Move.Learn.Live. Day 3 Storytelling

Sore, stiff and slow moving is how I woke up on day 3 of the ECIS PE conference. All of those things yet even more keen to go back for more action, connection and greedy learning.

As a practice, I selected my workshops in the morning and stuck to my choices throughout the day. This simplified matters when I got into a good break time conversation and felt tempted to waver. My check marks in the margins provided the necessary commitment reminder.

A well designed conference program offers participants enough choices of sessions but not too many; a thoughtful mix of topics in each time slot and useful descriptions which facilitate and ease the decision-making process. In this case, I felt very well served by my hard copy program which I could pull out and refer to quickly. Each time slot usually had 4-5 sessions on offer and while I didn’t get to all the workshops I might have enjoyed, I finished each day without regrets.

My day 3 choices were decidedly less physically risky (like ice hockey on day 1) or cardiovascularly challenging (Scottish folk dance on day 2). I opted for a session of team volleyball drills, followed by a gentle intro to mindfulness for PE teachers and finished up the day with myofascial release techniques.

Serious conference swag.

On this last day, I clearly felt more grounded and comfortable. I knew a few more names, fell into conversation more naturally and approached a couple of people I hadn’t spoken to yet but was curious to meet. Here’s why I think this matters: belonging doesn’t just happen. It’s a process. During my time at this conference, my sense of belonging – to this particular group of professionals, to this specific field of practice, to my various identity subgroups (gender, nationality, school affiliation, country of residence) – needed time and context to grow. And that happened largely through storytelling: where I’m from, where I work and for how long, which levels I teach, how I came to live in Vienna, which colleagues we know in common, what I learned in the last session and what I hope to gain from the next. These are the stories I told and exchanged with my colleagues over these three days. Bit by bit we arrived at varying degrees of familiarity.

I suppose this is what professional conferences give us: a temporary container and context for our individual and combined stories about ourselves, our interests, and our discipline.

All of the workshops were conducted in English. I left thinking about how many of the presenters instructed, encouraged, corrected and motivated us in a language which is not their mother tongue. Hats off to them for not only providing excellent material but also modeling the bravery and enthusiasm we hope to cultivate in our students and in ourselves.

One idea that came up in more than one keynote was to flourish; thinking about what this may mean for us throughout our lifespan. It’s hard not find the word, the very notion, attractive. Who doesn’t want to flourish? In our field I see multiple opportunities for us to investigate what that may look like for our remarkable students. I also see roadblocks which lead us away from pursuing such a lofty ideal with and alongside our students. I’m grateful for the outside impetus to follow this line of thinking beyond the conference structure.

Trying to capture, safely store and retain so much learning from any conference is a challenging task. Writing this blog post and its two predecessors help me in that process. Through writing I tell a new story. I remind myself that I was a part of the story, that I helped it grow and breathe while it was happening. 

When I return to my students and we chat about spring break, I can’t wait to hear which stories they will share about what they tried and learned. When they ask me, I can’t wait to show them how much fun I had learning to be a better physical education storyteller.

Move. Learn. Live. Day 2

I guess I forgot how fun it can be to do physical education lessons with adults. On Day 2 of the ECIS PE Conference hosted by the Vienna International School I tried a bunch of different things: I looked into some fresh ways of approaching functional mechanics and got to dance as if no one was watching. In the afternoon I tried my hand at parkour and finished off the day engaging my vestibular system by spending some time upside down.

I had conversations about philosophy and methods, about what we do at my school that I think works well, and questions I have about what we might consider doing differently. All day, all manner of stimulation and processing. I suppose it’s what we educators come to conferences for. But this getting active and doing stuff together, often quickly, just can’t be beat. I tightened my buttocks, rolled my spine, twirled to the right, and galloped to the left. I got to be Sleeping Beauty when my group created a 90 second drama dance. I learned how to squat properly, leading with the hips, not the knees and my push-up just received an overdue upgrade.

I learned some Scottish folk dances, felt like an expert when we got to practice handstands and cartwheels, and noticed how my bravery went on recess when trying some of the parkour obstacles. There more dudes at this conference than women but the degree of mutual respect and shared interests makes the imbalance a non-issue. At least two times today I heard mention of capitalism in a critical context. Imagine what may be on tomorrow’s agenda.

Truth be told: I can hardly wait!

Move.Learn.Live Day 1

It just so happens that there’s a PE conference going on this week. In my town. During my spring break. And I decided to attend. It’s been a few years since my last PE gathering so this opportunity was hard to ignore.

From the opening session to the end of this first day, I can feel that something has already shifted.

I’ve been teaching elementary PE for 20 years and I value the time I get to spend with my students and colleagues building my repertoire and broadening my vision in the field. But when I come together with my colleagues from other schools, I need a surprising amount of time to settle in and feel like I truly belong. There may be may reasons for this but I imagine it has something to do with having come to the discipline through different doors than most other PE professionals.

In the opening keynote, one colleague mentioned the sense of community that he enjoyed at these conferences. And I knew what he meant. When I arrive, I may feel somewhat awkward and a little shy but before the event is over, I’ve always managed to meet great people, learn a lot of new things and get my PE groove on all over again. This conference is already living up to that ideal after the first day.

And this sense of community is different than at other conferences I’ve been to. PE teachers at PE conferences need to do a lot of moving, and game playing, and demonstrating and testing out. We all try the games we want to share with our classes. We take instruction as we would hope our students would. We (re)discover our strengths and weaknesses as we explore various activities. When we do that with each other it creates very different bonds than if we just had a couple of minutes to turn and talk during an hour long lecture. This is how we build community over the course of a few days.

My selection of activities today included: Turbo Touch ( a rugby related invasion game), a team building set of challenges, basic ice skating and hockey, and a session on voice care. Every session involved movement, conversation, trying some new things.

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Ice Hockey was my stretch session today. I thought I knew how to skate. I’ve been working on speed skating for a few years now. But, oh my. Hockey skates are entirely different. And I had on a helmet that made it hard for me to see and a stick in strangely fitting gloves that I didn’t really know how to handle while trying to focusing on staying upright in my skating. (Add a slight whining tone to that last sentence to get the full effect.)

So I tried as many of the drills as I could. In our group of about 15 there were about 4-5 of us who were relative novices. All good until we played a short informal game of hockey (with a tennis ball). As a middle aged woman of limited confidence on the ice I proved largely able to keep myself out of harm’s way which was my primary strategy. I stayed back on defense and when the ball came in my immediate vicinity I moved in that direction but was usually so slow that the action passed me by without consequence. (Yes!) The game itself could not have lasted more than 7 or 8 minutes max. But as I stayed out there and fell at least once in pursuit of the ball, I reacquainted myself with the sting of incompetence shame. Yes, I felt embarrassed that I literally was of no use to my team but I also felt grateful for the experience.

This is what my students must feel in the face of a scary challenge. The bravery they and I need to muster to stay with the task even when we doubt our capacity to do anything correctly is huge. That is what I learned out there on the ice: It’s hard to be a beginner sometimes. When I was last in finishing a drill, the instructor Sam said, “Great effort!” And that mix of pride and mild embarrassment was so tangible.

So I’m glad that I tried the hockey session, even gladder that I came away injury-free but not without falling. I reminded myself what it means for me to be brave. What risk feels like. And what a good feeling it can be to know that you managed something you weren’t sure you could do. This is professional development that really counts because it’s so very personal.

That’s what this conference is for. It’s why I need to be here. And doing this together with a bunch of PE professionals is how we build community, one blunder, one mix-up at a time.