Johnny Lee is an award-winning primary school teacher at Red Oak Primary School – the current Active Suffolk Primary Sports School of the Year. He has been streaming online PE lessons and workouts since the first day of the first lockdown and now 150 families are sending in their videos and photos to win family fitness medals – could he be Suffolk’s answer to Joe Wicks?
I am a fully qualified primary school teacher and have been teaching for eleven years and I work at a lovely school called Red Oak Primary School in Lowestoft, Suffolk. My role at the school is as a class teacher, key stage leader and I am the school’s PE Coordinator.
I first started filming and streaming online PE lessons/workouts during the first day of the first lockdown back in March 2020. We knew that Joe Wicks was filming daily videos, but my head teacher, Heather Madsen, and I thought that it would be a nice idea to make our own Red Oak daily videos so that the videos had more of a personal touch for our students and families. We also hoped that the videos would give the students and families a daily dose of our positive Red Oak spirit and bring some normality to our students at home.
During the first lockdown I filmed a new session for every school day. Altogether I filmed 63 sessions which parents and families could do safely at home. Each session was about 25 minutes long and most of the sessions were filmed in my kitchen! Red Oak is a very active school, and we were concerned that the lockdown would cause our children to be far too sedentary at home, so we wanted to give them a daily fitness session which would raise their daily activity levels and also help them with their physical and mental health.
The sessions were initially for Red Oak students and their family members to take part in. Every day we would share the sessions with our students and their families on our school’s social media pages and we would ask parents and guardians to comment on whether their children had completed the sessions and then we would do ‘shout outs’ to children and their families in the next videos that we filmed. This gave the videos a real personal touch and we received lots of emails from parents saying that their children were more motivated to do the workouts because they were getting mentions from me in the daily videos.
We posted the daily video links on our school’s social media pages (Facebook and Twitter) every morning and after a while the videos started to gain more popularity and get noticed by other schools and health organisations who started to share our videos with their followers and pupils to try to engage them with more physical activity.
At the start of the first lockdown, I read an email from Phil Lown from the Keep Moving Suffolk team. Phil’s role was to lead the campaign to encourage all people around Suffolk to be active by encouraging people of all ages to exercise safely during the pandemic to help the people of Suffolk maintain good physical and mental health levels.
Phil asked that if anyone was promoting activity in the Suffolk county area, could they please share their work and hashtag their posts with #KeepMovingSuffolk. I therefore started hash tagging our daily PE videos with this hashtag and, as a result, I started speaking to Phil and the Keep Moving Suffolk team about how we could work together to help promote physical activity in Suffolk. The team started to promote and share our videos with other people around the county so that they too could follow our daily active lessons to help them stay fit and active.
The feedback has been brilliant. As a school we have received lots of emails from parents saying how grateful they are for the provision and how it has helped their children stay active during a difficult time. Some children were so motivated by the videos that we made, that they started to film their own exercise videos at home, where they were the fitness instructors. Their parents emailed me their videos and then we shared them on our school’s social media pages. The most touching message that I read regarding feedback was from a parent who wrote to Active Suffolk to nominate me for a ‘Suffolk Lockdown Activity Hero Award’. The parent had said that by doing the daily exercise sessions that we posted, it had helped her with her recent recovery from cancer. This comment really touched me – and it spurred me on to continue with the project and to make the videos even better.
Nine weeks ago, we asked families to start sending in videos of them doing our Red Oak sessions with the incentive that all family members can win medal awards for completing different numbers of sessions. We currently have 150 families sending in regular videos and photos of them participating in our filmed exercise sessions which is amazing! These family members also range in age from toddlers up to grandparents! The project has grown and grown. I also received a thoughtful and handwritten thank you letter from the Sheriff of Suffolk a few months ago, thanking me for helping to keep Suffolk children active during the lockdown, this was a very thoughtful gesture and it really made my day.
The World Health Organisation states that children should be getting at least one hour of vigorous to moderate exercise per day. This is scientifically proven to help them with their physical and mental health and development. By completing one of our daily exercise sessions, a child or adult would complete a good 25 minutes of physical activity which would count towards their recommended daily 60 minutes.
The sessions that we have designed would help a child to improve their physical strength, agility, balance and cardiovascular fitness levels. By regularly completing the daily fitness sessions, a child would significantly reduce their risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and it would reduce the risks of a child developing depression and other mental health issues.
