Purposeful Teaching – My Philosophy

BioPic_drawing
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.

 

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program for this message…

Never fear, the next post in my physical literacy series is coming. SLOWLY, but coming.

For now, this YouTube video caught my eye and I wanted to say just a few words about it. Please watch – then read.

Novak Djokovic vs. Dylan Alcott – who is ‘more’ physically literate?

Before you answer the question, let me remind you of the definition of physical literacy:

“In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life-course.” (Whitehead, 2010)

Got an answer? Before you share it, in all fairness I should let you know that the question is flawed. Sorry.

Key points from the definition: as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, maintaining purposeful physical pursuits, throughout the life-course.

Long story short? Physical literacy is a journey – not a destination. It is a winding path not a linear road. It is individualized, not standardized. Therefore, there is no need to worry about achieving some arbitrary endpoint or to make ridiculous comparisons about who is more physically literate than who. Go back to the video – see how Dylan has to help Novak operate his chair?  Individual endowment. In another video of the same event Dylan drops this comment after Novak misses a few shots:

“…the  movement is your weakness.” 

Wisdom.

Dylan’s endowment includes using a wheelchair to play tennis (and how!). Novak’s endowment includes using legs to play tennis. Different. Both demonstrate physical literacy.  Note that I purposefully don’t say,  “Both are physically literate.” That would indicate an end point. Remember: journey – winding – individual endowment.

Ramifications for physical education teachers? HUGE. I’ll leave you with these two thoughts from Margaret Whitehead:

“The uniqueness of physical education lies in its ability to enable each individual to realize, nurture and develop his [sic] embodied capabilities and thus become more fully human.” (Whitehead, 2013, p. 35, emphasis mine)

“Our mission or challenge is to DO ALL WE CAN to ENABLE ALL to make progress on their individual PHYSICAL LITERACY JOURNEY.” (Whitehead, 2013, caps and bold mine)

An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

We join our hero as he realizes it has been over 3 months since his last post…

Speaking of Physical Literacy Part 3: An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

Right. So suddenly it is 2016. MARCH 2016! I am not sure how so much time went by since my last post – oh wait, I know – life! Life got in the way. And work.  Definitely work. Anywho…

What follows is a lead in to a rough framework that explores the implementation side of physical literacy. The post is loosely based on a talk I gave on October 22, 2015 at the Manitoba Physical Literacy Summit ‘Moving it Forward’. As well, I am working with an exceptional graduate student to design and implement a research project that will use a similar framework in high school physical education (more on that later!). Here goes.

If you recall, the last post in this series was about experiences and stories. So, please consider this story of an experience (brilliant segue, what?)…

PE, recess and lunch were always my favourite subjects in school. Perhaps it was a connection to my life running around on the farm but I found it tough to adjust to school and sedentary life. Opportunities to be active during the school day were not only my favourite times, they were critical to who I was as a person. My problem on this particular school day began with the excitement of heading to the local church basement for PE and ended with a frightening experience no grade two-er should have. I never forgot my PE clothes and shoes. NEVER. This day was no different. I had my shorts. I had my t-shirt. I had my shoes. As we were changing in the tiny bathroom of the church basement, however, I realized I had forgotten something. My regular underwear. I had neglected to put briefs on under my long johns…

 

longjohns

EDITORS NOTE: for those from more southerly climes, long johns are full coverage thermal underwear and completely necessary for about 8 months of the year where I live. Thank you.

…and was therefore in a bit of a conundrum. I couldn’t wear my shorts with my long johns, I couldn’t wear my shorts without my regular underwear. I agonized about it until everyone else left the change room and decided to just head out in my jeans and t-shirt so no one would know of my problem. Surely the PE teacher would understand? As I headed over to try and quietly explain my embarrassing dilemma to the enormous ex-football player who was my teacher, he stopped everyone and singled me out. “Doug, you forgot your gym clothes! Come over here!” I sheepishly slunk over to the centre of the basement and was ready to explain my situation when suddenly I was swept off my feet, lifted high into the air and pinned against the ceiling. “Why do you not have your gym clothes?!?” Three quick, relevant facts. Number one, there was no way I was explaining myself in front of the whole class. Number two, I could barely keep myself from peeing my pants, much less actually talk. Number three, I stutter badly when forced to respond verbally under pressure. Therefore, I said nothing except for a few stuttered grunts. After a little more uplifted condemnation fornot being changed, I was forced to sit out for the rest of the class. Although I kept a brave face for my friends, (“That was so cool how he lifted me up so high”) inside I was embarrassed, frustrated, mad and ultimately – helpless. (Gleddie & Schaefer, 2014, p. 9-10)

