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What Can I Do to Help 50 Million Strong by 2029 Succeed? (Part 1)

Posted 4 months ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

It’s been a couple of years since SHAPE America announced 50 Million Strong by 2029. If you are a SHAPE America member, you will have heard about 50 Million Strong. If you aren’t a member and would like to learn more I’ve written about 50 Million Strong in past Gopher blogs and on PHE America. You can also learn more about it on SHAPE America's website.

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50 Million Strong is a bold vision for the future of our profession. Similar to President Kennedy’s 1960’s courageous “moonshot” vision of getting a man safely to the moon and back within a decade, succeeding with 50 Million Strong is by no means guaranteed. In fact, success is unlikely if not all of us who teach physical education or health education fully support it. The question is how? What can you and I do?

50 Million Strong’s vision is for the physical education and health education professions to take leadership for changing the physical activity and health habits of America’s 50 million school-attending students within the next 12 years. It’s a daunting, if not mind-boggling, task. How can our profession possibly transform the behaviors of 50 million youngsters?

The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu reportedly wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Today, people talk the same way about climbing mountains or succeeding at anything. It’s a simple message: Don’t let yourself be put off by imagined problems. Get started, give it your best effort, and see how far you can get. 50 Million Strong is no different. We know it’s going to be hard. If it were easy, someone else would have already done it. They haven’t. When Kennedy spoke about going to the moon he said:

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

In thinking about succeeding with the vision of 50 Million Strong – making physically active lives and healthy choices the norm for future generations – there’s no one better prepared to lead this health revolution than us. No one. However, all of us must take that first critical step. So, if you teach health or physical education, here’s how you can start your journey.

  • First, don’t concern yourself thinking about 50 million students. Instead, think specifically about those that you personally teach. It’s probably a few hundred students each year. It’s this group you are responsible for, not the remaining millions. That’s someone else’s job. The way for 50 Million Strong to succeed is for each of us to achieve the vision of active and healthy youngsters with those that we teach. If all of us do this, 50 million students win.
     
  • Second, the starting point for any teacher who wants to support the 50 Million Strong vision is to commit. Pledge that starting tomorrow, you will do your very best to transform the physical activity and health habits of all of your students. Remembering ALL is critical here. Fortunately, some of your students will already live physically active lives and make mostly healthy choices. That’s great and a good beginning. However, your new mission must be to make this the norm for all of your students regardless of their family circumstance, opportunities, and challenges.
     
  • Third, succeeding with 50 Million Strong demands that you and I must prioritize what we do. It’s going to involve making some choices because there’s not enough time for us to do everything we’d like. 50 Million Strong identifies the main purpose for our teaching: Preparing our students with the skills, knowledge, desire, and motivation to lead physically active and healthy lives.

There’s no doubt that what we do can help our students with reading, writing, and math, prevent bullying, improve fitness and friendships, increase test scores, and much more. But that can’t be your main purpose if you are to have any chance of getting all your students motivated to be regularly physically active and healthy. For many teachers, this will take a change in thinking and acting. And probably the longer you’ve taught the harder it will be. But without making this change nothing else is going to change. Doing what we’ve done won’t get us different results.

Finding reasons not to make these changes is easy. Few school administrators see physical activity and health as their responsibility. Test scores and academic performance concerns keep them awake at night. This preoccupation with academics has led many of us off course. We’ve attempted to do too many things, done nothing exceptionally well, and struggled to get support for our programs.

We all know that physically active and healthy students do better at everything. Not just academics but socially and emotionally. If you did just this one thing well in your school, it would solve many of the challenges you and your students face. Your students would thrive and the importance of physical education and health education to your school administrators, board members, teachers, parents, students, and the community would become obvious.

Next time, some suggestions for programmatic and teaching changes you can make to advance your personal 50 Million Strong commitment.

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No matter your political preference, the results of the 2016 election surprised everyone. And while I don't claim to be a political pundit – why would I since pretty much every prediction was wrong – I believe physical and health educators should learn an important lesson from this recent election.

Regardless of what you might think about the qualifications of either candidate or the two parties they represent, what’s striking is how effective Mr. Trump was and how ineffective Mrs. Clinton was in capturing voting support.

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A few weeks ago (on PHE America), I noted the success that Mrs. Clinton's husband Bill had in his campaign many years ago. It's widely agreed that one of the great reasons for Mr. Clinton’s success was due to his campaign’s effective messaging. Among the many issues that then-candidate Bill Clinton could have discussed, for a variety of reasons, he chose to target the economy. The slogan, "It's the economy, stupid" became the strategic focus of Clinton and his staff.