I am a runner and I have been running competitively for 23 years. With age, I am not as fast as I used to be, but I am proud of the fact that I have been East Anglia Cross Country Champion twice, have run the London Marathon four times and also represented Norfolk County athletics team many times. As an elite runner, I have had to grow up doing lots of regular training sessions all year round and in all sorts of tough conditions. As a child and now still as an adult, I still do not enjoy doing my winter training, but I persevere and always get it done. I don’t find it pleasant running in dark, windy and freezing cold conditions but I always knew that these winter sessions were essential to maintaining my physical running abilities and to keep my core strength and fitness. To be a strong athlete, good quality and consistent winter training sessions are essential.
In the last lockdown, we were blessed with lovely hot and sunny weather conditions (some days too hot!). However, these conditions encouraged lots of families and children to spend time outside, walking, running, playing and, especially, cycling. These activities really helped people stay fit during a very tough time and also helped people with their mental health. This lockdown will be so much more challenging for most of us, in the sense that the weather is now colder and it gets dark very early, therefore there won’t be lots of people out jogging, walking or cycling as there was before so it is essential that people try to find other safe ways of exercising to stay physically and mentally healthy. Our Red Oak exercise videos are a great way for students and their families to exercise safely at home during these dark and cold conditions.
Suffolk is a very active county and I am very proud of my Suffolk roots. I am based in Lowestoft and there are so many organisations and gyms that people can get involved in to help them stay fit and healthy. There is literally something suitable for everyone, no matter their age, gender or ability. Just in Lowestoft alone we have many great grassroot football clubs for people of all genders and ages (Waveney FC, Lowestoft Town FC, Kirkley and Pakefield FC, as well as many more); a great rugby club (Lowestoft and Yarmouth RUFC); two fantastic athletics clubs (Lowestoft Road Runners and Waveney Valley AC); one of the best gymnastics centres in the UK (Waveney Gymnastics Centre); a fantastic competition sized swimming pool and many state of the art gyms (Bannatynes and Water Lane Leisure Centre).
Before the Covid-19 crisis, there was also a wonderfully attended Park Run on Lowestoft seafront. Lowestoft has so many places where people can go to stay active and make new friends in safe and sociable environments. This is also reflected in other places around Suffolk county. Another good thing about Suffolk is that it is predominately flat so, as a runner, walker or cyclist, you can go for nice runs, walks and bike rides without having the burden of having to travel up hills and mountains!
My role at the school is as the PE Coordinator, so PE with me will definitely continue. PE and sports are part of my DNA, I am so passionate about PE, sports, health and fitness. During the last lockdown I was mainly working from home so I had the time to record a daily fitness session each day, however during this lockdown I am working with a key worker bubble of children in school every day, as well as teaching live lessons to our students every day, so I won’t have the time to continue filming daily videos as I did before. Therefore, I have adapted the project and I now film one extra-long fitness video each week which is placed on YouTube and shared every Monday on our school’s Facebook and Twitter pages and also on my Mr Lee Red Oak Twitter page.
Students and their family members gain medal awards for completing the sessions that we post – and they must also complete family projects on healthy cooking/eating, fruits and vegetables, positive wellbeing and mental health. Our students and their family members gain bronze, silver and gold medals for completing different numbers of our fitness sessions and for completing the health and wellbeing tasks, we have called this project The Red Oak Family Fitness Project.
I have a lot of respect for Joe Wicks and I would never compare myself to him. Joe Wicks has so much positive energy and he has done such a good job with getting the children of Britain to be active during these lockdowns and he deserves the plaudits that he has gained from his hard work. I also loved how he donated his YouTube takings to the NHS. I thought that that was a really kind gesture and he seems like a great guy.
However, I did read once that he studied for his degree at St Mary’s University and I studied for mine at Brunel London University and our universities have a very deep history of being fierce sporting rivals so I guess Joe and me do have some rivalry in that respect!
Red Oak has about 500 students aged 3 to 11 years old. The school set up and organises the Active Learning Trust Games, organising 40 different sports tournaments per year for other local primary schools in North Suffolk to attend. The school is the current Active Suffolk Primary Sports and PE School of the Year award winners. It was also the first school in the UK to have pedalling classrooms where children can pedal as they work at their desks, which gained worldwide media interest and the school was featured on BBC, ITV, Chanel 5, The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph, The Daily Mirror as well as appearing on news channels in New Zealand, Australia, USA and Hong Kong. In 2017 Johnny Lee was invited to the Houses of Parliament and awarded a National Teaching Award.