Monthly Archives: March 2018

David vs. Goliath (Local vs. SHAPE)

This week SHAPE America had their annual conference. There were close to 3500 attendees who attended the attractive Nashville, TN destination. I would imagine the conference costs easily in the six digit figure. Keynote speakers were flown in, socials were planned, and some of the best and brightest Physical Education and Health teachers shared their immense knowledge and skills with each other. All the major companies brought their best presenters, paid for socials, and gave away free equipment to participants.  I am sure it was amazing.

During this same time, Sean Pasieka (@seanpasieka) held a Physical Education conference with 20 attendants. Attendants were asked to email their best lesson and present them to a group of 18 3rd graders who were willing participants for either the morning or afternoon.  These presenters may have never presented in front of anyone before. They may or may not have been well versed in GLO’s, standard-based grading, or what many consider best practices.  What the attendees lacked in knowledge or experience they made up with by dedicating their day to getting better. They were able to see 15 different lesson ideas, 15 different ways to interact with students, and 15 different ways to present a topic.

This final period of the day every teacher was asked to show one instant activity or tag game. This was a simple demo slam of quick hitting ideas. I loved this idea!

The irony was not lost on me that while the most coveted Physical Education conference in the United States was being held in Nashville a tiny little conference was being held in Kinnelon Nj. The dichotomy could not have been greater. They were polar opposites in terms of cost, attendants, prestige, the vetting process, social media awareness, and pomp/circumstance.

It also occurred to me that both have their place in the world of professional development. We need the big conferences to share the newest ideas, best practices, and newest research. We also need these tiny conferences to keep the fire alive. It gives newer presenters an opportunity to present as well as older ones the opportunity to continue to give back. These small teach meets, pe jams, or mini-conferences are valuable assets that are underutilized.

What are your thoughts?


Physical Activity, Fitness, Academic Achievement, Academic Performance

Dr. Aaron Beighle hit me up on Voxer to discuss my blog titled The True Argument for Physical Education. He gave me some pushback on my loose verbiage. He went on to post his thoughts here on his vlog (video blog).

I have dictated his vlog for your viewing pleasure:

I want to provide a few very brief definitions. I want to talk about the physical activity as a behavior. It’s just any physical activity or any movement we do. I think we often confuse this with fitness.  Fitness is an outcome. Fitness is how well you do on a battery of tests or an individual test but it’s not the same thing as physical activity. Physical activity if it’s done as exercise can improve fitness, but fitness and physical activity are not the same thing.

Academic achievement is just basically standardized test performance. Academic performances are behavior, attendance, attention span, there are all kinds of things that influence academic performance.

I think where we get in trouble is we start focusing on fitness and academic achievement. As a rationale for physical education existing. Which I think physical education exists because we offer something unique that no one else does. But, fitness is something that’s controlled primarily by genetics and maturation. Frankly, some people will never decide to be fit; but, they can be healthy because the health comes from being physically active. We have to keep going back to that. We want kids to be active because the data is pretty clear the data on fitness and academic achievement is correlation and not overly strong.

What is strong is the data on physical activity and academic performance.  We know attention span goes up when they are active and behavior problems go down when they are active.  Those are two often cited barriers. As physical educators, we can improve and help foster physical activity. It’s really hard to foster and promote fitness, I think we have to be very careful on that. Fitness has its place. I’m not saying that fitness doesn’t have a part of this. I think some will choose to be fit some won’t. We have to focus on physical activity because that’s where the health comes from.

You should check out the book No Sweat by Michele Segar. It’s a fabulous book that shows we have some issues with how we do fitness. We probably aren’t doing it the right way. We are not using the right motivation or helping people find meaning in physical activity.

We need to focus on physical education. It stands on its own for the potential that we have for impacting the health and physical literacy journey for students. It also has physical activity benefits so promotoing physical activity (first) and then… there is also these cognitive benefits as well that are academic benefits as well. We need to be careful about tying in fitness and saying if they do better on fitness tests they will do better academciall. Its a slippery slope and I dont know if we have all the data in yet.

Dr. Aaron Beighle

That is a brilliant bit of work right there! The argument isn’t about fitness at all. It’s about movement. This ties in brilliantly to Dr. Oconnor’s latest post titled Teaching Movement for Understanding. We have to go back to the idea of movement as fun and enjoyable. Everything stems from there. Physical Education teaches and encourages physical activity first and foremost. Are there additional benefits in academic behaviors? Absolutely! That is not something we should hang our hat on though.

With that being said, it is a bargaining chip to be used in a system that undervalues us. If we were building a boat the academic benefits would be a decorative bow on the side somewhere. We make the case that students health is more important than test scores. If we focus on that and don’t let the test score pendulum scare us we will be pointed in the right direction as a profession.