Fast forward almost 25 years and what did we see in the recent election? Based on the results, it's clear that Mrs. Clinton's message did not capture the hearts, minds, and voting fingers of the electorate. In contrast — despite widely-held negative perceptions about the messenger — Mr. Trump's messaging proved effective.

What was the Trump message? As others are now reporting, it focused on distrust, dissatisfaction, and the urgency to change the Washington political environment. It didn't much matter what direction or topic Mr. Trump talked about, he repeatedly emphasized the need for change. And perhaps most importantly, he linked his change message to the lives of the voters. It worked.

What was Mrs. Clinton’s message? She spoke about many issues, all of which appealed to some but none that appealed to all. Many people couldn't see their lives changing for the better due to the Clinton promises. In contrast, despite concerns about the uncertain outcome of electing Mr. Trump, voters were assured of change. Unpredictable change perhaps, but change nonetheless, and it turned out to be incredibly effective messaging. So then, what can physical and health educators learn from the Trump victory?

Clearly, the public, and even many within our profession, aren’t clear about the purpose and value of what we do. Mired in confusion, it makes complete sense why we lack widespread public support or respect for our teaching. Ineffective messaging was both the root cause of the recent Clinton failure and the reason why our profession continues to struggle.

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try it out. Ask a neighbor or teacher to tell you what they see as the purpose of physical education. Ask five people and I'm betting you'll get very different responses, yet all related to student health and physical activity. Some might express alarm about the so-called obesity crisis, others will not, but what you and I know is that obesity is the more visible symptom of a sedentary society and a world in which making unhealthy choices is easier than making good ones.

So again, much like a broken record that repeats its refrain, I point out the value, indeed the simple brilliance, of SHAPE America's efforts to transform and elevate the profession through its commitment to the vision of 50 Million Strong: A vision of a society in which young people – through our instructional efforts – acquire the knowledge, skills, commitment, and desire to lead physically-active lives and make healthy lifestyle choices.

We are now in the second year of SHAPE America’s commitment to 50 Million Strong. Many state conferences have used 50 Million Strong as the event theme, but still as a profession, our message isn’t clear. Until you, I, and our colleagues with a single voice, shout out to the world that our goal is to prepare ALL students to live physically-active and healthy lives, we won’t capture the hearts, minds, and support of parents, the public, school administrators, and most importantly, our students. By now the winners and losers of the 2016 election clearly understand the consequences of choosing the right message and repeating it everywhere and to everyone. It’s a lesson we should learn too before it’s too late.

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National Standards: A Recipe, not Dessert

Posted 1 year ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

This summer, my wife got hooked on the delightfully polite Great British Baking Contest. According to Entertainment Weekly, the show has "wooed Americans largely for being what so much of American reality TV isn't—nice." Similar to other televised competitions, a group of enthusiastic and unknown amateurs are pitted against one another until they’re whittled down to a final winner. The British show however distinguishes itself by how graciously and respectfully it treats all participants. It's fun to watch and reminded me of the way many of us would like to see American youth sports organized—competitive but fun for everyone, win or lose. But beyond sports, the more I watched this show about baking, the more it made me think about our physical education national standards.

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For quite some time, I've debated with colleagues about the purpose and value of national standards.  Exactly three decades ago in 1986, NASPE appointed an Outcomes Committee to answer the question, “What should physically-educated students know and be able to do?”  The committee defined what a “physically-educated” person looked like.  Based on this definition, in 1995 NASPE published the first “National Standards for Physical Education.” In 2013, the standards were revised and embraced the term "physical literacy." 

Since we’ve had national standards with us for quite some time, it’s reasonable to ask the question, “So what?”  “What’s been the impact?” One of the early arguments for having national physical education standards was to align us with other curriculum subjects. Having national standards showed others that our subject matter was more than just organizing and playing games and sports. The standards were a way to help physical educators understand what they should be teaching and also to change public perceptions. So to reflect, how successful have they been?

Clearly they have not completely transformed either the profession or public perception of the value of physical education. Who of us can’t point to examples of poor or non-teaching by colleagues who are fully aware of the national standards? And all of us are familiar with PE programs and positions that have been eliminated or reduced over the past 20-30 years. It’s reasonable to argue that we would be in an even worse position without national standards and this may be true, but the evidence is pretty clear, national standards have not proven to be a silver bullet— they haven't resolved many of the professional challenges we continue to face today.

