Reflections on Cooperatives
At some point in the recent past, I became convinced we should start every school year with Cooperative Activities. I believe in them so much, we also take some time to do them right after the Christmas break. It is such a powerful way to build the class community and set the tone for the following months as we work together in class.
Since then, I’ve been on the hunt for powerful and purposeful activities that are both physically challenging and possess the potential for building relationship skills. And it certainly helps if the activity is fun! Games have such a powerful effect on us all, and they contain great potential in building life skills such as cooperation, relating, and even healthy competition.
One such activity is Crack the Codes. While there are several versions of this activity, I found the one created by Ryan Ellis particularly interesting. I discovered it while listening to his podcast and could not wait to get started! As soon as I was in my office the next day, I headed to his website to see the activity sheets he created.
The basic premise is this: One person guides a blind-folded partner across an area. The tasks and difficulty change as levels increase.
After having several classes participate in Crack the Code, some very interesting lessons were learned by the students and myself.
At the end of each class, students shared their successes, strengths, challenges, difficulties, and feelings about the process of leading and being led. They also examined how they felt being “blind.” Obviously, it was a limited experience. But some students felt it helped them gain a little empathy for those who live without sight.
To be a successful guide, you need to be clear and precise with your directions. Any vague wording isn’t helpful at all and might even cause your group to fail and start again. I’ve seen individuals excel at giving directions. To do this, they must identify with the “blind” person they are guiding. They put themselves “in their shoes” so they can speak the right words, guiding them accurately. Those who struggle to guide their partners rely on imprecise and vague words: “go here, go there, no, come this way!” Or, they guide their partner from their own perspective. You have a 50% chance of leading them incorrectly if you are facing them! This is where perspective comes into play. I would see students facing their partner, realize their mistake and then turn their body so they were facing the same direction as their partner. They had to take their own perspective OUT of the picture.
And as important as clear and concise directions are, nothing is as necessary as Trust. If you don’t trust your guide, you’ll either hesitate to follow them or not follow them at all. And it might not always be the guide’s fault. Some of us are prideful and think we know where we should go, even if we can’t see it. One such student flat out resisted his guide’s directions this week. “No,” he said. “The spot is over here!” Even though his guide was standing at the right spot, he stubbornly went the opposite way, getting further from the spot. He also came close to a penalty, nearly stepping on a spot until he finally listened to his guide.
Let’s just admit this: It is difficult to put yourself in the hands of another person. But guides can help you increase your trust in them by being trustworthy. Proving yourself over and over and admitting when you make a mistake will help your partner trust you. This embodies honesty, faithfulness and loyalty!
A couple of students allowed their blind partners to walk past the game boundaries, dangerously close to the walls. They did it in jest with no malicious intent. However, that decision made them less trustworthy (at least in this activity). It took some time for that partner to be able to quickly follow their instructions again.
One guide told his partner that the level was completed, then quickly turned to talk with some other students. The blind partner, not hearing his guide, continued to walk towards a brick wall. He stopped him in time, but it reminded me of how easily distracted we can get, our eyes straying from our responsibilities.
Some students struggled to focus purely on the voice of their guide. Many other voices were shouting out different words, some opposite of what they thought their guide had said. This led some groups to create a different “language” to speak, so they could focus easier on their guide. The guide would clap their hands, and the blind partner would simply follow the sound until it stopped. Then they would simply wait for a short verbal signal and continue.
Isn’t it like that in our world? We are trying to get along in life the best we can. We try to do right, but other “voices” sound off in our head, confusing us. Some things we read, listen to, or watch contain messages that are contrary to what is good, healthy and right for us or others.
So, we need to
Be a trustworthy guide, one worth following...
Careful & wise when choosing who to follow!
So I’m sitting on the floor, playing games with my son. We’ve done video games, played outside, and now we’re on the floor playing Sorry. We’ve probably played this game 5 or 6 times before with my wife and daughter. So he’s confident and competent, having learned well from his big sister. Even enough to teach my 3 year old daughter (which he has, and it was a great joy to behold).
What struck me this time, however, wasn’t the fact that he knew the mechanics of the game, but that he actually showed empathy for me while playing. At one point he drew the Sorry card, allowing him to knock one of my pieces off the game board and back to Start. At the moment he realized what card he had, he looked at me and said, in all sincerity, “Daddy, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” His voice was filled with sadness and regret. Fighting tears, I told him I loved and appreciated him and that it was ok! It was just part of the game.
I’ve been alive for 52 years. In all that time, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve been dealt a lot of “cards." Not all of them. Not by a long shot.
I have NO idea what other “cards" are in the deck.
Like the COVID-19 card. Sheesh...Didn’t know that one was in there!
Have there been pandemic events in the world before? Yes. But I wasn’t "playing the game” then, either by not being alive, or not in that part of the world.
Have I been sold into human slavery? No, blessedly, I have NOT been given that card.
Have my rights been trampled on? Have I been judged or missed opportunities because of my skin color? Have I been oppressed because of where or how I was born? Have I experienced any horrible tragedies?
Yet, sadly, I know some of us have.
Have I been treated unfairly? Yes. Have I also made that same poor decision against another person?
Sadly, yes. Have I suffered personal loss? Yes.
And have I been blessed? Absolutely! I’m blessed with a wonderful family and a great group of people I’m honored to call friends. I’m blessed with a job at a great school with positive and encouraging leaders and get to teach alongside talented & loving people. I’ve had incredible mentors in my life, providing guidance and an excellent example for me to follow. Sure, there are some blessings I’ve not experienced. But overall, I’m content.
