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.