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).

NoGym1

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?

SERIOUSLY!

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!

IMG_4399

 

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

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.

 

Something is very wrong…

I recently became aware of two very different stories about children and physical activity. The first was a Facebook video of a young kid cruising around in a parkour gym. If you haven’t seen it – check it out – it is worth the 1:14 min. What a great place for kids to play, learn and move! Check out the movement skills of that boy! And, kudos to the wonderful instructor leading the class – love the clip with the kids jumping to a box and grabbing his feet for stability.

A couple days later and this story hits the inter-web: School district bans game of tag to ‘ensure physical, emotional safety of students’. (Spoiler alert: tag is now back at Mercer Island School District after the outcry – yay.). The rationale given by the communications director was:

“The Mercer Island School District and school teams have recently revisited expectations for student behavior to address student safety. This means while at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students.banning-tag

Let me go out on a limb here (properly harnessed in, of course) and let you know what probably happened.

Random kid: Julie pushed me.

Other random kid: Ryan pushed me.

Not so random Principal: That’s it – no tag for anyone! Everyone must keep their hands to themselves. In fact, why don’t you sit on your hands all recess for good measure (ok, that part might not have happened).

Unfortunately, over the last few years there has been no shortage of these type of events:

This School Banned Cartwheels, Tag, Balls, Fun at Recess

The School That Won’t Let Students Play Tag or Hold Hands

Children Banned from Playing Tag in School Playground

Toronto School Bans Hard Balls

I could go on with even more, but I think you get my point.

From what I can tell, each of these “bans” springs from an incident or two where someone gets hurt (in the Toronto case it was a parent who got a concussion from being hit in the head with a soccer ball…). If this is the way we handle inappropriate behaviour in schools then would someone please answer these questions?

If a kid gets stuffed in a locker – do we ban all lockers from the school?

If a kid throws an eraser in class and hits another kid in the head (like my friend and I did to each other for most of grade 5…) – do we ban all erasers from the school?

If a group of kids is too rowdy when they work on problem solving in math class together – do we ban group work?

NO!

Why do school staff (and some parents) go for the kneejerk reaction and frickin’ ban everything? Why don’t they just do what they do in all these other cases and DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM. We have enough issues with children not moving enough, not engaging in free play and not interacting with each other enough without putting even more constraints on them…

If anything, we should have MORE active play and student interaction at recess – the Lord knows they spend enough time in front of screens not interacting. Hmmm, here’s an idea – how about MORE physical education classes taught by qualified, trained professionals who can help TEACH social skills and appropriate behaviours for playing together in and out of class. Booya (does anyone say that anymore?) – problem solved.

UnderPressureCarl Honore shares a story in his brilliant book (which you should buy), Under Pressure: Rescuing our children from the culture of hyper-parenting, from the Secret Garden nursery school in Eastern Scotland – the first outdoor nursery in Britain. A group of 3 year olds had spent the day in the woods; helped by the adult in charge, they built a fire to ward off the chill. Wee Magnus Macleod reached in with his bare hand and picked up a burning ember.

BAN fires! BAN bare hands! BAN outdoor nurseries! BAN three-year-olds!

Nope. Everyone stayed calm. Magnus’s wound healed. His mom kept him in the Secret Garden and also enrolled his younger brother. She said, “…the main thing is that Magnus is now very sensible about fire – he knows not to get too close to it. The truth is that there are risks in the world and that children benefit from being exposed to them within reason” (p. 240).

A couple months after “the incident”, Carl spent the day with the kids at Secret Garden. Guess what? It was cold. They gather material for a fire. Magnus volunteers to light it – using a Swedish firestarter (that has sparks up to 3,ooo degrees Celsius) and a piece of denim. He lights the fire successfuly and here is how the chapter ends:

A smile crawls across Magnus’s mud-streaked face.“ You have to be careful with fire,” he tells me, in an almost professorial tone. “But you don’t have to be afraid of it.” He trows another log on the flames and then whispers, as if to himself: “I’m not afraid of anything.” (p. 255)

Yup.

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.

A Sporting Chance

I have a problem.  Ok, I have lots of problems but I want to blog about this one…  You see, I want to love school sport and in fact for many years I did.  But my love light is flickering and is in danger of going out.  Before I really dive into this issue, let me share a few quick facts about me and my love.

I played school sport.

I coached countless school teams.

I have watched school sport positively change the lives of kids.

I have seen school sport re-ignite teachers’ passion for education.

Despite all the positive experiences I have had over the past 30 years, why does my taste for school sport seem to turning from sweet to bitter?  After a lot of thoughtful, pensive, pondering; a good deal of reading; hour upon hour of observation; several naps (seriously, naps are awesome); deliberate discussion with many friends and colleagues I have narrowed my reasoning down to three key issues.

#1. Participation Rates.  I spent many years coaching at the junior high (grades 7-9) level.  My last school had a population of about 400.  Because I was interested, I kept track of all the kids that played on all the teams we had.  Over the whole year, only 90 kids out of the 400 played at least one sport (many played more than one).

