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…



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. (




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.



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…


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.


Explore and try new things… Nuff said.


Take (acceptable) risks!


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


findthejoyinthejourney 1

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

Not in My Gym

I recently tweeted a link to a story from and ignited a bit of a tweet-storm amongst the #physed crowd.  Jessica Olien (@jessicaolien), a writer and illustrator, wrote about her personal physical education experience (PE) in an article entitled, “Dodgeball Should Not Be Part of Any Curriculum, Ever: Making kids play team sports in PE is neither healthy nor educational.”  Although I would pretty much agree with this title and many of the points that the writer makes, I will admit that some aspects of the article rubbed me the wrong way – but this post is not really about those points.

Essentially, Jessica’s article described her journey through sport as experienced in her PE classes as a kid.  She wanted to be good at sports but described every new sport as a “fresh hell” as her self-confidence was annihilated.  For 12 years, with the exception of 1 week of archery in high school, Jessica described her experience as “agony”.    She felt that her personal failure at sport was perceived by her peers as an expectation for failure in other subjects, and/or life.

Calling the class “physical education” was a joke. The lesson I was learning about my physical body was that it was useless, inferior, and quite possibly infected with a cootie-like virus. We should have been learning about how complicated and capable our bodies were and how to make them healthier. Instead we were playing dodgeball.

From here on, Jessica makes a number of points / declarations:

1. Team sports (all other team sports are lumped in with dodgeball) are useless, do not develop life-skills, a sense of team and in fact, led Jessica to be a loner.

NOTE! The picture that accompanied the article actually seemed to be of a modified volleyball-type lesson using shorter, portable nets and beach balls for maximum engagement and skill development…

2. PE is traumatic and turns women away from fitness for life – Jessica did not improve her fitness, developed a poor self-image and does not play sports as an adult.

NOTE! The article references a British study that supposedly says PE “can be so traumatic that it turns women away from physical fitness for the rest of their lives”.  This is false.  I have the study.  The full report, not the media summary from The Telegraph. Although the research findings are certainly critical of many traditional PE practices (as am I), the authors make no claim to girls being turned off “for life” (especially being that the study was not longitudinal and lasted 11 months).   In fact, one of the ways the findings from the study are being used is to provide resources for teachers to improve the experience of girls (and hopefully boys too!) in their PE classes.

3. PE needs reform.  Classes are for everyone and not just “the athletes”. Fitness should be individual, not competitive.  PE should keep kids moving, not sitting around.  “Show them (students) their bodies can be a key to future happiness, not an obstacle to it”. (Hear, hear!)

Comments shared on in reaction to the article are, for the most part, quite vitriolic and some are even malicious.  A few folks deny the validity of Jessica’s story with commentators saying that “this happens in all subjects, should we get rid of those too?”  Others are very supportive and chime in about the negativity and humiliation they too, suffered in PE.  By contrast, the comments from my #physed twitter contacts were of a much different flavour.

@joeyfeith wrote an insightful response on that includes this statement, So is the author’s article completely wrong? No, I think that, sadly, some students still have to deal with those types of experiences in PE (and in classroom subjects too). However, I think her article’s title is way off, and spending some time chatting with the members of the #physed community might show her why.” Check out The Physical Educator for more of Joey’s brand of excellence.

@andyvasily blogged the following, Jessica, rest assured in knowing that what you say above (see point #3 above) is happening in a number of PE programs nowadays. Personally and professionally, my life is about making a positive difference in young people’s lives. There are a vast number of passionate and very caring PE practitioners out there doing the very same thing on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing your opinion and I sincerely hope you take the time to look at the websites above and to consider, with an open-mind, that physical education has taken on big change over the last several years. It is wrong that you were made to feel this way in school.”

So why are these PE teachers not ranting and raving to the world about the generalizations, over-simplifications and errors in Jessica’s article?  I think there are three reasons applicable to those who “get it” about PE.

