Soccer unit inside and out

“Welcome to our soccer unit – highly anticipated for many of you – it’s on!”

(Some of them can hardly contain themselves, can’t wait to launch the ball towards the goal at record speed. Watch this one dribble like a pro, make the cross then execute that heel pass into the net right through the mystified goalie’s legs.

See how they run – chasing down that ball, beating the opponent – so much glory in 5 seconds before the ball is reclaimed by the better dribbler.

Soccer, my least favorite unit to teach. There, I said it. Yet, every year I get a little better at it. I let go of the reins a little more; observe and coach. I take on their input. I spend less time “curbing” their enthusiasm; more time letting them find their way into games they will deem satisfying. The know-it-all-bend-it-like-Beckham-watch-me-I’m-Messi Saturday morning experts can get under my skin if they press me too hard. But now I’m prepared for them: Yes, there will be games throughout the unit but small-sided. No, we’re not playing boys against girls, ever.)

*Students engage in free soccer play around the gym. No one is idle.*

(Why do I resist this unit so deeply? What am I afraid of? I can answer that. I am afraid of failing, of looking foolish, of missing the mark, of being mocked for my lack of visible expertise… Is that enough?

Every time I meet my classes, this fear is lurking beneath the surface – what if they resist my plans? What if they don’t follow the plan? What if they hate what I’ve written on the board? I am steeled for their push back and it almost never comes. Or when it does, it’s perfectly understandable. Like my Pre-K friends who resist anything with too much teacher directed structure. They all run in different directions and in their own way broadcast to me “WE’RE FOUR, WE’RE FOUR, WE’RE FOUR!! Which absolutely makes sense and they are simply demanding that I, too, make some sense.

So when it comes to soccer I am programmed for pushback. “Why can’t we play a game? When are we gonna play a match? This isn’t real soccer…” Feels like I have heard it all but actually, things go fine when I let them lead with their interests and introduce one bit of skill practice, a quick skill oriented activity and then another low stakes game that’s fun and lets players choose their level of active risk. It’s fine, fine, fine.  I’m ok.)

“What? It’s time to go? Are we doing soccer next time, too?”

One final kick into the goal. Smashed it.

Balls in the bag, please. Thank you. Tomorrow’s another day.

What I would tell you about #ECISPE18

I want to tell you about my last couple of days at a PE conference and it’s late and I imagine sleep would be a good idea about now.

I want to tell you how invigorating these days have been, how busy my mind has been, what a high it is to spend time with people who share the same kind of work and love it. What it’s like to be chatting with someone at the break and then crawling between their legs 30 minutes later in a volleyball drill.

Or what it feels like to meet an old friend whom I first met 13 years ago in Budapest at this conference, and who has taught on 4 continents since and yes, came here to Dusseldorf from Shanghai because she likes this conference better. Joy.

I could describe the apprehension I felt arriving on the first day, hand luggage still in tow, heading into the first session with nary a clue what to expect. And then how that hesitation melted away within minutes of moving gently to music with a roomful of men and women who also work in gyms and pools and on fields with kids.

Maybe I’d share a little bit about having Amanda Stanec walk up to me and give me the warmest welcome ever and how cool it is to be acknowledged and appreciated by someone whose work I sincerely admire.

I would definitely tell you about the morning I spent in a session on judo where I really, really wondered if I made the right choice. But then, Greg, our instructor playfully and gently led us from simple partner games to a couple of technique exercises to sparring. by the end I was twisting, turning, grabbing my partner; pushing, pulling and rolling to defend and attack. I laughed as I struggled to flip my partner, laughed even more when she lifted and flipped me like a hamburger. I learned more about myself in 40 seconds of full on sparring than in hours and hours of school organized professional development.

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And that’s the thing: this whole conference is dedicated to professional development. We are physical educators working to improve our teaching practice by practicing teaching, learning, demonstrating, discussing, and observing. This conference is professionals’ development – the kind we create for ourselves, the kind that sustains us for the long haul, the kind that invites us to question and re-evalute our practices, the kind that makes us leave loving our work, the kind that makes us come back for more year after year, if we can.

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Oh yeah, and maybe I’d tell you about the workshop I led and how well it was received and what great people showed up to share that time with me. But you know it’s late and all and it would take another blog post, but in the meantime here’s a link to a padlet which has some pics and the handout.

I’d tell you what a fantastic time I am having but instead, I think I’ll turn in.