Now that you’ve read my story (thanks!) answer me this: Why would someone who underwent that sort of humiliation and embarassment go on to have a career in physical education? Why wouldn’t that experience have turned me off of physical education for life? John Dewey, the renowned education philosopher, would probably have answered the question somewhat like this:

 

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. (1938, p. 25)

 

I think that I had been ‘inoculated’ or ‘vaccinated’ with WAY too much educative experiences of movement and play to be turned off by one mis-educative experience – no matter how humiliating. Dewey went on to say that there are two key aspects to experience. The first is the immediate:

“Yes, this was good.” OR “No, this was not.”

The second aspect emerges when we consider the influence of the current experience on future experiences. Quite simply – I knew deep down in my soul that the one mis-educative experience with my long johns did not have the power to impact the future already set up by my countless educative experiences with movement and physical education. This idea is enormously important – now put it away for a moment and keep reading… Hopefully, you are already familiar with at least the definition of physical literacy if not the whole set of philosophical underpinnings (here’s a hint… It’s so much more than fundamental movement skills!). What I want to focus on, however, is physical literacy praxis. And no, I did not spell ‘practice’ wrong…

Etymology: From Ancient Greek πρᾶξις ‎(prâxis, “action, activity, practice”)

Noun: praxis ‎(plural praxes or praxises)

  1. The practical application of any branch of learning.

  2. (philosophy) The synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. (en.wiktionary.org)

 

 

 

Love it! Take a closer look: the synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. If you remember way back in the Travel Agents post, I quoted Margaret Whitehead as saying:

“Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey. (Whitehead, 2013)

This is PRAXIS! This is what physical educators can do with the theory! Or, as John Dewey put it,

“…upon them devolves the responsibility for instituting the conditions for the kind of present experience which has a favourable effect upon the future.” (Dewey, 1938, p. 50)

 

 

 

 

This is where my rough framework for physical literacy praxis fits in. Here is a visual to get you started.

Slide5

 

We leave our hero as he realizes that this post is getting way too long…  Hopefully, he doesn’t wait 3 months before the next one and leave us all hanging…

TO BE CONTINUED!

Speaking of Physical Literacy…

Over the past 9 months I have been privileged to be able to speak at a CdnPLnumber of Physical Literacy ‘Summit’ type events across Canada. After reviewing my notes and doing some thinking about the many conversations with individuals very passionate about physical education and physical literacy, I have just realized that I have yet to write a blog post exclusively on physical literacy! I use and explore the term with my students. I speak about it. I tweet about it. I read about it. I am beginning to research it. I am incorporating it into a PE textbook. Guess it is time to blog about it! So here goes my first swing – a short three point introduction to the topic. I hope to have two more physical literacy posts ‘on deck’ (see what I did there?) to follow in December.

Firstly, let me just remind you (and myself) about the definition of physical literacy. We will dive into the ramifications of this definition later, just wanted to get it in your head again! Margaret Whitehead (2010) states:

“In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life-course.”

Secondly, let me state that I am whole-heartedly, unequivocally, undeniably, explicitly, enthusiastically and for reals on board with the concept of physical literacy. I believe that we are standing on the threshold of a HUGE opportunity for physical education. Here’s why:

  • Literacy is an expanding concept as shown by this United Nations definition from 2002, “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 twenty-first century.” It is about time that the physical aspect of who we are is embraced instead of being divorced and downtrodden.
  • Physical literacy as a concept includes a language and vocabulary that educators (and parents and kids) can understand. Most times when I explain it to educators unfamiliar with physical or movement education they go, “Oh! Well that makes sense!”. The connection with what we should be doing in physical education is rock solid and connects strongly with overall educational goals.
  • We have an unprecedented opportunity (and momentum) for collaboration, cross-sector appeal/uptake between physical education, sport, recreation, family and community. If we do this right – everybody gains. Especially the children.  Common, consistent messaging and practice!
  • Physical literacy can help to remind us that physical education is a necessary, crucial, essential and vital part of a viable education system. It can also remind us that we must strive to be better. Better teachers. Better physical educators. Better motivators. Better learners. Better advocators.

