Unnatural Consequences

Sorry, this is my angry face…

I have to admit, I am a little frustrated. And actually a bit angry too. Let me explain.

Despite all that we know about the importance and life-changing benefits of physical activity, physical education, recess, joy of movement, etc. it seems that the education ‘system’ continues blissfully on it’s not-so-merry way.

My concern was ‘tweaked’ in two specific ways. First, I received a communication from a parent about their grade two child’s punishment for a recess incident – the second half of this post will be about that. Second, this news article appeared on my Twitter feed: In most circumstances, recess shouldn’t be taken away from naughty kids, Billings schools proposal says  Excerpts from that article include these statements:

The School Health Advisory Committee approved changes to a policy proposal that would recommend that physical activity, like recess, not be withheld as a punishment. The proposal notes several circumstances in which that recommendation might not hold up, like concerns over student safety or time-sensitive academic issues. It also encourages using physical activity as a reward and says excessive exercise shouldn’t be used as a punishment.

Administrators had previously expressed concerns about “unintended consequences,” citing the recommendation against withholding physical activity. “I just think it really begins to limit some of the options that are available to teachers and principals,” Brenda Koch, who oversees SD2 principals, said at another committee meeting Tuesday.

Nice work School Health Advisory Committee! Don’t withhold physical activity as punishment? Gold star. Use it as a reward? Gold star #2! Don’t use physical activity as punishment? SWEET (and about time…)!

However, there are still those that disagree – talking to you Brenda Koch. Of course a policy such as the one proposed limits options – THAT’S THE POINT (sorry for the all caps – did I mention that I am a little PO’d?). Removing options that are detrimental to the development, learning, well-being and happiness of kids is a step in the right direction. A BIG step.

OK, on to exhibit A and the concrete, real-life reason for the title and content of this post. Please take a look at the ‘Formal Discipline Notice’ below (all identifying information redacted for anonymity).


First, please note that I think kids punching each other on the playground is not a good thing and certainly needs to be dealt with. My issue lies with the unnatural consequences (see what I did there?) that were applied to the grade 2 boy in question. Please direct your attention to:

3) will miss all recesses and gym on Monday.

Second, I get the fact that the young man misbehaved at recess and therefore needs a consequence that reminds him of the rules of recess. But taking it away? How about having him walk with a supervisor for a recess or two, pointing out and discussing all the kids behaving appropriately and having fun. Certainly have him discuss playground rules with his parents/ guardians and come up with some conflict resolution strategies and maybe a contract for recess time. However, kids have little enough activity at school as it is – don’t take that away – it’s counterproductive to what (I think) you are trying to do!

Third, and leaving aside the ‘gym’ misnomer/slur for the moment, why does the punishment involve missing curricular time in the most important (is that biased of me?) subject in school?


So, if I don’t return my library book, I lose a Language Arts class?

If I stuff a kid in a locker at lunch time, I should miss science for a week?

How about if I throw a pencil at the ceiling (you know you can make them stick, right?) I miss 1 mathematics class for each pencil thrown?

Make sense?

Of course not. Then why do we still have those among us who’s knee-jerk reaction is to take away ‘gym’ (and therein lies part of the problem – language indicates value and values) as some sort of panacea for misbehaviour in any part of the school day? In the context of this ‘discipline notice’ the boy in question only gets 3, 30 minute physical education blocks a week as it is.

Just. STOP.

Physical Education is a (vastly important) curricular area.

Physical Education is not a privilege to be denied as punishment.

Yes, Brenda, you should find other options.





We (respectfully) disagree.

The 2018 Winter Olympics came and went with the tiny country of Norway dominating 180208124835-winter-olympics-2018-medals-exlarge-169the field. According to the head of their Olympic team, much of their success can be attributed to their approach to youth sport:

In Norway, children are encouraged to join local sport clubs to help with their social development but there are strict rules, which prevent anyone from keeping score — no one can be ranked first to last until they turn 13. “We want them to be in sports because they want to be,” Tore Øvrebø, head of the Norwegian team, explained to CNN Sport. The focus is on other aspects, he says, not the competitive side. “Instead (of winning) they want to have fun and they want to develop not only as athletes but as social people.”

“Our vision is sport for all. Before you are 12 you should have fun with sport. So we don’t focus on who the winner is before then. Instead we are very focused on getting children into our 11,000 local sports clubs.” Tom Tvedt, President of Norway’s Olympic Committee. (The Guardian)

winning hoops tweetIn direct contrast to the Norwegian approach, a few months ago, my colleague Lauren Sulz tweeted out the following query to the Twitterverse…

We chatted a bit about the Winning Hoops post and decided that we needed to respond to the claims made in Why cuts are good for kids. Given the nature of our research on school sport and our own personal experiences as athletes and coaches, we’d like to respond – point for point. Game on.

The ‘about’ section on the Winning Hoops site states:

“Winning Hoops is devoted to helping coaches and athletic administrators at all levels of play develop successful basketball programs. It focuses on all aspects of the sport, including the latest headlines, strength & conditioning, facilities, program development, X’s and O’s and more. Our goal is educate athletic program leaders, providing them with the tools and knowledge necessary to build powerful basketball programs and develop successful student-athletes.”