So, I see there are cards in the deck I’m aware of, and others of which I’m not. Regardless of my awareness, both types of cards exist. I've certainly had a mix of them in my life.
I love this pic posted by Michael J. Hynes. I saw it this morning and was grateful as it coincided with this current challenge to my circumstances.
So how will I spend my energy, now that I’ve been dealt these cards?
Friday morning, we got the “official” word of the impending shutdown of our school. Teachers were scrambling to get copies made while trying to maintain a “normal” school atmosphere. Students were (over)loading their backpacks with books, supplies and other personal items. All throughout the day, my mind wandered back and forth between “normal” and the upcoming “new normal.”
Throughout the day the #Physed Twitterverse quickly shifted its focus. The hashtag #HPEatHome was born and Teachers were either coming up with adaptations of current content or creating new content. It was quite the sight! So much sharing so quickly made me extremely proud of my colleagues and humbled to be part of such a wonderful community of teachers.
Suddenly my mind saw the play dough differently. It wasn’t a lump of clay.
It was Education.
I’ve been teaching Physical Education for over 25 years. It’s varied over that time to be sure, but it has mostly looked the same. I've been teaching kids in an open space with equipment I get from my storage. Then the Corona Virus situation comes and changes literally everything.
Suddenly, teaching doesn’t look the same.
I get to take my lump of play dough and make something new out of it. The dough is the same, but what I make doesn’t have to be!
This excited and SCARED me at the same time. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been on a transformative journey as a teacher for several years now. My mind has been open to change for a while. But THIS?
We all have been shoved into change. It is no longer a matter of WILL we change and grow. It is a matter of HOW will we change (growing is optional…so is stagnation!).
What will YOU make with your play dough?
An Open Letter to School Administration
This is a draft of an email I've been composing to my building principal. I tried very hard to keep it from being argumentative or provocative, as I don't actually feel that way in my own building. But I do feel strongly about being represented accurately. My principal happens to support Physical Education, Music, and the Visual Arts very strongly in our school. We are very blessed with such support. But we also have to be worthy of support. Our programs must be excellent, no matter the moniker given our "group."
I’ve been troubled by the term “specials” for quite some time, but didn’t have any real solutions or coherent thoughts until recently.
At times, I feel as if our classes are considered secondary when “compared” with the core classroom subjects. The truth is, there is no comparison to be made. Our class content is different, so really it’s all about contrast. And with that contrast, we have a chance to see how all subject areas work together synergistically in each child.
With so much focus on academic achievement (any standardized testing in addition to the high rigor already present), I feel we are in danger of missing the point. We are one stop (albeit a major and lengthy one) in a kid's life.
It is my opinion that the Arts, Music, and Physical Education keep us in perspective.
Yes, we are a school whose focus is to teach academic subjects, preparing hearts and minds for possible futures (more education, a job, becoming a member of communities, etc). But we all know our lives are filled with much more than education or a job.
We are all creative beings. The ability to communicate and express ourselves verbally, visually and physically reflect that. These types of expression are essential to each of us.
While traditional academics can be called “Core Subjects,” I believe our three content areas would more accurately be called "Essentials."
Again, this in no way implies we have a higher rank over academics.
It's about contrast and synergy, our different areas combining to create a more powerful effect together in the growth and development of the children in our care.
This past month, I was a presenter at the Indiana state physical education conference, INSHAPE19. The preparation was fun and rewarding. The moments leading up to the presentation itself were made up of equal parts excitement and anxiety. It was a great experience from the decision to submit, all the way to the exhausted feeling an hour after the presentation was over!
The decision to submit a presentation proposal was an interesting experience in and of itself. In the past, I never believed myself capable or “worthy” to share anything with my professional peers. Someone I spoke with at INSHAPE this year echoed my thoughts in a near-exact phrase, “I’m still in the soaking up phase.” I can’t say with certainty what lies beneath that phrase for him, but I knew for me it was fear and inadequacy. While my content knowledge has increased over my career, the feelings of fear and inadequacy had remained constant. “I don’t have anything to share with my colleagues, I’m still learning” was my mantra. “I could never do that,” I would chuckle nervously.
It wasn’t until I began interacting regularly with other physical educators on Twitter and in person that I began to disabuse myself of these fears. After sharing my thoughts both in general and specific in regards to P.E. on Twitter, my blog, and in conversations with others, I began to see the different take I had on certain things. This led me to writing my thoughts down. Some thoughts made it to my little blog site and others remain on my computer.
But one night, after participating in an #ESPECHAT on Twitter, I had a direct message conversation with Pete Charrette (Cap’n Pete), who was moderating that night. I was thanking him for the amazing chat session, and for showcasing some great blogs on his site.
Then, Pete surprised me when he responded...
I remember my eyes popping out of my head as I stared at the computer. I quickly turned to my wife and very excitedly told her all about Pete’s invitation. Then suddenly, in the midst of my excitement, the old fearful thought started talking again. So I asked Pete about what to write. Here’s what he said:
Pete's response was not only the answer to my question, it was also the weapon to battle my fear!
While I had written some blog posts before and even knew some people had read them, there was something about Pete’s message that had awaken a deep stirring in me. I had written about what was in my head, but hadn’t yet reached for what was in my heart. Once I started looking into my heart, the question about what to write was easily answered.
I pulled out some old notes on an activity I had written up a while back. It showed me what my heart was all about when it came to teaching. My heart leads me to teach children (and adults) about the power of relationships. And I was seeing angles in physical education activities that mirrored life and relationships.
That’s what I would write about. I had no idea how it would be received, but I knew that I believed in it. That was enough for me.
That is what I would want to chat about with others on Twitter when I was blessed to moderate a chat for #ESPECHAT last year. And that is what I would share when I presented for INSHAPE this past November.