Thirdly, this super-on-board status of mine does not mean that I have fears. Specifically I have two big ones: that physical literacy is interpreted and applied as no more than a bigger focus on Fundamental Motor (Movement) Skills and; that the concept somehow loses momentum and dies without accomplishing implementation and accountability change. More detail to come on these later…

That’s it for this introduction. The next two physical literacy focused posts will feature ‘Readers Digest’ version of two talks I have given recently at the aforementioned Summits:

  • Physical Literacy Praxis: Moving from theory to practice (and back again!)
  • Becoming Travel Agents for a Storied Physical Literacy Journey.

 

Stay tuned!

Rebranding

Rebranding

As some of you may know, I had the distinct pleasure of co-chairing the recent joint conference2015_CMYKHealth and Physical Education Council / Physical and Health Education Canada, National Health and Physical Education Conference – A Physical Literacy Uprising, in beautiful Banff, Alberta, Canada (let’s just go w #Banff2015 from now on though…). I could share a lot about #Banff2015: the 867 passionate delegates, the crazy and fun socials, the variety and diversity of sessions, and much more. In fact, for an overview of the conference, presenters and presentations, check out http://www.phecanada.ca/events/conference2015/program/workshops.

However, it is really hard to replicate a conference on a blog page. I would say impossible. Fortunately, with some collaborative effort from Brent at PHE Canada and one of our keynotes, I can share a video that I hope will make you think about the way you think about exercise and physical activity (read it twice, it makes sense, really, it does). We were privileged to have Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (@YoniFreedhoff) speak to us on Friday morning on the topic of:

Rebranding Exercise: Why Exercise is the World’s Best Drug, Just Not a Weight Loss Drug

The premise of the talk is as follows: By preventing cancers, improving blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar, bolstering sleep, attention, energy and mood, and doing so much more, exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug – better than any pharmaceutical product any physician could ever prescribe. Sadly though, exercise is not a weight loss drug, and so long as we continue to push exercise in the name of preventing or treating adult or childhood obesity, we’ll also continue to short-change the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise, and simultaneously misinform them about the realities of long term weight management. We need to REBRAND.

Please take a moment and view the video.

I would encourage you to watch the whole 39:13, however, if you want to skip all the research evidence, jump in at about 28 minutes or so for some key points and the summary.

You may wonder why we asked someone who mostly writes about nutrition and weight management (http://www.weightymatters.ca/ – highly recommended!) and is an obesity medicine doctor to keynote a conference called A Physical Literacy Uprising. The reason lies with the way we sometimes rationalize our work as PE teachers and Physical Activity professionals: childhood obesity.

“We need more PE to combat childhood obesity.”

“We need more PA to combat childhood obesity.”

I have even heard colleagues’ state that the obesity epidemic finally makes our jobs relevant and necessary – finally we will get the respect we deserve as a profession because we can FIX this. I couldn’t disagree more.

As Yoni states in his presentation, when we tie exercise to weight loss/control/management etc. we are committing:

A dis-service to exercise – we box exercise in as weight loss instead of highlighting all the other benefits of physical activity: sleep, co-morbidities, mental health, well-being, academics, joy, etc. This aligns with my own thoughts about WHY we need to move. Movement is worth so much more than the box(es) we often place it in.

A dis-service to quality weight management – people will try stupid things when they feel exercise has “failed” them in their goals (ie. Biggest Loser. To read one of Yoni’s scathing critique of that show, click here). Incidentally, this aspect is also linked with the fallacious idea that we need to be “fit” (or at least look that way) to be effective teachers of PE (more on that here!).

From a physical literacy perspective, we need only return to the original definition:

In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the lifecourse. (Whitehead, 2010)

I have read this and other definitions of physical literacy over and over and have yet to see weight loss, weight control, weight maintenance or any other iteration therein.47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1

Quite simply – weight loss is not the motivational piece we are looking for to get kids (or adults) active, healthy and joy-full.

Let’s REBRAND EXERCISE and get it right*.

*My apologies to those who already “get it” and therefore do not need to rebrand. Please keep on being and doing awesomeness.

