How do teachers learn to use TPSR to develop social and emotional skills in PE? By Shirley Gray et al.

How do teachers learn to use TPSR to develop social and emotional skills in PE? by Shirley Gray with support from Paul Wright, Stuart Robertson and Richard Sievwright

In previous blogs on this site, writers Prof. Paul Wright and Richard Sievwright have given accounts of their perspectives on teaching social and emotional skills in PE through their use of Hellison’s model, Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility. For more detail about these posts and TPSR see: Teaching Social Wellbing in PE  and Social and Emotional Learning in Physical Education: From Policy to Practice 

My interest in TPSR came from my early discussions with Prof. Paul Wright, an expert in TPSR and, at the time, a visiting scholar at the University of Edinburgh. In our discussions, we began to articulate the relationship between TPSR and the PE curriculum in Scotland. In Scotland, PE teachers are guided by a broad curriculum framework aims to develop not only physical competences, but social and emotional skills such as confidence, self-esteem, respect and leadership (Education Scotland, 2017).  Similarly, TPSR aims to encourage pupils take responsibility for and develop skills related to the ways they conduct themselves (effort, control, self-determination) and interact with others (respect, care, leadership).

It was around the time of these discussions with Paul that we met two PE teachers from secondary schools in Scotland (Stuart and Richard). Paul had delivered a TPSR CPD session which both teachers had attended and afterwards, they approached us to discuss the connections that they could make between TPSR and their own experiences, values and aspirations. The result of this conversation was they each embarked upon an action research project to learn about TPSR, projects that both Paul and I were keen to be involved in. We were interested to know how the teachers learned to use TSPR, what it looked like and how it was experienced by their pupils.

As they embarked upon their action research, Paul and I became their critical friends, and were given opportunities to observe their lessons, support their reflections, offer advice and help them to interpret and understand their findings. The methods that the teachers used to gather data for their research included structured and collaborative reflections, peer and researcher observations and pupil interviews. The data from their research were analysed by the teachers and then discussed at length with Shirley, Paul and with each other. Below is a summary of some of the themes that emerged from these discussions.

A different approach

The teachers had to think differently about how they planned and taught their lessons. They became more explicit before, during and after their lessons about the social and emotional skills that they aimed to teach. They praised positive behavior and created numerous opportunities for their pupils interact positively with others. Both teachers also began to understand and embrace what they described as ‘teachable’ moments. In other words, they began to see social and emotional behaviours (both positive and negative) as opportunities for pupil learning, rather than as moments to be ignored, or moments were pupils had to be punished.

 A more democratic and positive learning environment

Both teachers believed that one of the main benefits of using TPSR was that it encouraged them to talk to their pupils more. This then helped them to develop more positive and respectful relationships that involved listening and responding to their views.

Pupils’ understanding of TPSR

Many of the pupils in Richard’s class were aware of his learning intentions and he observed small changes in levels of self-control and respect for some pupils. The boys in Stuart’s class recognised that this was a different experience from their ‘usual’ PE lessons, one that aimed to improve their behaviour in PE and the wider school context. This had a positive impact on their behavior in PE, although they struggled to transfer this to other contexts in the school.

Challenges, doubts and discomfort

Both teachers explained the difficulties they had in moving away from an approach that they were comfortable with. For example, they highlighted the discomfort they felt initially when ‘let certain behaviors go’ to create teachable moments so that they could deal with behaviors in a more positive and democratic way.

Learning and change over time

Richard and Stuart discussed how they felt like the change process was much slower than they expected, and that they have become more aware and accepting of the fact there may be significant periods of difficulty and challenge to overcome before any noticeable change takes place.


Despite these challenges, both teachers were (and still are) very positive about TPSR, describing how it aligns well with their values and beliefs about the goals of PE. Their experiences using TRSR have been challenging but have enabled them to explore their own learning and teaching. As a result, they now have the knowledge and skills to create learning experiences in PE that have the potential to develop not only physical competencies, but also social and emotional skills. Furthermore, both teachers continue to apply and investigate their use of TPSR, creating time to reflect on their learning with their pupils and their colleagues.


Hellison, D. (2011). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.



Teaching Social Wellbeing in PE: a self-study by Richard Sievwright

Richard Sievwright is a PE teacher in an urban state secondary school located in Central Scotland. He is also currently undertaking a MEd in Leadership and Learning at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. In this blog, he describes how his engagement in a self-study project as part of his Masters degree has encouraged a shift in his philosophy about what PE is and for.