Look at the words that we bolded. If these are indicative of the site’s goals, then maybe it’s time for a name change. Not that there’s anything wrong with winning (we all like to win!) but the title implies that winning is the FIRST priority. Athlete development should always come first in sport – especially youth sport. Perhaps the post itself was meant for only high school athletes, however, Winning Hoops is clearly for all levels. A coach, at any level, that follows the site could be influenced by such a post. Thus far, our research clearly shows that cutting is detrimental at least up to ages 15-16 (more work to come on that!). As well, a look at Long Term Athlete Development in the spirit of ‘Kaizen’ (continuous improvement) supports the foundational nature of development right up into the ‘Train to Win’ phase. Arguably, the only place where a program should be more concerned about winning than development is when athletes are paid to play.

The article states:

“The majority of us were brought into coaching with the mindset that the opportunity to be part of a team is beneficial and rewarding for everyone involved. Sports are supposed to be an extension of the academic experience and teach valuable lessons about personal growth, character and working toward a common goal. All of this seems to fly in the face of making cuts.”

Why yes, yes it does! These are some of the exact reasons why we think cuts have no place in developmental sport. More kids playing equals more benefits for all – kinda like Norway above…

“1. Athletes who sit the bench build resentment.” Not cutting players does not mean you just have more players to sit on the bench… Having no cut policies and practices in many cases give MORE kids a sporting chance to experience the benefits of being on a team and playing a sport. The above statement shows an all or nothing mindset – unless we cut, players sit on the bench. Time to shift that mindset:

Our research shows that when we cut kids from a sport team they are resentful: they do not want to continue in that sport, they have distaste for that sport and they chose not to participate in the future. In the presentation of our work at a variety of conferences, we have come across a number of teachers and coaches who shared their experiences shifting their mindset away from cutting and away from kids riding the bench towards an education-focused model of athlete development. Here are a few examples:

  • Tiered sport model (Manitoba). Students are tiered based on ability and placed on one of three teams. Tier 1 represents the school and competes against other schools in competition. Tier 2 and Tier 3 practice and have inter-squad competitions. One of the best parts of this model includes that if a student-athlete shows improvement, they can move up tiers to ensure they are at the level appropriate to their ability!
  • Everyone Plays (Alberta). Yes, we know all the logistics associated with this idea (gym space, the difficulty finding one coach, let alone multiple coaches, etc.). However, schools and teachers are making this happen. If a student wants to play on a school sport team, the answer is yes (a junior high school in Alberta said yes to over 100 students for basketball!). So how is this done? Teams practice in the mornings, at lunch, and after school. The school and staff have created an environment where teacher-coaches are valued, supported and want to coach. A similar model, where school sport programs include any kid who wants to play any school sport, has also been successful in Ontario.
  • More Teams (Saskatchewan). In this model, although students may still be cut from a sport team, the schools have created two teams as opposed to one at the grade 9 and 10 level – allowing more kids to play! One team (the Blue Team) is comprised of more advanced players. The other team (the Green Team) is comprised of players less advanced. For interscholastic competition, the Green Team from one school plays the Green Team from another school and Blue plays Blue, allowing for developmentally appropriate, leveled competition.

“2. Establish a predictable philosophy for team selection. 3. Other opportunities are available for athletes.” These two points we actually agree with – given an appropriate context. In previous post we highlight four factors that can improve the experiences of those athletes cut from sport teams (IF you feel you must cut):

  • immediacy (don’t make them wait!),
  • privacy (please don’t tell them in front of the whole group),
  • encouragement (provide options for continuing to improve in the sport), and
  • expectations (be clear up from about what you are looking for and the process of making the team).

Providing other opportunities for athletes who are cut can be key in keeping them engaged in the sport. Summer sport camps, drop-in programs at lunch, intramurals, local community and club programs – all of these options can encourage an athlete to keep developing in the sport.

“4. Keeping kids can lose kids.” 

“I recently saw a coach keep a large number of players for their program out of fear that another sport, new to the school, would take away kids. They kept many kids who rarely ever played. The end result was most of those kids, who were benched, defected anyway to the new sport at that school. So the intent of the coach backfired. They kept kids hoping to keep them away from the new program. However, lack of playing time drove them away. If word gets out that you are keeping kids but not playing them, you will have kids who don’t come out for your team. It’s the same as small college athletics. If word gets out about over-recruiting, then kids don’t come.”

To start with, the basic premise of this quote completely misses the point. The coach in question kept lots of kids so they wouldn’t go play another sport.

Wait. What?

That is cracked. Of course these kids left for the other sport because they weren’t valued or given opportunities to play! WHY ARE WE NOT PLAYING KIDS? Seriously. Why? Personally, we have taken up to 18 kids on our basketball teams and played everyone! With that many kids, we defined success in developmental terms – not by a win/ loss record. And, BTW, the kids (and their parents) totally bought in.

Remember wee Norway? You know the tiny country that won 39 medals at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. 93% of children and young people in Norway regularly play sports. In Canada, 77% of children and youth participate in organized physical activities or sport. Norway’s main focus is fun and social development; so much so, they do not keep score or rankings until age 13. Maybe we can win too, but only if we develop athletes first!

“Honesty first”

We agree that we “owe it to our student-athletes to provide genuine opportunities for success through athletics.” As for the job/ college analogy stated in the article?