Fit for PhysEd?

football cartA little while back, as part of his blog entitled “Help me, help me”, @SchleiderJustin posted the following question for #slowchatpe: Q3: Should physical education teachers be physically fit barring medical reasons? Why?

I threw out a fairly quick answer that included something like, “Depends on your definition of fit: cross-fit models on the cover of GQ/Cosmo or healthy and active role models?” If you read this blog at all, you probably guessed which way I am leaning… The twitter conversation was good – but left me wanting more. Since that response, however, I have actually been thinking about this question a lot. Really – a lot.

Perhaps the reason that the question is so pervasive is because the answer, for each of us, says a lot about what we value and, who we are.  On the blog page – where the focus of the post was actually on getting 20 minutes of physical activity a day – two comments sprung out at me (oh, and this one: “I think that i should try it and nice job on your opinion.”).

Comment: Should we be physically fit? Yes. Should our students be physically fit? Yes. Just as we would expect our students to work towards achieving fitness, and understanding the value of being healthy, so too should we be striving to achieve those same goals.

Response: I agree with you whole-heartedly. How can we preach something and not follow through on our own teachings? We don’t have to be fitness maniacs or body builders; however, if you are obese it is sending the wrong message. Would you go to a church where the minister did drugs? Would you go to a dentist who was missing half their teeth? Would you buy a car from a GM salesperson after you see him drive away in a Toyota? No. You have to model fitness for the ss or you are just another hypocrite.

I found myself confused by the inherent contradictions, unclear definitions and hyperbole in these two comments. Therefore, you’ll have to forgive me as I go on a bit of a rambling rant about this topic. Of course, rather than forgive me, you could just choose to stop reading and go about your life without the enlightening power of this polemic. 😉

Why the focus on fitness?

What do we really mean when we say PE teachers should be “fit”? I would argue that when you say, “PE teachers should be “fit”” – your listeners see these images:

rippedabs six-pack

But what IS fitness?

Fit is defined as: “In good health, especially because of regular physical exercise: my family keep fit by walking and cycling.”

Fitness is defined as: “The condition of being physically fit and healthy: disease and lack of fitness are closely related.

Other, more specific definitions include categories such as cardio-respiratory endurance, power, flexibility, strength, etc. There are even those who would crown the “fittest” man/woman on earth.

876-cristiano-ronaldo-mens-health-cover-us-edition-august-2014 camilleRich

Are these images what we want our PE students and teachers to strive for? In my province, the aim of our Program of Studies for PE: “…is to enable individuals to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to lead an active, healthy lifestyle”. Therefore, to me, being fit is not about how you look (more on this further down…), how much you can lift or, how fast you can run. Being fit is about being in good health and being active for life. My first job as a PE teacher is to ensure my students make strides (see what I did there?) to meet the aim of the program. In that, I agree with the comment above – we should all (Ts and Ss) be striving to meet goals of being fit (see earlier definition) and understanding (and applying / living) the value of being healthy. YES!

As a PE teacher I agree that modeling a healthy active lifestyle can be important. Active for life. A physical literacy journey. Being healthy. For sure. However, this is a package deal that considers SO much more than fitness. Consider the diagram below (thanks @DeanKriellaars) and the role fitness plays in the journey that is physical literacy.

Slide25 So why do we say that PE teachers should be fit? Why only focus on this one area? Why not complex skills, active living in the community, health behaviours, or other parts of the PE curriculum? Why not focus on the fact that PE teachers need to TEACH?

My sneaking suspicion of why the fit PE teacher issue is so pervasive is that it has to do with how we look and what we value. Consider the reply above: “…however, if you are obese it is sending the wrong message. You have to model fitness for the ss or you are just another hypocrite.”

See the subtle shift there? Obese is equated with non-fit. Obese is also used as an extreme, polarizing term followed by hyperbole. The fit definition we have explored says NOTHING about size, or weight. Sneaky segway here – why do we focus on how PE teachers look instead of what they can do?

Weightism: “…the assumption or belief individuals of a certain weight or body size are superior – intellectually, morally, physically – to those who exceed the ideal weight or body size.” (Morimoto, 2008)

We really need to stop judging people’s health and fitness by how they look. Just. Stop. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and fitness can look different. Exercise and physical activity are FULL of benefits – weight loss is not always one of them – and should not be the main reason to move more. Move to feel good, be healthy, play with your kids, etc. Obesity is a complex issue, let’s not try and over simplify. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the importance of physical activity for those who are considered overweight (BMI from 25-25.9) or obese (BMI>30).