  1. Relationships.  These people care about kids.  All kids.  Sizes. Shapes. Abilities. Disabilities. Races. Religions. Kids being the operating word here.  If Jessica had Andy or Joey as her teacher, I am confident her perception of PE (and adult competence) would be different.  The goal is thinking, feeling, moving individuals being successful (maintaining strengths AND improving weaknesses).  Confidence and competence are like the circle of life for kids in PE.
  2. Professionalism. These people care about teaching.  They are educators, pedagogues and master teachers who know when to step forward and when to step back.  They never “throw out a ball” and don’t value a class according to “busy, happy and good.”  They realize that PE doesn’t just happen, but needs an educated, motivated, informed, caring professional to be done right.
  3. Advocacy. These people care about PE.  They value its intrinsic and extrinsic worth.  They want to make the profession and the subject better.  They willingly seek and accept critique, judgement and accountability for the sake of quality PE.

Please note that both Andy and Joey acknowledge and are saddened by Jessica’s story.  There is no denial of her experience.  Story is powerful.  As my last post detailed, active positive stories are impactful and memorable. Apparently, so are active negative stories (See Strean, W.B. (2009).  Remembering instructors: play, pain and pedagogy.)   John Dewey once stated, ““We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”  One of the ways in which I deal with the issue of negative PE experiences like Jessica’s is to provide the pre-service teachers in my classes (essentially, “How to Teach PE”) with a framework for reflection on practice and consideration of the personal stories being created through their teaching.  Essentially, I provide one profoundly negative PE experience followed by many and frequent positive ones.

Let me explain…  The first class of my course begins with the most stereotypical, “old-school” PE class (much like the one I imagine Jessica had) that I can handle without throwing up.  For a detailed description, check out “Gym Class with ED Fizz”.  The purpose is to create a shared experience for us to reflect on, interact with and discuss.  Interestingly enough, a few students are comfortable with this experience.  A few just steel themselves for more of the type of PE they had in grade 10.  Most, however, are horrified.  In fact, the more times I do this exercise, the more students I have in my class who have NOT had a PE teacher like that.  This makes me happy!  The rest of my class focuses on creating positive experiences that lead students to value PE, develop an identity as a PE teacher and begin to explore appropriate pedagogy.

One of the best student papers I ever received was on the topic of media stereotypes and myths surrounding PE (check out @movelivelearn’s blog that includes this topic).  I had asked pre-service teachers to reflect on how negative media portrayals of PE might impact their own future students perceptions of PE and PE teachers.  Daniel (may or may not be a pseudonym…) not only had an excellent summary and analysis of these stereotypes, he had a very unique and wonderful way of responding.  In his conclusion he wrote (rough paraphrase from my memory):

In the end, it won’t matter what stereotypes or myths my students have seen and/or believe about PE.  Once they walk into my gym and experience my PE, they will know that is NOT me.  Humiliation? Not in my gym.  Athlete-centric? Not in my gym.  Gender biased? Not in my gym. Sports only? Not in my gym. Picked last? Not in my gym.

I believe that the very vibrant and pro-active #physed community on Twitter will also say, “NOT IN MY GYM” to experiences like Jessica’s and help to eradicate the poor practice that stubbornly hangs on.  We #physed folks need to adopt the challenge that Dr. Margaret Whitehead gave recently (IPLC, 2013):

Our mission or challenge

is to do all we can

to enable ALL to make progress

on their  individual

physical literacy journey

Please feel free to continue to share negative experiences of PE and to criticize and hold accountable those in our profession who are responsible for these horrific stories.  However, remember that not all PE teachers and PE classes are the same.  Please avoid painting us all with the same brush and perpetuating the stereotypes.  Also feel free to lift up those who are living the change and providing transformational movement stories with students in PE everyday.

Jessica, you are welcome in my gym any day.

Want to share your positive PE experiences?  Visit the Facebook page Transformational Experiences in Physical Education to share your story!

Actively Improving Your Life-Story

MMTYI have recently been re-reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (author of Blue like Jazz and a few other tomes).  This time around the book has been especially impactful as I am in the midst of some exciting (at least to me) research using narrative as the mode of inquiry.  More to come about that soon!  A Million Miles is the story of Donald’s experience having a film made about his life.  Through the process, he learns a LOT about what makes a good story – and what makes for a story no one would pay to see.

