“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
That important lesson is as relevant today as when Franklin first used the quote over 300 years ago. For physical educators, it shines through in our teaching each day as we lead our students, schools, and communities on a journey toward healthy bodies and minds. It is only fitting that in physical education – where big spaces, constantly moving parts, and noise are the norm – preventative management strategies that preserve high levels of learning (and low levels of teacher stress) are also our greatest ally.
If we plan ahead and are prepared, our battles will be fewer, and probably much smaller. I don’t ever recall a day where I came home from school frustrated over whether or not a student could kick a ball correctly or do a push up correctly. However, there have been days, especially early on in my teaching career, where I couldn’t believe the things that could happen in the span of 45 minutes… or 45 seconds!
Management of your space, your students, your time, and your equipment are all important in keeping your sanity and running a successful Physical Education program. I’d like to share a few things that have worked well for me. Some are old, some are new, but all have value preserving teacher sanity and promoting student success in the gym. I invite you to steal any/all of these for your own use (I stole them, too!).
- Managing Student Behavior by Teaching With Love and Logic (Grades K-12) – A varied repertoire of LnL strategies can save you TONS of headaches and valuable time. I have worked in districts where LnL was common language among all staff (this is Coon Valley Elementary School where I currently teach) and also in places where LnL was my secret weapon alone. Either way, knowing how to implement enforceable limits with students to avoid power struggles can allow you to meet your goal of teaching your class. If you have not read Teaching with Love and Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk, it’s a must! Chris Peterson, a Love and Logic specialist, attended one of my student teaching seminar classes at UW-La Crosse in 2008 and shared some of his go-to favorites. Here’s what I stole and use EVERY day in my teaching:
- Wait time – Think of phrases such as these when you’re ready to give announcements at the start of class: “I’ll let you know who your badminton partner is when everyone is quiet,” or “Hmm, we will probably have more time to get out and play rugby when you show me you’re ready to listen to these quick announcements,”. In actuality, most of the time, I don’t even have to say anything. Students will usually do it for me by announcing to the rest of the class, “You guys, be quiet, we’re wasting time!” or “She’s waiting, shh!”.
- Putting responsibility and ownership back on the student – When a student is not following safety rules for floor hockey: “Hmm, looks like you had some difficulty playing safely with your group out there. What do you think you’re going to do about that?”
- Using choices to prevent power struggles – When a student refuses to change clothes for PE: “You can go change into your PE clothes and join us for class, or you can borrow some clothes from the PE office – I always have extras for kids who need them.”
- Trade Quantity for Quality (Grades K-12) – Trade numbers of reps for amounts of time when students are completing fitness or skill warm ups. When I traded number of reps for time on my warm up board at the high school level, things got so much easier. Students were able to confidently work at their own pace and ability and avoided “being last” or being embarrassed that others were watching them. It also eliminated that difficult transition/wait time while finished their exercises. The time factor also made it much easier for me to assess form and give more helpful feedback to elementary and middle school students.
- Creating Groups or Teams Using the “Team Shake” App (Grades K-12) – I picked this up from a colleague at the WHPE convention a couple years ago and it’s been a great time saver. I downloaded it on my school Ipad and use it quite often for a variety of reasons. Just upload your class rosters and select what you need for groups and the app does the rest for you. If you don’t like what it comes up with, just “shake” it again and it will re-mix your groups. Need 8 teams of 3 for your 3v3 basketball activities? Need to make 10 sets of partners to do fitness stations? Just want to “shake” things up a bit so the same students are not always working together during skill practice? Try Team Shake!
- Using the Sport Education Model (ideal for Grade 6 and up) – The Sport Ed. Model is so effective in distributing the correct amount of responsibility between teacher and student and it’s so much fun! This teaching model takes a little bit more prep to launch, but once you get the unit rolling, it’s a self-management machine that gives your students opportunities for ownership and more control as it provides a mix of individual, small group, and whole group activities throughout the unit. Each individual has a specific job or role as part of his or her team (small group) which is part of the league (whole class).
My middle school students loved doing a Sport Ed. Basketball unit each year and we made sure to line it up around the excitement of March Madness each spring! If you’re unfamiliar with the Sport Ed. Model, check out Joey Feith’s video about the Sport Education Model on Youtube.
The Sport Ed. Model also gives the students in your class a chance to play a specific role that might be of interest and enjoyment to them (coach, statistician, referee) in addition to playing the game or sport itself.
I added in a role of “Public Relations” to each team, when I taught this at the middle school level. The PR person was in charge of creating a team poster that included the team’s name, mascot, player names, and team colors. The PR person also was responsible for doing mini player profiles to help other kids get to know the members of the team.
- Management of Equipment (K-12) Just wanted to show you this cool equipment room set up from my colleague Sandy Bishop at Westby Elementary School. I love how she has all of her exercise balls “corralled”! This provides easy access and allows students to get them out and put them away all on their own as it’s in the front corner of her equipment closet!
- Running the Mile Without a Track (K-12 or as facilities dictate) Commonly, elementary and middle school physical education teachers lack access to an official running track, which makes it difficult to implement the mile run or any distance running activities. Often we are left measuring out a trail or path around the playground, around the parking lot, or running laps in the gym. This makes it extremely difficult, especially when you may have students running SEVERAL laps, to manage.
I actually stole this idea from a co-worker of mine whose children attend the Melrose-Mindoro School District. Instead of having students partner up and count laps as they are completed, have students run while holding onto popsicle sticks or straws. Have students start with one stick or straw for each lap they need to complete a mile (or whatever distance you are measuring). Each time they finish a lap, they drop a stick into a bucket or container at the start/finish line. I especially liked how, as a teacher, I could monitor exactly how many laps kids had left and there was no need to worry about their partners not counting correctly or forgetting how many were left to go. It makes recording times easier for me, and makes a sometimes stressful activity for my students a little more fun.
Coon Valley Elementary Physical Education Teacher
District Adapted Physical Education Teacher
Westby Area School District