Malibu March Madness promotes employee wellness

Malibu Elementary Principal Micah Harris notes what every school staff member and student knows all too well.

“Our two longest months are, of course, February and March with no days off,” she said.

Recognizing that staff morale may need a boost, Harris and a few other new principals brainstormed ideas to lift staff spirits and decided to incorporate the Winter Olympics into programs at their respective schools during February.

At Malibu, staff members randomly drew the names of Olympic sports to form teams that would closely follow the American athletes competing in PyeongChang, South Korea. For every medal awarded to Team USA in their sport, they won as well: a jeans day for gold, York Peppermint Patties for silver, and popcorn for bronze.

“Snowboarding was the runaway hit. Snowboarding did really well,” recalled Harris. “[The program] celebrated patriotism and built excitement about the games and winning free stuff.”

There was one more outcome.

“It built teams as well because the teams weren’t all at grade level. Because you drew it randomly, you could have a teacher, a special education teacher, a teacher assistant and an office associate on one team.”

So when March approached, Harris asked her Principal’s Advisory Committee for their ideas, with a focus on staff wellness.

“Moving forward, I guess to undo all the popcorn and York Peppermint Patties we won in February, we wanted to show that we value their wholeness as well and their health,” said Harris. “March is a stressful time – there’s not a lot of time to rest; but we wanted to say, we value you and your health and we wanted to make a friendly staff competition.”

After discussing morning yoga sessions and afternoon exercise, a teacher leader suggested to Harris that they incorporate a program in which staff members are already involved – Virgin Pulse, the school division’s wellness platform which rewards employees for their healthy habits.

Dubbed “Malibu March Madness,” Malibu staff members are invited to compete in a weekly Step Off Challenge to earn the most steps from 12:01 a.m. Monday morning to 11:59 p.m. Friday night. Harris creates a group in Virgin Pulse for employees who are members, and non-members may report their steps to Harris on their honor. They start with a zero count each new week.

Tim Trask, an instructional technology specialist who works at both Malibu and Windsor Woods elementary schools, was the winner of Week 1 in a come-from-behind victory.

“It was like an Olympic moment,” said Harris. “He was in maybe fifth place on Friday at 5 p.m. and then his watch synced or he ran a marathon or I don’t know what he did, but suddenly he had over 100,000 steps.”

In an interview, Trask was slow to reveal his secret to winning the week.

“To be perfectly honest, when I first entered [the challenge] I was a little cocky,” Trask said. “I’ve been into fitness. I didn’t put much thought into it.

“Come Wednesday and Thursday, I realized I was not as ahead as I thought I would be. It always marvels me, especially with our transformational learning, how much teachers move around and how many extracurricular things they do. I went back from saying this will be easy to I need to step this up.”

And step it up, he did – literally.

“Friday, I had one of my longer run days. Half of me paid attention, half of me didn’t. I clocked it in when I went to bed around 11:00 p.m. By sheer luck I happened to have the most that first week. It wasn’t a blow away. I was maybe 9,000 steps ahead.”

For his Step Off Challenge victory, Trask received a celebratory “Golden Sneakers” sign and was announced as the winner on the school’s morning announcements and Twitter account. Melissa Burch, Malibu special education teacher, won the challenge for Week 2.

Trask discussed the challenge with Nancy Jelberks, a Windsor Woods colleague who also serves as the school’s wellness coordinator. As a result, Windsor Woods staff members are participating in their own step challenge during March, for which Trask spray painted an old pair of sneakers gold.

“We set it up as an open invite. You can join if you like; there’s no pressure,” said Trask.

“What I’ve really noticed at both schools is that it had a nice culture change because you had people talking to and engaging with others they normally wouldn’t,” he added. “You saw staff members talking to each other in a lighthearted way and I think it really rubbed off on students. Teachers and staff feel positive about this; they’re proud of it; and it’s a little bit of healthy competition.

“I think it really helped build that we’re all one. We have something we can laugh about during this time when we have no breaks and we have these big scary tests coming. It feels good and there is a wellness aspect to it. There is no negativity to it.”

Malibu March Madness ends March 30, and Harris, Trask and others are discussing options for April.

“We have our first faculty meeting the day we return from spring break,” said Trask. “We’re talking about a few ideas – just something fun to say: “Welcome back from spring break. Let’s get back into it and let’s start having a little bit of fun.’”

Harris agreed, noting that they want to continue “tying our bond closer together.”

“Discipline spikes, stress spikes in the spring months,” she said. “I don’t want people thinking, ‘When is it going to be summer vacation?’ We’re not going to be happy and healthy if all we’re doing if pining away and stretching our necks for summer vacation. We really want to enjoy the time we have together.”

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