Award-winning prof aims to inspire next generation of educators

Joe Barrett isn’t one to rest on his laurels.

When the Associate Professor learned he was receiving Brock’s 2022 Faculty of Education Award for Teaching Excellence, he said the honour served as further motivation to continue striving to be a better educator for his students.

It’s a goal Barrett has worked towards for most of his life, whether as a coach, camp counsellor, teacher or teacher educator.

“I think before I knew I wanted to be a teacher, I knew that I wanted to be in some kind of profession that involved helping others,” he said.

Now working with Brock’s teacher candidates, Barrett, who was honoured at the University’s Spring Convocation Monday, June 13, is helping the next generation of educators to make a difference. He teaches Health and Physical Education curriculum and instruction courses for the Consecutive Teacher Education and Concurrent Teacher Education programs.

Barrett works with students to help them overcome any fears they have about teaching health and physical education and to find their own joy in movement and movement exploration.

“The emphasis has shifted away from sport as physical education toward more progressive health physical education teaching that has a wider range and is more student centred,” he said. “Not all students are going to be at the same place on a continuum of skills, abilities and competences — and that’s OK. We’re helping our students to find their way to greater confidence and greater competence across a wide range of physical activities.”

Helping students develop physical literacy and build lifelong healthy movement habits is just one part of health and physical education. Barrett also prepares teacher candidates in his courses to teach a range of topics related to health and health promotion, including healthy eating, substance abuse, addictions and related behaviours, human development and sexual health, personal safety and injury prevention, and mental health literacy.

These topics can be complex and deeply personal, so Barrett equips teacher candidates with tools and approaches they can adapt to the unique contexts and circumstances of their future students. The methods can often also be applied to subjects beyond health and physical education.

“I try to model that there are ways to approach teaching and learning that are rooted in care, humility, listening, understanding, reflection and then appropriate action that moves us forward,” Barrett said of his teaching philosophy.

His empathetic approach is partially informed by culturally responsive pedagogy as well as his experiences growing up.

Barrett was raised in a small northern Ontario mining town where he saw the impacts of financial insecurity on his community. While his parents weren’t able to pursue post-secondary education, they worked hard to provide a stable home and education opportunities for their children.

“I found myself more interested in helping those less served by traditional education and those who are least served in health and physical education,” he said.

Barrett believes it is critical to examine stereotypes and privilege to break down barriers and address microaggressions in health and physical education, and to better serve students.

Responding to relevant issues in the classroom, whether discussing ever-emerging approaches to culturally responsive teaching or exploring the impacts of unhealthy social media fitness content, means teachers need to continue learning throughout their careers, he said.

Barrett has helped Brock teacher candidates to develop meaningful connections to the broader field by creating MOVE: An Annual Health and Physical Literacy Conference for Teacher Candidates.

The one-day event brings together frontline experts, such as researchers and public health professionals, to give teacher candidates access to fresh perspectives on policy and approaches to pedagogy associated with health and physical literacy development. The conference is the first of its kind in Canada in the health and physical education field.

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