PhysEd Lessons Learned and Forging Ahead from COVID-19
June 7, 2020
Early in March, I was at SHAPE America’s Speak Out Day in Washington DC when the first texts and emails started to arrive.
“Schools may be closed.”
“We may be out of school a long time.”
“They told us our spring break is going to be extended.”
Little did we know how long schools would be closed and the impact it would have on our teaching for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Now that we are close to the end of the school year, there is still a ton of uncertainty what the start of next school year will look like.
Reflection is an important component of being a leader and teacher. Recently, I thought a lot about this whole experience of virtual or digital or online or distance learning. Since I have experience with teaching physical education K-12 and high school online learning, the whole situation has intrigued me from the start. Additionally, I was able to gather thoughts of teacher friends and my own children who are living the experience. I broke my thoughts down into observations regarding administrators and physical education teachers and what needs to be done if this continues into the fall.
- Being a school administrator is hard. I get it. But I really feel like many fell short this spring from superintendents to building level administrators. Many had no guidelines for teachers or students. Many districts waived grading at the start of the experience and when it was extended through the school year there was no way to go back and say that now grades count. My own kids’ school district gave students the option to take the grade they had on the last face-to-face meeting. If you are a 16-year-old kid with an A in March, why would you do any more work? This cannot be an accepted practice moving to the fall. There need to be some clear expectations and accountability measures communicated to students, parents, and teachers regarding grades and schoolwork.
- One of the obstacles for districts was the technology divide among students. This probably played a role into the expectations for spring, but plans need to be developed to address it for fall. Simply telling parents that they can get internet access from a company is not enough. Take the resources you are saving and invest. Equip buses with portable WiFi and park them in neighborhoods so families can have access. Remember all those iPad carts and Chromebooks your school purchased that are sitting in a closet locked up at school? Get them in the hands of students at home. It’s unacceptable to expect a family of 4 to fight over one device in a home when all may be working or in school. Yes, some may get lost or damaged. But the greater percentage will be appreciative and able to access they tools they need to complete their schoolwork.
- Stop disrespecting the “specials” classes like physical education, art, music, etc. This spring, these classes were not included in learning plans or deemed as “extra” or teachers were told not to post any content in many districts. This not only sends a negative message to the teacher, but also a poor message to the school community those teachers serve. I even heard of one administrator who told the physical educator they were only focusing on core classes. That went out with No Child Left Behind a few years ago. All our “specials” are part of a well-rounded education and need to hold equal value. Not to mention, many of these teachers are creating some of the most innovative lessons in the school!
Physical Education Teachers
- Start thinking about how you are going to start a new school year with new students. There’s a new bunch of kindergarten, middle school, and high school students who have never been to your building or seen your school! There may not be any “sneak a peeks” or open houses due to distancing regulations. What digital platforms can you utilize to introduce yourself, your program, or your facility? Did you use anything in distance learning that can help? If you start the year with virtual physical education, how will you get your students started?
- Be prepared to teach ALL the standards in a virtual environment. Consider what we just experienced a test drive. If the school year starts with online learning, there will have to be more rigor involved in the courses. This spring, there was a huge concentration on fitness, physical activity, and social and emotional learning (National Standards 3, 4, and 5). There needs to be integration of National Standards 1 and 2 into more lessons in order to fully address our content.
- Take time to reflect on how you are going to utilize technology moving forward. I’ve seen people create incredible resources for their students during this virtual experience. Physical educators are utilizing education technology like never before since it has been “forced” upon them. Where do we go now? If we are face to face with students, are we going to resort to the “same old same old”? Or will our lessons move to the next level and fully integrate technology into our gymnasiums?
In closing, watching this experience unfold has filled me with hope for physical education. Teachers across the nation have been forced into a growth experience never seen previously. Veteran educators were forced to learn technology in order to do their jobs effectively. New educators will carry this event forward and remember how difficult it was. In my opinion, relationships with students will move to a level that has never been seen before and we all know that will positively impact learning. And maybe, despite the horrible deaths, stress, and loss of income, we might grow in ways never anticipated.