“Nobody gets a job or gets into college just because they filled out the application. You have to earn the spot. You have to be the best person for the job.”

Heard it before. But let’s remember that school (and developmental sport!) is not life. It is preparation for life. Sport provides quality physical, social and emotional experiences – the opportunity to learn skills and concepts that last a lifetime. We need to ask – What is the goal? As for us? We believe that ensuring more sporting opportunities for as many kids as possible is better, much better, than the alternative.

We also need to be honest with ourselves – after all, we are the adults here! Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are we putting winning and maybe our coaching bragging rights, first?
  • Are we in it for ourselves (banners, prestige) or are we in it for the kids (development, fun, life skills)?
  • Who ultimately benefits from our team selection practices and coaching?

We realize that sometimes there are logistical reasons (time, people, space) for programs to cut kids. But let’s not use these as rationale to deny opportunities for kids to play. Let’s not let these be an excuse to refuse to REIMAGINE youth sport. How about we take a page from the Norwegian PLAYbook (see what we did there!) and let as many kids as possible play developmental sport and LOTS of it.

Ya. That’d be cool.

NOTE: if you have an example from your school, club or community team that allows more kids to play, drop us a line and let us know! lsulz@ualberta.ca dgleddie@ualberta.ca

Thanks Lauren, for being the first guest co-author of 2018!



Guest Post: Why Intramurals? Why Not!

This guest post is a direct result of a Twitter conversation about school sport opportunities. We were discussing re-imagining school sport and Steve Friesen reminded us of the value that intramural sport can provide. So, I asked him to write a guest post! Steve’s contact info is at the bottom of the post if you would like to get in touch!

Last month, we had our school team basketball tryouts. At the end of it, 45 students had RTBmade the four teams. That same month we started our intramural 4 on 4 basketball league – we had 19 teams and 135 students playing. These students played for 7 weeks, twice a week and loved every minute of it. Previous to the intramural basketball we had team dodge ball – 21 teams and 175 students. Now, we are running team handball – 17 teams, 120 students playing. We will finish the year with three more activities – speedball, flicker ball (the most popular!) and indoor soccer. We do all of this with a 40 minute lunch and a firm belief that every student has the right to play sports at our school.

How do we do this? First of all, the intramural program is a priority for our health and physical education department – we’re all involved in the program. Our student athletic council takes care of the timing, scoring and the gym set up. And we, the staff, take care of the supervision. Our students play every week – 5 days per week from September to June. The intramural program is not only part of our health and physical education program, it is an essential component of our school culture – a culture that promotes and values the physical activity and wellness of every student.

The intramural program at my school (in Ontario, Canada) is just one of what I call ‘green light’ programs for our students to be physically active. Every day, 30 minutes before period 1, we open the gym and get 60 – 70 students playing basketball. We have intramurals/ open gym at lunch and after school we open our fitness center for any student in the school who wants to work out.

When I started teaching 30 years ago I figured that the best way to give back was to coach. As an athlete in high school and university I started coaching football and basketball. But it occurred to me – while coaching basketball – that I wasn’t having the impact that I wanted. In 1997, I stopped coaching basketball and committed full time to running an intramural program. In two years, we had over 300 students (I was at a larger high school at the time) signing up for every intramural activity. I traded coaching 12 students for running a program that impacted hundreds.

In 2003, I created Raise the Bar (recently partnered with Ophea) – a program that runs student leadership conferences and teacher training workshops across Ontario. Funded provincially since 2006 (now by the Ministry of Education), Raise the Bar works with schools, trains teachers and develops student leaders so that every student has the opportunity to play. Our conferences are in high demand and are always sold out (400 – 600 students/teachers)!

What has puzzled me for so long is why schools don’t put a bigger priority on intramurals. They’re everything that we’re looking for – mass participation, opportunities to work on skills and a great extension for the physical education program. Maybe it’s because people haven’t seen a great program in action. They haven’t seen the excitement or felt the amazing energy from having so many students getting together in the gym for one common purpose – to play. The future of physical education, for me, will be determined by our ability to embrace the understanding that every student wants the opportunity to play sports at school and that it is our job to make sure that happens.

Thanks for the post Steve! Please feel free to contact him for more information.

Steve Friesen is the department head of health and physical education at a high school in Ontario, Canada. He is also the founder and director of Raise the Bar and a program consultant with the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association.

stevefriesen22@gmail.com       @RTBIntramurals            www.raisethebarintramurals.com


Hello 2018!

Three main purposes to this short (really!) and hopefully sweet post:

  1. THANK YOU! I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who may have checked out purposefulmovement in 2017 (or anytime, really!). I very much appreciate your reading, sharing, commenting and reflecting – I hope you found as much joy in doing so as I do writing these. 2017 brought over 6,000 views and over 4,000 visitors to the site and so…
  2. I wanted to break down the posts from this past year in order of views and share the top 6 (see below) because…
  3. In 2018 I’d love to have your input into the types of topics, issues and reflections you’d like to see tackled here on purposefulmovement. Is there a piece of research (or topic) that needs exploring? A current post that needs revisiting or expanding? A news item or social media post that requires a response? Let me know here and I’ll do my best to cover some of these in 2018!

