Reach Outside of the 4 Walls of the Gym
During my 20 year career as a PE teacher in Vinton, Iowa, my school would hold an open house the first few weeks of school. Parents and their children would go from class to class to hear from the teachers about what they could expect their children to be learning in the coming year. For me, as the Physical Education teacher, I would put all the different types of balls in the middle of the gym. There were basketballs, volleyballs, softballs, footballs, and wiffle balls, etc. I had nothing that was unusual or futuristic in my curriculum design. It was as if time had stood still for fifty years. I was prepared by my college to play games in physical education. I expected to have a very limited budget. After all, why would an administrator think I would need more money for my program that involved playing one game after another, using the various balls that every physical educator had used in the past? Here’s a game, there’s a game, everywhere a game, game?
How often has your physical education program been featured in the newspaper or on the local TV station? Here’s how to show your community the strength of your program now that you “don’t play games” but teach physical literacy and active movement.
Cross Country Skiing
One way I started to make a difference was through cross-country skiing. I was introduced to cross-country skiing by a friend in my second year of teaching. I could not believe the enjoyment it gave me. Since winters in Iowa usually involve loads of snow, I had never taken my physical education classes outside throughout the winter. Then the thought crossed my mind: “Imagine if I had enough cross-country ski equipment to outfit an entire class?” It was the first time I had the vision to see what a difference it would make if we could add this outdoor exercise to our program. Where would I get the money? Where would I store the equipment? What if we could get the parents involved? What difference would it make for the attitudes and enjoyment of our students and entire community?
I found a company that sold cross country skiis in Maine. I called them and told them that I wanted to get skiis for my PE program and the community. The owner said that for every five pairs of skiis I sold to those in our community, he would give me one pair free for the school. Okay, I can do that. I can get both my community members and students involved and start a cross country ski club!
I ended up selling 100 sets of skiis the first year! I then rented the 20 free sets of skiis this owner sent me. I rented them out on the weekends for $5 and over Christmas, I charged $10. For the first time, I was generating money for my physical education program and the community was involved by offering their support. I ended up not just teaching my students how to cross country ski, but also the adults in our community.
What I didn’t imagine was that the newspaper would come out to take pictures of my classes skiing during the day in physical education. They would do a story on this every year. The local TV station began to also come out to our school and do a feature story on our program! I can still see the front page picture of 50 middle school students skiing across the fields, on a sunny winter day, next to the school.
This experience of not supervising games but rather teaching lifetime sports, like cross country skiing, changed my PE program profoundly. While my attitude toward physical education changed, so did my students. They began to look at our class differently. They loved going outside during the school day and they fell in love with skiing. The parents were excited to see their kids active throughout the winter. Our community members loved the classes we offered on Saturdays to teach them how to ski. We had several community members who donated additional resources to our physical education program. They said this carry over, lifetime activity was awesome for kids and parents and grandparents, who could do this every winter, together.
In the end, I realized that it was up to me to reach outside the walls of the gym. As a PE teacher, I got to share our PE program as we made our way into the hearts and minds of our community.
And my PE program only continued to improve as the years went on after the introduction of wearable technology. I decided that my school would be one of the first schools in the country to apply them in PE. Adding the visual evidence of exercise using data and heart rate profiles gave my students and their parents accountability. Combining cross country skiing and effort measurement skyrocketed my program. My program now had the heart rate evidence that made individualizing exercise for every single student possible.
We were thought leaders in physical education by individualizing every student’s heart zones and you can be to! Think about how to change or improve your PE program starting with your innovative energy and determination. Continue to seek out new directions for your physical education program by reaching outside of the four walls of your gym.