Aside: I don’t have the time or space right now to deal with all the issues around using BMI as an individual health measure. Short version. Don’t use BMI as a measure of individual health. Long version – check out this post.

The article begins by citing a recent study entitled Physical activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC) – sweet acronym! The study followed European men and women for an average of 12.4 years and included a total of 4,154,915 person years (p. 1) – wow!

The main finding I’ll share is this: “The hypothetical number of deaths reduced by avoiding inactivity in this population may be double that with an approach that avoided high BMI and similar to that of an approach that avoided high WC” (p. 8)

Takeway messages for us in PE?

  • Focus on helping our students lead healthy active lives
  • Don’t stress (or cause stress) about weight.

To further explore this idea, let me introduce you to two women (whom I have never met…) who I think can shed some much needed light.

Lauren Morimoto – Lecturer in Kinesiology and PE at California State University East Bay (now at Sonoma State, I think!)

I “met” Lauren while researching autoethnography. Her peer-reviewed article brought me to tears and opened my eyes. I highly encourage you to find it and read it.

Morimoto, L. (2008) Teaching as transgression: The autoethnography of a fat physical education instructor. Proteus, 25 (2), p.29-36.

Until you can, here is a snippet of her opening poem entitled, This Girl (my apologies for the blurriness).

Morimoto_Poem

Mirna Valerio – Spanish teacher and cross country running coach at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, author of the brilliant blog Fat Girl Running.

I only just stumbled upon Mirna’s blog through the WSJ article but she is one funny, talented writer and I am guessing also a pretty amazing teacher and coach! Her posts range from sharing her love of running: There is a sort of primal quality to it that, while it isn’t for everyone–especially those new to trail-running, inspires you to appreciate those trails that are not fantastically weird or scary. You must extend your hands, feet, and heart in friendship to the forest, and it in turn, will befriend you.

To clothing advice: Many of us larger ladies have some issues finding workout clothing that is 1) comfortable and 2) does not make us feel (or look) like a link of brats that is about to explode, or a bear in a big, ugly tent.  This is a major conundrum that must be dealt with or it might cause us to have an excuse to not get out there and be badass as we should be doing everyday.

To the rant that caught my attention – Haters Gonna Hate: A Rant, is harsh, personal and brilliant. You should read it. Now. After setting the context: So this post is for all you haters out there. And let me apologize on BEHALF OF YOU to YOUR BODY, for you projecting your own insecurity and feeling of inadequacy on others. Mirna then responds to stuff people have said to her. Here is a short peek:

You might wanna stop running so much. For a big girl like you, you may be better off on the elliptical or like, playing tennis.
Why are you so concerned? Last time I checked, getting any exercise is better than getting no exercise. Do you know what’s more dangerous on the knees and heart? Not doing anything. And by the way, my joints are just fine. But my brain hurts trying to explain basic shit to you.

Don’t you feel weird going into a gym-you know, cuz everyone’s a size zero and you’re not?
Thanks for pointing out the obvious. So perceptive of you. What gym do YOU go to? That apparently is not my gym because although my gym has its share of meat-heads, there are tons of different body types, goals, people, sizes.

#frickinawesome

I hope to some day meet both of these fabulous ladies. Maybe go walzing. Maybe go for a run. To go back to the question of whether PE teachers should be fit – yes, yes they should.

Fit like Lauren.

Fit like Mirna.

Track and Field Ramblings

trackshoes-smallI know.  My Canadian friends are thinking, “What the heck is he writing about Track and Field (T&F) in November for?”  Hey – it’s never to early to start planning your T&F or activity day for the Spring!  As well, my friend Mel (@mjhamada) and I recently had a wee Twitter flurry focused on alternate track and field events/days.  After our short exchange of ideas, we decided to collaborate on this blog post to highlight our perspectives and thoughts.  Take a read, tell us what you think and, most importantly, please contribute to the google doc we have started to share your ideas as well (link at the end of the article)!