Which brings me back to the Great British Baking Contest. These aspiring bakers face various tasks; some of these test their creativity and imagination while others challenge contestants to follow a recipe. Interestingly, regardless of the task, the ultimate assessment of success is pretty clear cut: do the baked items look and taste good?  Surprisingly, there is little debate or disagreement about what constitutes “good.” Absent rubrics, a couple of judges taste-test the items, express their opinion, and everyone, including the contestants, nod in agreement.

So what struck me while watching this drama unfold was both the lack of ambiguity in judging the outcome and also the simplicity. Success in baking was self-evident. There were no disputes, and I think the same is true in physical education. The outcome of successful physical education teaching is whether or not students are choosing to be physically active in their lives. Achieving national standards is NOT the most important outcome we are seeking. National standards are like baking recipes, follow them and there’s a good chance you’ll get the right outcome. But, it’s not guaranteed. Simply teaching to standards yet failing to inspire students to be physically active is akin to following recipe instructions but not turning out good-looking or tasty treats.  No cause for celebration in either case.

It worries me to hear colleagues place so much emphasis on teaching to standards because I fear it neglects and risks missing the real purpose and value of physical education teaching. I get that our national standards provide excellent teaching guidelines, no dispute there, but if as teachers we allow ourselves to be consumed with assessments of standards, it’s easy for us to confuse successful teaching with successful student outcomes. Just as with baking, the success that we should be seeking and indeed the success that people outside of the profession value, is whether or not our students actually are healthy and physically active. 

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As Physical Educators Sow, so Shall They Reap

Posted 1 year ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

People don't value what they don't understand. And people don't understand physical education!

Doug Hallberg, Matt Bristol, and Brian Godfrey are all talented and passionate physical education teachers. A few of you might know them, but I somehow doubt it. In fact, the three of them live fairly close to one another, and I'm not even sure they all know each other! Which is a shame, because they all have similar success stories to tell.

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Back in Minneapolis as the SHAPE America President, I had the privilege of opening the 2016 National Convention Wednesday General Session. In a beautiful new auditorium before an estimated crowd of 2,000-plus physical education and health education professionals, I described the progress we've made on our commitment to succeeding with, "50 Million Strong by 2029."

I shared that SHAPE America was planning to create and publicize a series of case studies: Success stories showcasing physical and health education. As you and I know, far too many people – especially decision-makers – don’t see much reason to support physical and health education. They don't value what we do. Ever wondered why this is the case? Maybe it’s because too many adults had lousy PE experiences as kids? It’s too bad if that’s true, but even so, that’s not something we can go back and fix. But I think it's something else. Something relatively easy to fix. I’m convinced that today’s school officials and decision-makers are simply unaware of the positive impact the nation’s physical educators are having on kids’ lives.

The case studies I shared in Minneapolis highlighted four success stories of good things happening in physical education and health education today. There was a learn-how-to-ride-a-bike program in Washington DC. A high school “Outdoor Academy” in Maple Valley, Washington that integrated physical education with science and language arts. A study in Texas that showed academic performance and behavior improved with more recess. And a health education program in Milwaukee that was succeeding in reducing teen pregnancies. You can read about each of these on the SHAPE America website. All are impressive.

The thinking behind creating these case studies and inviting teachers to contribute more was the urgency for physical and health educators to do a much better job of marketing ourselves. It's time for all of us to realize that people don't value what they don't understand. And people don't understand physical education! The vast majority of PE teachers are multi-talented and passionate about what they do, but horrendous at informing others about the benefits of what they do. Not only are we marketing duds, but we’re abysmally ignorant of its critical importance. Of course why should we be good at marketing or self-promotion? In all likelihood, it was never part of our college professional preparation.

Contrast this with the charismatic Phil Lawler. Many of you will remember Phil who sadly passed away from cancer in 2010. Phil was not only an amazingly innovative physical educator but also a marketing genius. Single-handedly, Phil probably generated more public interest and national understanding about the value and importance of physical education than the rest of us combined.  Together with his teaching colleague Paul Zientarski, Phil created his vision of a world-class physical education program in the Naperville, Illinois School District. And he wasn’t shy about sharing his success with the world!

