Our goal as teachers is seemingly simple, we want the students to learn. To me, being a better teacher involves understanding learning better. Students construct an understanding and knowledge of the world by experience and reflection on and of those experiences. As teachers we should listen to the students voice to better understand them, their prior experiences and their expectations.

Keeping all this in mind, I think it is important to start at the start, meaning the beginning of the school year. Establishing a classroom culture and parameters for behaviour is a standard practice for most teachers to kick off each school year. Too often though, these are delivered top down as a set of rules of the teacher or the school, that are imparted to each new class based on their own experiences and values.

If we value how the children think they will succeed then we should be listening to their voice when setting the class culture. This is where a ‘Class Agreement’ or ‘Essential Agreement’ comes in. A set of student-centred expectations that let the class and the teacher collectively set the culture for the upcoming year.

When undertaking this activity take time to share your own beliefs about learning (inclusion, mindfullness, embodiment, growth mindset, failure etc), revisit the school’s mission or vision for a learner statement and then brainstorm how the students feel about all of them. When all is said and done and a class agreement has been reached, continually circle back to the document you have created together. “Live it, don’t laminate it!”, they say. They are wise.

Here are some common understandings that I find we always settle upon.

A) The four pillars of respect

  1. Peer – This takes into consideration such traits as empathy, compassion, international / open mindedness, collaboration, communication, personal space, leadership and encouragement.
  2. School – equipment and environment.
  3. Teacher – faculty and ancillary staff
  4. Self – courage, preparedness, resilience, growth mindset, problem solving, inquiry, versatility and reflection.

NB. Safety (physical and emotional) I feel, is encompassed by these pillars but some may like to more explicit with that.

B) Fun

Hebb’s Rule is a behaviour theory of associative learning essentially stating, in simplest terms, that cells that fire together, wire together. We create a close association between two feelings or activities which could be viewed stand alone. For example how the smell of turkey could make you think of happy times with your family, because of Thanksgiving or how a particular song has the ability to transport you to a specific time and place that you can so vividly see and feel. What that means to the PE teacher is that we must wrap the acquisition of physicality or movement literacy in fun. Try this experiment – ask a group of colleagues about their own experiences in PE and their feelings toward the subject since then. I hope you get a nice balance of positive and negative responses.

C) Challenge

Learning begins at the limit of our experience or capability. If a PE program is not (appropriately) challenging its students, then it becomes something that is simply ‘done’. What is missing is the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’s next’. We always establish that is the students right to be challenged. This also keeps the PE teacher accountable and mindful of their practice.