Teaching Social Wellbeing in PE: a self-study

My teaching philosophy has always been to promote lifelong participation in physical activity through positive experiences and enjoyment in PE. This thinking is not uncommon and has perhaps been influenced by pervading political messages about the economic importance of addressing health issues relating to inactivity as a result of increasing cardiovascular disease (Johns, 2005). However, I have recently come to recognise that this can be problematic from a pedagogical perspective:

“When PE teachers uncritically accept and reproduce this healthism discourse, it can result in  a very narrow form of PE, one that focusses on developing skills and practices that primarily aim to promote physical activity participation for the improvement of physical health.” (Gray et al. 2015, p165).

I have always taught towards promoting physical wellbeing and, through engaging in a self-study project as part of my Masters degree, have become more aware that my lessons regularly focus on physical learning intentions, usually involving the development of skills and techniques through the game. Prior to engaging in a Masters degree, I had a very simplistic view of PE believing that as long as my pupils were engaged in physical activity, then a broad range of educational outcomes could be achieved. I now find myself questioning this belief – is it good enough to assume that personal qualities (motivation, respect, tolerance, communication, leadership) will be developed as a result of the social nature of PE? I would describe my teaching of these personal qualities as reactive, unlike my teaching of physical skills in PE when I am very explicit and nurture pupils’ development in an environment appropriate to individual needs.

The Sport Education Model (SEM) is used to teach the broad general education phase in my school (age 12-14 years). Considering the roles that are assigned to pupils in SEM (coach, warm up leader, kit manager etc), the personal qualities that pupils bring to lessons are central to its success. Unfortunately, I often find myself reverting back to behaviourist pedagogical approaches to manage pupil behaviour, which often distracts from the aims of SEM. I recognise this is in contrast with how I teach physical skills and wondered how I could help pupils improve their personal qualities. It was this stage of my self-study that I was introduced to a different approach to developing the personal qualities of my pupils –Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (Hellison, 2003).

Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) is a pedagogical approach that was developed with the explicit intention of using the contexts of physical activity and sport to help students to become more personally and socially responsible. The purpose of TPSR is to empower pupils to take responsibility for their own development and consider the wellbeing of others. There are five Levels of Responsibility that help teachers deliver the model; (1) respect, (2) effort and cooperation, (3) self-direction, (4) leadership and (5) the transfer of learning to other areas of students’ lives (Hellison, 2003). TPSR makes the social learning intention explicit and gives clear expectations of the way pupils should conduct themselves.  It takes into account attitudes, beliefs and values that can be discussed, and has provided me and my pupils with a context to evaluate learning and set targets for the future.

“One prominent model that appears to be almost a natural partner to TPSR within physical education is that of Sport Education.” (Gordon, 2009, p.13).

My early experience of teaching TPSR alongside SEM have been positive and helpful in identifying clear social responsibility learning intentions in exactly the same as I would teach physical skills. SEM has been useful for engaging pupils in my lessons and making it fun with situational learning experiences. TPSR has enlightened me to be proactive with the promotion of prosocial behaviour, and has encouraged me to set clear expectations which allow conversations to unfold with pupils in relation to the five levels of responsibility.

My self-study has led me to re-evaluate my teaching philosophy, which is now: to promote lifelong participation in physical activity and develop transferable life skills in a supportive environment. As part of my self-study, I carried out some interviews with my pupils and I found that they perceive PE as inherently physical and, after using TPSR, they recognised the value of the life skills that were being developed. If all pupils understand these values and recognise that PE is not solely about competition and games, then this could have long standing positive implications for some schools.


Gordon, B. (2009) Merging teaching personal and social responsibility with sport education: A marriage made in heaven or hell? ACHPER Health, Lifestyles Journal, 6(3/4),13-16.

Gray, S., Macisaac, S., & Jess, M. (2015). Teaching ‘health’ in physical education in a ‘healthy’ way. Retos, 28, 165-172.


Hellison, D. (2003). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. 3rd Edition Campaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Johns, D. P.(2005). Recontextualizing and delivering the biomedical model as a physical education curriculum. Sport, Education and Society, 10(1), 69-84.


Scottish Government (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.



Social and Emotional Learning in Physical Education: From Policy to Practice by Paul M. Wright

Prof. Paul M. Wright is the Lane/Zimmerman Endowed Professor at Northern Illinois University in the United States. He is currently on sabbatical to conduct research as a Visiting Scholar in the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. This post describes the research he is conducting during his time in Scotland. This study, conducted in partnership with Dr. Shirley Gray of the Physical Education faculty at University of Edinburgh, has to do with the promotion of social and emotional learning in the context of practice. Scotland, like many other countries, includes such learning in the physical education curriculum, but how it is delivered by teachers and experienced by pupils is not well understood.