Naperville Middle School quickly became a mecca for physical education pilgrims from around the world in search of a new 21st-century vision for PE teaching. For years Naperville was a media magnet. The national press routinely highlighted the district’s physical education program. It was featured on the popular Supersize Me DVD as a solution for the obesity crisis. Phil and Paul were quoted everywhere and the Naperville program cast a light on the potential for quality public school physical education. With Phil at the helm it would have been unimaginable, almost sacrilegious for anyone to propose program or position cuts in Naperville.

Not so with the rest of us. Most of us live in a world where bad things do happen to good people. Who among us hasn’t had the budget axe trim away teaching colleagues and decimate programs? Worthy and productive programs. Talented people who were doing good things for students. It should never have happened but it did. Want to know why? It’s pretty simple. For years we have been the architects of our own demise. Around the country thousands of great physical education success stories are being written daily that no one knows about. Which brings me back to Doug, Matt, and Brian.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend SHAPE America’s Eastern District Conference in Atlantic City. Several hundred teachers from 11 states were there. Doug, Matt, and Brian were among dozens of outstanding presenters. Doug demonstrated new ways to connect elementary and middle school students with the latest heart rate technology. Matt, together with his school principal, Herve Pelletier, described an amazing school-wide bike program that not only teaches riding skills, but also connects biking with student behavior. Brian explained how he successfully fund raised, got Burton® to donate equipment, and then created a program to give all of his elementary-aged students the chance to learn snowboarding skills both in class and out on the hills.

What all three of these teachers shared in common were that programs and teaching greatly deserving recognition within and beyond their local communities. But few of you know anything about Doug, Matt, Brian. And of course they in turn know little to nothing about what you’re doing. In honesty, we all know dozens of teaching colleagues who are doing great things that are largely unknown and unrecognized. It’s as if we’re members of an immense secret society whose accomplishments we’ve sworn not to reveal. Is there really any wonder why outsiders don’t respect us?

While I can understand teachers being reluctant to brag or be boastful – no one likes braggarts - it makes absolutely no sense for physical educators to conceal their successes. This self-deprecating behavior is the very reason we’re not respected and in honesty it’s not something to be proud about. In fact it’s downright selfish. Why would we not want to share and help others learn from us, or for us to be able to pick up innovative ideas from teaching colleagues? Isn’t that how all of us can improve? Even worse, neglecting to share and publicize good news stories is responsible for our poor public image. If we want school boards, superintendents, principals, legislators, parents, and all others to support us they have to know our successes! We must give them a reason to respect us if we ever hope to change public support for what we do.

So here’s my challenge to you. What is your success story? It can be something that you are doing, or, you can identify a colleague whose work deserves showcasing. Whichever you choose, it’s time for YOU to step up, take responsibility, and share the good news.

SHAPE America is waiting to hear from you and embrace your success. Simply go to the SHAPE America 50 Million Strong website, complete and submit the case study form. It’s not hard and will put the program and teachers you showcase on the national stage. That’s pretty nice publicity to share with your school administrators, school board, community, and parents. Not worthy? Let others be the judge.

And, in case you have any doubts, ask yourself this question, “If you won’t do it, who will?”

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Physical Education: A Foreign World

Posted 1 year ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

What, I wonder, would a space alien visiting Earth think about the current state of American physical education?

Reading through past Gopher blog entries, perusing professional publications, attending workshops, conferences, or conventions, what’s most important to us jumps out clearly: If only the quality of teaching improved, all would be well with physical education. Reluctantly, I feel obliged to disagree and have to confess that it’s worrying to see myself an outlier.

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As I argued in a previous Gopher blog post, I don’t see hoards of distressed parents complaining about the quality of their children’s physical education teaching. Where are they? Sure there are exceptions. Places where either poor teaching or non-teaching leaves parents questioning the value of having their kids in physical education classes. But mostly, I’d argue that the majority of parents think little about public school physical education.

Physical education was a class most of them “took,” in many cases endured, and in a few instances likely hated. But for the vast majority, PE was hardly something they cared about much then or bother much to think about now. In essence, physical education probably neither then nor now warrants much of a blip on their school-issue radar.

If I’m right, then all the hard work, all the devotion to improvement, all the caring and sharing, all the planning, and all the urging for more effective teaching that I see so passionately pursued today isn’t going to be enough to guarantee a future for the profession tomorrow. It’s not that the what’s happening is wrong. On the contrary, it’s fantastic and commendable. The explosive growth in instructional information sharing online is wonderful. The problem is that it’s almost totally targeting things that are NOT important to parents, school administrators, legislators and the general public. Put another way, what physical educators seem to care about the most, mostly are of concern only to physical educators.