I will, of course, keep writing posts as the spirit moves me! Right now I am percolating a number of post topics including reflective practice, failure, the ‘cutting’ debate (response to another blog), professional growth (I found some of my old papers from undergrad!) and an update (overdue, as usual) to the physical literacy series. As well, I hope to have a few guest blogs featured – stay tuned!

Check out the Top 6 posts below, let me know what you might want to read and I wish you all the best for 2018!

TOP 6 POSTS in 2017

  1. Teaching for Meaning in Physical Education. The title pretty much gives the topic here – 976 views
  2. Cuts like a knife – but it feels so… Post about the issue of cutting kids in sport – 677 views
  3. What the Health? The importance of health and physical education to our kids, schools and society – 372 views
  4. Something is very wrong… A response (from back in 2015!) to school ‘banning’ certain types of physical activity (from cartwheels to soccer balls to tag) – 356 views
  5. Delightful Physical Education. A cross post from the most excellent LAMPE blog – 269 views
  6. Purposeful Teaching – My Philosophy. Again, the title is pretty much the post (except for there are more words in the post…) – 223 views

Thanks again for popping in and reading what’s on my mind and heart!

May 2018 bring you success, failure, growth and joy.



Today’s inspiration comes to you from Rover. That’s right. My dog Rover. It was a IMG_5261beautiful winter’s day: -6 C, bright sunny sky, snow covered ground. Lovely. I was out with Rover on a romp through the river valley close to my home (OK, he may have romped more than I…). But despite the beauty of the day, there really weren’t that many people out. I only encountered 2 other dog walkers, 1 jogger, a couple of solo walkers, 1 dad w 2 kids sledding and 1 XC skier – in an hour. Hmmm, I think we have a problem here.

As I walked, I started to think of the unique seasonal opportunities available to those of us who are fortunate enough to have winter. Yup. I said it. Fortunate to have winter. Snow. Ice. Cold. Glorious.

You see, I believe that we should #embracewinter. We embrace only the things we love. Winter and all it’s opportunities should be on that list. Unfortunately, over the past number of years, I have seen that love erode away  – even in Northern countries like Canada (although I think Norway and other Scandinavian countries still have it figured out!). Maybe it’s the over saturation of technology. Maybe we are afraid of frostbite. Maybe central heating and comfy couches have doomed us to a life without the joys of brilliant sun on blinding white snow and the sweet sounds of pucks and skates on outdoor ice. Maybe not.

Join me as I explore 5 quick ways to #embracewinter.IMG_5114

  1. Get some longjohns! You don’t have Rover’s coat so start with a quality base layer: thermal underwear and good socks. As for the rest, you don’t need a lot and a good base layer goes a long way! Get hand-me-downs, shop the thrift stores or build up key items one at a time. You don’t have to overspend to dress for the weather. #layerup
  2. Play! Get out there and try something outside. Go for a walk. Sled down a hill. Skate on a pond. Ski across a field. IMG_2635Snowshoe through a forest – you get the idea. Again, equipment can be minimal and not expensive. Ask for hand-me-downs. Sleds and toboggans on Kijiji. Shared winter toys in a neighbourhood, church or community league. Post a note at school announcing a winter equipment swap. #gearup
  3. Learn! Once you’ve tried a few new activities (or maybe ones you haven’t done since you were a kid) consider taking lessons to refine your skills (OK, IMG_1136sledding REALLY requires you to just slide down a hill…). I am not necessarily talking about formal lessons (could be an option). Find someone who loves to do a winter activity (same goes for summer) and I’ll GUARANTEE you they will be happy to go out with you and give you a few tips. These types of people love to share their love of winter and winter activities. Find them! #smartenup
  4. Model! When you demonstrate your love for winter and willingness to get outside IMG_3976you are contagious (ummm, the good kind though…). Be willing to share your skills and knowledge freely (see #3) with your own family and beyond. Be the person who is enthusiastic about the coming of winter and be sure to let others know (not obnoxiously though). Invite people to come out with you. Share equipment, spare clothing and solid advice. To coin a phrase – “Just Do It!” 😉   #getup
  5. Volunteer. Once you have (re)discovered your love for winter, take that next step and help others to be able to experience the same. Sign up to be the parent on the ski trip. Help run the local outdoor rink (clear, flood, skate, repeat!). Ask to supervise IMG_1131the toboggan hill before school. Facilitate the equipment and clothing swap. Invite a family new to winter and snow (new-immigrant families, university students, etc.) out for a night of sledding and hot chocolate. #helpup OK, I know that last hashtag didn’t really work – just buy into the theme will ya!

See you outside this winter! Rover and I are waiting for you…



Teaching for Meaning in Physical Education

Why do I have to learn..?P2.1

As a kid, I asked this type of question in regards to math class (like, all. the. time.) and certainly about the study of Shakespeare in English class… My wonder is – do you ever hear this type of question from your #physed students?

Why are we doing basketball… AGAIN?

What possible purpose will the ‘beep test’ serve me after I leave high school (or this PE class…)?

Why do we have to learn how to waltz? Does anyone waltz anymore? (seriously, does anyone?)

When students ask these types of questions, I believe what they are really searching for is – meaning.

noun: meaning

  1. What is meant by a word, text, concept, or action.

1.1 Implied or explicit significance.

1.2 Important or worthwhile quality; purpose


The key definitions for the question above are 1.1 and 1.2 – in other words, what’s the point of physical education (or at minimum, certain activities done in PhysEd)?

