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!

BE a Travel Agent

Speaking of Physical Literacy, Part 2: Becoming Travel Agents

travelIn March 2015, Ever Active Schools hosted a Physical Literacy Summit in Calgary, Alberta. I was invited to close the Summit and chose the following title for my talk: Becoming Travel Agents for a Storied Physical Literacy Journey. I also revised and refined this keynote for another Summit hosted in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2015.

My purpose in choosing this title and topic was to bring together the life-course aspect of physical literacy with the concept of storied lives. Since we know that physical literacy is a journey, not a destination, I thought the metaphor of travel agent was appropriate. Travel agents facilitate key experiences and assist with the progress of our travels. However, no one comes back from a trip and shows you their itinerary – no way. They tell you stories. What follows here is a synopsis of how we might become travel agents for Canada’s children – helping them to build a storied physical literacy journey.

In the last post, I shared a definition of physical literacy. Today, I want to add the idea of moral purpose.

“A compelling and inclusive moral purpose steers a system, binds it together, and draws the best people to work in it” (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009, p. 76)

In other words, “Why do you do what you do?” I feel that for those of us who work with children and any form of physical activity – health, education, sport, recreation and home/family – physical literacy can be that moral purpose. Here are some quick examples of compatible goals/vision statements found within each of these sectors that can connect to a moral purpose of physical literacy. Although these examples are specifically from Manitoba (woot, woot – shout out!), I would be VERY surprised to find much difference in other regions.

  • Health: “…to meet the health needs of individuals, families and their communities … A health system that promotes well-being…”
  • Sport: “…a goal to advance the health, social and recreational benefits of sport and the overall performance of Manitoba athletes…”
  • Education: “…ensure that children and youth have access to an array of educational opportunities to experience success to prepare them for lifelong learning and citizenship…”
  • Recreation: “…enable Manitobans to fully develop their innate capabilities and creatively use their energies, while enriching their lives and improving their health and sense of well-being.”
  • Home/Family: Hmmm… Would there be any parent that would disagree with the above values and goals for their child?

Margaret Whitehead expressed this very concept of a shared moral purpose at the International Physical Literacy Conference in Banff (2013).

Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey.

What if all areas touching on physical activity bought into and operationalized physical literacy? Powerful. Efficacious. Life changing.

Since we can’t MAKE someone physically literate, it becomes our mission to: Provide enriching and enhancing environments in which kids can have positive, educative experiences. What might this look like? To go back to Margaret Whitehead’s talk in Banff (2013) she shared the following about creating experiences to foster physical literacy:

  • Rewarding and enjoyable – fostering motivation
  • Positively effect self confidence and self-worth
  • Enable progress and have success in a wide range of pursuits
  • Empower decision making
  • Enable appreciation of life-course physical activity
  • Energize for proactive participation

Therefore, our roles, whether in education, sport, recreation, home/family or health, are to be travel agents for a storied physical literacy journey. Travel agents don’t send everyone to the same place! They take time to get to know you, your dreams, skills, passions, past experiences – then they craft an experience that meets YOUR needs. When you get back home, you don’t shares clinical, dry details of your trip. NO! You tell stories. Stories of risk, surprise, joy, learning and new experiences. If you need a refresher on the power of story – check this out.

I encourage you to become physical literacy travel agents to help kids (or adults!) take steps on their individual journeys. As you do so, remember:

1294380_684473301578022_2005795376_oIt’s about relationships – take someone along – connect across sectors.

SkiingWhere do we want kids to go? Where do THEY want to go? Choose destinations with the CLIENT’s needs at heart – not yours.

 kayak

Explore and try new things… Nuff said.

 cliffs

Take (acceptable) risks!

Hike

Remember, it’s a life-long journey! The value is in the journey – not the destination.

Be a travel agent.

Do what’s best for kids.

Enable ALL to make progress on their PL journeys

LIVE Storied LIVES.

findthejoyinthejourney 1

To order the shirt, go here (no % 4 me, just love the shirt!)

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!

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)

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

Manly, yes?

Sometimes I wonder about things – things we take for granted and perhaps just accept.  Sometimes I dig deeper into those things – this is one of those times.  A while back, I encountered two articles in the local paper that made me wonder – today’s blog is the preliminary result of my digging.

The first article was a feature piece about how post-secondary education, and particularly more “male-dominated” fields such as engineering and medicine, is an area of huge growth for female students.  The article went on to say how wonderful this was/is (I agree!) and that the gender gap is not only reduced but, in some cases (medicine) reversed.  The author went on about how important it is to have women in these fields and listed the many benefits (I tried to find the article but it does not seem to be in cyberspace…).

The very next week, in a “back to school” feature, that elusive creature – the male elementary teacher – was profiled.  One teacher was interviewed about being a male in a female dominated field. He shared his perspective and why he was in that profession.  Then, a number of “experts” (if I could use more quotes, I would…) were consulted.  To a person, each expert said that the gender gap in elementary education was not worrisome at all – a good teacher is just a good teacher! No cause for alarm here, go about your business.

