An expression of gratitude to the worldwide community of ‘real’ PE teachers
Martin Seligman, in his book ‘Flourish’ underlines the importance of demonstrating the value of gratitude. I would like to thank everybody who gave me feedback and connected with me after my first article ‘the future of PE after Covid-19’ was published. I have been blown away, not only by the positivity in which it was received but also the sense of belonging that it has highlighted within the worldwide PE community. I addressed some of the non-physical benefits of PE and offered a brief glimpse into what our subject could look like in the future. Joe Wicks’ use of the term ‘the nation’s PE teacher’ has caused plenty of controversy amongst fellow PE teachers. In this article, I would like to highlight the work of ‘real’ PE teachers and underline the importance of global collaboration.
Introducing a new delivery method (Distance/Online/Virtual/Home learning) to our students has meant that teachers from all over the world are working together to find the best strategies for delivering their subjects. Why? because we are all passionate about education, care about what we do and we want our students to learn to the best of their ability. We improve our teaching through observing others, talking to fellow teachers, learning from people who have tried something, failed, succeeded, reflected and tried again. With the sudden expectation to send work home, a new online ‘Professional Learning Community’ (PLC) has emerged. Facebook sites, Twitter pages, blogs, webinars and good old fashioned conversations are lighting up the internet. The Facebook page Online School Closure Educator Support for PE has 3448 members having the opportunity to share good practice. How can membership of these ‘professional learning communities’ help us during this time?
The term ‘Professional Learning Community’ has been around since the 1990’s and was popularised in education by the work of Richard Dufour and Robert E Baker in their book ‘Professional Learning Communities at Work’ published in 1998. Dufour defines a PLC as:
a systematic process in which teachers work together in teams to analyze and improve their classroom practice, engaging in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning.
Before the growth of internet based groups, these communities often took the form (and still do) of school based groups focusing on areas for school improvement e.g. development of assessment practices. Before the new millenium, PE teachers rarely met as a community unless it was to arrange fixtures or attend sport specific CPD or courses. It was a ‘locked door mentality’ with a lucky few having access to PDF’s/MS word documents they had developed or acquired. Many teachers were reserved in sharing best practices, fearful of ideas being “stolen”; you certainly didn’t want to share your secrets with your rivals who might beat you in your fixture at the weekend! This mindset seems to have shifted as the internet has evolved or in the current case: the situation demands it.
Websites provided the first global PE communities aimed at sharing good practice; www.pecentral.org developed by George Graham in the USA and www.peoffice.co.uk in the UK are two early examples. It wasn’t until around 2004 when Tim O’Reilly introduced the term Web 2.0 tools that we started to see low/no cost distance learning tools becoming available to share and connect: Skype, Facebook, Glogster, Wordle amongst others. Students began sharing their knowledge and skills online and educators began to connect at a distance using these tools. The explosion of social media platforms like Twitter became the ‘go to’ for professional development and networking globally. Kristen Gray talks about how social media has deepened her learning through connection to others and the importance of ‘getting better together’. A worldwide PE community led by names like Joey Feith, Nathan Horne, Andy Vasily, Ben Pirillo, Kevin Tiller, Coreu Allen, Bart Jones, Terri Drain, Jarrod Robinson (to name a few) began to flourish. These professionals paved the way for a collaborative global network of sharing and many of these names present and contribute at PE conferences and CPD events across the world and online through social media.
Conferences aimed at bringing PE practitioners together as a learning community hold real value to the attendees. The Independent Schools Physical Education Conference (ISPEC) in the UK, the ‘PE Institute’ arranged by Artie Kamiya in the USA, The Annual ‘Heads of PE’ Conference hosted by the Federation of British Schools in Asia (FOBISIA) are just three global examples. The focus of these and many other PE conferences across the world are to establish help and support, to enhance collaboration and develop the instructional skill sets of teachers; it is pure sharing of good practice and often the best bits are ‘behind the scenes’ when people talk to each other and make connections. The work done by Lewis Keens as chair of the FOBISIA Heads of PE committee is a great example of how to lead and foster positive collaboration and the sharing good practice across a range of schools in Asia. Whether you have attended conferences, followed twitter, read blogs, made and established new connections during the Covid-19 crisis, what really is evident is that ‘getting better together’ is the key to any successful PLC.