If you step back and think about it, what do parents really care about when it comes to schools? It’s not enhancing the professional lives of their children’s teachers but bettering the lives of their kids. Putting all of the outside-of-the-profession groups together, when it comes to thinking about kids and schools there’s one thing worrying them above all others and it’s unrelated to academics. The single most important thing every parent surely wants more than anything for their child is for them to enjoy good health. Yes, everyone would love to see all students excel academically or perform some extraordinary skill, but absent good health, what’s the point?

What an incredible opportunity this is for the physical education profession! Something that the public cares about more than anything for kids also happens to be our raison d’etre – our true purpose. Who among our teachers, bloggers, and session presenters didn’t first choose to teach physical education because they wanted to get young people to enjoy playing and moving and living healthy? Isn’t that where we all began our professional journey?

If you think about it, we all could have chosen many things to do with our lives, jobs offering more money and less stress, but instead selected PE teaching. We started out wanting to change kids lives, to help them enjoy our love of moving, and to build a lifestyle foundation they’d benefit from.  Most of us still want the same today regardless of whether we work directly with students in schools or in colleges helping to prepare the next generation of teachers.  We and the public want the same thing. But sadly there’s a disconnect. And it’s this disconnect in messaging that explains why outside of our professional choir, we too often don’t get much respect.

Think about this year’s Super Bowl commercials. Companies invested millions for seconds worth of product promotion. Notice what they almost all did NOT do? Rarely did TV audiences learn much about the actual products being touted. Instead, utilizing a mixture of humor, empathy, adventure or a combination of all, Super Bowl commercials were cleverly designed to grab our attention. They spoke less to us about details or company promotion and instead struck at our emotions. To things we cared about. Millions were spent carefully crafting messages designed to be sticky. And for us to go forward that’s exactly what we’ve got to do.

No one, and certainly not me, is disinterested in advancing professional practice. Heck, it’s what I’ve mostly tried to do for many decades. But lately I’ve come to realize that simply preaching to the choir isn’t going to increase our supporters. We have what people want but are not doing a good job speaking their language. We have to do what every one of the current presidential candidates is striving to do – some clearly better than others - connect personally with our audience. And it’s kids’ health that has to be our focus.

This is what SHAPE America’s 50 Million Strong by 2029 commitment is all about. As the soon-to-be outgoing President, my plea to you is to understand that for you and the profession to move forward, you must start to look at everything you do through the lens of getting America’s students healthy. And you have to start doing a much better job of communicating this commitment to the people around you. Unless, and until, the public understands that our purpose as physical (and health) educators is to get kids moving and making healthy lifestyle choices, we will continue to struggle. Teaching better isn’t the BIG problem facing you.  Your priority must be to tell others that what you do is benefiting all kids and of course providing evidence that you are actually achieving it.

Obviously, we are a long way from this currently. A space alien watching our communications today would be surprised to hear me suggest that getting kids healthy is what physical education is all about. Fortunately, with close to a quarter of a million physical educators spread around the country change is quite doable. But there’s no time to wait. Leading the way isn’t going to be a national association. It’s got to be one of you. And specifically I ask, “Why not YOU?”

My prediction is that someone or maybe a few physical educators will very soon seize this focus on getting all of the students in their school physically active and healthy. When that happens, if it’s true that active and healthy kids do better academically, imagine the impact. We’ll hear parents rave about how healthy their kids are and how well they are doing with their studies. The media will swarm where schools and students are truly succeeding. School boards everywhere will wonder the secret and want their physical educators to join the revolution. It’s going to happen, so again, I ask, “Why wait? Why not YOU?”

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Are We Fiddling While Rome is Burning?

Posted 1 year ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

Legend has it that the Roman emperor, Nero, played the lyre while a great fire enveloped Rome in AD 64. Centuries later, the “fiddling while Rome is burning” charge is popularly directed at people who preoccupy themselves with trivial matters while ignoring potential crises.