I wrote a previous post for the crew over at Learning About Meaningful Physical Education (LAMPE – @meaningfulPE) back in March. Since then, I have been privileged to be involved with the team on a project studying meaning in PETE (Physical Education Teacher Education… are you tired of acronyms yet?). Go figure, the LAMPE team’s purpose is to focus “…on ways to prepare future physical education teachers and coaches to foster meaningful engagement in physical activity through PE and youth sport.” COOL!

As I was prepping for the project and my role in it, I read LAMPE’s recently published open-access article (Beni, Fletcher, & Ní Chróinín, 2016) that examined 50 studies about students’ experiences of meaning in physical education and youth sport. Their meta-analysis identified five features that young people identified as contributing to meaningful experiences in physical education. For the rest of this post, I want to look briefly at these features and begin to explore how PE teachers might create a program culture in which meaningful experiences (for students and teachers!) can flourish.

1) Social interaction: Students find meaning in the relationships created and sustained in PE. Take time to consider how your students interact with their peers – use your observations to create purposeful groupings. Take time to identify and meet the social needs of individual students. Might there be gender bias in your class? From you or your students? That type of bias inhibits relationships and can be damaging for lifelong physical activity choices (not to mention hurtful at the time). As a teacher, how do you sustain the social aspect? By all means, interact meaningfully with your students but also consider your own PE teacher social networks – who can you connect with?

2) Fun: Delight, joy, fun – all different (we don’t have the time to go into it here…) but the important thing to remember is that fun is an important motivator for us all. Learning (especially in PE!) should be fun! If you take time to observe the level of fun and enjoyment in your class, notice that learning often follows close behind. Think about your own levels of fun as you teach – are you enjoying yourself? If so, the kids probably are too! Pay attention to this feature for sure – but not at the expense of the other ones!

3) Challenge: Another important motivator that can be linked to autonomy and competence. Incidentally, the other key aspect of self determination theory is relatedness…  (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/). Opportunities for students to set their own goals and work towards personal competence are motivational (and fun…). Observe the students in your class to ensure appropriate levels of challenge – modify tasks as needed to ensure flow. Don’t forget to challenge yourself! Teach something new – take a risk on a formative assessment – set a new teaching goal. Flow theory (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) suggests that when the challenge is slightly above our skill level we perform at our best.

4) Motor competence: Sometimes it seems like this part gets left out of PE… Remember, it’s pretty tough to find meaning in movement when you can’t even play the game! Create a culture of seeking personal competence where it is OK to try, fail and try again (hey look, there’s challenge again!). Consider the skill levels of ALL students, remember that each kid has their own story and prior relationship with physical activity (educative, mis-educative). When students feel ‘skilled’ they are more engaged and can find meaning in movement. When’s the last time you tried to learn a new physical activity? Your new physical activity journey has the potential to impact and influence the journey’s of your students (plus, it’s fun!).

5) Personally relevant learning: This feature at first glance seems like one of those ‘well d’uh’ moments. OF COURSE learning has to be personally relevant. As we dig a little deeper though, this can be a tough one. Try connecting the learning in physical education to the individual student. What do they bring to the table from their past experiences – good, bad and indifferent? Take some time to get to know your students both inside and outside of class. Not every single aspect of your class will be personally relevant to every single kid. However, connections of relevance in one area can transfer to another. As for you, what makes PE relevant for you? Each of our stories are unique – don’t be afraid to share!

I’ll wrap this up with one final thought. These five features do not exist in isolation.

“For example, although fun and social interaction were each identified separately as criteria that led to meaningful experiences in physical education settings, it was possible for one to either hinder or enhance the other” (p. 15).

Consider not only the features themselves, but also the interactions BETWEEN them. In other words, fun without learning can be less of a meaningful experience for students. Challenge with opportunities for social interaction may increase levels of meaning in your PE class.

Paying attention to meaning-making in purposeful (see what I did there?), intentional ways (pedagogy, content, assessment, etc.) will help to create a culture of learning and growth in your PE class. In this way,  your students AND you can foster meaningful experiences together.

Reference: Beni, S., Fletcher, T. & Ní Chróinín, D. (2016): Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature, Quest 69(3), 291-312. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192

Purposeful Teaching – My Philosophy

1997 ‘Me’ as drawn by a student   : )

Twice in the past few years, I have had to develop and refine a teaching philosophy statement (required for a tenure application and an award nomination). I struggled a bit with trying to define how and why I teach the way I do. However, I very much enjoyed the struggle and feel it is an important process for educators to go through. For what it’s worth – I thought I’d share my final product with you!

