What’s the Difference between Doing P.E. Better and Doing P.E. Differently?

Teacher thinking - Reimagine PE In reading other postings on this blog, I’m struck that most authors are encouraging us to do physical education better, rather than do it differently.

What’s the difference? Is it important?

I believe that there is an important distinction and that this distinction is one that all physical educators should seriously think about.

To me, doing physical education better makes me think first about my teaching skills, and second on the content I choose to teach to my students. Few would disagree that all of us should try our best to possess and display good teaching skills. Of course, most of us don’t start out that way. As novice teachers, we begin our careers with rudimentary skills and then through trial, errors, and feedback, gradually hone improvements. Instead of worrying about controlling and managing our classes, we slowly become more concerned about student learning. “Good” teachers aren’t content to go through the motions but rather expect to see changes in their students’ behaviors.

For new teachers, instructional content is secondary to class conduct. It’s pretty embarrassing to have out-of-control classes. Fortunately, as our teaching skills improve, curriculum choice questions replace class control concerns. Instead of looking outside and interpreting the arrival of spring as time to begin softball or soccer, we start asking ourselves, “What should I be teaching?” Or maybe even more pointedly, “What should my students be learning?”

Getting to this stage represents arrival at a new level of professionalism. It’s now more about them and less about us. We don’t think so much about what we like to do, but rather what do our students need and want to do. And all of this creates wonderful new opportunities for us to think differently.

While thinking differently might inspire us to change the content of our curriculum, I want to suggest that this is not enough. The problem is that our profession is never going to get the respect we’d like if we remain focused on the curriculum delivered during class time. It doesn’t much matter how innovative it is, the PE curriculum alone is not going to save us. Faced with financial woes, school districts will almost always choose to reduce or eliminate physical education and the arts rather than other curriculum content areas.

Having weathered the last few years of financial crisis, it’s easy for us to forget the program reductions and position cuts that health and physical educators have witnessed nationwide. Sadly, the threat has not been eliminated and will continue to remain unless we truly begin to think differently about how we deliver health and physical education. And to me, the place to begin is thinking outside the curriculum.

Taking a business analogy, it matters little what a company wants to sell if consumers are not interested in buying it. And in our case, the public cares little about the health and physical education professions and our dedication as health and physical educators.  Why should they? Do we care about the future of other professions? While there’s nothing wrong with us striving to be better teachers – kudos to us – in honesty that’s not what the public is seeking nor is it especially worried about the quality of our teaching.

The challenge to all of us in moving ahead and in thinking both about our profession and our teaching careers is to reimagine PE and ourselves and the changes we need to make to be respected by others and secure their support in the future. We ignore or choose not to do this at our peril.


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