As first a public school physical education teacher and later a university-based teacher educator, I’ve spent most of my working life trying to be a positive professional role-model and help others excel as teachers. I’ve immersed myself attempting to understand “best” teaching practices. I’ve studied and thought much about curriculum issues. I got intrigued enough about assessment to create a popular video. And I’ve tried hard to comprehend what was indeed different between traditional and “new” physical education programs. Now, looking back I can see that I’ve learned a lot and maybe even made a difference in the lives of some of my former students. But sadly, I haven’t seen the sort of professional transformation I’d have liked.

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Years ago, public school physical educators didn’t get much respect. What we did during the day wasn’t viewed especially important by our teaching colleagues or school administrators. In elementary schools we served to create planning time for classroom teachers. At secondary levels we were valued mostly for our after-school athletic coaching. What students learned from us wasn’t considered especially important. As long as we kept kids busy and out of trouble most administrators were happy enough. The expectations held for us were low and we had no trouble meeting them.

But then things changed. For years, critics had bemoaned the lack of evidence about what schools were actually achieving. Where else in life they reasoned was it acceptable to be employed without needing to show results? They questioned this sort of “getting paid for showing up” mentality. And it gained traction. Accountability became a trendy term and legislators began pressuring schools to show what their students were learning.

Physical educators – somewhat reluctantly I’d argue – joined in. Notwithstanding a longstanding history of mostly assessing students on attendance, participation, attitude, and physical fitness, we raised our game. We created quizzes and folders, portfolios and projects. It was impressive especially when accompanied by teaching that looked different from the “drill and kill” militaristic style that characterized physical education in far too many adult minds. Things were good. School administrators were happy to see us assessing even though they rarely questioned what. Kids were happy to do more than team sports. Our jobs seemed secure. Life probably would have stayed that way but for the unanticipated national financial crises and the ensuing economic recession.

When the nation’s economic markets crumbled everything changed. Now, in addition to a focus on school accountability, school funding diminished. With fewer dollars to spend, schools had to choose between what to support and what to drop. Not surprisingly, the so-called core subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic rose to the top. All else sank. And so began more than a decade of declining support for physical education in K-12 public education.

In recent years, there have been ups and downs. Some places we’ve seen hiring while in others the replacement of physical educators with physical-activity touting commercial entities. The physical activity-fitness-brain association has probably helped us, but again – students don’t need college trained physical education teachers to organize physical activity. National concern about kids’ becoming increasingly sedentary and making unhealthy life style choices has grown. But supporting and expanding the physical education profession has not been recognized as the solution.

And so, while we –in our professional literature and even in these blogs – debate the best way to do this or that, discuss the latest gadgets, or get excited about the newest technology, I can’t help but feel that around us Rome is indeed burning. We live in this closeted world believing ourselves immune from the tidal changes sweeping across and transforming the world outside. I’m reminded that nothing lasts forever. Our profession won’t either unless we start attending to the critical challenges threatening our future.

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Whatever Happened to Old What's His Name?

Posted 2 years ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

I need help. Well, actually, you do too! Even if perhaps you don’t realize it.

Although we may not know one another, the fact you’re reading this says a lot about you. You want to teach physical education well. The impact your teaching has on the kids in your school concerns you. You like learning new things and you’re willing to try new ideas. In all likelihood, you’re a member of your state professional association. You like attending conferences, hanging out and chatting with teaching colleagues. You’ve probably presented and maybe been recognized by others as a skilled teacher.

Physical education teaching for you is not just a job. It’s a way of life. You don’t seek out ways to improve because you have to. Rather, it’s a choice you make every day. I’d be surprised if you even think much about making these choices. It’s more like a habit. Not a lot different from brushing your teeth. It’s just you. It’s who you are and what you want to be. Doing all of these things enriches your life and brings joy to your being.  You are exceptional. Sadly, you are also the exception.

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You see, far too few of your colleagues feel or behave the same way as you about teaching physical education. They don’t do what you do. And this frankly, is a bit puzzling.

If you think about it, most of us started in this profession the same way. We learned to move and moved to learn. It was fun to play games. We loved to be physically active, learn skills, and play sports. As young adults we decided that we wanted to share this passion with children and teens. Teaching physical education was an obvious career choice. College courses prepared us with the skills and knowledge to change kids’ lives. To get them as excited as we were about being physically active and making healthy lifestyle choices. Each and every one of us began our first teaching job knowing the difference between good, bad, and non-teaching. And I suspect that most of us when we graduated felt ready for the challenge. But then something inexplicable happened. I don’t know what it was but the impact was plain to see.

