This will be the first in a series of blog posts where I attempt to answer the ‘What, Why and How’ questions I get asked about using movement as the central tenet to the way I teach PE. I realise we are folks of ‘action’ and many already want the ‘how’ but for better understanding (and possibly to create some suspense) I will start with the ‘why’.
I’ve been a PE teacher for over 20 years but I think I’ve only really been paying attention to my practice for about the past 10. That’s so very, very sad, and within this blog post lies the apology to all the students I taught before that. It was at that time, 10 years ago, when I began a movement practice that forced me to start thinking about purposeful movement and positioning and its connections to a broad range of applications. Prior to this, the vast majority of my physical endeavours had been about specific applications of physicality, in other words ‘sport’. Something not so magical happens when you hit your mid-30’s and you realise you cannot compete at the level you once could and nagging little annoyances like complete ACL ruptures and rotator cuff tears get in the way of a happy and fulfilling life.
Sport is an extrinsic construct, something we apply our body to. The intent of the multi-sport model in Physical Education is that we are supposed to gain a basic level of proficiency in a broad range of activities, thus improving well-being by giving children the option to pursue specific interest in activities that they have been introduced to, creating a ‘life-long’ involvement in physical activity. But what is the reality of this model? Students get to ‘test’ their existing skills in a range of new contexts. The capabilities they already have are put on show for glory or shame and the level of physical prowess, good or bad, in pre-determined contexts is the only connection made between these activities.
Epistomology is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature and origin of knowledge. Our own personal experiences and identity are the foundations for how we make sense of the world. If you look at Robert Dilts ‘Nested Levels of Learning’, it is this ‘identity’ that we first need to deconstruct. As a PE student in the 80’s I revelled in the sport to sport environment. In fact, I was so busy revelling, I was oblivious to the angst and loathing that some of my peers were feeling. I thought everyone was having the time of their life, just because I was. I used to be ‘that’ PE teacher, the one that replicated and transferred my own experience (of a broken model) into my practice. I valued above all else the ability to transfer my physicality to a range of physical activities. But a question I had never asked was ‘What am I actually learning?’. I hadn’t realised that this was and is a static model where we are merely drawing on areas of existing strength.
Dr. Justen O’Connor, in his excellent blog, asks the question of our purpose very well below.
He goes on to explain that this form of social control is both short sighted and tenuous in relevance. If you want to collect your own data on this you need not go further than canvassing some anecdotes from fellow faculty around the water cooler or coffee machine about their personal experiences in PE and its relevance to ‘life-long learning’. Bring it up at a social occasion over a couple of beverages that lend themselves to more open and honest introspection and you may transform that environment into one that more resembles a psychiatrist’s couch. As adults we become acutely aware of the importance for life-long movement development and practice but feel ill-equipped once our sporting opportunities dwindle into long slow distance (the other LSD) beat-downs.
What is the alternative? To answer that question we need to ask what are the immediate and long term needs of our physical self. Where is the common ground and what links all of the applications of physicality? If my refrigerator has a 20 page user manual and all it does is plug in and cool stuff, where is the user manual for my body with its infinitely more complex uses and maintenance? I’m not going to get to far of myself here and delve into the ‘what’ or ‘how’ but will leave you with this provocation by Brian MacKenzie.
September 13, 2016 at 12:14 pm
So happy to read this and look forward to learning from your ‘journey’!
September 13, 2016 at 6:17 pm
Good stuff. Makes so much sense. Why is it, then, that 90+% of PE teachers maintain the sport centric approach?
(Yep…rhetorical question…I think we all know why…)
September 14, 2016 at 8:25 am
Great post. Totally agree with the ideas. I was also someone who reveled in a sorts based approach as a kid but now as you look around you realize how many of my people aren’t involved in sports and have a negative relationship to them and also movement. There is certainly something wrong with the way we have been doing things. Thanks for getting these ideas out there
September 14, 2016 at 11:51 am
I look forward to exploring the why’s and how’s of transitioning from a sport-centric approach to a movement centered PE program. Thank you for the opportunity!
September 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm
Interested to read the next part of your search. Would love to read your thoughts on the life skills we can learn through sports.
October 21, 2016 at 6:29 pm
Well written and thought out James! Looking forward to delving into your archives a bit as well as reading upcoming posts. As a field/ sector, we don’t really encourage each other to be introspective and philosophical – in many ways, we are the biggest part of the problem… Hopefully, we can begin to shift paradigms, both within and without.
November 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm
Thanks Doug, I appreciate the comment. Just the name of your blog tells me we are on the same page. I’ve been following your views for a while. Twitter and following blogs has been invaluable for me. Just to know other likeminded are out there. Sometimes I feel a bit isolated (locally) in my views but I can sense a growing awareness.