Submit Form?? You bet!
The desire to share my thoughts and insights with others wasn’t always enough to battle my fears of presenting. But my message was. Along with the encouragement and support of key people in my life, it drove me to look for other powerful relational applications in other games. I didn’t want to force anything, but wanted to see the organic connections already present.
So with this in mind, I kept an open mind and took notes each time a new idea surfaced, whether from an activity in class or one I would see online. And along the way, I connected with Dr. Aaron Bieghle, who was also sharing some similar ideas in his own presentations. Our conversations only solidified my resolve.
Then began the process of preparing a handout and presentation slides. I spoke with Dr. Beighle and Dan Tennesson about the creation of these tools. While both men had differing opinions on how to create them, both knew the importance of using each to effectively communicate the message.
Whenever I attend a session, I’m always wanting a handout. After some conversations with Dr. Beighle, I started asking myself “why?”. My thought process seemed to always follow this path:
I don’t think I’m alone here. When I speak with other conference attendees, I often hear the same thing.
But when I look in my office, bookshelves, or folders, what do I find? Lots of handouts loaded with activities. To paraphrase a verse from the Bible, “Of making Physical Education activities, there is no end…”. There are plenty of activities out there, but what good are they if I don’t effectively use them to teach key concepts? The last thing I wanted to do was create another handout that would sit on a shelf. So I attempted to clearly and concisely communicate 3 types of objectives (Physical, Emotional, Relational) from each activity, along with possible questions for student reflection. Also, it was important to craft a similar format for the mechanics of the game (Equipment, Setup, and Procedure), as it kept the directions clear. It also helped me gain a deeper understanding of the activity (wasn’t expecting that…).
Ever attend a presentation that includes a PowerPoint and you will inevitably see someone pull out their phone to take a pic of the screen. I know I’ve done it.
Something up there has captured my attention and I’m afraid I’ll never remember it (or the presenter moves too fast and I know I’ll miss it). But what happens when you take the picture? For me, my brain has fully engaged with the task of pulling my phone out, getting the camera app open, focusing, zooming, and taking the pic (which turned out blurry anyway). Was I also listening? Nope, not a chance.
Now I’ve missed something. Might have been equally or more engaging (or not), but I’ll never know. Unless I ask the person beside me, and now they can’t continue to listen…
I realize there are visual people out there. I’m one of them. But what if the visuals we create for a presentation distract the attendees? Or what if they detract value and meaning from the message?
I admit, I made slides for my presentation and I enjoyed doing so. It was a new and fun experience for me. But in doing so and really thinking about it, I’m wondering if I should have. If I ever do another presentation, I’m not altogether sure I’ll use them next time.
It seems to me now that slides should be a part of the presentation, not a repetition of it. Especially if it is a physically active session, where personal engagement is the main tool to reach the audience.
OK, don’t think marriage here (at least not the kind where a couple legally get hitched to create a family). But think about the secondary definition: “a combination or mixture of two elements.” I’m talking about the mixture of the Presenter and the Attendees. Somewhere, there is potential for this relationship to exist. When the Presenter is able to actually connect with those attending, much more is taught and shared. And the reverse is equally true. If an attendee is able to connect with the presenter, they are much more likely to learn and then continue to learn as the session continues.
I didn’t realize this until I actually presented on day 2 of INSHAPE. About a third of the way through, I was attempting to measure the engagement of the attendees. I was looking at their eyes and expressions, wondering if what I was saying was getting any traction. I saw the heads nodding and caught an occasional “ah” or “OH!” But nothing spoke to me louder than when someone felt comfortable enough to share their own personal thoughts or feelings about the message and how it was affecting them.
I knew at that point I had personally connected with someone in attendance. It made all the difference in the world to me. I felt new energy and inspiration flow. And as an attendee before and after my own session, I know it to be true from that perspective as well. How many sessions have you attended while standing far off? Or how many times have you drifted from session to session? From which will you likely gain the most? I can say I gain the most when I’m physically, mentally, and relationally engaged. Now I know the presenter can’t fully connect with each attendee. But how “Present” are you when you are teaching? If I’m simply reciting all the facts and dry data about the information, using the slides to visually show you what I’m saying, and then giving you a handout of all that I just said…will you really learn from me and my experiences? I’m not really there with you…I’m speaking into a “mic,” recording it all for you to listen if you want later.
But if we are “engaged?” Now learning is taking place, from everyone.
You’d think I would know this already. I’m a teacher for cryin’ out loud! I did learn this while teaching children, but never applied it to myself while attending professional sessions. And I think I knew this on some kind of level while I was a student, but had never reflected on it much.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to present to fellow professionals. It has taught me much about myself and how I will continue to teach my students.
Correction…how I will continue to “engage” my students. A two-way street, each of us relating with each other as we both continue to learn.
Note: This blog is a result of the notes I prepared to be interviewed on The Global Physed Voxcast by Jorge Rodriguez.
Even if I hadn’t actually been interviewed, I found this reflective look into my past to be highly beneficial (and even therapeutic!).
Click any of the links below to hear the podcast!
The path I took into Education was a winding road. There weren’t definitive and chronological steps. It was more of a start and stop, hiccup kind of thing.
I can remember a day in junior high school. It was Spirit Week, and one of the days was career day. Some students dressed like professionals in the business world. Others were nurses. One friend wore his soccer uniform, as he styled himself a pro soccer player. Me? I dressed like a P.E. Teacher! If you asked me back then why I chose this outfit, it had more to do with the fact I loved playing sports and games (wearing sweats during the school day had something to do with it, too!). Yet deeper than I knew or acknowledged, I also had a love for children and working with them. My mom had a babysitting service when I was young, and it was just natural to teach and guide the little ones on a daily basis. Without knowing it, I learned my first teaching skills from her.