22.5% of the school population could access all the benefits of being part of school sport (sort of… more on this in the next issue).  But that also means that 77.5% of students had no involvement whatsoever with school sports.  Public education systems around the world are founded on the belief that a democracy requires informed and intelligent citizens.  Egerton Ryerson, one of the key advocates for public education in Canada, firmly believed that schooling should not be a class privilege and should be not only universal, but free (see – History of Public Education).

So why do we continue to commit school resources to something that can only benefit some of the students?  In the very thought provoking article The Case Against High School Sports, Amanda Ripley shares the example of Spelman College.  Spelman spent almost $1 million on athletics for 4% of the student body.  Given the fact that almost half of the incoming class in 2012 had some sort of chronic health issue that could be improved by exercise, the president made a change.  The $1 million dollars was re-directed in 2013 towards a campus wide health and fitness program to benefit all.  Intriguing.  Can we continue to justify only providing the benefits of school sport to less than 25% of our students?

#2. Elitism.  So.  You are one of the lucky ones – you make the school team.  Yay for you!  Life will now be blissful and wonderful as you develop your prowess and skills along with the other kids on your team.  Not so fast.  What I continue to see is that the best 5,6, 11, etc. kids are treated very differently than the rest.  They are given the bulk of the playing time and have the most opportunity to learn and develop in practice.  I suppose this is just an extension of the previous point.  We’ve already got rid of over 75% of the kids.  Why not winnow it down a little further?

Quite simply, we can’t afford this sort of elitism in a school sponsored “educational” sport experience (please note the very sarcastic nature of my finger quotes).  Public school is for all.  A year ago, the director of education in Canada’s largest school board wrote an editorial for the Star. In the article he argues for all the physical, psychological and social benefits to children from school sport.  I don’t disagree with these benefits, however, we must recognize that school sport misses a large number of kids. If we are going to continue to only provide sport for 25%, then at the very least, let’s stop the elitism there.  Segue to my next point.

#3. Winning first. I believe that this issue is actually at the heart of the problems with school sport (and perhaps community and club too).  School is about becoming an informed, engaged, educated citizen – now and for life.  Not about winning trophies and putting banners on the wall.  Don’t get me wrong, winning is not in itself a bad thing.  Pretty sure most of us would rather win than lose.  The problem lies in placing winning as the ultimate goal with all else, including player development and dignity, coming a distant second.

A short story and then I’ll wrap this up.  A few years ago I coached a junior high, junior basketball team.  I had 18 kids try out and 18 kids made the team.  We had a perfect season. 0-6.  Whaaaaaaaat?  The last game of the year, we lost 46-84.  My boys were jumping in the air, cheering, slapping each other on the back.  The other team was asking their coach, “Didn’t we win the game?”  Let me explain.  I had 18 grade 7 boys on my team who had never played on a basketball team before and some had never really played basketball at all.  As a team, our goals were to improve individual and team skills and essentially to be better by the end of the season.  Oh, and to grow to love the sport of basketball.

We were excited to “lose” our last game because we did not define our success individually or as a team by winning.  Here are the important stats of that final game.

  • we had our highest scoring game ever (previous record – 23 points)
  • we were not doubled by the other team
  • we kept the other team’s score below 100
  • every player scored at least one basket
  • one player who had never got on the scoresheet before not only scored a bucket – he FOULED someone!  For a kid who was scared to play defence, this was a big step!

The point is, we would have had a dismal season if we focused on winning.  Instead, we put development first and arranged our season goals around that concept.  Everyone played (line change!), everyone improved and everyone won.

So what should we do? Cut school sport all together?  Let club sports take over? Let high school sports die?

To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do.  I am, however, convinced that we need to do something different.  A re-imagining of school sport, if you will.

What if all kids received quality daily physical education that included true physical literacy foundations providing them with the foundation to pursue a variety of sport and physical activity?

What if late elementary and junior high kids ALL had opportunities to participate in sport clubs that would develop their skills and allow them to compete positively against others of the same level?

What if high school sport was a place that had opportunities for ANY student to play at the level they choose?

What if we made a commitment to place development ahead of winning at all levels of school sport?

I’m not ready to give up on school sport.  But as a society, our relationship with school sport needs to move from infatuation to love; patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not dishonorable and not self-seeking.

Let’s work together to find a way to give all kids in school a sporting chance.

(re-post of my guest post on the ParticipACTION Blog)

Risky Business

Let’s face it.  Life is risky.  No buts about it – everything we do has an element of risk.  Sure, channel surfing on the couch is less risky  than actually jumping on a surf board in an actual ocean – or is it?  We’ll come back to this point but first let’s dig a little deeper into what risk is:

Everybody’s favourite encyclopedia defines risk as: the potential of loss (an undesirable outcome, however not necessarily so) resulting from a given action, activity and/or inaction. “Wait a minute… Only the potential for loss? What about all those famous quotes?