PE was never going to be an easy subject to deliver remotely. As touched upon in my first article, PE teachers are driven by the relationships that they develop with students, in a practical, active and stimulating environment where all students are learning and succeeding at their own level. To replicate this in a virtual environment presents some fundamental challenges. Our worldwide PE learning community does provide guidance and solutions: Jarrod Robinson (the PE Geek) hosts an excellent podcast with Carl Condliffe discussing the best practice for online learning. Carl talks about how the Canterbury schools, in New Zealand rallied together after the horrendous earthquake hit. Their experience now gives them plenty of online learning expertise to share. Jarrod has also developed the connectedpe.com website and phone app alongside his twitter account and PE based app development. He is a beacon of good practice in the use of technology in PE that we can access with the click of a mouse or a swipe of a finger. Filtering the information we require from the plethora of resources is a skill that we will need to acquire. Just accessing some of the excellent content out there will challenge your thinking and provoke discussion in your teams, such as: should we prioritise ‘physical activity over physical education?’
The debate over whether we should be focusing on ‘physical activity over physical education’ is a key challenge at this moment in time. Joey Feith on his webpage thephysicaleducator.com outlines an outstanding example of how to plan a distance learning programme which makes sure that ‘Education’ is front and centre. A very good example of a ‘pick up and use’ programme to follow at home is Real PE from the UK which is now online based through the Jasmine platform. They have offered free access to their excellent evidence based resources for Primary aged students; offering a daily activity calendar, personalised learning and a chance for parents to participate and enjoy. The development of fundamental movement skills and age appropriate content is at the heart of the programme.
Evidence based practice as recommended by educational heavyweights like John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam & Harry Fletcher-Wood advocate that the ‘Education’ in PE should be prioritised. Joe Wicks is a great example of a fitness instructor delivering fun fitness activities that raise the heart rate (only the ‘physical’ in PE). ‘PE with Joe’ is not a PE lesson. It is an excellent resource as part of a fitness unit of work but five key components are missing from the ‘lesson’:
- Learning intentions
- Success criteria
- Differentiated tasks for all students to learn
- Quality questioning to check for understanding
- Timely, effective feedback from the teacher
It is those components that ‘real PE teachers’ are trying to implement into home learning to try and give our students a quality PE experience. Lets not forget they are doing this alongside connecting with students, checking in with staff, having meetings, dealing with their own lockdown routine and in a lot cases, home schooling their own children. They are the real heroes who deserve their rightful title as the ‘Global Community of Real PE Teachers’.
I would like to again express my gratitude to those PE practitioners across the world who have shared the great work they are doing. Many have stepped forward to provide a multitude of resources in various formats to enhance and deliver a global PE curriculum. I hope that a lasting legacy of this time is the continued spirit of collaboration and cooperation which is the hallmark of true global citizens. A special thanks to Sean Morris who connected with me after my first article. Working through different time zones we have managed to make this article a true piece of collaboration. Sean is working hard to document the best twitter pages to follow, facebook groups to join and websites to bookmark amongst a range of other tools that could help you to deliver the best possible PE lessons. Please add to the list to create a truly global help sheet.
I am currently the PE, Health & Well-being Curriculum Leader at the British School Manila and will soon be moving to the British International School Riyadh to be part of their exciting new campus in the Diplomatic Quarter of Riyadh. Follow me on Twitter @ARJDunstan
Sean Morris is an Elementary Physical Education Teacher at Shaker Heights Schools, Ohio, United States. Follow him on Twitter @pyppefernway