But choosing the garb of a P.E. teacher that day was the one of first in a line of events that eventually led me to pursuing a career as one. One that has been filled with ups and downs, positive and negative revitalization.
Upon graduating from high school, I became a bit wayward from my goal. I was put off because of the high costs of college and I honestly was suffering from an acute case of laziness. My first job out of high school was a part time chef at a Big Boy restaurant. Easily the most stressful and worst job I ever had. I worked for one week and gave my two weeks notice. I then worked for Sears. That job was good for a time, but it was clear that I just didn’t have enough initiative. I ended up getting “let go.” I was pretty disillusioned at this point. If I couldn’t keep a job stocking shelves, what was I going to do?
I don’t remember how I go the job, but I ended up working at a junk mail factory. We were the ones who send you sweepstakes and book club offers. You're welcome! I started out as a machine loader. It was a purely physical job. Keep the slots filled with whatever inserts were to be in the envelope. It was satisfying in a task oriented kind of way, and without realizing it at the time, I began to become motivated to succeed. I started having my own private competition with the other stockers. My initiative was noticed. I was promoted to machine operator. My competitions continued. I then asked if I could move on to a different position. It was granted and I continued to move “up” in the factory. Even when the amount of mail going out was low, and all of us were “demoted” from time to time, whatever job I held I did it furiously and zealously. I wanted to succeed and work my absolute hardest. I also wanted others to succeed, so I began sharing my ideas about production with them. Some couldn’t understand why I would want to do that well, it’s just a junk mail job! My infectious desire to do well, coupled with humor, helped some do better (even save their job at times).
I also desired a good reputation. Supervisors sought me out for various tasks because they saw in me someone reliable and motivated. So many people in that factory simply wanted to earn enough money to live and have some left over to spend at the bar on weekends. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be and do better and help others do the same! This fueled a passion in me to pursue a career as a teacher. This time with a better understanding of what it meant. It was more than games and wearing sweats to work!
After working there for about a year and a half, I decided it was time to pursue my career in teaching Physical Education. I was ready to launch!
I was fairly excited about getting started. I was “living on my own,” meeting new friends, and experiencing college life. I have a lot of great memories of those first weeks. One memory has stuck with me forever. My first exam was coming up. It was from my first class as a Physical Education major, “Foundations of Physical Education.” It was horrible! I thoroughly failed the exam!
I remember sitting in my room that night. I was devastated. How could this happen? I can’t do this! I can’t come here and FAIL! This is costing me too much money!
Yes, my first fear was about the money. I remember sitting at my desk, staring at the wall thinking, “This is too much money to waste! It’s MY bill!” But the longer I sat there, the more angry I got. Angry at myself for not having prepared enough. For not being prepared enough. I didn’t have the study skills. I was, at best, an indifferent student in High School. I decided to talk with my professor the next day about this.
She encouraged me and gave me some studying advice. I also sought advice from some of my dorm unit mates. She also gave me a chance to take the test again. This time, I was ready. Gladly, I aced the exam this time. And from that moment on, I vowed to never fail another exam. Granted, some were very difficult, but I took it as a personal challenge like my junk mail days!
I’m so grateful for that failure. Without it, I would not have been as motivated to succeed in school. And being in school provided many more opportunities for me to grow. I was an member and then an officer in our Physical Education Majors group. I was given the chance to work with athletic and intramural teams. I also traveled on several teams to different parts of the U.S., serving different organizations, churches, and peoples. I even had the opportunity to travel to Brazil!
If I had given up after that first failure, I would have missed out on many opportunities to grow.
"Failure is free information on what not to do next time." - Mike Kuczala
Upon graduating, however, I was unable to find a job in teaching. I ended up working construction. For a time, I struggled with disillusionment. Could I have been wrong? Did I waste my time and money? Was I doing the right thing? The construction job was another chance to sink or surf. Over time, the opportunity to learn new physical and leadership skills became exhilarating! With those new skills, I was able to help my family and friends in their homes. I gained a new confidence and also obtained a more positive perspective.
One night, I received a phone call from a college friend. He was a fellow P.E. Major as well. Someone had a job opening for a Middle and High School P.E. teacher about 40 minutes away from me. He knew he couldn’t take the job, but thought of me right away. Turns out the administrator of this school was MY high school administrator! I got the phone number and called right away. Within minutes, I had an interview scheduled. Within the week, I was hired for the fall! I was going to be a Teacher!!!
It was a small Christian school. And I mean, SMALL! What I started to learn about the “real world” of education wasn’t very exciting. In such a small school, I ended up wearing many hats. I was also the Athletic Director and Junior Varsity Volleyball coach. In addition to teaching P.E., I also taught Life Science, Business Math (I always said I had no Business teaching Math…), and a couple of different Bible courses. It was three challenging years. I was very busy preparing for classes for which I had no training. I would force myself to stop grading papers at midnight, just so I could get some sleep.
What became most frustrating was the fact I wasn’t really excelling at teaching Physical Education. I learned some things about myself as well. I learned that I REALLY wanted to teach Elementary Physical Education. I wanted to be right there at the beginning with those children. I wanted to be involved when they learned the basics and foundation blocks of their physical literacy. I started thinking long and hard about pursuing a new job.