If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers.  You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie… The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back.  Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. (Author’s note, xiii)

Miller comes to the conclusion that the life he is living is NOT a good story.  The essential question he asks  is, “If your life was on film, would anyone watch?”  Donald begins to “edit” his life and much of the book details that process.  I don’t want to give it all away – just read the book – it is worth it!  Yesterday, I finished a chapter that included the following quote from one IMG_3173of Miller’s friends, “I am too busy living actual stories to watch them on a screen”.  Later, as I was walking through the melting snow of the river valley with Rover, my dog (yes, I have a dog named Rover…), I began to think of how the stories of physical activity and movement we create in our own lives are memorable and impactful.

As you have seen in earlier posts, I was fortunate to grow up in a place where physical activity was the norm.  As I walked, I began to think of how we could improve our life stories – especially with physical activity – and several thoughts came to mind:

First, I thought of my mom.  She loves to walk, snowshoe, bike ride etc. and most of our family recreation activities growing up included an emphasis on the physical.  Pretty sure some of my love for an active life came from her…  She definitely created active stories for our family.  Once, she hosted a huge New Year’s Eve party where the “main event” was a multi-team Olympics that involved dog sled races with toboggans and other events both indoor and out.  I am sure that no-one who attended will forget that party!  Then, last Thanksgiving (the cool one in October in Canada), my mom and I cooked up the idea to have a full-on family dinner at a local park.  We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day, although the wind threatened the turkey and it couldn’t have been much warmer than 5 C (41 F).  We enjoyed a full potluck dinner, punctuated by Frisbee, football, playground games and culminating in a beach volleyball game that included ages from 7 to over 70.  Who needs to sit on the couch and watch football when you can play your own games!

Next, I thought of my friend Ryan who happens to be one of the most active people I have ever met.  He once used a period of unemployment in his life as an opportunity to hike the West Coast Trail.  Why sit at home when you can blaze a new trail?

I thought of my friend Cathy who is riding in her 10th MS bike tour this June (click to donate!) and consistently invites current and former students, family and friends to join her storied rides.  Why not invite someone new along for the ride?

I thought of my cousins Carlynne and Dan who, on a cross-country move from Alberta stopped in at my cousins Nathan & Heather’s house in Winnipeg for a visit.  Since they arrived at 2:00 am in the morning and Nathan had no idea they were coming Carlynne and Dan did what any of us would surely do.  They set up their tent on the front lawn and then hung a sign on the door saying who they were and to please wake them up for a visit.  Nathan’s kids woke up to an instant adventure and a mystery on their lawn (I think they used binoculars to read the sign…).  How about creating a little magic for someone else?

I thought of Nathan & Heather who, when their family solved the tent mystery, proceeded to invite the occupants in for pancakes, kept the kids out of school for the day and let the story develop.  Do you think the kids remember that day? The answer is a resounding, YES!  Why not break a few “rules” a create some memories?

I thought of my friend Heather (@RunSoulCycle) who is heading down to Disneyworld not to take part in the manufactured joy that is Disney but to do the “Dopey” challenge: a 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon all in one weekend.  What about challenging yourself to a more interesting story than meeting Mickey?

IMG_0827I thought of the ways I have tried to create active stories with my own family.  Last summer we IMG_1172competed in the Bruce Stampede (99th annual small town pro rodeo!) as a family and entered the calf scramble, greased pig chase, bloomer race (first team to put panties on a calf), wild cow milking (yes, the picture in your head is the right one…) and a wild cow race.  We will be continuing that particular story this summer at the 100th annual Bruce Stampede (and defending our cow race title) and have invited more friends and family to come along for the ride – care to join us?

IMG_0822If you look at the pictures on my Facebook page (or others) it is easy to see where the best stories are created: back-packing, skiing, biking, walking, winter camping, fishing, anything active and engaging makes for a better story.  This June our family challenge will be the Spartan Race – bring it on!

One more quote from Donald Miller: “We have to force ourselves to create these scenes.  We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner tubes and head to the river.  We have to write the poem and deliver it in person.  We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill.  We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.” (p. 214)

Interesting that most of these examples involve movement…  What kind of active story are you creating?  The choice is easy.  Sit at home and watch someone else’s stories or get up and move.