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” – Ben Franklin

“Do one thing every day that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt (and apparently the Lulu Lemon bag designer…)

 “The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” – Albert Einstein

 “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Looks like there is more to risk than just loss!  Let’s move to the concept of risk assessment – back to Wikipedia:

Risk assessment is the determination of quantitative or qualitative value of risk related to a concrete situation and a recognized threat (also called hazard). Quantitative risk assessment requires calculations of two components of risk (R):, the magnitude of the potential loss (L), and the probability (p) that the loss will occur.

cliffWow!  This risk business is more tricky than I thought, but I still think there is more involved than just the concept of what can be lost.  The above definition includes “value of risk” but then the equation is only (R) = (L)(p) – what about the potential gains?  Let’s try to find some context here by using an example from my summer holidays. Each year when my family hits Jasper National Park, we invariably end up at Horseshoe Lake flinging ourselves off of the cliffs into the crystal clear (and #frickinfreezing) waters.  If I use the formula for risk assessment it looks something like this:

RISK equals:

(L: fractures, contusions, water in places you don’t want water, death)

multiplied by

(p: chance of this happening based on height of cliff, skill, weather etc.)

Hmmm. I get it – bad things can happen.  But, what about factoring in the sheer joy of momentary flight?  The confidence boost of overcoming your fears?  The competence attained in managing your body in the air? I think TRUE risk assessment should also include the potential for GAIN as well as LOSS.  I’d like to propose a new formula:

R =    GAIN (M)(p)            multiplied by             EARNED COMPETENCE (S)(E)                LOSS (M)(p)

Essentially, both gain and loss are factored by multiplying the magnitude (M) by the probability (p); then gain is divided by loss and multiplied by EARNED COMPETENCE which is factored from skill (S) multiplied by experience (E) – easy right?  To redo my cliff jumping scenario (specifically my son asking to do a 45’ jump) after factoring in the potential for loss (people hurt themselves jumping every year), the potential gain (overcoming a fear of heights, gained competence) and, multiplying these by his previous experiences (diving board, previous cliff jumps) and skill level (tramp and tumbling skills, swimming level, balance) I whole heartedly gave my approval!  More importantly, I hope that I am teaching my kids to properly assess risk themselves – and not only for physical activity.

An article in wholeliving.com on the importance of taking risks states:

When we think of risk, images of hang gliding and rock climbing may come to mind — activities in which one false move can mean death of the most dramatic kind. But risk doesn’t need to involve danger; it need involve only uncertainty. Kruger defines it as “activities with uncertain outcomes” — and they aren’t necessarily bad. “There are possible positive outcomes to risks as well,” he says. “Otherwise, why would we take them?” (Daniel Kruger is a Psychologist)

Good point Dr. Dan!  Michael Ungar, author of the book Too Safe for Their Own Good (now on my Fall reading list), makes this comment on psychologytoday.com:

In psychological terms, we’ve known for a century that children who are pushed slightly beyond their comfort zone and given opportunities to fail in ways that won’t have long-term consequences, are children who do much better in life. But, as their caregivers, we need to give children opportunities to encounter danger and learn the rules for survival. A child who has never rode a scooter on a quiet street is a child ill-prepared for driving a car, much less walking to school and crossing a busy intersection. The risk-takers advantage is something we are psychologically and biologically driven to experience for ourselves. Far better to take risks when the danger is small and we are supervised than when we are older and unsupervised.

Did you catch that?  Opportunities to encounter danger.  Of course there are caveats (love that word) such as appropriate levels, supervision etc.  That is where my incredible formula comes in!  If, however, we never provide those opportunities for our children – how will they ever develop the ability to properly assess risk?  I once heard a speaker at a parenting session talk about raising strong kids rather than safe kids.  In his mind, if you taught your kids to be strong – you got “safe” thrown in as a bonus.  This may have been the same speaker who always told his own kids to “Be Aware” rather than “Be Careful”.  Subtle difference.  “Be Aware” implies risk assessment and confidence.  “Be Careful” implies avoidance and fear. Assess the loss.  Assess the gain.  Assess yourself (earned competence). Decide.

So.  Back to channel surfing vs. actual surfing.  A recent study on surfing injuries found that there were 6.6 significant injuries per 1000 hours (less than 1%).  Sedentary behaviour like channel surfing can lead to: an increase in triglycerides, decreases in ‘good’cholesterol levels, increased risk of obesity (24% per 2hrs/day of TV in adults), increased risk of chronic diseases (20% diabetes per 2hrs/day of TV) – just to name a few.  Hmmm…

As a parent, this is a pretty easy risk analysis – keep in mind that Canadian children and youth average 7 hours and 48 minutes of screen time a day.  As an adult, this is also a pretty easy risk analysis – even using my formula!

Surf’s up!IMG_4255