That next summer, I learned of an elementary P.E. job. It would require a move out of state, but I was SO ready to jump on it. Within one day of hearing about it from a college friend of mine, I was on the phone with the principal. The next day, I was driving to Indiana to meet her. Inside a week, I was ready to meet the school board. Right before I left, I informed my current administrator. Miraculously, he was able to find someone to take my place (though I didn’t know until much later)! I was approved by the board and made the move to Indiana!
While I loved my new job as an Elementary Physical Educator, I struggled with parts of the job. I’ve since learned the more “hats” I wear, the less effective I am as a teacher. Over time, I grew lazy and complacent. I became the anathema to all decent P.E. teachers everywhere. I began a “roll out the ball” phase. I wish I could say it was with a purpose, allowing my students to have a voice and choice in their discover of their physical literacy. But it wasn’t. It was sheer laziness.
At one point, I had taken my students outside. I was convinced this was ok, because the High school theater program was taking place in our gym space (see my rationalization?). We had a newer administrator at the time, and his office window faced the playground. He saw me outside with my class and observed me standing still while the kids played whatever games they chose. Later that day, he asked me to come to his office. He called me to account for what he saw happening. In no uncertain terms, he said there would need to be changes. Though I felt unfairly and severely treated at the time, I knew he was right. I had lost my way and my students were the ones suffering from my choices. This was the negative and harsh beginning of my renewal. It hurt, but it was so needed.
My administrator then connected me with a couple of great P.E. teachers in the area. I was given 2 professional days to visit them. That was the positive beginning of my renewal. Seeing someone who worked hard at their craft AND cared for their students was such a powerful event in my life. I remain connected with them to this day and have expressed my gratitude many times! They literally helped save my job and create a new teacher in the process!
Along the way, I had begun investigating internet resources again. Something was different this time. I was seeing great content, but was seeing past it to the people who were sharing it. It led me to learn more about them. I would read their bios and blogs more than their content and ideas.
It was then I finally recognized Twitter as something I could utilize for my professional career. Before signing up and following anyone, I browsed & checked out a couple of hashtags. I was blown away by what I was finding. I saw people who were excited and dedicated to their teaching. I found a whole community of people with whom I wanted to connect. I decided on a Twitter handle and jumped in. I started following those whose websites I had found. I participated in my first PEChat (I was running sound for a concert with one hand while following along with the other - I don’t recommend that!)
I had also discovered the Global Physed Voxcast! It was like water to a thirsty man. Any time I spent in the car alone was time I could listen to another podcast. I got to “meet” so many great educators and hear their hearts and minds. I was so challenged by what I heard. At first, I shied away from things too difficult or what I considered “impossible.” But after a while, I realized I needed the push they gave. I might not try everything that everyone was doing, but I love how much I am stretched by what others are sharing.
One podcast in particular was a huge encouragement to me. Jorge interviewed Matt Bassett from California. Matt had just won the SHAPE Elementary teacher of the year. Elements of his story resonated with mine. He had similar struggles. I couldn’t believe it. I remember listening to him share his weaknesses and how he overcame them by surrounding himself with excellent educators. I paused the podcast and immediately tweeted a message to Matt, thanking him for sharing transparently and showing what someone could do. Matt has been so gracious! We are in regular contact now and it has been such a blessing!
At some point, I also connected with Mike Graham. I had found his website and loved how strongly he advocates for Physical Education! He graciously allowed me to come visit his class. That physical and personal connection was another catalyst of change in me. I went, initially thinking about what knowledge I could gain about teaching. What I came home with though, was a view into the person & life of Mike Graham, not just the teacher. And through him, I’ve been introduced (via Voxer) to other great people!
A NEW DIRECTION
Since connecting professionally with other teachers via Social Media, Podcasts, and Personal meetings, I’ve grown and changed immensely. I’m just over 50 years old, and I’ve never been more excited about teaching. And while I’m in this new phase of teaching, I want to make it my best.
One of the areas I’ve made changes in is how I relate to my students. It has also impacted how I strive to parent my children. I was introduced to Positive Discipline by Jorge on his podcast. After listening to him interview Joy Marchese, a Positive Discipline co-author, I realized I could do so much better relating with my students. The phrase “Connection before Correction” often comes to my mind when dealing with new discipline issues. My students are infinitely more valuable than any physical skill or concept I have to teach. I’m a part of a team of people who are preparing this little one for their life, NOT just the next phase of their education.
I also now teach with an “endgame” in mind. I’ve written in a previous blog how the concept of Community has become the driving force of my program. I’ve become so convinced of its power and relevance, it permeates every lesson and unit I now teach. I believe we were made to be in Community with one another. And whatever we decide to do while we are here, most things we will likely do with others. Physical Education is the best place for our students to learn and practice social skills. Every skill we teach can and will likely be used in social settings. Let’s take this opportunity and guide them toward becoming great community members.
Each class has input into what kind of community they will build. And that includes what rules will structure and guide us throughout the year. Since they are a part of the whole creation process, they have more buy-in. They will likely be more apt to follow, since they helped create them. More on this to come!
Thank you, Jorge, for the opportunity to share my heart and mind (as well as a few fun stories). I strongly encourage anyone who hears or reads this to take the time and reflect on what brought you to the place you are now.
Please read Jorge's excellent blog post on The Metamorphosis of a Teacher on his site. It is a great visual of how we can allow challenges to change us for the better!
Each day of Physical Education provides many opportunities for our students. Learning, growing, frustration and failing, succeeding, experimenting can and will happen. What kinds of experiences will we use to package and present the content and/or concepts we want to teach?