School For Beginners

At my school we celebrated another first day for students on Monday. I say “celebrated” because that’s what much of the day felt like – a celebration. From most of what I saw, heard and experienced, there was a great deal of happiness. Returning students glad to see each other again, new students quickly finding friends and getting to know their teachers. Among my colleagues there seemed to be this giant collective exhale when we could finally get into our classrooms and do what we do best with students in the room.

To have a “First Day of School” year after year, now feels like a gift. I feel a sense of renewal: each day full of opportunities to change something for the better.  As I get older, I find that being the best holds little value for me any more. What I do enjoy, however, is that feeling of getting better. I could see it in my target kicking to my 8 yr old goalie son this summer. The more I kicked, the more accurate I became with both right and left. I noticed it in the way that I was able to contribute to our department’s conversation about useful apps we might try. It shows up in the way my colleague and I are able to navigate new collaborative territory as we team teach whole grade levels for a few days before our individual class schedules are set.

Getting better is also a lot more fun that agonizing over the title of “best.” Based on a recent conversation about teaching philosophy, I created a poster which I look forward to sharing with my students. Initially it had two parts: What I teach students and What I learn from students. Then I added an “essential question,” admittedly a little tongue-in-cheek. Here’s the outcome:

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Part of getting better will entail determining what awesomeness looks like for my students from PK through 5th grade. Make no mistake – they have ideas and will gladly share. My challenge will be to keep my teacher lady self flexible and sincere enough to welcome those ideas, particularly when they don’t readily align with my vision of “Elementary PE for the Ages.” For sure, being fair is harder than it looks.

In the meantime, my teacher lady self is working hard to get to bed on time, stay hydrated and remember her manners. Not yet best but always getting better.

Am I a #PhysEd Teacher?

That’s an identity question. And it would appear to be easily answerable.
Am I or am I not a #PhysEd teacher?
Not surprisingly, my response is a “Yes, and…”
Because if you examine my social media profiles, you might have to dig a little deeper to locate that particular identifier. On LInkedIn you get: Professional Leadership Coach. On Twitter you’ll find:

Leadership Coach, Educator, Workshop designer and facilitator, avid reader & writer @ home on the edge of the alps. #100Connections

Facebook: Don’t even bother.
So, clearly I’m not advertising my #PhysEd badge. Hmmm…
Rather, I choose to identify as an educator. That’s broad, comprehensive and some might say, vague, too. I’ll agree to all of those.

Yet what brought me to social media were broader interests than what goes on in PE. I came to find insights on education as an industry, as a public and private good, as a right, as a privilege, as a vehicle, as a cash cow, as a straw man, as a hostage, as a force. I wanted to think more deeply about learning as a habit, as an opportunity, as a chore, as a moving target, as an invisible victim. I was looking to challenge my understanding of teaching as a practice, a career, a stepping stone, as a source of authority, as an absolute.

And yes, I am a #physEd teacher.

When I am in the gym with students, I am at home. I have music playing, I am moving around correcting body positions (“side to target”) or issuing reminders (“what does that mean: ‘to your partner’?”. The day is flush with groups coming and going, with grade level transitions to make your head spin (i.e., from 5th to KG) and I love all that. I’ve been at it for almost 20 years and have been blessed to work with an incredible bunch of colleagues who not only know their stuff but keep adding to and improving their “stuff.”

The advantages to being a physical educator are many beyond the surface ones that everyone likes to put out there: comfortable clothing (all day, every day) and no papers to grade. What I love and what keeps me coming back are the special relationships I can develop with students. Because we’re working with the body which is a very concrete and immediate experience, I encounter each child’s vulnerability and unique strengths in very different ways than a classroom teacher might. In the course of a school year, I see every child struggle with something. Every one of them has something, some barrier they need to overcome. For some it may be social – finding and working with partners. For others, there may a particular area of movement that proves challenging or even frightening. My job is to facilitate each child’s struggles towards a positive end for that individual within our class group framework. The gym provides the most fertile soil for cultivating a growth mindset in every child and in this teacher.

Yes, I am a #physicaleducator who believes that all educators need to be ready to learn from their students, their colleagues, parents, and countless other educators who are eager to share and dialogue. I am out to learn for more my than myself and to do that effectively, I cannot and will not simply “stay in my lane.” On the contrary, I travel off-road cross country and consider myself an all-terrain learner. And in the process, I am making tracks, leaving impressions, having an impact.

Yes, I am a #physical educator and all of my work is about moving: moving minds, moving hearts, moving bodies.

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