Natural Consequences – Part 2

Thanks again to Jo Bailey for her fabulous ‘Part 1’ guest post. ‘Part 2’ of Natural badchildConsequences (a response to Unnatural Consequences) comes to you from Andy Vasily (who has guest posted for me before!).

Andy is a long time #physed Twittererer (@andyvasily), a blogger and the co-founder of Nexus Education.

In reading Doug’s blog post, it brings several thoughts to my mind related to the archaic, punitive, lead as I have been led, type thinking that many leaders and teachers still unfortunately hold on to at the very core of who they are and the work that they do in education. You can understand that leaders and teachers do need to think carefully about the interventions that they use (and endorse) in order to more effectively manage students who misbehave and/or have difficulty following classroom and school rules. 

However, there is definitely an element of ‘we better protect our asses in case something goes wrong’ that is happening here in regards to the reasons why leaders like Brenda Koch have reservations about supporting policy proposals such as this. Leaders, like Brenda, still operate from a ‘protect me and us’ mentality on a daily basis, instead of positively moving toward more pro-active and empowering solutions when dealing with potentially troublesome students. 

So, in knowing what we now know about the power of movement, disciplining with dignity, and ensuring that building relationships with students is at the heart and core of what we do in education, those who still think that punishing students by taking away recess, physical education time, and other critically important social-emotional type activities (field trips, excursions etc.), are operating from such a traditionalistic, out of date and broken model of thinking that just doesn’t work anymore.

As my role in education has shifted to more of a coaching/consulting role when working with teachers, we often talk our way through creating more efficient structures and routines that support student learning rather than fall into the trap of blaming students for not being able to sit still, follow instructions, interact with others positively, or stay engaged with their learning. 

So, when teachers need to see more examples of options available to them in regards to how to better manage students who misbehave, perhaps the more pressing question that should come to mind is:

“How do I manage the routines and structures that I have in place to ensure my students are less likely to get off track?”. In particular, how do I need to structure the transition times in my classes? 

Evidence shows that kids are more likely to misbehave and cause problems during lengthy and unorganized transitions between tasks/activities and lessons. Rather than continually reacting to bad behavior and stressing out about how to deal with it, teachers can instead look at refining their structures and routines to ensure more of a smooth flow to their teaching. 

And lastly, the importance of INVESTING in building strong relationships with students should never be underestimated. Invest your time and your energy even more than you feel is necessary because human connection can go a hell of a long way when working to bring out the very best in young people.

My friend, Andy Dutton (@PEAndyD), told a story during his opening keynote address at a recent workshop we were running together in Poland. He talked about working with a student much earlier in his career who was belligerent, disrespectful and arrogant. He admits to giving up on the relationship early on in the school year and coming down on him with an iron fist, often sending him out of the gym. One day, as Andy describes, the student started misbehaving again and being very disrespectful. Andy admits to losing it on him…. then the unthinkable happens. The boy pulls out what appears to be a hand gun. Andy and all the students hit the floor in a panic. The kid laughs as the gun actually turns out to be a toy bb gun. Andy then sets in immediate motion the boy being expelled from school. The next day the boy was expelled and Andy never saw him again. 

Why Andy told this story was that, even though this happened nearly 15 years ago, he has never once stopped thinking about the fact that he never attempted to get to know the boy or invest in building a relationship with him. He still thinks about how much of a difference he might have made in this student’s life had he actually attempted to build that relationship and get to know him and what he was going through. To give a bit more back story, the boy was held in a refugee camp for several years in Africa before immigrating to Australia. He was then given a new life and sent to Andy’s school. Imagine what that student had gone through? Imagine the horrors he had witnessed? 

Although this story might seem way off topic as it relates to Doug’s post, it’s not! When our default setting is to react with anger at our students and discipline them in traditionally punitive ways by taking away things that they so badly need (recess, physical activity etc.), we also take away the lenses of compassion, empathy, and support that these young people so badly need to experience life and school through.

It is our responsibility, as educators, to model to students how to work through issues in a proactive way in order to ultimately empower them to be more responsible for their own actions.

Instead of asking “How do I deal with troublesome kids?” or “What options are available to me when dealing with these kids?”, we might need to reflect on how deeply we try to connect with these kids and reach them in a way that lets them know they are cared for and supported. We might need to think about the structure of our teaching and what we might need to change, rather than the punishment we’ll deliver when kids misbehave. When we work to refine these fundamentally important areas in our teaching practice, it can have a positive impact on the behavior of our students. As well, it can make a huge difference to their social and emotional well-being as we are genuinely supporting them in ways that will benefit them now and in the long run. 

Thanks Andy!

Please feel free to add your thoughts on ‘natural consequences’ in the comments below, or contact me to contribute a post to this series!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Purposeful Teaching – My Philosophy

BioPic_drawing
1997 ‘Me’ as drawn by a student   : )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Student letter, Winter 2014)

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.