When I was a student teacher (quite some time ago), a popular model was “skills and drills.” Line the students up in groups and practice the skills. For a Basketball unit, it looked very much like a sports team practice. The familiar lay-up drill was prominent. Free-throws, dribbling in place or back and forth across the court took the rest of the time. Then, go to scrimmaging. Who enjoyed that part the most? The athletes. The ones who already love the sport on which you are basing your unit. While they loom large in personality and voice, the actual percentage of the class who enjoys and learns from the unit is fairly small.
Sadly, I took this model of teaching through many of my units. The main tool I ended up using to “teach” and “ evaluate" was Competition. And while the sport athletes enjoyed the units, many of my students did not. And it is a period of time in my teaching career I regret deeply.
Since then, I’ve gotten older. Hopefully I’ve grown wiser. Conversations with wise people and wisdom from experience have helped me gain a broader and deeper perspective on teaching. One that has equipped me with more tools with which to teach and relate to my students as well as help them relate with one another. Competition is still one of those tools. But I now wield it differently. It is not the hammer that crafts the frame from different pieces of wood. There are other tools better suited for the task of which the hammer plays only a small part. So say hello to the other tools in my tool belt.
I have struggled for years with a basic “reason” or “driving force” for my program. I’ve seen themes developed by other teachers, and I love the idea of a central focus for the year. And I’ve seen others, month by month, or unit by unit, feature different “muscle of the month” or “this month’s fitness concept,” and weave these into their school year’s plans. I’ve started drafts of these types of themes many times. While I see the benefit in many of them, and laud their creativity, none of them have spoken to me as strongly nor related to me so intimately as Community.
The concept of Community has become the driving force of my program. I’ve become so convinced of its power and relevance, it permeates every lesson and unit I now teach. While not always on prominent display, it is always there. Each skill that is taught, practiced, and applied is a skill which will be used at some point by a child who is and will be part of a community of others. And I want them to be equipped with as many skills as they can experience, so as to make their future experience all the richer. Purposeful, Free and Creative Movement can be a wonderful Community event.
When in college, I was blessed with the privilege of playing pick up games with the varsity girls volleyball team, along with other men who also loved the sport. These people were highly skilled, and their skill and friendship drew me in, helping my skills to improve. It gave me a love for playing volleyball I still have today. I never took those skills into Olympic or travel league play, but I now have those skills and use them to have fun with others.
What might my students do with the physical skills they acquire, whatever their level? What kind of perceived competence will they gain, empowering them to choose life-enriching activities when they leave my physical presence and influence? What knowledge will they have available to them, allowing them to make their own informed choices regarding their health and well-being, which effects how they relate to those around them?
The idea of community drove me to inquire into its nature. What makes a Community, and what makes it work well?
Obviously enough, the answer is people.
Wherever you go, communities abound. They come in all manner of sizes, types, and locations. And the purposes of each community are as varied as the number of communities you’ll find. Whether it is two children working on a project for 4th grade History, or two thousand people in a remote village working to survive a famine, these groups are Communities.
The students in each of my classes are their own little community. Our purpose? To learn. To learn about physical skills and to learn through physical skills. And since each one will be in varied communities later in life, they can learn about how communities work best through physical activities. Each child has a unique set of characteristics and skills that give their group its own unique makeup. Those characteristics and skills can be used to help the group reach its goals, whatever they may be.
Now people can make the community work well or not. History is loaded with examples of both. What I believe makes a community survive and thrive most is Cooperation and Collaboration. Both are similar in scope.
Cooperation: the process of working together to the same end.
Collaboration: the action of working with someone to produce or create something.
However, our world has turned that upside down. It has made both Cooperation and Collaboration tools to be used for Competition. Each group must get along and work together so as to be better than another in something or gain an advantage over that group. This mindset has made its way into our schools, sports, and even our classrooms.
I believe in switching that back around. We can and should use Competition to help improve the skills of our students. But we do it very judiciously and with high purpose. We use it so our students can use their skills for the benefit of themselves and their community.
Purposefully used Competition is like lifting weights or biking uphill. The resistance is real and naturally works against you. When someone chooses to ride their bike up a hill, they are choosing to do so because the resistance is there. They know what the resistance can do for them. The resistance has the potential to make them stronger and able to ride their bike longer.
As a teacher, I need to apply this resistance in a way that will help the participants, not discourage them. Like any resistance, if too much is applied too soon, frustration, or worse, injury can occur. It is the same with competition. If a student isn’t sufficiently competent or confident in their skills, competing against someone may frustrate or discourage them from the activity. As one of our goals is to foster meaningful and joyful movers, this can be a costly setback for the student with far-reaching consequences.
In my classes, I seek to foster a more purposeful use of competition. I desire the activity to foster skill improvement or refinement in both participants. If the only objective of the competition is winning or losing, this objective is unattainable. But if each participant knows they are there to be that resistance for each other, the improvements have a better chance of occurring.
I would like my students to be “noble” competitors. I’d like them to be the kind of “opponent” people seek out. Not because they are an easy win. But because they would be a challenging win. This kind of opponent would provide the necessary resistance to help make you stronger, play longer, and get better. And, they would be a lot of fun to play. A twitter user, @IMSporticus, provided a link to an article that describes this kind of relationship between two world championship class Tennis players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Other tools are available to me as well as any teacher of any content area. The ones I will explore next are Inquiry, Exploration, and Reflection. Of those three, I’ve been most comfortable with Reflection. I’m hoping the publication of this blog entry will motivate and encourage me to be more purposeful in the examination of the other two, thereby coming back soon to share my findings.
This blog entry first appeared as a guest blog entry on Pete Charrette's website.
Games provide fun and memorable learning opportunities. These games are like seeds. They contain clear learning objectives we desire our students to explore and achieve. Packed within the games are opportunities to practice skills which enrich our lives. What I love about our profession is that these “seeds” contain potential for lifelong learning which goes beyond the physical. We all know a moving child is a learning child. So let’s investigate how some games we already play can teach our students about relating to each other and understanding themselves as well.