Expectations for physical education (PE) and its contribution to the overall curriculum are changing in many countries. For example, in the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, PE teachers are charged with promoting mental, social and emotional well-being (Scottish Government, 2004, 2009). While PE has traditionally included affective learning objectives, Scotland and other countries are making such expectations more explicit in educational policy and curricular mandates. Scotland, the US, New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore, to name a few, have integrated a range of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies in their national PE curriculum/standards. SEL competencies relate to self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, social skills, and responsible decision making (see The promotion of SEL competencies through PE is a major focus of my scholarship (e.g. Wright & Burton, 2008; Wright & Craig, 2011; Wright & Li, 2009; Wright, Li, Ding & Pickering; 2010) and I am currently on a research sabbatical to study this phenomenon in the Scottish context with Dr. Shirley Gray at the University of Edinburgh.

Research and practical experience tell us that changes in educational policy are not always implemented as planned. I have studied this issue in the US as it applies to PE policy changes intended to combat childhood obesity. In that research, conducted with Dr. John Amis of the Business School at University of Edinburgh, we found the way policy is formulated and interpreted greatly determines how it is implemented in the context of practice (Amis, Wright, Dyson, Vardaman & Ferry, 2012). Previous investigations by Dr. Gray and her colleagues in Scotland indicate the mandate for PE teachers to promote SEL was formulated with minimal involvement by practitioners and is perceived as somewhat ambiguous (Gray, Mulholland & MacLean, 2012; Horrell, Sproule & Gray, 2011). Therefore, we are conducting school-based research that will help us understand (1) how educational administers and PE teachers interpret this mandate, (2) how PE teachers promote SEL in their current practice, and (3) how pupils experience SEL in PE.

Our research approach involves mixed methods and include multiple stakeholder perspectives. We are working with several schools in Edinburgh and East Lothian. Data sources will include interviews with educational administrators, head teachers, PE teachers and pupils about SEL in PE. We will also be doing systematic observation of teaching practice and giving out surveys to pupils. We hope our findings will enable us to describe current practice regarding SEL in Scottish PE and to make recommendations for professional development and program improvement relative to this aspect of learning. More broadly, we hope to generate insights and recommendations regarding the translation of educational policy changes into practice. An exciting feature of this project is that we will use parallel methodology in the US and New Zealand so we can conduct a cross-cultural analysis of our findings.

This topic is of great interest to me as my primary line of scholarship has to do with the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model (TPSR: Hellison, 2011). This model is strongly aligned with the SEL framework (Jacobs & Wright, 2014). I believe my practical experience designing, implementing and evaluating TPSR programs will be an asset in conducting the current study and interpreting our data. Another advantage is the opportunity I have to learn about the Scottish culture and context. I am eager to learn about best practices in Scottish PE by interacting with teachers, researchers and policy makers. I am also hoping to share my experiences and provide workshops or lectures on topics such as SEL and TPSR pedagogy.


For more information:

Dr. Wright will be giving a presentation on this project for the Scottish Physical Education Research Network. The presentation will be at Strathclyde University in Glasgow on September 21, 2016. More details will follow via this blog, twitter and email.


To learn more about Dr. Wright’s perspective on the importance of social and emotional learning, see the following recent article on Voices, the British Council’s online magazine



Amis, J., Wright, P.M., Dyson, B., Vardaman, J., & Ferry, H. (2012). Implementing Childhood Obesity Policy in a New Educational Environment: The Cases of Mississippi and Tennessee. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 1406-1413.

Gray, S., Mulholland, R. and MacLean, J. (2012). The ebb and flow of curriculum construction in physical education: A Scottish narrative. The Curriculum Journal. 23, 59-78.

Hellison, 2011. Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility through Physical Activity, 3rd edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Horrell, A., Sproule, J., & Gray, S. (2011). Health and wellbeing: a policy context for physical education in Scotland. Sport, Education and Society, 17, 163-180.

Jacobs, J.M. & Wright, P.M. (2014). Social and Emotional Learning Policies and Physical Education. Strategies, 27, 42-44.

Scottish Government. (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government. (2009). Curriculum for excellence: Health and wellbeing: Experiences and outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Wright, P.M., & Burton, S. (2008). Examining the implementation and immediate outcomes of a personal-social responsibility model program for urban high school students. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 27, 138-154.

Wright, P.M., & Craig, M.W. (2011). Tool for Assessing Responsibility-Based Education (TARE): Instrument Development and Reliability Testing. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 15, 1-16.

Wright, P.M., & Li, W. (2009). Exploring the relevance of a youth development orientation in urban physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 14, 241-251.

Wright, P.M., Li, W., Ding, S. & Pickering, M. (2010). Integrating a Personal-Social Responsibility Program into a Lifetime Wellness Course for Urban High School Students: Assessing Implementation and Educational Outcomes. Sport, Education, and Society, 15, 277-298.