What My Summer “At the Gym” Taught Me

Every summer brings me the opportunity to rest, relax, and work. As a teacher, I continue to work over the summer, but it’s a different kind of work. I unplug from my role as a teacher and focus on purposeful professional growth. This summer, my bucket list for professional growth focused on the following areas: mindfulness, yoga, and dance.

To make it more of an adventure, I decided to join a gym for yoga, spinning, and fitness dance classes. I wanted to see what was new in the fitness class world, and I wanted to learn from others. I also wanted to know what it feels like to join a gym these days, so I could relate that to my students.

The class instructors were happy to answer any questions I had and share insights as they learned I was coming to them as a PE teacher seeking to improve my knowledge and enjoy some personal fitness time. Here’s what I didn’t expect to learn: I developed more EMPATHY for my students.

I didn’t know anyone at this fitness club which naturally puts me outside my comfort zone. I didn’t know which classes would be best, so I decided to try several. These are two factors that made me realize I was coming to the gym each day with the mindset of my students. I was here to learn something new, to interact with people I didn’t know, and I was here to improve my fitness and find things I enjoy.

My three big takeaways:

  1. Starting something new: I forgot how hard it can be to start something new. There were times I wanted to quit. There’d be days I enjoyed it and others where I just wasn’t feeling it or I was tired. These are typical feelings my students also experience.
  • Bringing it back to my classroom: My students are still developing their executive function and self-regulation. They don’t have control over the chaos in their home life and their ability to deal with stress and face new challenges is evolving. How am I helping students develop self-regulation skills to help them embrace the challenge of learning?
  1. Being the new kid: Again, I’m the adult in this experience, so I can handle being the new kid, but it still felt awkward, and I wondered about how it must feel for my students. I didn’t know the organization’s unwritten rules; I had to ask in order to learn the ins-and-outs of etiquette, so I knew how to function in this new ecosystem. People already had their own cliques.
  • Bringing it back to my classroom: What am I doing to create an inclusive, safe learning environment? How do I help integrate new students? Do I check up on them enough? Am I letting students know how much I really care? Thinking of my mindfulness practices, am I really present in this moment rather than on the next task or some issue in the back of my mind?
  1. Trying difficult things: I had forgotten what it feels like to not be good at something or for an activity to really be challenging. The strength class was especially challenging, and I felt great accomplishment once I got into it. The challenge of the burning legs in spin class left me with a sense of satisfaction especially as I did not always think I could make it the full 45 minutes. I felt awkward and lost in some classes, especially Zumba, where the instructor’s cues were solely visual, and my learning style prefers verbal cues along with visual.
  • Bringing it back to my classroom: How am I encouraging those students who are awkward movers and/or face more challenge in certain activities? How well am I cueing students when I teach? Am I keeping tasks short and sweet and using good demonstrations, or am I talking too much with no visual demonstration? Have I thought out my progressions so students are setup for success?

Overall, I enjoyed coming at this experience from the perspective of my students. It has helped me think about how I can be more mindful of the student experience and make my classroom a better learning environment. I have developed more empathy, patience, and understanding for my students’ experience in my classroom.  It was good for me to be on the receiving end of starting something new, to be the new kid again, and to try new and difficult things.

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