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Table 2 The main tips and lessons learnt from the Estonian Schools in Motion (SiM) program design

From: Developing a comprehensive school-based physical activity program with flexible design – from pilot to national program

No Tip/lesson Explanation Example
1 Compose multi-disciplinary RDT team and involve practitioners Involve into the team practitioners who have lengthy experience in working with or in schools and are familiar with the day-to-day operation of schools. They have certain tacit knowledge to anticipate whether the new intervention idea could fit with the implicit rules and logic of action in the (particular) school. The team has agreed upon the main approach formed as a result of the site visits, close contact with schools and critical mapping of the earlier interventions, according to which it is not wise to set strict norms to schools in the way they are set in trial interventions. Instead, a flexible approach based on the principles of co-design of program elements with schools and supporting the autonomy of schools was approved.
2 Involve the experts of public communication into the team The media representation and general recognition of the problem is influential in shaping the understandings of all key stakeholders, including parents, teachers and the local municipality. In order to include the topic in the media agenda, systematic communication is needed that works best when the communication experts are part of the team, rather than involved as an outsourced service. Through public communication the concept of a PA-friendly school has been gradually normalized in society. Some schools have made successful fundraising via participatory budget projects; sports-, health- and educational organizations embraced the SiM approach and are interested in co-operation.
3 Make multiple positioning of problems and solutions In analyzing the problem and discussing the solutions be aware of several standpoints and potential framings: health, pedagogy, schools traditions, social relationships, wellbeing, sport, etc. Do not let one meaning/positioning dominate and stifle other meanings/positionings. Include school personnel as a target group for PA promotion. The health application alone does not give input into the necessity of PA during the school day. The pedagogical implications of the activity break in lessons and active recess are important to address and multiple solutions need to be encouraged. In the beginning of the program, the schools generally believed that academic results can best be achieved by sitting calmly and PA is mainly for physical education and after-school time. The communication based on scientific evidence assured them about positive supportive relationships between PA and academic advancement.
4 Encourage implementers to focus on the long-term mobilization of resources The short-term mobilization (such as a sports day) is achievable and implementers like to fill their plans with one-off activities. Encourage patiently the implementers to compose their action plans more from the regular activities and changes, thus creating long-term impact. Encourage them to be rather conservative: plan fewer activities, but cover them with sufficient resources (people, time, regulations, etc.) for implementation. The measurement of the impact of the intervention has to involve both a short-term and long-term perspective. The re-structuring of the school day or school physical environment is a substantive change that has several co-effects. In some schools it took 3–4 years before they made this change. From both implementers’ and program leaders’ viewpoint, planning would need more than a 1–2 year perspective as sustainable changes take time.
5 Nurture openness and learning from negative experiences The schools are eager for positive self-representation and cautious of talking openly about their failures. It is possible to create an inspiration community both online (e.g. a Facebook group) and offline (e.g. experience-sharing seminars). This requires special efforts to transform the inspiration community into a learning community where failures are also discussed openly. The initiators need support and positive feedback. In one inspiration seminar, a school principal talked openly about problems in implementing outdoor recess and how she solved the problem by involving students into the re-design of the house rules. This experience also give inspiration to the other schools and the research team for further improvements of the program.
6 Close contact, qualitative data help to monitor and set the course for the program In the course of implementation new challenges appear constantly. In order to understand the implicit mechanisms, a deeper look is needed. The examples and stories have many functions. Although we were hesitant about school visits at the beginning of the program, they have proven to have high functionality in diverse domains: to understand school culture; monitor the general progress of the school; and support the team and program with examples and stories.
7 Plan time for practicing between seminars and workshops and request the participants to record their experience Teachers often feel inspired by new ideas and activities they have learnt in seminars or workshops and want to try them in their classrooms. However, the initial enthusiasm often tends to fade. Requests to record their experiences (keep a diary, take photos, etc.) over a certain period exert slight external pressure to keep on practicing and follow-up meetings boost motivation. Afterwards, the ideas are a fruitful base for designing the web-based database. The teachers participating in the skills training were requested to keep a diary of the movement integration in their classrooms. On the second training day (follow-up meeting) they could exchange ideas and experience and were introduced to many new activities promoted by themselves.
8 Give some instantly usable tools to aid practicing the newly acquired skills Teachers often feel that the preparation of physically active lessons is time-consuming. While it may largely be a misconception and many activities do not need many materials or special preparation, the ready-made and instantly usable materials increase the likelihood that the teachers who do not feel very experienced in using physically active methods try them out. The teachers participating in the active lesson training received some ready-made materials on both training days. They could instantly use these materials in their classroom on the next day at school for implementing activity breaks or to integrate PA into learning.
9 Involve different staff members and students into the planning meetings and program implementation and support their rotation Remind the activists that they should involve representatives of varied roles – from the principal to the cloakroom employee and students from different age groups – in planning the new interventions. The details on implementation should already be discussed when planning the recourse demanding changes. In the planning process it is really important to involve the students. Otherwise, the revenues from investment remain modest. Additionally, there is a danger of their burnout and limitations of their power to create and support changes. Motivate the new members to join the activist group by offering socialization tools/events to the newcomers. The outdoor recess needs the establishment of a longer time break and a solution to problems of access to the wardrobe, additional cleaning, and new activity spaces in the schoolyard, and therefore needs careful planning involving different staff members of schools. For students it has been important that they are partners in developing the process in order to perceive outdoor recess as not just as the teachers’ order, but to co-design with them to create more physically active and enjoyable recess time. The motivation of students to be leaders of recess can be an important cue for older students.
10 After conducting a study give instant and easy-to-use individual feedback to schools Conducting research creates an extra workload for the schools, and the least that can be done is appealing and easy-to-understand individual feedback which schools can use for analysis and monitoring. This approach ensures that the results will actually be used by the target group and encourages co-operation in the future. For some schools, comparative graphs can be triggers for making changes. However, comparative feedback must be presented in a sensitive way, e.g. using codes for school names where each school knows only its code. Within one month after participating in research, all participating schools received individual feedback. In the case of individual PA measurement, all participants received individual feedback and schools received aggregated feedback. The feedback generally consisted of graphs. The school feedback was in the form of a slideshow that also served as a communication tool for the principal when introducing the results to the whole school. As a result of the personalized, individual and attractive feedback, the schools have been very eager to participate in research and are even asking for more research.