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Internal Capacity Building: The Role of the CSPAP Champion

This is an excerpt from Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 A conceptual framework for CSPAP research and practice based on a social-ecological perspective. Dotted lines represent the bidirectional influences of levels. Facilitator-level resources related to personnel, finances, politics, time, space, access, built environment, and transportation support and safety relate to physical, social, and emotional well-being.

Reprinted with permission from R.L. Carson et al., “School-Based Physical Activity Promotion: A Conceptual Framework for Research and Practice,” Childhood Obesity 10, no. 2 (2014): 100-106.

In this chapter, we review the research and offer existing knowledge claims from the growing evidence for each unit of CSPAP leadership—PA champion, supportive administrator, and CSPAP committee; identify knowledge gaps and provide directions for future research around building internal capacity for CSPAPs; propose evidence-based recommendations and practical applications for building and supporting a synergetic CSPAP leadership triad; and conclude with three nationally recognized case examples of the triad operating in unison to create a thriving CSPAP community where reaching the recommended amounts of daily PA is the norm and students and staff are still learning and smiling.

Review of Research

Research for each unit of the CSPAP leadership triad is reviewed in order, organized within each unit by the central tenets produced from the scholarship to date.

PA Champion

A PA champion is the school-level leader, coordinator, or director of CSPAP initiatives (Carson, 2012). The presence of quality leadership has been identified as the foundation for CSPAP success (Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014; Jones et al., 2014; Kulinna et al., 2012). This section gives an overview of what is currently known about a PA champion based on the available literature.

What a Champion Does

The leadership responsibilities of a PA champion typically include setting school-wide PA goals and priorities, identifying and sharing PA resources, ensuring and maintaining clean and safe PA environments, and coordinating community-engaged health and wellness activities (Carson, 2012; CDC, 2013). In addition, the PA champion must be a transformational leader who strives to influence and enhance major changes within a school setting toward a shared vision (Illg, 2014).

Who Are the Champions?

Because teachers are familiar with the unique school environment, policies, procedures, staff, and students, they are ideal candidates to lead during school daily PA opportunities (Kulinna et al., 2012). The most appropriate teacher with the PA expertise, extensive wellness and PA engagement knowledge, professional training (i.e., physical education teacher education [PETE] programs), and understanding of developmentally appropriate PA opportunities is the physical education teacher (Carson, 2012; Castelli & Beighle, 2007). A physical educator helps children achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily PA so that children live a healthy, active lifestyle (CDC, 2013), yet this daily recommendation cannot be attained in quality physical education classes alone (SHAPE America, 2016). The CSPAP model provides a guide for the school-wide PA opportunities in addition to quality physical education (CDC, 2017). According to current physical educators, they coordinate and implement CSPAPs because (1) they feel more time for PA is needed to achieve recommended amounts of daily PA and to provide opportunities for students to learn and practice skills related to personal and social responsibility; (2) they have personal reasons (i.e., enjoyment and feelings of doing good for children); (3) they believe it is part of their job description; and (4) they want to promote a positive image of physical education and the physical education teacher (Berei, 2015; Carson, Pulling, et al., 2014; Centeio, Erwin, et al., 2014). In addition, stakeholders in school environments, such as principals and classroom teachers, view the physical educator as the essential change agent for CSPAP implementation (Deslatte & Carson, 2014; Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014).

While the physical educator may be well suited to be a PA champion, it may not always be realistic for a physical educator to fill this role. In these situations, leadership can come from school administrators, classroom teachers, school staff, or any capable and willing parent or community member (Berei, 2015; Jones et al., 2014). Ideally, any potential PA champion participates on a school-level CSPAP committee or team to facilitate CSPAP change (Carson, Castelli, Beighle, et al., 2014). Kulinna and colleagues (2012) found that classroom teachers are willing and able to be part of school-based PA programming but they need assistance from a knowledgeable and skilled leader to provide training and encouragement. In many cases, classroom teacher training programs do not address how to establish healthy and active school environments; therefore, it may be necessary to educate faculty and staff on how to teach and practice healthy behaviors (Beighle et al., 2009; Castelli et al., 2017).

What a Champion Needs

First and foremost, the PA champion must have adequate CSPAP content knowledge (Carson, 2012; Illg, 2014; McMullen et al., 2014), including a deep understanding of how the five CSPAP components interact within the organizational structures of a community and school setting (Centeio, Erwin, et al., 2014; Illg, 2014). The CSPAP champion must be willing and able to go beyond his or her traditional role as the physical educator and provide PA opportunities outside of physical education classes in innovative and creative ways (Carson, 2012; Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014). An effective CSPAP cannot be implemented by the PA champion alone; therefore, effective leadership and advocacy skills are necessary (Centeio, Erwin, et al., 2014; Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014; Illg, 2014; Jones et al., 2014; McMullen et al., 2014). One strategy to ensure PA champions have the knowledge and skills they need to effectively fulfill their role is through CSPAP professional development.

Knowledge for Successful PA Champions

  • Adequate foundational CSPAP content knowledge (Carson, 2012; Illg, 2014; McMullen et al., 2014)
  • Theoretical orientations to leadership systems and organizational structures (Illg, 2014):
    • Understand the structure of a school and community system
    • Understand factors that affect decision making in school settings
  • Thinking beyond the role of the traditional physical educator in innovative ways (Carson, 2012; Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014)

Skills for Successful PA Champions

  • Implementing an extensive CSPAP needs assessment (Illg, 2014; Jones et al., 2014)
  • Organization, management, and leadership skills:
    • Develop and plan short- and long-term CSPAP objectives
    • Demonstrate strong communication skills
    • Find and organize resources
    • Prepare, recruit, educate, and train others to lead and provide PA opportunities
    • Utilize effective strategies to implement and promote PA beyond the physical education classroom, such as during the school day (work with classroom teachers and increase PA at recess) and before and after school
    • Strategic policy development
    • Understand when and how to delegate responsibilities (Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014; Illg, 2014; Jones et al., 2014)
  • Advocacy skills:
    • Find support and collaborate and network with colleagues, administrators, and other community partners and stakeholders
    • Build community and share visions
    • Effectively market programs
    • How to relate to and with and motivate others (Centeio, Erwin, et al., 2014; Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014; Illg, 2014; McMullen et al., 2014)