Seek student feedback and leadership, advises top teacher
By Ashley Riley, 2014 Florida SHAPE Florida Middle School P.E. Teacher of the Year
No matter the type of teacher we are, whether we teach social studies or physical education, we strive to get the most out of each of our students. Speaking as a PE teacher, I know I often turn to my colleagues to find new ways to motivate students to reach their maximum potential.
Thanks to associations such as SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators), our networks stretch far and wide. I’m in Florida, but because of SHAPE, I can collaborate with PE teachers both locally and nationally. The relationships we make by attending local, regional and national conferences provide tremendous sources of input as we continually look to improve our PE programs.
But are we overlooking a source of input that may be just as helpful, a source we have much easier access to? Personally, in my time here at Central Middle School in Brevard County, Fla., I’ve found that the best sources of feedback are my students. One quick glance at them during a class can tell me whether that day’s lesson interests them or whether they’re just going through the motions without engaging or putting forth maximum effort. It makes sense. They’re the ones playing the games, doing the exercises, performing the assessments, hopefully working hard on the lessons I’ve set out for them. So why not turn to them to see how we’re doing?
Bring students into planning process
Face it, most of our PE classes are large – too large for one or two teachers to get a complete picture of how things are going every day. But there’s another way that can help both teacher and student get more out of the class. Bring the students into the planning process. Make them leaders. Let them motivate each other and even plan a week’s worth of classes, or more.
As teachers, we’re always learning, and I think our students are valuable resources. Older ones – for me it’s eighth graders who have been in my classes before and know what the teachers’ expect – especially enjoy being brought into the process. It’s no secret that we all work harder on something we have ownership in, so what happens when we give the students an ownership in PE? If they can handle the responsibility of planning the lesson and following through, the results should be outstanding.
Beyond the quick observation, go deeper. Seek out that feedback. Identify the students who are working hard, or not. Engage them in a quick conversation. What types of exercises, activities and games would the students like to see? What types of goals will they set for themselves, and will they work harder to reach them? Of course we can’t turn everything over to them…but if we can mix in some of their suggestions with our lesson plans, that would make class more enjoyable for everyone. We know that we all work harder at things we enjoy, so imagine how PE will go if the students find it fun.
Turn challenging students into assistant teachers
Do you have students who always question why you do certain games or exercises? Do those students continually stop your lesson to ask their questions, getting everyone off track in the process? Or do they just spend the class talking, either to you or classmates? Let those inquisitive, talkative students shadow you for a day. By putting them in your shoes, you can give them a much different perspective, one that allows them to see the challenges that we face as teachers a little differently. If they understand your goals for that day, they can also see how students who are asking questions just for the sake of asking questions can throw everything off track.
Let your chosen assistant teachers help you deal with the kids who, for whatever reason, won’t engage or follow directions. We see peer pressure in different ways every day, unfortunately usually in a negative way, such as teasing or, even worse, bullying. What if we found, or created, class leaders who could exert positive peer pressure to get these students to give it an honest effort one day? They might be just the push we need to keep everyone on the same page, working hard at getting fit.
Our roles become more important
We’ve always known that our roles as physical educators are as important as any on our campuses, and the arrival of the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reaffirms PE as a vital part of a well-rounded curriculum. With more and more studies out there providing evidence that active, fit students are better learners, we need to stay on our toes and help our students continue to make the most of their physical education time.
Ashley Riley is the vice president-elect for the Physical Education Division of SHAPE Florida, the 2014 SHAPE Florida Middle School Teacher of the Year and PE teacher at Central Middle School in Brevard County, Fla. In 2015-16, her students logged 217 individual sessions using the IHT Spirit System.