Keeping the “Physical” in Physical Education

Children running in grass field with flowersI was lucky enough to get on the phone recently with an old mentor and former superintendent of mine, you know, one of those leaders that you loved being around, learned a ton from, and just plain trusted. He had a saying that was way ahead of its time in the 90’s and rings even more true today when related to Wellness and Physical Education. During administrative or curriculum meetings when we would be setting district, school, and department goals, he would always whisper to me, “Remember Peter, don’t let folks take the “physical” out of Physical Education!”  That left a long-standing impact on my teaching career in wellness and PE. For the rest of my career, I battled to maintain equal (or longer) PE/Fitness classes and rallied to keep movement as a cornerstone for virtually every class I or my colleagues taught. The challenge continues to this day. 

Keep Students Moving

That saying seems so much more important now. We live in the 21st century where technology and data reign supreme in American education, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that notion. Everywhere you go in education, someone says, “Show me the data!” Data-driven methods are powerful in student learning and overall forward progress. I am a former principal of a level 1 MCAS school (Massachusetts) and you can bet we took our data, overarching goals, standards, and academic time on learning very, very seriously. But when I was a principal, I was also incredibly protective of our PE/Wellness Teachers to make sure that we didn’t bog them down with all sorts of unnecessary or “busy” academic work just for the sake of appearing to be more academic in nature. Don’t get me wrong: reading, math, science, and many other disciplines can and certainly should be woven into the lessons and curricula, but we need to also stay true to the core value of Physical Education and Wellness… and that is movement!

 The Heart and Soul of Physical Education

Activity should be the heart and soul of just about every Physical Education/Wellness/Fitness class today in the USA. Think about it, we are sadly evolving into one of the most sedentary first-world countries on the planet and we are already one of the most overweight countries. Please don’t misread my message, I love America, but we need to keep our kids moving! As each decade passes, it seems as though kids are playing outside less and are decreasingly involved with clubs and sports that keep them active; the trending data is serious and dangerous. That makes it all the more imperative that we keep the kids moving in our PE classes.

Kids Aren’t Getting Activity Outside of PE

Think about this, when is the last time you drove for more than 10 minutes and saw a group of kids playing outside somewhere? Activity outside of school is almost becoming a thing of the past. So with that in mind, our PE classes NEED to keep kids moving, “We can’t take the physical out of Physical Education!” We have to walk a fine line between the academic world and the movement world. Every second that we can be creative and plan for movement in a lesson should be utilized and held sacred. Introductions, attendance, feedback, transitions, summary sessions, wrap-ups, etc., all can and should be held to some sort of movement standard in our classes and schools. Some sort of movement needs to be embedded in every moment of our Physical Education classes. For many of our students, PE class could be the most active part of their day and we need to make it count. So please, hold the line and don’t let 21st century education “take the physical out of Physical Education!” Movement is far too important to our students. 

How does your district operate on this topic? Are you moving toward more or less movement? 

Peter is the Director of Athletics at Milford Public Schools in Milford, MA. Previously he was the Elementary Principal & K-12 Wellness Coordinator in Canton, MA and was the Massachusetts K-12 Wellness Director of the Year in 2011-2012.

Peter is the Director of Athletics at Milford Public Schools in Milford, MA. Previously he was the Elementary Principal & K-12 Wellness Coordinator in Canton, MA and was the Massachusetts K-12 Wellness Director of the Year in 2011-2012.

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