Sunday 29 April 2018

The Importance of Creating and Maintaining a Positive PE Culture in your Classes

The Importance of Creating and Maintaining a Positive PE Culture in your Classes
Megan Brain - HPEC Executive Member

Culture is like water in an aquarium. While it is largely invisible, its chemistry and life supporting qualities profoundly affect its inhabitants. What is the water like in your Physical Education class? Creating this “so-called” culture takes time and requires the educator to create a vision of what they would like to see in their Physical Education Program. What expectations do you have for your students and self? What are the values and priorities in your classroom? How do you want the students to treat each other/you/themselves? Do you have a standard for the type of behaviours that are accepted in class? These are all important questions to ask yourself before your students walk into the gymnasium in September.

As a preservice teacher, I remember learning about a variety of topics:
  1. The "Do’s” and “Don’ts” of classroom management,
  2. How to plan successful lesson, unit and year plans, and
  3. The importance of both Summative and Formative Assessment.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember much discussion about how to create and maintain a positive classroom culture. All I know is that I want the students that take my PE program to remember it with feelings of positivity, empowerment, and inclusiveness and not the other way around. As we know, a large number of students ages 12-17 do not meet the recommendations in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. And that number is the lowest in high school girls where only 1/10 enrol in optional physical education classes ( And why is this?

Is it because they are not developing the fundamental movement skills that they need at a young age and therefore are not confident in movement? Is it because we spend too much time on playing certain sports in “gym” class? Is it because the pressure to conform to a certain stereotype (eg: only the athletes take PE, girls should look and act a certain way, etc..) results in a lack of confidence to continue with PE? Are there not enough active role-models in their life? I think there are a number of reasons why there is a drop-off in Physical Education at the high school level (and especially amongst females) but what are WE doing as educators to try and make this better?

I am definitely NOT an expert in this topic, but I do know that since we started to dedicate time in building a positive PE culture in our school, the payoff has been obvious. Although we would still love to see every student in our school continue with physical education in all 3 years of high school, we continue to see an increase in our PE enrolment. So what are we doing differently? How is this culture built? Here are a few things that have worked for us:
  1. Spend time to envision your preferred culture. What do you want the students to say about your program? How do you want them to feel when the enter/when they leave? What behaviours are acceptable/unacceptable? What type of energy do you want surrounding your program? Talk to your entire PE staff and make sure everyone is on board… Although one PE teacher is better than none, this should be a shared vision amongst all key players involved. Take time to look at your current culture and discuss the things you want to change/stay the same. Once created, this vision needs to be shared with your students as well so that they understand what is expected of them
  2. Empower your students to live the culture that you have created. If you see students meeting and exceeding the standards you have put into place, be sure to endorse that exemplary and commendable behaviour. Recognize, reward and praise those students who are working towards your shared vision. Hopefully over time these positive behaviours will become common practice when students walk into your gymnasium and feelings of confidence, motivation, belonging, and acceptance are something that all the students experience. 
  3. Reinforce and Model Model Model. Just as important as it is to acknowledge positive behaviours, it is also important to enforce unacceptable behaviours and provide guidance to those students with gentle reminders of the expectations and culture in your gym. I am also a firm believer that we have to practice what we preach as Physical Educators. So any expectations that I may have of my students are put right back on me as well… we can hold each other accountable to some degree. If I am asking the students to show empathy, cooperation, effort and positive attitudes than I need to make sure that they have an example right in front of them of what I expect. 

So, let’s all work together and build this Positive PE Culture within our classrooms and maybe, just maybe, we can keep one more child enrolled in your program just a little bit longer!

From, One PE teacher to another…