Sometimes we don’t often get the time to speak to the parents of the students we teach. The role of specialists, such as physiotherapists, in physical education might also seem abstract. This blog highlights the importance of three way communication pathways between parents, teachers, and specialists. It shows that by working together we all play role in supporting young people’s development.


Volume 2.10 (Blog 105):

Heikinaro-Johansson, P., Huovinen, T., McEvoy, E., Piirainen, A., & Välimaa, R. (2014). Onni: A lucky adolescent in Finland. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 130-143). London: Routledge.



Onni (Finnish for luck) lives in a second floor flat in a well-to-do neighbourhood of a Finnish city. Both his parents have good jobs and the family does well for itself – financially – but there are other costs. Both his mum and his dad work long hours and Onni is either left to fend for himself or he spends his time with his grandparents who live close. At thirteen this is not so much of an issue and he spends much of his time playing games and programming on his computer. Yet he spends so much time at his computer that he is beginning to complain of headaches and pain in his neck.

He doesn’t have any close friends; at least he didn’t at elementary school and now he has just started middle school it doesn’t look like that’s going to change. That said he does have virtual friends he talks to on his computer – which is another reason he likes to spend most of his time there. Onni is one of the youngest in his class and one of the smallest and his lack of friends, and confidence, mean he is also one of the quietest. He is very creative and imaginative and draws very well but he is very tired during the school day; a result of staying up late on his computer (sometimes until dawn).

Living in a second floor flat, with busy parents, means that physical activity hasn’t played a big part in his leisure time. He does, like the majority of Finnish adolescents, cycle to school and yet while he enjoys being outside this is his only regular physical activity.


The Pedagogical Case

Central to Onni’s pedagogical case is his teacher Mikael. In Finnish schools students are placed in home groups and one member of staff takes care of the students in his or her home group for the year. Coincidently Mikael is also both Onni’s physical education teacher and his health education teacher and as a consequence gets to see a lot of him each week. His first impressions of Onni are that he is a nice, quiet little boy who isn’t disruptive and doesn’t interrupt (both good things in Mikael’s eyes).

The school’s leadership team and teaching staff firmly believe that high quality professional development is a “strategic imperative” if they are going to be able to maximise learning. At this year’s pre-school planning/development day they have agreed to use the “the school wellbeing profile as a tool for measuring and enhancing the school’s overall wellbeing”. In particular the school’s staff has agreed, that this year, they will focus on pupils’ health and wellbeing by fostering cooperation, and enhancing home-school partnerships – something that will prove very significant for Onni.

The first lesson in both Health and Physical Education is spent co-planning the year’s curriculum provision. Mikael wants to take into account the “individuality of each of his pupils and allow them to be part of the planning and decision-making”. To do this Mikael has them fill in a questionnaire outlining their hobbies, physical activity preferences, health issues and hopes for lessons. Onni mentions his computer and drawing and says he doesn’t want to play football (soccer) or ice-hockey but try something new instead. He mentions his problems with his neck and says he has some pain in his lower back and that this might stop him taking part in lessons some times.

Mikael wants all his pupils to be motivated and have fun in physical education but he sees that Onni doesn’t get very actively involved in lessons. He is withdrawn and sits or stands near the wall. He nearly always goes to the back of the line and is almost always willing to let others take his place rather than get involved himself. He gets laughed at by the bigger boys when he tries to catch a ball and it is clear to Mikael that Onni doesn’t’ have very diverse motor skills.

Health lessons deal with sex education, alcohol, emotions, quarrels at home, friends, sleep, and growing up (among other things). Onni is included – despite his reluctance – by the range of teaching approaches that Mikael uses and this allows Mikael to better understand Onni. Like one in four Finnish boys and one in three Finnish girls Onni has neck problems and Mikael asks all of his pupils to keep a diary of their wellbeing for one week, recording daily physical activity, eating and sleeping habits. Through the diary, and his observations Mikael notices that Onni has difficulty finding work partners from the other students and is often tired in lessons.

Drawing on the school’s decision to strength and consolidate the school-home partnership Mikael arranges a call with Onni’s parents. He learns that on the week that Onni missed a dance lesson both his parents were overseas on business. Onni’s mum is surprised to hear that Onni is tired and has no friends at school but she is very busy, as is her husband. Mikael learns that Onni spends many afternoons at home alone and that he plays on his computer until late in the evening – although she thought he got enough sleep. Mikael also finds out that while they (Onni’s parents) know that Onni doesn’t have the best conditions in which to grow up in they don’t know what they could do to change this. Like many families, Onni’s values leisure time more highly than work but work takes up a lot of time and they are left with the guilt but no real change. Onni’s mum mentions his lower back/shoulder pain and it is agreed that he should consult with the school physiotherapist.

During his visit to the physiotherapist (with his mum) Onni is asked to sit and play a computer game and to walk to check his gait. The physiotherapist also checks the functioning of his spinal column. She notices that his sitting position is rotated and he has a tendency to keep his right shoulder slightly elevated when his is at the desk and that his right stride was longer than his left. Finally she noticed that he had “functional rotation” in his middle back that was causing his “muscles to be overworked when moving, or sitting for long periods.” His limited functional rotation affected his walking system and made Onni appear clumsy at times. It didn’t affect him when sitting but manifested itself in head and back pain.

The physiotherapist said that Onni needs to “improve his body awareness by strengthening the connection between his body and mind, thus improving his body consciousness, body management and body experience”. It was recommended that Onni and his dad should participate together in a father and son exercise club because research suggested that same-sex parents have a stronger influence on a child’s behaviour that cross-sex parents. Additionally Onni’s family need to think about his ergonomic demands and purchase a suitable workstation, which would cater for “Onni’s physical, cognitive, technical and social needs”.

At school Mikael, armed with this information, was able to carefully plan and anticipate Onni’s needs and could choose “proper equipment, planning pupil groupings, and pupil-appropriate tasks, and using a suitable location and suitable instructions for activities”. By fostering cooperation between classmates (one of his aims at the start of the year) and helping students to notice, listen, accept, trust and appreciate each other he was able to increase pupil self-esteem.

At home Onni’s lack of physical activity (like the majority of his peers research suggests) was a concern. Despite his cycle to school Onni wasn’t meeting the 1—2 hours of activity a week that was recommended. Conversely, he was greatly surpassing the recommended two-hours maximum of sitting each day and two-hours maximum of entertainment media use that had been recommended. Support at home though was more forthcoming and the exercise and bonding with his dad was helping.

The school were aware of these recommendations and was trying to include a variety of opportunities for activity breaks and after-school initiatives. Through a small grant they were able to build a new playground and Onni’s digital skills came in very handy when creating an online space for the pupils to post ideas and in taking photographs. His self-esteem rose as he cooperated with his peers and learned to marry his love of the outside with a passion for design. He made friends and spent time with them. He played outside in the playground and discovered other spaces and things he could do (with his friends).

It is hard to point at one single facet of Onni’s case that led to success. Mikael was key but he couldn’t have done it with help from home and from the physiotherapist or the wider school. It was ‘team’ effort and there were multiple pieces of the puzzle to fit together. The holistic approach of all concerned – Onni included – played a key role and this collaborative approach was instrumental in helping Onni. Therefore, this case highlights that it is important that the support young people need comes from the home and the school. How we help young people should not occur in separate spaces but should transfer between the two or three spaces respectively. The case shows that teachers openly and freely communicating with parents is a good strategy. Yet fundamentally, teachers and parents should consult with specialists (such as physiotherapists) when needed, gain advice, and then sharing the information with each other to support young people’s development.


What’s next? As part of this blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor. Her help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.