I’m a storyteller at heart, so I gravitate toward imaginative activities containing characters who interact with one another as well as the game’s environment. During game play, each participant’s choices affect themselves, others, and the game environment. Sound like real life?
Yet for a time, I had been so focused on specific Physical Education learning objectives (i.e. throwing, personal space, locomotor movements, fitness components), I wasn’t seeing other possible learning opportunities. I was aware of the social aspects of the activities (teamwork, sportsmanship, respect, and responsibility) and would touch on them. But one day, while the students were participating in a classic aerobic based warm up activity, a light came on.
The game was Builders and Blasters (aka Builders and Bulldozers & other titles, the creator unknown to me). For those who might be unaware, the object of the original game is for one team to stand a cone up, while the other team lays them down. While there are various ways to play this game, I was using Speed Stacks the day the light came on for me. One team would up-stack a simple 3-3-3 while the other team was down-stacking.
For some reason, I started watching the students and how they responded (positive or negative) to the actions of each other and the game environment. Questions began to form in my mind and I was curious to hear their answers. After providing all students an opportunity to up-stack and down-stack, I had them sit down in our center circle. I began with a simple question. “What was more fun? Up-stacking or Down-stacking?” There were varied responses to this question. Then I asked the following question, “Which was easier?” Ah, now the answers were more one-sided. The down-stacking was the easiest, according to a high percentage of students. “What makes it easier to down-stack than up-stack?” Many opinions were shared, but the common theme was it took less time, work, and thought. Tear them down and move on to the next.
Then I asked, “So what is easier to do, hurt someone’s feelings or say kind things to them?” Just a bit of silence followed as the students digested this unexpected question. One hand after another rose with an all too similar answer. “It’s way easier to hurt someone’s feelings…” was the common answer. I followed up with “Why do you think it’s easier to hurt someone? Strikingly, their answers were similar to the reason down-stacking was easier. Hurtful words come out of us with little to no effort or thought. Some students even pride themselves on how easily they can “roast” or “burn” someone, tear someone down, get a few laughs and move on to the next victim.
I decided to follow up with questions I wasn’t sure would get answered. I asked if they’ve ever been hurt by other people’s words or actions. Quite a few raised their hands. Taking another chance, I asked if anyone would like to share what happened and how it made them feel. Several opened up and shared their experiences and hurts. I lauded their honesty and felt ready to ask this next question: “Have you ever hurt someone with your words and actions?” Slowly, hand after hand raised. When I thanked them for their honesty, a few students wanted to confess what they had done. I was surprised and deeply moved by their humility. Their courage opened the door for others to admit their faults in front of the class.
We then discussed the power of our words and how we could actually build someone up with them instead of tear them down. Speaking kind, beneficial, and empowering words actually strengthen those who hear them. It is also how we want people to treat us! A quote I found sums it up perfectly:
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” (from Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian poet)
Our words have much power!
After this experience, I began to notice other possible learning opportunities in activities we already use. I would write down the name of the activity and the possible concept, saving it for when the activity was needed. It wasn’t long before the follow-up to Builders and Blasters was born.
Builders and Blasters showcased our need to build each other up with our words and actions. But what do you do when you realize you’ve hurt someone? What do you do if you’ve been hurt? What are the next steps?
Enter Halloween Tag by Joey Feith. Halloween Tag? Really? I know, it surprised me, too! We had played this fun game the year before as part of our chasing/fleeing/strategies unit. There are three main characters in this game (others can be added to increase strategies). Witches (taggers), Wizards (rescuers), and the poor hapless souls who get chased by the witch. The witch tags with a tap of a noodle, turning the students into stone. The Wizard comes along and heals the player with 3 taps of his/her noodle.
The students decided that the witch had the easiest job. All the witch had to do was indiscriminately mow through the students. The wizard’s job was a bit harder. It took actual decision making and time to accomplish its task. The wizard had to look for those in need, get to them and then take the time to heal them by tapping them three times while saying, “you are free!”
The lesson to be learned here is forgiveness. Once you hurt someone (tagged by the witch), you need forgiveness (healed by the wizard). And once you’ve been hurt, forgiveness can help you heal. Hurting is easy. Forgiveness on both sides is hard and takes work. There are ways to make the learning go deeper here. I didn’t explore this with the students, but there are ghost characters in Joey’s game who also tag the players, albeit with different consequences. I gave the ghosts the ability to chase the wizard as well as the others, making it harder for the wizard to do his or her job. To me, the ghost could represent bitterness, an active adversary to forgiveness. Those who are bitter don’t want to forgive. They want to sabotage the process and hurt the offender instead.
Games like these have the potential to teach great skills or concepts and expose our students to new experiences. They also have the power to teach students how to reflect on their actions in daily life, not just during game play. Children learn best through play. It is how we all learn best. So let’s help them learn these valuable physical, mental, and social skills by providing them with a variety of creative experiences. These experiences can help them explore and reflect on their feelings, decisions, and actions.
As Physical Educators, we have many people seeking to tell us what our final “product” should look like. Regardless of what final outcome you work towards, all of them include people. Not every student we teach will master the skill of throwing and utilize it to a great degree later in life. However, that student will be in community with others and need to be able to relate to others in positive ways. The bulk of the experiences we offer our students take place in community. Home, school, work, and play are ways in which we all interact with each other. So let’s let them learn these valuable skills through play. It is our unique privilege and position to do so.
No other classroom has this opportunity.
