What About Health & Physical Education?
I recently read an interesting article titled, “The Path to Improving High School Strength Coaches” (https://www.mashelite.com/path-improving-high-school-strength-coaching/) by Travis Mash.
Prior to reading the article, a very brief video is shown depicting a high school aged student performing a clean exercise. Let me rephrase, it was an ‘attempt’ at a clean exercise! Travis cites this as an all too common example of how student athletes aren’t training properly, and primarily sees this problem and solution as resting on strength coaches. To Travis, strength coaches should be an integral part of student athletics and furthermore there should be more vigorous qualifications. It is the duty of those individuals to have an effective training program in place to teach these fundamental movements to student athletes.
First, let me state that I echo Travis’ sentiments regarding how student athletes need proper guidance and education. However, why are we limiting this problem to athletic programs? And why aren’t we addressing the elephant in the room regarding education? Health and physical education teachers need to be teaching and instilling basic movements to all students! Learning fundamental movements should be part of the health and physical education curriculum. As a health and physical education teacher, I say we need to step up to the plate! We need to be held accountable as well. Yes, I am speaking to us, health and physical educators!
We spend years at the university level learning about anatomy, biomechanics, stages of development, and how to manage a classroom (and parents). Our job is to inspire and teach students of various ages. There are plenty of experts that couldn’t effectively teach a class of 30 fifteen-year-old students. We have that skill and passion. What happened that we aren’t prioritizing teaching what is important to our students? We are the group that can make a significant impact and it is time we do it!
How can we, health and PE teachers, rise to the occasion?
1. Updating Archaic Curriculum
It is time we evolve our curriculum. This has been a major focus and passion for my wife and me. While competitive team sports are valuable, we need to balance those units with more individual based activities. This has major benefits. First, they inherently foster more opportunities for us to incorporate anatomical terminology, teach functional movements, self-regulation and body awareness. After all, the focus is on the individual. This is a prime time for students to self-reflect and explore where and how they feel movements. These types of activities also give students a chance to apply what they are learning in health class through an interactive, hands-on approach. This is how we can teach students to feel their health. This is how we can begin to address the challenges we have with wellness in our country. And by wellness, I mean both mind and body. Having a balanced curriculum also gives students more options for staying active that extends beyond competitive sports. There are many benefits of team sports including communication, learning how to win and lose and collaboration skills. However, these activities should not be the primary focus of physical education curriculums. Furthermore, less than 3% of individuals are still involved in competitive team sports from age 24 and up (Dr. John Ratey, Spark). Individual activities appeal to the broad spectrum of students and can foster lifelong fitness.
When students learn how the body operates and apply that knowledge, wonderful things happen. Teaching more individualized activities ignites an inquisitive spark within the minds of our youth. They start to want to try things on their own and see what works for them. I had 3 male students that aren’t involved in sports approach me expressing how much fun they had doing individual bodyweight activities. The students asked if they could do more of these types of activities in class. This is where we should be heading as health and physical education teachers. While some might wonder where we can fit something like this in our curriculum, we need to evaluate what we currently teach and figure out what our priorities should be.
2. Continual Growth for Health and PE Professionals
Inservice, professional development and continuing education are a few examples of how we should be growing in our field. Yet, too often these supposed opportunities during school hours neglect to offer some health and physical education professionals the resources and content relevant to their field. We cannot rely solely on these types of opportunities or our college degrees to keep us engaged and relevant. It is our duty to constantly be researching, learning and furthering the content in our profession. I have the benefit of being a certified personal trainer in addition to my teaching certification. Obtaining my certificate after college was not only a refresher, but gave me new perspective and knowledge. I am still learning new things to this day. As professionals, we should all be doing this. Furthermore, we should be engaged with one another (as Travis mentioned a ‘mentorship network’) to ensure we are propelling the industry forward and address the dynamic needs of today’s youth.
3. Ground Up Approach
Travis mentioned that coaches need to set the performance standard. Let’s take it back to the roots; physical education teachers need to set the standards! Before students start lifting weights, teach them the basics! These basic movements should be a starting point. I am a firm believer in bodyweight activities. This approach teaches students proper form and also provides a set point regarding how the movement should feel. How are students supposed to know if a weighted activity feels slightly off, if they don’t even know what the movement feels like without weights? Weight aside, students should learn the fundamentals of some of our most basic moves: squat, lunge, plank, push, pull, etc. Setting this foundation will pay dividends when adding weight. It is our duty to make sure our students are doing these correctly. Plus, it’s a great way to teach them about their anatomy. Imagine if, as a district, health and physical education teachers collaborated on how we progressively teach students bodyweight to weighted activities. This will point our students in the right direction!
Travis very generously stated that strength coaches should be engaged and more responsible for ensuring youth athletes know proper form and technique. Let’s take it a step further and elevate how and what we are teaching in physical education class. As health and physical education teachers we can make it so that all students, not just athletes, receive this fundamental information. In fact, we should! My wife and I personally believe we are in the midst of a critical time in how, as a society, we approach physical and mental wellness. It’s time that the various passionate and knowledgeable groups in this industry come together to shift the paradigms of our youth! Teachers, strength coaches, health care providers, mental health practitioners: let’s turn the gym into a place where students can truly learn what it means to be healthy, active, well and live vibrant lives!
It is time for all of us to step up our game!
Authors: Bo Shappell, B.S., M.Ed., CPT & Daniella Land,B.A., RYT
Bo has been a middle school health and physical education teacher for ten years. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology, a master’s degree in Education and is an ACE certified personal trainer. His passion is teaching others and inspiring our youth. He is a former middle school baseball, football and wrestling coach. He has piloted some successful programs at his school from a fitness tracker challenge among faculty & students, a weight room mentorship for at-risk and disadvantaged youth and an evolved curriculum. He has given presentations to fellow health and physical education teachers on various topics and just recently been nominated for a Middle School PE Teacher of the Year Award.
Daniella has a passion for an integrated approach to wellness and shifting perspectives. This led to her education in conflict resolution, international studies and anthropology. She spent time facilitating conflict resolution and self-awareness seminars in prisons. She is a certified yoga teacher who enjoys collaborating with corporate and education professionals to develop robust training and change management programs that foster growth mindsets and positive cultural shifts. Check out her podcast, Living All In: Rethinking Vitality.
Grab a copy of their book, All In: The Mindset of Fitness, HERE