Mel’s Ramblings! Recently I have heard a lot of comments online about how PE was very difficult and how rotten we are as a profession!  I have to say that in my High School life I adored running and so Track and Field was a joy to me as I could actually do well in something I really enjoyed.  Now, I know that PE and T&F aren’t everyone’s passion but I take from this that it is also important to respect that a T&F day should also be about allowing our athletic students a place to compete and see success. “What did you say Ms Hamada?”,  I hear you shout!

However, I also believe that we need to not exclude students who find T&F day (as well as other traditional sports days) a grind and who are ‘sick’ on these days to avoid having to participate. It is the participation and the fun that we want to ingrain in our students.  I love T&F days because they were fun for me! I will add here that I work in International schools and I haven’t had a school that has a zone or district carnival or T&F team, we just have our school carnival/day and no more.  This makes me think harder about the fun and participation of our students.

So it is important to find the middle ground.  Recently I have worked with different schools who have had varied philosophies on what should constitute these days and found that the winning formula should provide some time in the curriculum for learning about T&F concepts such as how to throw, jump and run and time to practice these with no pressure.    Maximum practice is the most important factor.  Try some of these ideas:

  • Long Jump – set up your students to jump across the pit on the side rather than the long end.  Set up stations, have 4-7 lines all jumping at the same time into the pit and then running around back to the line.  You get to see your students frequently and they get to jump a lot!  Set up tiered stations next – regular jump at one end of the pit and then add a cone 1.5m back from the sand; then add a small hurdle to promote the height of a jump (over length) then add the next line with a hurdle 1.5m back etc.  Students can then quickly get to their level and work at it and in a 60 min lesson you can have students jumping every 1 minute.  Set up student coaches to assist with visual feedback or use your fave app to assist you.

  • High Jump – use hurdles frequently in your HJ lessons to practice scissor jumps.  Set up hurdle stations and have students practice scissor jumps while waiting for the HJ bed.  Differentiate with mats, hurdles, HJ soft bars etc with lots of places for kids to practice and get maximum jumps.

  • Running – complete running drills for sprints with student pairs watching specific technique (eg. arm swing) so they can learn about correct technique and coach each other efficiently.  Set up mini relays or games for students that involve timing and sprinting for success, but limit competition.  Avoid too many block exercises or peers that can ‘watch’ or evaluate time or distance, make the emphasis fun!

Okay so coupled with these athletic pursuits, we have some fun activities thrown in for students who dislike T&F traditional events and who haven’t participated at all!  The T&F day schedule has been pretty full on with 4 sessions in the day and a lunch break.  Each Grade level had 4 sessions to complete the field activities offered: Long Jump and Shot put; Javelin; Discus;  High Jump.  The Track sessions had a separate schedule that ran all day and Field event participants went to the Track when required.  Our last school hosted: 100m, 200m, 400m, 1500m and 4 x 100m relays.  It was a struggle to get kids into the 1500m and I wondered if we were better off with 2 x 1500m, one for girls and one for boys to avoid the long waits!

I would love to see the alternative events in-between the field or during the field events.  We could then have the egg and spoon or water relay races on for Middle School while High School are completing another T&F activity and vice versa.  This would bring a nice blend to the day.  I am excited about implementing more of this at YIS this year and hope that our fun and participation values drive the day!  I am excited to hear of great alternative activities that we could do on our day to promote fun, friendly competition between Houses and generally improve this day for all concerned!

Doug’s Ramblings! I started teaching PE at a school that followed a very traditional program and T&F was run as a school wide meet.  When I took over as the male PE teacher there was actually a “passing of the starter gun” at the former PE teacher’s last meet (crazy eh!).  I started to keep stats on the T&F day the next year and realized that many kids skipped the day and many did minimal events (format was 2T and 1 F required or 2F and 1 T) or nothing at all.  Lots of sitting around, minimal activity etc.  Over my five years at that school, I slowly made a few changes but was still not really happy with how the day met student’s needs (or the PE curriculum).

When I moved to a new school I was again asked to take charge of the T&F day (which had been very traditional).  I decided to do something completely different and ran an activities based day in which the kids (grades 5-9) were mixed up into multi-grade level groups and moved throughout the day as a team to a variety of active living themed stations.  We did not do any traditional T&F events on that day although we did do them in PE class and invited anyone to join the inter-school team.  Over all I thought the day was successful but…

The next year, I taught a grade nine leadership class with a group of students that had now had a traditional TF day as well as my crazy new format.  I asked them (nuts, I know) what kind of day they would like.  They met and discussed things, I put in my two cents and objectives (essentially to have fun, learning, LOTS of activity) and we came up with a plan.  The students wanted to be able to move with their friends and choose from a variety of active living activities as well as traditional events.  But the TF “events” were not to be used to determine who went to Zone meets – that would happen separately, after school.