Instead of changing kids’ lives, it was our teaching colleagues who changed. They took a different path. Almost immediately they sought out the “easy button” and they’ve remained on the same path their entire careers. Today, they just do enough to stay employed but little more. They embarrass us. Gone is any interest in truly meeting the physical activity and health needs of their students. Sure, they go through the motions of teaching although mostly just keeping kids busy, maybe even having fun, but there’s little learning. Lesson planning is ignored and curricula decisions are mostly determined by season and weather. They not only aren’t interested in learning more, but also consciously choose to teach less. Day in day out, week after week, year after year, their teaching changes little. A career of pitiful mediocrity evidenced by a landscape of thousands of missed opportunities to make the world a better place for hundreds of kids. What a terrible waste! Of their own lives as well as a cruel injustice to the children whose trust and futures they betray.

 

Whatever happened? I wish I knew because “old what’s his name” is also destroying our profession. Non-performing physical education teachers are giving you and I a bad name. Just recently on SHAPE America’s Exchange a teacher asked for advice on how to respond to an administrator who didn’t value physical education teaching. I commented that the problem wasn’t the administrator’s but OURS. We are responsible and accountable for the bad impressions others have of what we do. There’s a reason people don’t respect what we do. Badly behaving PE teaching colleagues aren’t just hurting themselves or their kids, their poor performance threatens your job, my job, and our profession’s future.

What can be done? Sadly today’s schools simply aren’t set up to wean out ineffective and unmotivated teachers. Confronting these individuals may be an option but it’s not easy when we often have to work with them daily. And it’s presently unrealistic to expect school administrators to hold underperforming physical educators accountable when we’ve done such a lousy job of making our value clear. There’s much to be done and if your career in physical education still has many years ahead it’s a topic that should concern you. Personally, I’m convinced that SHAPE America’s “50 Million Strong by 2029” target  (check out my previous blog post) can be the impetus to change the profession if you and I seize the opportunity it provides. But in honesty, as I started out this essay, I need help. I’m sadly confident that you know “old what’s his name.” Tell me, please, what happened to him? 

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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.

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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 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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What's Up with SHAPE America's 50 Million Strong by 2029?

Posted 2 years ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

Did you attend the recent SHAPE America National Convention in Seattle? If so, you witnessed a special and very significant announcement! If not, don't worry, we will fill you in!

At the convention, brochures, poster boards, and temporary tattoos contained the words "50 Million Strong by 2029." Well, what exactly does that mean? You'll have to keep reading to find out!

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This fall, students entering preschool will graduate in 2029: Fourteen years from now. SHAPE America has set the goal that all of these students will be physically active and healthy. If you think about it, it is a brave, bold, and audacious goal. The same description was used when in 1961 President John Kennedy announced his "moonshot" goal: To put a man on the moon within the decade and bring him safely back to earth. At that time there was no certainty of success. In fact failure was much more likely. America had yet to put a man in space and trailed the Soviet Union in the space race. But Kennedy's announcement inspired the nation. And in just 8 years, Neil Armstrong stood on the moon's surface.

We all know that today too many of the students in our schools are far from being physically active and healthy. Worsening obesity and the associated negative health consequences will have a catastrophic social, economic, military, and emotional impact on the nation's future if left unabated. That is why so many groups outside of our schools are anxious to turn things around. While their interest is good for our students, we should ask ourselves how it might impact the health and physical education professions. We have seen examples from around the country of outside groups entering schools, running programs, and justifying HPE program and position cuts. It’s time for us to decide how to respond.

We can choose to do nothing and let our future be determined by others. This may be the easiest but it is not the wisest choice. It risks marginalizing us further until we retreat into our gymnasiums and understandably be referred to as "gym teachers." Alternatively, we can take responsibility for creating the foundation for future success. We need to recognize that no one is better-qualified or situated to get America's youth physically active and healthy. Present in almost every one of the nation’s 100,000 schools, approximately 200,000 health and physical education teachers have more than a decade to guide America's 50 million students towards healthy living.

But where's the pride? We are more than just a delivery service. We all know that it is insufficient to simply get kids active and imagine that this is going to transform their lives. We all know that it is more important what children choose to do when they are not with us that is more important than what happens in our classrooms and gyms. In contrast to others, we alone have the opportunity to develop personal relationships with every one of the 50 million students and to help them see the relevance and value of health and physical activity.