P.S. Don’t allow standardized testing in our profession either!

What can you add to this conversation? Tweet @AaronBeighle @Schleiderjustin @JustenO’connor


EdCamp After Hours

Today I went to EdCamp After Hours at Harrison High School in Nj. Bibiana Prada and Maria Fernandez were the lead organizers of the event. What separates this EdCamp from most others is that Bibiana is bringing EdCamps to urban school districts. The major change is that the EdCamp is held right after school. This allows teachers from urban districts to go right from work to the professional development. The second part of this initiative is that the hosting school provides dinner for the participants. As the great Jarrod Robinson says, “limit or remove the barriers to entry”.

The event was intimate with a little over 50 people attending. What was cool about the attendees is that it ran the gamut from administrators to social workers to teachers. Every facet of the Harrison Township School District was represented. This shows clearly that the staff is working together and supporting each other.

Over 90% of the employees had never been to an EdCamp before. Knowing this some sessions were chosen and placed on the board before the attendees arrived. This took the pressure off of the event and the newbies by having veteran facilitators take on some of the burdens.

I facilitated two of my favorite subjects social justice and movement in the classroom. The social justice session was amazing. It was a true facilitation. In attendance, there were administrators, a college professor, an ESL teacher, an affirmative action officer, and a school counselor. We discussed intersectionality, the difference between sex and gender, and the idea of taking care of the child’s basic needs before being able to teach them content. The session gave me life. The conversation was flowing and the engagement in the room was through the roof. I took away more from the session than anyone else! What a fantastic group of people to converse with.

The second session I facilitated was movement in the classroom. Coming from the #PhysEd and #Healthed world this is near and dear to my heart. I learned about karate math. This looks super cool. If anyone knows more about it hit me up! I pulled out the usual bag of kinesthetic tricks including rock, paper, scissors, least common multiple, the game jump, and four corners. As always I gave a shot out to Mike Kuczala and his Kinesthetic Classroom book.

A cool part of the night was the app smack down. We demonstrated Nearpod, NoRedInk, Seesaw, Plickers, podcasts, Twitter, and more. The attendees were all about it. We gave out swag at the end but unlike other EdCamps, it wasn’t all about the swag.

I have to say that this was one fantastic event. I had a really great conversation with a vice principal, guidance counselor, and principal about the walkout that occurred that day. We went into the pros and cons, what to do with the students that stayed in, and how the police and fire were on patrol to ensure the student safety. The people truly made the evening shine. I have been to bigger events that had no energy and even less engagement. That was not the case tonight. From the little I know about the Harrison School District it seems like a place I would love to send my children to.

Huge shoutout to Shivan and Adriana who made the night so much fun. When the organizers are enjoying themselves it sets up the whole event for success.

If there are any EdCamps near you go to one!


The Metamorphosis of a Teacher

This week’s guest post is penned by none other than THE Jorge Rodriguez. 1.jpgJorge is the captain and creator of the Voxcast, a part of the Physedagogy Team, and a Spark superhero. More importantly, I consider Jorge to be a friend and mentor. He pushes my thinking and is constantly challenging my thought process. I read this and was amazed at how clearly there is a parallel between philosophy and our teaching journeys. I hope this encourages you to reflect as it did me. Enjoy.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” To me, the implication of this statement is we should embrace challenge in our life in order to become better.  We should seek to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to find truth. If the chaos of challenge doesn’t kill us, it will make us stronger individuals; mentally, physically and spiritually. This is a profound idea.  More than what I bargained for when I started learning more about his work. However, as I reflect on my 13 years as a physical education teacher, I think about my journey and it reminds me of the “metamorphosis of man” that Nietzsche talks about in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche suggests that evolution does not happen by accident, we must aspire to be more than what we are. This metamorphosis has three stages, the spirit to the camel, the camel to the lion and the lion to the child.  I believe that many teachers go through a similar change.

The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by. This could be the new teacher who struggles to deal with the complexities of the profession and seeks out a comfort zone.  This could also be the seasoned teacher that has found that comfort zone and has lived in it for years. The spirit represents the passive individual that takes little risk and generally tries to stay out of the spotlight. This teacher might do just enough to get by, reluctant to ruffle any feathers because of the fear of discomfort.  If we are to grow out of this stage as teachers, we must have the courage to rise to the challenges of our profession. We must equip ourselves with the power of knowledge by understanding the system we work in and embracing the challenges it offers.