I have always believed in the importance of physical education (PE).  Movement and physical activity have been an integral part of my own life since I was a child.  As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life and eventually settled on a career in education, PE was always at the forefront.  The year 2017 marks my 24th year in the field and after nine career “adjustments” over this time span (new positions, new schools, new degrees), two constants have emerged: PE and working with children and youth.  Over the length of my career, I have developed a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life changing and life giving need for human movement. This belief guides my teaching and provides the foundation of how I choose to support pre-service teachers in their journey towards becoming teachers of PE. ­­­­­­As well, my philosophy of teaching is rooted in my own experiences as a K-12 teacher. I pride myself on being a teacher first and have had a very diverse career. My practice in K-12 education has ranged far and wide including: a school in Peru, a Hutterite Colony in Southern Alberta, several different schools in Alberta and a school for disadvantaged children in Ecuador. These experiences have enabled me to grow and develop as an educator, refine my management and assessment skills, gain valuable insight into the social and cultural influences affecting students, families and communities and finally, helped to define my identity as a teacher. Throughout those experiences, I can see the threads of joyful, essential movement being woven into the fabric of my teaching identity. Those threads also form the basis of my relationships with students and encourage me to meet students where they are. The following quote is from an email a parent sent to me in 2002 (the name has been changed):

Thanks for making PE fun and enjoyable for Katie this year. She always comes home with good comments about gym and I am thankful, because PE was not my favourite subject. In those days, you were ridiculed if you couldn’t do the skill well. I have many scars from that experience and so I appreciate your approach. You have taught Katie the importance of trying and not to be afraid of failing. Thank you!

I share this email because it speaks to the creation of a safe learning environment, where students feel free to challenge themselves and support those around them to do the same. Sometimes PE can be a scary place – everything you do, including your body itself, can be seen to be on display. As I did in my K-12 teaching, I also strive to create a PE culture with my university students that is inclusive, safe, caring and joyful. Finally, my teaching philosophy draws heavily on John Dewey’s theories of experience and education. I base the nature of my classes at the University of Alberta, undergraduate and graduate, on this premise:

Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. An experience may be such as to engender callousness; it may produce lack of sensitivity and of responsiveness. Then the possibilities of having richer experience in the future are restricted” (Dewey, 1938, p. 25-26).

In every class I teach, we dig into past experience and strive to learn from both the educative and mis-educative. My students come to PE with their own individual experiences and contexts. We take the time to explore their past as it impacts their teaching: present and future. We search for instances of joyful movement wherever they may be found and then we build on those experiences and extend them to our teaching and learning. As a teacher, I have engaged in this process as well and feel that my students reap the benefits of my own reflective practice. Therefore, I strive to ensure that each and every class I teach provides students with a truly educative experience enabling their growth, learning and understanding as pre-service teachers. Quite often, students will approach me and express their apprehension about taking a class on PE pedagogy. Their fears may be grounded in a negative experience, a misguided perception or a stereotype – it really doesn’t matter. My teaching philosophy allows me meet them where they are, provide joyful movement experiences and, help them establish an identity as a teacher of PE.

“I was really dreading the idea of having to teach PE. All of that changed this semester! The things you taught us were real life, things we can actually use and it was so much fun (so different from past classes)”

(Student letter, Winter 2014)

What the Health?

Today, on  World Health Day, I submitted this letter (but as a more abbreviated essay version) to the Edmonton Journal (I’ll let you know if and when it gets published…) regarding the place of HEALTH in our Education curriculum. Until then, enjoy it here! It is Alberta, Canada focused but hopefully the content and references can be useful in your jurisdiction as well! Onward and upward.

An Open Letter to our Premier and Ministers of Education and Health

Dear Honourable Premier Notley and Honourable Ministers Eggen and Hoffman,

As you well know, Alberta Education is currently revising the K-12 curriculum for all subject areas. According to the website[1]:

We are looking ahead to the future and working to ensure that provincial curriculum continues to give all students the best possible start in life and meet the demands of living in the 21st century. …placing a greater emphasis on 21st century competencies and literacy and numeracy across subjects and grades. This approach will help build an even stronger foundation for student success in a dynamic, global society and economy.

While literacy and numeracy are fundamental elements of any education system there is another element that is glaringly missing. Health. If we truly desire ‘student success in a dynamic, global society and economy’ we cannot afford to ignore the foundational role of health in today’s increasingly sedentary, inactive and unhealthy society. I am writing to all three of you because we should be long past the days of segregating education and health. Therefore, from both a health and education perspective, here are five reasons to re-imagine the value and purpose of health and physical education in schools.

  1. In 2002, the United Nations stated[2]: “Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they can face in life, and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the 21st century.” What this means is that literacy is no longer limited to ‘reading and writing’. Physical literacy and health literacy are critical elements of education that help address societal challenges and teach essential life skills for effective citizenship.
  2. Therefore, physical and health literacy are just as important for the development of contributing citizens as ‘traditional’ literacy and numeracy. While Alberta students consistently score well among developed nations in PISA[3] tests (2nd in Sciences, 3rd in Reading and 14th in Math) where we’re falling down is health. Canada was ranked 17th out of 29 ‘rich nations’ for overall child wellbeing in a 2013 UNICEF report[4]. We need to pay more attention to health in our curriculum and give it equal priority with literacy and numeracy.
  3. Our kids aren’t healthy. The 2017 ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth[5] found that of children aged 5-17: only 9% get 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; only 24% meet the guidelines of no more than 2 hours of recreational screen-time per day and 33% have trouble falling asleep. Add to this what we know about deteriorating mental health (which physical activity also addresses) and decreased nutrition for kids and we are in trouble. Big trouble. Still want to marginalize health and physical education?
  4. Health and education are inextricably linked. The more educated you are, the healthier you are. And, the healthier you are the more educated you’ll be! Over and over again, the data says that if you add more physical education in the day it won’t lower your academic scores[6]. As an example, girls who had physical education for 70 or more minutes per week attained significantly higher reading and mathematics scores than did girls with 35 or fewer minutes per week[7]. Alberta has surpassed the $20 billion mark – almost 40% of our provincial budget – in health spending[8]. Now more than ever, we need to invest in our future – a healthy future. Investing NOW in healthy schools, including prioritizing health and physical education, can save millions in future health costs[9].
  5. The whole child. In health and physical education we teach students to understand and take care of their own bodies, to make informed decisions and lead healthy active lives. This knowledge and application is essential to becoming a contributing citizen of Alberta and the world. In physical education, we teach students to move with confidence and competence in a variety of environments. As well, movement is essential to who we are as human beings; it is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan. The health and academic benefits of physical education are important, but are truly just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the diverse terrain of life. Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical. “…physical education is important because movement is joyful, pleasurable, provides intrinsic satisfaction, and can be personally meaningful and central to the human experience”[10].

