Does it really all have to be doom and gloom?
This is my ‘I need to get this off my chest’ blog post. Everywhere I turn at the moment I feel like I’m being bombarded with doom and gloom about primary physical education. Articles in the press, professional papers and academic journals all seem to have the same strapline: primary physical education (and physical education in general) is ‘broken’. Conference presentations, meetings with colleagues and even a YouTube video that was advocating for physical education have all been based on the problems or inadequacies of primary physical education. It’s pretty depressing stuff. My problem isn’t with the negatives per se, but the fact that so many of these comments come from within the physical education profession. I understand that others may want to have a go at primary physical education, but I don’t really understand what physical educators seek to achieve by constantly accentuating the negative!!
Over twenty years ago at a conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I arranged to meet with George Graham. George was a professor in primary physical education at Virginia Tech and someone I admired from afar. He was lead author of the best-selling textbook ‘Children Moving’ and a range of other books on primary physical education. I was a newcomer to higher education and desperately trying to find a way to develop my own academic career and PhD study (a task that would take another 17 years to complete). George was one of the ‘names’ I was seeking out around that time and he was the one who presented me with one of my ‘ah ha’ moments. In summary, his advice went something like this: “Michael, we both know you can carry out a study that tells us all the problems about primary physical education. Do us all a favour and don’t do that. Do something that moves things forward. What can you do that takes a more positive approach?”. While I haven’t always been able to heed George’s words, I can honestly say that they have had a huge influence on the way I have tried to make my contribution. He made me realise that looking for the flaws in everything was a pretty easy route to take and that while trying to take a more positive tack was more difficult it certainly seemed logical to me. As I reflect on these last few weeks, George’s words, not for the first time, have come back as I read and listen to the ‘doom and gloomers’!!
So, I am delighted to report that my spirits were lifted at the end of last week. As part of one of our on-going projects around Edinburgh, I met up with a couple of teachers I have been working with for more than a decade. They always cheer me up. They talk enthusiastically about the lifelong and life-wide drivers that inform the way they approach their primary physical education programmes. They discuss real examples of how their children’s social, emotional and cognitive learning are critical features of the physical education experience. They talk about trying out contemporary generic and models-based ideas. Critically, they discuss how they grapple with these different approaches to fit their learning intentions, different settings and the different children they work with. Further, they talk about working with other teachers in their school, with parents and with local coaches. The love to talk about the different physical activities their children take part in before, after and outside school. During this recent meeting they even discussed how students from their local high schools come into their classes to help them teach the physical education programme and also develop their own leadership skills. Sure, they recognise the challenges but they seem to be doing what George suggested: acknowledging the issues but trying to move things forward. Surely, we can start to look on the brighter side of things and share some of our positive stories.
“Accentuate the Positive”
Primary physical education may have its challenges and may be an easy target for the ‘doom and gloomers’. It’s easy to be negative….really easy!! Of course, I’m not saying we should pretend that all is rosy in the garden….far from it!! While it’s a wee bit harder to be positive, let’s accept that there are some negatives but let’s collectively do something about them. We need to create positive primary physical education stories and share these across a wide range of contexts. As I said in an earlier bog, it’s not a quick fix and it’s hard work but if the physical education profession isn’t going to try it…..who else will! Glad I got that off my chest!!