The first transformation is from the spirit to the camel. The camel is a beast of burden. This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility placed upon them by the system.  This teacher embraces the challenge and is willing to work within the confines of the school system. This teacher has a strong sense of duty and is eager to show his/her worth by working hard.  I see this teacher as someone that is married to the standards and grade level outcomes. In a traditional school system, this teacher can be a highly effective teacher. He/she works hard, teaches the content and does not challenge the system.  In many ways, this is highly desirable in a traditional setting.

The second transformation is from a camel to a lion.  This transformation requires self-reflection and questioning of the status quo.  Where the camel is comfortable working within the system, the lion seeks freedom above all things.  This teacher knows the standards well but rejects the idea of being limited by them. This teacher seeks liberation from external influences that are designed to bring value or worth.  This teacher seeks intrinsic motivation for themselves and their students. Teacher appraisal systems and student grades are not enough. Although the lion seeks liberation, the system is all this teacher knows and will tend to revert back to what is known. The challenge for the lion is creating from emptiness.  

The last transformation is from the lion to the child.  The child enters into a new beginning absent of the past.  A traditional school system may not allow for this type of transformation.  The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval.  This teacher would primarily focus on play and the joy of learning for the sake of learning.  Although the child may not be easily attained, it can be something to aspire to.

In contrast, Zarathustra warns us of the last man.  The last man is seeking safety above all and lives to consume rather than create.  Zarathustra says, “One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.”  The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization. In education, this is the unbalanced relationship with standardized testing.  This is the insistence in measuring all students in the same way and measuring success with compliance. This is hierarchical control under the guise of safety, where teachers and students learn not to take risks. This potential lives in all of us.  To counter this, we should live in a way that promotes self transformation through challenge.

Nietzsche suggests that evolution is not guided by accident or time, it is guided by aspiration and a will to become better.  We will not evolve as individuals if we do not aspire to be better. Time alone does not make us wise. Instead, we should aspire to be more.  We should aspire to see the world as a child, new and full of hope.

Response to this blog:

The stage of the spirit reminds me a lot of when I first started teaching and when my children were very young. ‘The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by.” Sometimes getting by is all we can muster. We battle family concerns, personal issues, economic forces, political winds and a variety of other influential occurrences.

For me, the change from the Spirit to the Camel is learning how the system works.” This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility placed upon them by the system.”  I volunteered for various committees, starting holding pd, and ventured outside of Physical Education.

I turned from the Camel to the Lion once I realized the system was broken. “This transformation requires self-reflection and questioning of the status quo.” Our students were only valued as test scores and school was not enjoyable for them. My classes were run top down. My students were not finding the joy in movement because I was the only one creating the scenarios for them to move.

My last metamorphosis is the one that is occurring for me right now. I am currently moving from the Lion to the Child. “The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval.” I am not looking for approval from anyone outside of my students. My evaluations carry little weight other than job security. The real feedback comes from my students. They are enjoying class more. This has created much better learning situations where everyone’s voice is valued.

I personally feel that SHAPE America is the Last Man in this philosophical identification. “The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization.” Our national organization is moving towards more standards, more testing, and a more nationalistic approach to teaching. It is our job to remind our state and national organizations that you work for us. We need more individual resources that will impact our lessons not more standardization of content. Create units for us that are outside of the traditional North American Eurocentric sports garbage we have been doing for years. Incorporate biking standards, skiiing standards, and swimming standards. No one is under the illusion that our students will master all of the standards that are out there. Create a boatload so we can a la carte them and create a personalized Quality Physical Education program.

The end.

Questions via Jorge Rodriguez:

  1. Nietzsche suggest that we should aspire to become more.  What should education aspire to do?
  2. What role does a HPE teacher have this evolution?
  3. Where do you see yourself as a teacher in the stages of metamorphosis?
  4. What is needed to help you evolve to the next stage?
  5. What would have to change in order to teach full of hope and joy, as a child?

I Know Nothing

I was born into this world unable to do anything on my own. I needed every single act of life beyond my basic bodily functions to be taken care of. I could not feed myself nor protect myself from this world. I knew nothing.

I grew, I played, I went to elementary school then middle school. Still, I knew nothing.

I received bar mitzvah at 13 in the Jewish religion. I then went on to confirmation when I was 15 yet even then I knew nothing.

I graduated high school then college. Nonetheless, I knew nothing.

I got a job, got married, had a child, got a masters degree, had two more children, got another masters degree. Regardless, I knew nothing.

I read books, listen to podcasts, hold professional development for hundreds of people, however, I know nothing.

Change is constant. We are here to visit this world for the briefest of times. I need to make a mark, leave a reminder of who I was and what I stood for, increase my sphere of influence before it is too late. I am not guaranteed another day, hour, minute or second on this planet.

I know something.