Creating a Positive Learning Environment

The National Board for Professional Teaching has developed 13 standards of accomplished practice for physical education teachers. They each describe an important facet of teaching Physical Education. The standards serve as the basis for National Board Certification in this field and, like our SHAPE standards, give us direction and guidance. Positive Learning Environment

When I first started teaching in 1967 the standards that we are so accustomed to today did not seem to play such an important role. ( at least not to a rookie teacher) However, I am now in my 46th year of teaching and that includes teaching in elementary, secondary, pre-school, adapted and post-secondary. I have discovered along the way, the importance of the standards that guide us.  There is one standard however, that in my opinion, is by far, the most important.  That standard is:

Accomplished teachers of physical education create and sustain a welcoming, safe, and challenging environment in which students engage in and enjoy physical activity. 

When I was starting out in the Physical Education business I was all about fitness.  The psychomotor domain was my top priority.  I remember stating at a 1980 Physical Education workshop, “that my students were active for twenty five minutes of my thirty minute class period”.  I have heard this mantra stated many times by many teachers over the years.  Where has it gotten us? I was one of many that believed that the best way to get fit students and to create future fit adults was to find ways to turn them on to exercise/activity but I was always looking for the latest fitness fads and trends. I was looking in the wrong domain—I should have been looking in the AFFECTIVE DOMAIN.  I should have been looking for more ways to create a better learning environment than looking for more games and activities. Students want to belong-they want to contribute to the group. An article that helped me understand this was published some time ago in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and was written by columnist David Brooks, it states: “Everything we are learning about the brain confirms the centrality of attachments to human development and the wisdom of Adam Smith’s observation that the “chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved”.

How many times have we heard a coach or athlete say, “our team has chemistry, we are like a family”. Yes, an athletic team forms attachments and great long-term memories are born.  Why can’t these attachments be formed in Physical Education class?  I think they can be formed and if they are, it is my belief that once we make that emotional connection our students will have a better connection to the psychomotor domain.

How can we make that connection?  It is tough for us and for our current majors because we spend so much time teaching them about the psychomotor domain and the “way things have always been done” We need to give future and current teachers concrete steps to establish a welcoming, safe and positive learning environment for students.

Here are my top ten suggestions for creating a positive learning environment.

1. Teach students, starting at a young age, how to praise and encourage.  This is a tough skill for many students to learn.  Have them brainstorm phrases they could use to encourage and praise and then post the list on the gym wall.  Give them practice opportunities to use these phrases and words. You let them practice motor skills – they should also practice social skills.

2. Put the students into TEAMS and keep the teams together for at least a semester.  When the students report to your class, they get into their teams and form a circle rather than a squad in a straight line.  The students should brainstorm “team names” and agree on one that they can be proud of.

3. The teams should come up with a “team Pact” or a list of at least six rules and regulations that the team will abide by in order for them to be able to function effectively as a team.  Everyone should sign the pact and it could be posted on the gym wall.

4. Team Breaks. Much like a football or basketball team when they break out of a huddle or time -out they put their hands in the middle of the circle and in unison shout their team name. Every time our Physical Education students do a team break, they are strengthening attachments to that team; it helps them take pride in their team.

5. Welcome to the gym.  Every student deserves to hear their name spoken at least once during the day; it should always happen in Physical Education class.  The teacher should model a greeting by showing the students a correct high-5 along with a smile while saying the students name.  Each day there could be different greeters at the door or perhaps a team could be a greeter on a certain day. Coming into the gym should be a happy welcoming time!!!!

6. Team warm-ups.  Each team should be able to, after a team break, warm –up together.  This may mean 4 different warm-ups might be done during the class period.  I am not saying discontinue large group warm-ups but I am advocating for small group, (team), warm-ups as well.

7. High-5 your teammates, as well as your opponents, after every competitive contest.

CharactedEd Basketballs
Teach Character Education with Gopher’s CharactedEd® Basketballs

8. Team Building should be the first unit of the year and it should be repeated at least twice during the year. This unit will strengthen relationships and make each team stronger.  Make sure to use self-assessments that measure attitude and effort after the unit ends. Also, have each team do a team report card so they can review progress they made as a team.

9. Teach Character Education.  Almost all of our States either require or encourage Character Education but very few Physical Education teachers have had any experience teaching it.  When our students have a deeper understanding of RESPECT, FAIR PLAY, HONESTY, TOLERENCE, PRIDE, DISCIPLINE, etc. they will be better able to foster attachments and look forward to participating in Physical Education. Check out the CharacterEd® footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs and utility balls, available Only From Gopher.

10. Create your own.  I would like to know what your favorite technique is to strengthen your learning environment.  Please send your favorite affective domain teaching tip to Don Glover.

Some physical educators may be too “stuck” like I was, on only looking for fitness/fun activities.  After all, we are teaching physical education and fitness should be one of our top priorities. Nonetheless, we can help students toward an active lifestyle if we create an emotionally supportive atmosphere in the gym. Then, I believe, students will become intrinsically motivated toward that lifestyle.

The evidence is so overwhelming that an enriched and emotionally supportive environment is necessary if students are to grow mentally that to ignore this aspect of education should not be considered. Thirty-plus years of research prove that children, thrive in this environment. Perhaps today more than at any other time in history we need to provide an environment for students that has as its central goal to be a place to belong.

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