With the students taking the lead, our eventual T&F day looked like this: student’s chose from a menu of track, field and active living sessions (AL). Each student needed to get a stamp on their “passport” for a minimum numbers of events – no limit on how many you could choose.  My leadership students invented and ran the active living sessions, teachers ran the TF events and students were free to roam around with their friends and complete their passports in any order they wanted.  In the morning each student had to do a required 3/6 T events, 2/4 F events and 3/6 AL events. In the afternoon it was 2/4 T, 1/3 F and 2/4 AL.

The day was AWESOME! Lots of choice, lots of activity and lots of fun for all involved.  Very few behaviour issues due to the high level of autonomy and almost no absences that day.  Most importantly, the feedback from the students was amazing.  Those who wanted the athletic challenge could compete against themselves and their friends, those who wanted to take a more relaxed approach could do that all well – but all were active!

YOUR TURN! Please share what you have done for T&F days (or just activity days!) at your school.  These can be event descriptions, key resources, day overviews – whatever you like!

Click the link to share!

https://docs.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/document/d/1q5Cz881tMSDZGYsnH6fbXcODSVse9eW7rGnHhH9VpHM/edit?usp=sharing

I Am Confident

I Am Confident.

No, I am not auditioning for a deodorant commercial.  I am not even trying to talk myself into doing something I don’t really feel like doing (say… a SSHRC grant application).

I Am Confident in the future of physical education in Canada.

There, I said it.  I will not deny that I have had my doubts about the future of PE (who am I kidding, I have doubts about the present…).  Sometimes it seems like we are banging our heads against the same old walls.  Don’t tell me we just need more proof of the efficacy of movement and PE – we know this stuff – let’s get ‘er done already!  I’ve said before that sometimes PE folks are the biggest part of the problem.  Yet…

I Am Confident in the future of physical education in Canada.

1239799_788145540908_367711197_nMy confident confidenceness springs from having recently participated in the 10th Annual PHE Canada Student Leadership Conference (SLC).  67 post-secondary student leaders and 14 mentors from across Canada loosely connected by the broad field of physical education coming together to explore leadership.   Check out the overview video here.

Two words: Wow!

Peter Gray, developmental psychologist and author of Free to Learn, describes three characteristics necessary for self-directed education / learning: curiosity (the drive to explore and understand), playfulness (the drive to practice and create) and sociability (the drive to share information and ideas).  For a little taste of Peter’s work check out The Play Deficit.  Anywho… The students (and mentors!) that I interacted with over the course of the SLC demonstrated these characteristics each and every day – in numerous ways!  Here are a few things I noticed over the week:

curiosity: no hesitation – a desire to explore personal leadership characteristics – genuine quests for understanding – a seeker attitude – focused inquisitiveness around what could be learned – openness to what mentors had to say – openness to what other students had to say – probing problems and not giving up – constant snooping around mentors and other students to see what could be heard, observed, learned and applied.

playfulness: every task approached with zeal and enthusiasm – every task faced with a desire to learn and succeed – undaunted in the face of (much) failure – a student driven campfire night that never quit – as many solutions to problems as there were groups – spontaneous games and dancing (and late night lake swimming!) – original creations – practice, practice, practice and, more practice.

sociability: constant, purposeful conversation – constant, purposeful listening – sharing of hugs, sweaters and ideas – stepping up and stepping back – debate – diversity – respect – integrity – genuine appreciation for the gifts and talents of others – and self – willingness to put an idea out there – willingness to remove it in favour of a better one – humility – questions, thoughtfulness and more questions.

Therefore, I Am Confident.

Confident that these leaders will NEVER stop learning.

Confident that these leaders saw the end of the conference as a beginning.

Confident that these leaders will surpass their mentors and then some.

Confident that the future of PE is in good, no, GREAT hands.

Confident that these leaders are curious enough, playful enough and sociable enough

to change the world.1379413_788148125728_113044222_nThank you.