So the question remains, "Will we do this?" Will we rise up to the challenge and recognize that it is insufficient to merely provide opportunities for our students to learn skills and be physically active. Many people diet but few actually lose weight. It's not good enough to teach but ignore whether or not our students are actually learning. And this is where the "50 million strong by 2029" comes in. We need to do whatever it takes to deliver on the promise of getting every – and I mean every – student in our schools physically active and healthy by 2029. Sooner if possible.

It's not going to be easy. If it were we would already be doing it. And no one is saying that the nation’s health education and physical education teachers aren't trying. But for us to succeed we must accept that "trying" is not good enough. We don't need to work harder but we do need to work smarter. We need to think differently about our jobs and be willing to work towards change. Schools are the perfect location for us to get all of America’s students physically active and healthy. They are with us almost the entire day. It's not hard to imagine ways in which we can change their behaviors through modifying the learning environment. Already, great things are occurring around the country with the introduction of active transportation to and from school, and before school, during school, and after school physical activities. But starting today, all of us must get on this bus if we are to succeed. Each one of us has to be the catalyst for change. Impacting the behavior of 50 million people sounds daunting. It doesn't need to be. Think about it at the school level. We are going to succeed one teacher and one school at a time. I invite and encourage you to be a part of this movement. These can be the best of times for the health and physical education professions.

More information on SHAPE America's 50 Million Strong by 2029!

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SHAPE America and the Importance of Professionalism

Posted 3 years ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

As you probably know, this year’s biggest professional event was the national AAHPERD convention in St. Louis. Any kind of convention or professional meeting is something I eagerly anticipate and get on my schedule. It's not so much the presentations or formal meetings I look forward to - although for the most part these are fun – but the people I get to meet. Turns out the more I go, the bigger my group of professional friends develops. And chatting with people about what they're doing professionally (and sometimes personally) is really the best part. It gets you recharged and reenergized and more often than not gives you something new to try when you return home. In honesty, I don't get how so many physical and health education teachers never go to professional events; in fact intentionally choose to avoid them. How do they keep inspired? How do they keep up with what's new? And how do they truly serve the best interests of the students they teach?

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I understand being professionally involved can be expensive. But I also know that it can be done because every year I see the same teaching colleagues from around the country negotiate ways to get their school districts or universities to help fund them. Seems that where there is a will there really is a way. And not surprisingly these same people are the ones who are most active professionally, making presentations, advocating, and generally inspiring their colleagues and the public by what they do in their classrooms.

 

Now, I'm not suggesting that good things are not happening in the classrooms and gyms of the thousands of teaching colleagues who choose not to be professionally involved, but I do find it shortsighted. Every month on pelinks4u we report news from around the nation of PE and health program and position reductions and cuts. In too many places we just “don't get no respect.” Unfortunately, we have to ask ourselves, "Why should others respect what we do if we don’t bother to share the good news?" It's one thing for us to know that our students are learning a lot from our teaching, and an entirely different (and often false) thing to assume that others know about it. It's like a business creating a great product and not advertising. You can imagine the consequences. But this explains why it's so important for all health and physical educators to get professionally involved in addition to teaching well.

 

We may not need to teach the world to sing but we sure do need to promote ourselves and our profession. This involves public relations and marketing in our schools and supporting our state and national professional associations. If you've never been to your state legislature or Capitol Hill, here's what happens. Each and every day a procession of lobbyists and special interest advocates stops by the offices of your elected legislators. They try to persuade these key decision-makers to support their interests. And of course the more often legislators hear the same message the more they listen. What does this mean for you and me? Simply stated it means that if we don't have a seat at the table we find ourselves on the menu! No champions to defend us or support what we do. It becomes a self-fulfilling behavior and explains the perennial struggle we face for professional respect.

 

So, in conclusion, if you aren't already a member of SHAPE-America (the new name for AAHPERD/NASPE), or your state professional association I encourage you for your own self-interest to join both. These are the groups who do their best to represent us in our states and capital. They try to do what most of us don't have time or expertise to do. But they need your support. There's a reason that AARP, the NRA, and others wield such power: Membership. Size does make a difference when it comes to influence. Sadly, less than 10% of the people presently teaching health and physical education belong to AAHPERD or their state professional association. Maybe you are one of them? If you think about it, the cost is trivial in comparison to what it would mean to you, your family, and your colleagues to lose our jobs. For us to move forward successfully into the 21st century we all need to be TEAM supporters. Please join us. Together we can do great things.

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