous walking regimen! It helps to live close to campus, and I always cycle or walk to work, whatever the weather (I’ve even managed to cross country ski in on a few occasions). I also enjoy yoga and working out at the gym, and include both of these activities on a weekly basis. Finally, I’m about to join a dragon boat team in March. We all know what happens when we work and don’t play. Although it’s tough to fit a social life in to the busy UBC semester, my partner and I do have a good circle of friends, and enjoy going out to dinner or movies, as well as joint hikes, skiing or snowshoeing. We also make sure that we have time to talk to each other. We eat breakfast and dinner together on a daily basis, and often process and plan our lives on walks at Jericho Beach.
Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
An initiative I’d like to mention in this context is the Walkabout Program. Walkabout is a nine-week health and wellbeing challenge that promotes regular exercise in social settings and allows for the annual check in and goal adjustment I mentioned earlier. It is hosted by the Faculty of Education and this year has invited opened up the invitation everyone on campus.
Essentially, staff, faculty, students and community members join teams of five members, log their daily steps (using fitbits or pedometers) and engage in a ‘virtual race’ with other teams. The competition element makes it fun and interactive – the research shows that people are more likely to maintain exercise when they work out in groups – but an important goal is to make people individually aware of just how far they do walk each day when they take everything into account, even teaching, shopping or cooking. We include a conversion table of other activities into step counts when the type of activity cannot be recorded by step count (such as yoga or gym training). People are quite surprised to find out how many steps they actually take in a day, for better or worse! But in either case, participants begin to get a sense for what a healthy level of activity looks or feels like. The World Health organization has defined this as 10,000-11,000 steps a day, and by the end of the program, many people are achieving that level and more.
This year, we celebrate our 10th anniversary of the walkabout program and do so alongside the 100th UBC anniversary by incorporating the Great Trek as our virtual route. Teams will be able to mark their weekly progress through the number of laps achieved.
To encourage the social element of the program, members can record the numbers of steps taken with any other member of the program to achieve a social bonus, and weekly walks have been organized by the committee. The first walk will include our four-legged companions.
We celebrate the end of the nine-week walkabout with an awards ceremony that celebrates the winners of categories such as ‘most social steps’ and ‘most actual steps’, as well as less serious awards such as ‘best team name’.
Dr. Joy Butler is an Associate Professor in the Dept of Curriculum and Pedagogy (EDCP) at UBC, Vancouver. Joy’s research and teaching have developed around constructivist learning theory, teacher education, complexity thinking, situated ethics and community wellness. She is active in international scholarship, organization, and advocacy for Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU).