P.E. Ain't What it Used to Be - by Amanda Stanec
We’ve all seen the negative depiction of physical education in the movies. You know what I’m talking about, people.
Mr. Woodcock. No matter how much I try to find the humor, I get tears in my eyes when I watch stuff like this.
[I wish Dr.Dan Robinson (@Dan_B_Robinson) would someday post his presentation on this topic (hint hint, Dr. Dan).]
Why does PE get picked on in the media? Well, for starters, when a person has a poor PE teacher, it is probably for several years in a row – unlike the classroom where students typically have a new teacher each grade level. As well traditional PE (out of date PE) could be described, okay – should be described – as militant. Just today, a question from the today show solicited refections related to fitness testing in schools. Check this out…
As someone who dedicated her doctoral work to determining how to make a physical fitness appraisals, fun, informative, and motivating – it broke my heart to read these responses. The people who posted to Kathie Lee and Hoda [Yes, I DO think they are hilarious] pretty much agreed, and I wouldn’t argue, that yesterday’s fitness tests rewarded those few who were blessed with good genetics – and, tended to humiliate the majority of students who were not. Will I defend that? Hell no. Past fitness tests did humiliate people. Why? They were norm-referenced standards and not developed for students who were school aged – they were developed using university physical education majors as the participants to calculate the standards. Wait - aren’t those who major in physical education typically older than students in K-12 schools? and, more athletic? and, more physically active? Ummmmm. Well that was a major screw up, now wasn’t it?
While PE isn’t the only subject that has evolved in the past several decades, it is the one that gets the least acknowledgement in doing so. Yep, it’s true. As a profession, we’ve come a long way, baby. But, PE professionals can’t get too excited just yet; the profession has lot of work to do before it will be taken seriously as a viable solution to society’s brutally low physical activity levels.
Am I certain that PE is not respected?Generally speaking – I am absolutely certain. Example A. When people ask what my PhD is in, and I inform them physical education, 9 times out of 10 I hear a very sarcastic comment. ”A PhD in GYM???” “Did you play dodgeball to get that degree?” A successful colleague once told me just to reply it’s in Kinesiology because the physical education program was indeed a strand of the Kinesiology department. That’s what he did / does. My thought? How can I change the world if I don’t face it head on? I think it’s pretty awesome that at 17 (when I applied to university) I knew I wanted to help children feel good about themselves, and their behaviors, in physically active settings – both in physical education and sport.
But, even a born optimist – like myself – has moments where I will admit just how high of a mountain PE has to climb to be taken more seriously. I see Everest in front of me.
To further illustrate my point…I present Example B.
After completing graduate school (for the second time), and serving three years as a tenure track professor, I transitioned to a lovely elementary school and had the opportunity to revisit K/P – 12 education. [NOTE: I think it should be required that every PE professor revisits K-12 periodically - and leaves the ivory tower. But, that's another post - stay tuned as it's going to be a good one.]
The first few weeks of this new job were humbling (to say the least). First, I overhead a male parent tell the principal – within earshot – that he should have hired a male instead of me (I would have drop kicked him on the spot, but I was 6 months pregnant and I try hard to practice ahimsa). Then, it reached the point of almost-funny-but-not-really when I was asked to babysit students and their siblings during the allotted meet the teacher night. Ouch. That’s right. I, the lone PE teacher in this school, was not granted an opportunity to meet the parents on the school’s designated meet the teacher night. In fact – I was told to “throw out some equipment” and “take care of / keep count of the kids”. Dr. Stanec was handed several big ‘ol plates of please-check-that-ego-at-the-door those first few weeks. [BTW: I didn't go by Dr. Stanec at the elementary school - I only use that title when I am applying for grants and contracts - I'm scared if I did someone might mistake me for someone who could give adequate medical care.]
Seriously, what a sweet premise (in some ways). If a school supports busy parents so they don’t have to pay for child care, they would have higher parent turn out on parent teacher night. I truly loved that aspect of the situation. Yet in other ways, this was a slap in the face. The parents were afforded no opportunity to learn about their child’s physical education experiences – nor, their development as physically literate individuals.
Since I tend to be positive to the point of annoying for many (so I assume) this only inspired me. I could have stomped around feeling sorry for myself, and had a miserable year with a big fat chip on my shoulder. But that would have let a stereotype get the best of me. I wasn’t going to sit around and question my calling. There were far too many positives about this particular school to let this knock me down. The school had a proud and strong tradition (for all good reasons) in physical education. I worked alongside incredible classroom teachers, and can even proclaim that the school did offer daily quality PE. Rather, it was little things that sent a big message. I knew then – just as I know now – PE’s lack of respect in our culture isn’t personal.
This was, and is, a societal problem. Experiences such as the one above didn’t just happen to me while teaching at this particular school. Over the years, I have lost valuable class time so entire grade levels could have school pictures taken during PE. My students have been told by administration to set up chairs for school assemblies in the middle of my classes (which, by the way, didn’t include Hall-of-Shame-Type-Games). I could go on. It wasn’t that administration didn’t value me (okay – I know what you are thinking – I could be kidding myself here) it was that PE was (and is) often perceived as something that can be walked over and taken away.
Although our society is willing to fork out billions to “fight” obesity, and pay doctors big bucks to fix problems (not that they don’t deserve it), we seem to lack the intention to demand quality physical education programs on a daily basis for our children. Okay, I’ll ask the question, “what the heck gives?” I could be kidding myself, but I think if all those people who had bad experiences learned about quality PE, quality PE just might stand a chance. We just might be able to summit Everest. Just think of the possibilities: adults loving – NOT dreading – working out; people exercising before they are prescribed to do so by a doctor, etc. Sounds good to me!
So what is Quality PE ?Physical and Health Education (PHE) Canada has a stance on Daily Quality PE.
Quality PE 101 (my version)Are you a parent who feels uncoordinated and embarrassed to participate in physical activities? If so, all the more reason for you to make sure that your children are receiving a quality physical education program.
- Quality PE is a safe place where all people are valued, appreciated, and provided opportunity to experience success, in order to develop their physical literacy – regardless of their shape, size, gender, cultural ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. Physical literacy is not just a buzz word for physical activity as someone tweeted last week; rather, physical literacy suggests that students should learn what to do, how to do it, have the motivation to do so both alone and with others, and value the behavio(u)rs required to participate. The term physical literacy – as it relates to physical education – is much more wordy than this, and Dr.Margaret Whitehead’s papers on the topic are available here: http://www.physical-literacy.org.uk/ Some additional helpful resources surrounding physical literacy are available at: http://www.phecanada.ca/programs/physical-literacy/what-physical-literacy
- Quality PE provides opportunity for students to learn how to move in many different areas. For example, here is a picture of a wheel that can be used as a guide for elementary PE teachers to plan games and activities for their students (including dance and gymnastics experiences). It’s taken from “Children Moving” text book (Authors: Dr. George Graham, Dr. Shirley Ann Holt-Hale, and Dr. Missy Parker).
This look like dodgeball or duck duck goose to you? Nope. This wheel encompasses skill themes and movement concepts and can aid in teachers’ yearly plans (particularly at the elementary level). Games and activities that eliminate and / or exclude children typically omit those who argueably need the practice the most. The students who are most beginner skilled are the first ones excluded – thus, they are not given opportunity to practice. Typically, they are often the same individuals who do not have opportunity outside of PE (in minor sport, etc.) to hone their skills. All these children learn in activities like this is how to feel incompetent related to their physical abilities. This Is Not Fair. This Is Not Right. This Is Not Quality PE.
- Quality PE teaches students about their health realted physical fitness. By the time students complete high school, quality PE affords them the skills to assess their own physical fitness, set SMART goals related to their physical fitness, and modify and/or maintain behavior related to their goals.
- Quality PE reinforces classroom content. Physical educators don’t teach classroom content in lieu of their own curricular outcomes, they bring classroom material so that students who struggle in those areas, find more meaning in their learning. This is also done to support those students who are kinesthetic learns – those who learn better while moving.
- Quality PE differentiates instruction, uses assessment to guide instruction, and welcomes students with disabilities to learn and grow in their physical literacy.
- Quality PE teaches students how to be good citizens, utilize respectful language, and connects physically active experiences to life outside of school.
- Quality PE is culturally responsive and provides opportunities for students to explore not only their heritage, but the heritage of those in the community.
- Quality PE does not believe in down time. Students don’t stand while a physical educator speaks – they perform an activity that will impact their health related physical fitness (i.e., plank, boat, wall sit, partner balances) while they converse about the important cognitive materials covered.
- Quality PE provides opportunity for children to sweat. Cardiovascular activities occur at least three days a week (prefably five) at moderate to vigorous intensities so students can receive health benefit. That’s not all. The research suggests that such action will increase their learning readiness (their optimal readiness to learn). Want more info? Check out Harvard Professor, Dr. John J. Ratey’s book on the topic.
- Quality PE is innovative. Technology is used to enhance the learning environment for students. PE teachers come together using twitter with the hashtags #PEgeeks and #PEchat and, visit specific platforms – such as: The Huddle @thompsonhuddle; PE Geeks @pegeeks; The Physical Educator @phys_educator, etc. to share and grow as professionals. Technology lives in quality PE in the form of heart rate monitors, APPS for goal setting and personal fitness, music, assessment (iPads, etc.), GPS devices for geocaching and the list goes on…
Sport. While sport adds a great deal to the lives of participants, school spirit, and communities’ sense of togetherness, it’s not for everyone and is not quality PE. Sport typically only has spaces for those who are most competent in their physical skills (with Special Olympics being an exception) and often only for the children who live in families that can afford it. I should be clear that I was a college athlete, love playing sports, and do a lot of work in the sport sector. I’m a fan. I just wanted to highlight that sport is not quality PE and shouldn’t be used as such.
Physical activity. Physical activity can, and does often, include recess, sport, intramurals, and physical education. Yet it should never be used interchangeably with quality physical education. One type of physical activity – no matter what type it is – should not be “replaced” for physical education that is balanced in its content. Quality PE programs should be balanced in their offerings of different types of activities (dance, gymnastics, games, modified sport, outdoor ed., individual activities, etc.). The cognitive (knowing) and affective (valuing) pieces which are so critical in a quality PE, don’t necessarily exist in physically active environments outside of quality PE.
SummaryI used to be insulted when people would make fun of me upon learning that I teach gym. Then, there was the period of life whereby I would choose the comedic route and responded to snide comments with, “JIM is my husband, GYM is my profession”. [Side note: can you believe - given my career - I had to go and marry someone named Jim? typical.] But, I don’t get insulted anymore. [Have I mentioned I love being 36?] I don’t take myself that seriously. I know that when I was teaching K-12, I worked diligently to plan creative, inclusive, and cross-curricular lessons – even much more so upon completion of graduate school when I really felt like I had a handle on it all. The planning took time. a.lot.of.time. [As I write this, I can't help but wonder how much coin is to be made if I sold all those lesson plans?] The funny thing is, the more education I received, the more planning time was necessary. It was here that I realized just how much I didn’t know. It didn’t get easier, it got much more complicated.
There are thousands of bloggers, myself perhaps the newest of them all, seeking to help people learn how to make healthy choices and live life to its fullest potential. I believe a physically literate person has all the skills necessary to do so, and I believe we can help to raise physically literate individuals if quality PE is offered at least 3 days a week.
Word to the parents…Find out if your child is receiving quality physical education – and, if not, demand it. Ask questions regarding the curriculum, the activities used to cover the curriculum, how assessment is used to guide instruction, and how lessons are differentiated for all types of learners. I can’t think of anything more important than children’s health, self-esteem, and productivity. This societal issue should be ignored no longer.
Word to the Mr. (and Ms.) Woodcocks…So, to you Mr. & Ms. Woodcocks out there – you know who you are [you try and defend elimination games; count down the days until summer beginning in September; and, break the spirit of our nation's children] do us all a favor – get another job. Wow! That comment is so unlike me [so harsh - but, I'm going to live on the edge and not delete it]. There are plenty of work environments that you would excel in outside of teaching. Leave quality PE up to professionals who are committed to taking a strong stand against the traditional past, and not willing to be beat up by the stereotype.
Word to the professionals…To you PE professionals and champion administrators who currently support and implement a quality program in your province, state, district, independent school, and / or international school – thank you!
To the pre-service teachers - if this is your back up plan, move on. Follow your heart and reach for what you truly desire. To those of you who are doing just that in majoring in PE, don’t let the system or the stereotypes stand in your way from being the best teacher you can be. Be proud of instilling confidence in children and never lose your spark.
Together, let’s attack that mountain.
I wish you a magical, healthy, and active week! I’m off to post those lessons on ebay…
(this article was copied with permission from Move, Live, Learn - Physical Education and Health http://able-consultants.com/2013/01/09/pe-it-aint-what-it-used-to-be/)