Premier Notley, Minister Eggen and Minister Hoffman, as we continue down the road of curriculum re-design, I challenge you to follow the evidence and prioritize health. Implementation of a quality health and physical education curriculum is the BEST way to ensure that ALL students have the opportunity to be well: now and for the future.

[1] https://education.alberta.ca/curriculum-development/why-change-curriculum/

[2] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/education-building-blocks/literacy/un-literacy-decade/un-resolutions-and-other-related-documents/

[3] http://www.cmec.ca/508/Programs-and-Initiatives/Assessment/Programme-for-International-Student-Assessment-(PISA)/PISA-2015/index.html

[4] https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc11_eng.pdf

[5] https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/thought-leadership/report-card/2016

[6] Sallis, J.F., McKenzie, T.L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., & Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects  of health related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70(2),127-134.

Shephard, R.J. (1996). Habitual physical activity and academic performance. Nutrition Reviews,   54(4), S32-S36.

Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 1.

[7] Carlson, S.A., Fulton, J.E., Lee, S.M., Maynard, M., Brown, D.R., Kohl, III, H.W, & Dietz, W.H. (2008). Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: Data from the early childhood longitudinal study. American Journal of Public Health, 98(4), 721-727

[8] http://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/alberta-health-spending-rises-over-20-billion-even-as-province-tries-to-bend-the-cost-curve

[9] Tran BX, Ohinmaa A, Kuhle S, Johnson JA, Veugelers PJ (2014) Life Course Impact of School-Based Promotion of Healthy Eating and Active Living to Prevent Childhood Obesity. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102242. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102242

[10] Blankenship, B.T. & Ayers, S.F. (2010). The role of PETE in developing joy-oriented physical educators. Quest, 60, 171-183.


Delightful Physical Education


This is a guest blog I wrote for @meaningfulpe – check out LAMPE for more good content on meaningful (and purposeful!) #physed.

Part 1 of this blog series on delight and physical education raised the question, how might 47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1a physical education teacher lay ‘groundwork’ for delight (Kretchmar, 2005)? Before getting directly to some thoughts on that topic, let’s back up a bit and explore this notion of delightful or joyful movement just a little more.

I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen.  As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those revelling in the snow.  We need this joyful  movement!  As Scott Kretchmar writes:

When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to.  When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible (2008)

Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:

“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.”  “Great!  I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.”  “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity”  “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”

Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education.  The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it.  As a bonus, they’ll also get health, social, and academic benefits – among others.  If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park.  There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight!

As teachers of physical education, one of our main goals or purposes should be joyful or delightful movement. So how can we ‘look for’ this in our practice? Going back to Kretchmar (2008), he posits:

“Children are built to move; they want to move. Almost anything can be turned into a grand adventure—catching, throwing, running, touching, enjoying rhythmic activities, and discovering ‘fundamental movement concepts.’ A teacher who has a gift for make- believe can, without much difficulty, become something of a Pied Piper of movement. Delight, excitement, intrigue, and usually considerable noise permeate the physical education setting” (p. 166).

So, how do we ‘bring the skatepark to the gym’, so to speak? First of all, movement must be honoured, not just used (Kretchmar, 2000). We want to move past a utilitarian or functional approach to movement (which does have its place) and help students appreciate and experience learning as potential sources of joy/ delight. Examples include (Kretchmar, 2005):

From mechanically correct to expressive movement

From effective to inventive to creative movement

From  movement as obligation to movement as part of your own story

From fear and avoidance to accepting and overcoming a challenge

From thinking to spontaneity

I believe that we can encourage these types of shifts by providing a rich learning environment for students to play in, creating a culture of honoured movement, reflecting on our own practice and, perhaps most importantly, having students reflect on their practice and journeys of joyful movement.

Look for sweaty, smiling faces.

Look for grim-faced determination followed by quiet satisfaction.

Look for meaningful social interaction.

Look for focus – the ‘tongue out of the side of the mouth’ kind.

Look for failure, then some more failure followed by overcoming a realistic challenge.

Look for joy.


Cuts like a knife – but it feels so…

Wrong. It feels wrong.keep-kids-playing-sports

The following is the ‘non-edited for newspaper’ version of an OpEd that @Lauren_Sulz and @LouiseHumbert and I wrote for the Edmonton Journal’s Opinion Page. (Image to the right is from Active for Life – more good reading over there!)