A friend and fellow #physed colleague, Matt Bassett, @PhysedApps, posted a document about his #oneword for 2019. He posted one a year ago as well. I remember reading about it and being impressed and inspired to be BOLD.
In an earlier post of mine, I talk about not being very naturally gifted in the area of planning. The idea of picking one word to describe what I will pursue in the following year ranks right next to my planning abilities. But I'm going to CHANGE that this year. Inspired by Matt and others like him, I am going to give my year a new focus. It's hard to pick one word, so I have two I believe fit what I need and desire for 2019.
1. Broaden: expand to encompass more people, ideas or things.
2. Refine: remove impurities or unwanted elements, improve something by making small changes, make something more subtle and accurate.
Though these seem opposite, they form two sides of a coin for me.
There are thoughts, concepts, and ideas which do not come naturally to me. Some with which I do not agree, some I've ignored, some which are culturally foreign and therefore hard to relate, and others I simply have not encountered.
This past year, I have been introduced to many new ideas and thoughts from my #physed and #education colleagues. I have discovered within myself a growing desire to expand my knowledge of these areas of thought, even if I disagree with or do not readily understand them.
I have been challenged to look outside my lifelong "American" views. And I'm excited about it!
For the first time in my life, I'm happy to feel unsettled. I'm unsettled by what I don't know. Not afraid, just unsatisfied. I'm not content where I am in my journey. There are viewpoints and experiences not my own which are meaningful and full of insight.
For instance, I was listening to a podcast from Jorge Rodriguez, @PhysedNow. He was interviewing Gill Connell (@MovingSmartNow), an early childhood expert. Half the time, I had NO idea what she was talking about. But it all fascinated me. It reminded me that I have much to learn. And instead of tuning out, I listened a second time and then read more about it.
I read a Twitter thread recently that challenged my view on cooperative games we play during the Christmas season. One of the tweets from Mike Ginocola (@PhysedDepot) stated there are so many people in our country who do not celebrate it as the bulk of America does (aka how I celebrated Christmas all my life). The conversation blossomed. Jorge reminded us that the skills and values of cooperation can be taught regardless of what culture you are in. I so needed this! I was stuck in my own cultural bias and worse, didn't realize it.
I've also followed and read several posts from Nate Babcock and @ImSporticus. I challenge you to find deeper thinkers than these two! I have to come up for air often, but I'm always reminded how narrow my views are when reading their work.
While I will continue to seek great inspiration from my excellent #physed colleagues, I will seek out those whose views differ from my own. I want to seek to understand, even if I do not agree. There is much wisdom to be gained, and relationships to be formed.
I will continue to expose myself to these different and unknown views. I will listen, read, learn, and weigh it all in my mind. I will ask questions. I will investigate. I will share. I will have conversations. I will BROADEN my knowledge and views.
In realizing my lack of perspective and discovering my newfound desire to grow, I see another action that needs to take place.
Like the dross that floats to the top of silver during the refining process, I will seek to remove negative and ignorant thoughts.
I must also narrow my focus.
This past year has been the best I've had as a professional. I've been introduced to wonderful people on Twitter, the list being so long. I've had the chance to personally meet many of them. I was blessed to speak for a brief moment with Dr. Robert Pangrazi, a highly esteemed author of many books and articles on children and Physical Education. I am now seeking to help my state Physical Education association, INSHAPE. I'm blessed to be slated to moderate an #espechat in March. I've been asked to write a guest blog for a great web site. I have a great principal who supports me and my program. I am also part of a move to bring some much needed professional development to my geographic area. I've never been more excited to be involved in Physical Education!
Did you hear me mention my God, wife or kids in all of that? Nope, I didn't either. I must be careful to place all of my professional goals, great as they are, in their proper place. I would not have any good thing without the express blessing of my God. All of my professional accomplishments are worth NOTHING if I were to lose my family on account of them. I am fully supported by my wife in my endeavors, yet I must remember I'm married to her, NOT Physed! SHE is my bride, NOT any #physed or #espechat. Yet how easy is it to give time to that?
I will narrow my focus. I will be saying no to many chat sessions this year so I can spend time talking with my wife about what she is learning and experiencing in her life and days. I will leave my phone on the counter, so I can fully focus on my kids when we play. I will save any blogging or tweets for after bedtime, not every chance I get when I pass by the computer. I will keep my eyes on what is truly important. I will REFINE my life.
Like Matt said, "my ministry is where God calls me, not where I work." God has called me to have a family, and a job. I love both and am blessed by both.
By God's grace and power, I will BROADEN my perspectives and REFINE my life.
One thing I've learned from Twitter is that there are AMAZING people out there who love to share what they have learned and what they are teaching. Coming to Twitter and connecting with these people have shown me just how isolated I was for so long! Since connecting with them and others, my teaching and spirit have been revitalized in many ways.
Another thing that has been revealed to me is that my school's Physical Education program contains other isolated teachers. My personal and professional growth have shown me THIS CANNOT BE!
So I am setting out on a journey to unite anyone who is connected with the Physical Education of our students here at Blackhawk Christian School. This will include Administrators, Principals, Teachers, and Aides.
This journey is long overdue. The overall health of our students is paramount! We as Physical Educators are in a unique position to affect the entirety of a students experience at our schools, from preschool right through graduation. These students will make their own choices, to be sure. But what experiences and factors will they possess and weigh because of our touch on their lives?
I believe it can be done best if all the above-mentioned adults are buying in and communicating on a regular basis with one another. It's time this system exists here at Blackhawk. Do you have one in place? If not...
In the words of Extreme Makeover-Home Edition's Ty Pennington..."LET'S DO IT!!!!!!!!!"