Deidre Macpherson: Inspiring Linden Students to Discover Their Inner Athlete

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Deidre has been at Linden since 2003 and is our Athletics Director and Head of Physical Education. Her love of coaching and pride in student abilities has been paramount in her ability to strengthen Linden athletes. Deidre recently took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about her approach to teaching health and physical education at Linden.

Linden: An integral part of Linden’s mission is to help girls find their voice. How do you inspire girls to find and use their voice in your classes and on the field?

Deidre: Linden athletes in Health and Physical Education (HPE) class and on teams are always encouraged to contribute in team huddles, pep talks, and debrief sessions. The process starts by asking inquiry-based questions in the moment and giving the students time to voice their observations and have their teammates listen and add to those observations. With time, students begin to volunteer their thoughts and ideas in the moment whether it’s to another player or the entire team. As a coach and teacher, I want the team to be able to feel they have the information and knowledge to coach themselves in the moment. It is important for the development of the athlete-mind that she be able to learn to recognize and communicate what is working well and what needs improvement during practice drills and game play situations. This process helps the athletes refine their problem-solving and analytical skills and showcases their understanding of the strategies and tactics of that particular sport, which develops a feeling of self-efficacy, in addition to providing leadership opportunities and building confidence and trust amongst teammates.

Linden: What are your thoughts on the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum?

Deidre: The new Human Development and Sexual Health curriculum is a much more inclusive and practical document. It finally encompasses topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity, digital technologies (sexting), consent, and positive elements of healthy sexual relationships and behaviours.

Linden’s health classes have always promoted inclusivity, resilience, student-voice and an "open door" policy on answering any and all questions. In the past, our health classes have gone far past the Ontario curriculum expectations and explored numerous topics relevant to young women in a safe and encouraging environment. Elizabeth Forbes (who also teaches HPE at Linden) and I welcome and promote discussion-based learning to allow students the freedom to ask about issues that they experience personally or have seen in the media, so that it has meaning and practicality for them. We teach health topics using real-life scenarios and situations so that students can make connections and apply their health education to their own lives when they are faced with decisions regarding their own health and well-being.

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Linden: How is Linden’s Athletics program unique? 

Deidre: The Linden sports program is something I am very proud of — to have a vibrant, inclusive and competitive sporting program is unique. How we do it involves a few key factors that we actively use.

From the moment Elizabeth and I meet our classes we treat them as athletes and it creates a mindset for them and the class to work hard and with purpose during each session we work with them. This is easy for the athletic-minded students to accept and believe, but we make sure to target and focus on the girls who haven’t enjoyed or had much experience with sport in their lives. We both work hard to discover what they like and enjoy and are good at, and then reinforce that as much as we can so they also come to find and accept the athlete within. Athletes know that all skills are learned, require practice, refinement, and time/patience to make progress just like playing a musical instrument or learning a new computer program. Often girls are not given the same attention to learning the fundamentals, nor are they encouraged as much as boys to strive for excellence in this discipline. At Linden, all athletes taking HPE and participating on the extracurricular teams know that with skills instruction, coaching guidance, inclusive teammates, commitment to practice, and personal reflection, they are capable of defining personal and team success and achieving it.

Linden’s sports program is also different because a large part of our success is due to heavily recruiting the new students to get involved and join in the fun right away! Whether you come to Linden in Grade 1 or 12 Elizabeth and I get you involved on a team – we’re different because we seek the kids out and don’t wait for them to get comfortable. Being part of a team is a great way to help become comfortable in a new community.

When all students are welcome to participate on teams it has so many benefits: increased participation and risk-taking, self discovery of their inner athlete for less experienced athletes, and leadership opportunities for more experienced athletes. Linden’s no-cut policy on all teams replaces the idea of “I won’t be good enough to make it, so I won’t even bother trying,” and replaces it with “Everyone is good enough to make it, so why don’t I give it a try.” This very simple change in thinking, combined with the welcoming vibe of our Linden athletes, has huge impact on a young girl’s self-confidence.

Anyone who has played on a Linden sports team can attest to the feelings of team unity and spirit that wearing the purple jersey evokes. The confidence that a program like ours elicits is tangible for our players: happy, sweaty faces, muddy clothes, verbal affirmations of how strong, fast and fit, they are to each other, and heartfelt post-game speeches by our veteran players all lead to lasting Linden memories.

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Linden: What is Linden’s approach to wellness? How and why do we teach girls to become more resilient and able to deal with stressful situations in a positive and healthy way?

Deidre: Linden’s approach to wellness is centred on maintaining balance in one’s life. One of the best things about Linden is that our students can do it all — sports, drama, art, music, IT — we encourage them to get involved with everything. Learning how to navigate and communicate with teachers and learning how to balance their commitments is a great way to practice self-advocacy.   

Building resilience in our students has always been a focus of Linden’s HPE classes and is now also a focus in the new HPE curriculum documents. Teaching students techniques to be able to minimize and manage stressful situations and overcome adversity involves lots of dialogue around finding what strategies work for them as an individual. Learning to take responsibility for your actions, behaviour, and words at any age or grade is a life lesson that lends itself to building resilience and growth. Practising and discussing various self-care strategies is important for students to be able to implement them into their everyday routines. Giving students the tools to advocate and problem solve for themselves through assertiveness and conflict-resolution skills, or introducing them to boxing or progressive muscle relaxation, promotes opportunities to become more resilient.      

Deidre, an intrepid traveller, is photographed above hiking around Iceland.