The first time you get cut from a team sucks. The second time is probably no better, but many kids will not ever bother to try out again. And yes, we’ve heard the ‘…but Michael Jordan was cut from HIS high school team and look where he ended up.’ mantra. Regardless of your perspective, cutting kids from sports is controversial and we seem to be staring at each other across a chasm of:

“It builds character – kids these days need to toughen up.” “It’s life – not everyone makes the team.”


“Everyone has the right to play.” “It turns kids off of sport, for life.”

As professionals in physical education who have played and coached sport at a variety of levels, we wanted to take a closer look at the practices of de-selecting (cutting) kids in sport – particularly in school. Perhaps we could begin to bridge the chasm and find out how we can help coaches and kids – maybe even make a painful process less so. Since we also happen to be researchers, we designed a study to do so – go figure! We talked to young athletes who had been cut from a sports team in the past and their parents (52 one-on-one discussions) and surveyed coaches and athletic directors (1667 in total!). Our goals were to understand, from multiple perspectives, the experience of being cut and to find strategies that may ease the stress of this practice and encourage kids to keep playing.

In short, we found out some interesting stuff. First off, de-selection cuts deep. There are negative emotional, social and physical consequences. Athletes lose friends and are forced to find new social circles. They question their own identities and can feel lost and adrift. Perhaps quite obviously, their self-esteem is shaken. Time spent being physically active is reduced – not being on the team means no more practices and games. Cutting also deterred athletes from future participation in the same sport. As well, when no specific feedback was provided as to why athletes were cut there was a tendency to assume a low level of skill and a prediction of future failure. The same results happened when athletes were given feedback about things they can’t change like, ‘You’re too short’.

For coaches, regardless of the way cuts were communicated, our study found four factors that can improve the experience. Immediacy (don’t make them wait!), privacy (please don’t tell them in front of the whole group), encouragement (provide options for continuing to improve in the sport) and expectations (be clear up front about what you are looking for and the process of making the team). As well, the athletes themselves told us that the best way to help them cope with being cut is to provide clear reasons in a face-to-face meeting. In these meetings, coaches can keep things candid and up front by:

  • Stating the outcome right away – don’t beat around the bush.
  • Tell athletes why they were cut – specific, personal explanations.
  • Provide actionable feedback – things athletes can actually improve.
  • Write it up – eliminate miscommunication or misperceptions.

We shared these results on the Canadian Sport for Life blog (http://canadiansportforlife.ca/blog/easing-pain-cutting-kids-sport-are-there-best-practices-dr-lauren-sulz) and were blown away by the attention it garnered – over 10,000+ views of the page and counting. More significantly, we began to receive emails from people who took the time to share their experiences and stories with us:

From a coach (and parent):

“I appreciated your article, and it’s quite timely for me, I am faced with two sessions of cuts from a Pee Wee A Provincial hockey team, and not looking forward to it at all.”

After a detailed explanation of the hockey world, evaluation, coaching and communicating to parents, this reader finished with:

“Looks like I’ve worked through a lot of frustrations – you don’t even have to answer me, doc, I’ll do it for you: ‘In evaluating these young athletes, you tried your best, buddy, and that’s the most important thing.  Don’t give up trying to get better, though.’ Thanks again for the article, I can say your interview and survey efforts will positively affect lots of 11 and 12 year olds this season!”

From a parent:

“I just read your article and I wanted to tell you about my son’s experience in tryouts. My son is 8 (that’s right, only 8) he was on a Tier 1 team.  His team was really good and then after the season, they had tryouts for the next season.  The tryouts were two 1-hour tryout sessions.  At the end of the 2nd day, all of the players were called into a circle around the coaches.  If you made one of the teams, your name was called and you were given a piece of paper to give to your parents to register you for the team.  After all of the papers were given out, the rest were told they did not make a team.  So my son and his teammates that made the team were all cheering wildly. A couple of boys from his team did not make the roster of the new team.  They just sat there while the rest of their old teammates screamed with joy. This made me sick.”

The same parent went on to say,

“I wrote to you in part because I feel so powerless.  I need to vent about this.  I know that how the kids are being treated is wrong, but that if I complain my son could suffer consequences of being the son of a ‘trouble maker’. Please use my story and I hope that it can save some kids from experiencing what the kids trying out for my son’s team face.”

We are incredibly frustrated and saddened by the fact that 8 year olds, 11 year olds and others are being cut from teams each and every sport season. Come on Canada, we need to do better. We aren’t saying that there should never be cuts for some teams. There is a time and a place. But that time and place should not indicate an END of sport participation. It is obvious to us that the conversation around cutting kids in sport – especially at the developmental level – MUST continue. Canadian kids are less active and less healthy than ever before. Sport can provide quality physical, social and emotional experiences – learning skills and concepts that last a lifetime. Do we want more kids playing sports? If the answer is yes, then sport organizations at all levels need to examine their practices to ensure opportunities for as many kids as possible.

We’d love for you to contribute to the conversation at: Share Your Team Selection Experiences


If you want to hear a little more, listen to the recording from a local call-in radio show featuring this article . Thanks to @Albertaatnoon for having me on! Good chat.