Finding Focus in PE: What is Our Brand?

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Brands are everywhere! Branding a product involves creating an image that the public can identify with. Many people can identify a brand after hearing just a few notes from the jingle or seeing only a small portion of a logo. Branding is powerful!

What is our “brand” in physical education? What do we do that only we can do and the public can identify with? 

On a recent trip I was on four flights and sat with seven seatmates (one flight had the middle seat empty….YES!). Fortunately, or unfortunately, my seatmates were chatty and the topic of occupations came up. After telling them what I did, I asked, “What is physical education to you?” I received seven distinct and vastly different answers. That, to me, is a branding issue. Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we do better than anyone else that the public can identify with?

Historically our mission in physical education, on the surface, has been muddled…from the German and Swedish influence with emphasis on gymnastics and exercise, to focusing on fitness, to a games and sports approach impacted by the military, and many in-between. As a field, our focus has jumped from one emphasis to the next latest and greatest topic. Some would argue our jumpiness has come from a desire to be sought after and significant in the eyes of education. However, regardless of our motivation, underlying most of the approaches in physical education is the desire to get people moving.

In the last two decades an approach to physical education that has been called for is that of physical activity promotion. Said another way, “WE ARE THE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY PEOPLE”.  This “physical education brand” resonates with the public and it is what we do better than anyone else. We are the experts!

To some, the notion that physical education is about physical activity promotion causes uneasiness. Concerns sound like “If we do that, what happens to teaching skills?” Or “What about my fitness content?” My response is, “YES. Teach skills.” Students will need them to be active. And “YES” use your fitness content to teach students about fitness and show them all the fun ways they can become fit. However, while doing so, keep an eye to our primary objective, the thing we do best and the public can identify with – physical activity promotion. When we teach skills, make sure students are active; how else will they learn the skill? When we teach fitness, make sure students are moving and experiencing how fun intense activity can be; how else will they learn to love moving? Use a variety of teaching styles and curriculum models. Most, if not all, have their roots in getting students to love moving.

While I can go on and on with this topic, I think the growing consensus in the field is that our “brand” is Physical Education = Physical Activity. We are better at it than anyone else, and the public gets it. It is refreshing that as the field begins to embrace this physical education brand we can begin looking to strategies to best promote physical activity for all students through physical education.

Thrive!

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