Hmmm…  This is where my wondering began. Why in some fields (medicine) is it important to have gender equity and in others (elementary education) it does not matter?   As a place to start my excavation, I thought I would check the stats for Canada.

Year                                                              1998                                                            2008

Male Education Grads                               26%                                                              24%

Male Physical and Life                               47%                                                              43%            Science Technology Grads

Male Full Time Teachers                            33%                                                              29%

By the way, the ratio in overall degree programs is now (2008) 60-40 in favour of women.  As interesting and telling (alarming!) as the stats on males in education are, it gets worse.  I could not find any stats breaking out those who teach elementary (K-6).  So, I went to my own Department and asked for the male/female percentages for students currently enrolled in our undergraduate BEd (Elementary) program.

                                                                 Program                                                    My last 3 classes

Male                                                        9%                                                                6%

The numbers above very closely mirror the numbers for female physicians (7.6%)                       IN 1970!!!!!!!!!

So why the difference?  How come our society worked very hard; successfully and rightly, to get more women into male dominated fields but never the other way around?  I don’t know, but I DO think it is time to do something about it.  So, rather than whine and complain (been there done that), I thought I would highlight a successful male elementary teacher who was one of the 6-9% in our BEd program. Since I don’t think a huge government program to boost male presence in elementary is on the horizon anytime soon, I will lift Andrew up as a role model for other males to consider elementary education as a rewarding and viable career.  The following is a piece I asked Andrew to write about his experience as a male elementary teacher.

TwinsBefore I started at U of A in elementary education I finished a diploma in Police Studies at Grant MacEwan.  Going into policing I knew that I would need a lot of volunteer experience, and seeing as I always loved kids I volunteered as a Big Brother for a year.   I fell in love with the impact that I had on that child, it was such a rewarding experience.  After I finished at Grant MacEwan I sat down and thought to myself about the positives and negatives of policing and decided to pursue a different path.  As any teacher will tell you, the feeling of making a positive impact on a child’s life is simply incredible.  The thought of being able to do that on a daily basis and getting paid for it just seemed to click.    

 When I first graduated from University, the thought of getting a full time job as a teacher was terrifying.  Not because of the job itself, but because there was such an oversaturation of teachers looking for the same thing.  I had a couple friends of mine say that jobs that were posted at their schools were receiving anywhere from 250-400 applicants, for one position!  This is where I found my first huge break being a male in elementary education.  I was given many interviews simply because I was male, something that is lacking in almost all elementary schools.  I was lucky enough to be offered a full time continuing position after my first year. 

I can’t rave enough about being a male in elementary.  Without trying to sound arrogant the kid’s just love me because I am a guy, and they have never had that experience before (I am the only male elementary teacher in my school).  For me, through my first couple years, I think the biggest thing that I have been told from parents, other teachers, and students is that I am seen as a role model to the boys.  It is hard for young boys with “problems” to come to a female teacher so them having me as that outlet has been really beneficial for them.  When you look at the stats, what I just said makes sense, most families with single parent households consist of the mom, and the children.  This shows that they are obviously lacking that male presence in the children’s life.  Being able to provide that influence at school, where they spend most of their time, is very rewarding.  What I notice is that for the boys especially, who want to be outside playing and goofing around all the time having a male be in charge and showing them that it can be fun at school changes their perspective on things that they once didn’t like. 

I had a student in my first year who had always said he hated school; he was acting out and generally just didn’t put forth an effort to allow himself to be successful.  Right away I was able to form that bond with him on things that he enjoyed such as hockey, hunting, cars, traditionally male dominated topics.   I then made tests that involved sports or related new concepts to cars in any way that I could to draw in his attention and engage him in what we were learning.  By the end of the year he was crying because he didn’t want to leave.  That is and probably will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.   

One challenge that I have had, yet has also turned out to be a lot of fun is being a new male teacher there is a certain expectation that I will be coaching different teams in the school.  The school that I teach at is a K-9 school and not only am I doing junior high basketball and volleyball but also help with cross country and journal games which is more elementary focused.   It is such a great experience, even though it consists of lots of extra time.  It is a way to see the kids outside of the school in a different setting and also for them to see that I don’t in fact sleep at the school.   

Another challenge that I have faced is that I am given the students who seem to have the worst behaviour.  It makes my day-to-day teaching a lot more…interesting? Especially as a new teacher with a new curriculum to learn, and trying to find new exciting ways to deliver that curriculum, it adds up to a lot of long nights.  A lot of my energy from the day is put into a few specific students because they need the male role model in their lives.    

I want to leave you with one of the best parts about being, not so much a male in elementary, but just an elementary teacher in general.  Kids say absolutely everything that is on their mind, no filter.  They are so excited about being able to answer a question they don’t care what comes out of their mouths.  For example, when I asked my grade three class the very question of why they like to have a male as a teacher here are three of the top responses:

“just because there needs to be a man in the house”

“you are stronger in case someone attacks the school”, and my favourite,

“you are more sarcastic”.

 I wouldn’t trade my job for any other.

Thanks man.

We need more Andrews.

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.