As the only young, male member of staff in my first three Primary Schools, I inevitably ended up with the responsibility for PE and games. Not that I minded, as I thoroughly enjoyed sport in general. I’d had some moderate (county) success as a teenager, in a range of different sports. I trained to become a teacher at what was St Luke’s College in Exeter, which was a renowned PE college, although I did science and environmental studies. At that stage, my sporting endeavours were restricted to inter-hall events, as the main sports were filled with England, Wales and Scotland under 21s, many of whom went on to full national honours.
However, I did, throughout my career in schools, enjoy coaching sport, with all Primary age groups. It’s interesting how PE can, in an academic climate, begin to feel like a Cinderella subject, yet it embeds, as far as I am concerned, all the elements of what constitutes good or better teaching. I wonder how many PE lessons are sacrificed to more academic subjects, especially for children finding reading, writing or maths hard?
- The context for learning is clearly the sport, gymnastics or dance.
- Embedded in each discrete sport or activity is a set of identifiable skills, which can be shown, practiced and utilised in the context of a whole game, whether small or large teams. I found the whole-part-whole mantra useful for PE teaching, but also for teaching in other subjects, especially for boys.
- It goes without saying that, handled correctly, the expectations of sporting tolerance and team ethics can be strong.
- As broad a range of sports as possible should be encouraged to offer every child the chance to shine in one. Narrow selection can lead to a “can’t do” attitude. Children will inevitably judge themselves against their peers.
- Explanation, followed by demonstration, then a period of practice, allows the teacher-coach to pick out a few examples for peers to show each other what they have been able to do. The fine-tuning comments of the teacher-coach, coupled with further demonstration, starts the process of enhancing and improving, both of which are done through executing the skills.
- Time to reflect, to practice and show, is important. This can be, and often is, slightly independent of the teacher-coach, while they focus on the needs of individuals requiring additional guidance.
- Putting the whole together, initially in the form of small team games, allows the practice of the skills within a real context. Groups can be created to enable different abilities to participate fully and appropriately.
- PE allows quite detailed self-evaluation of what individuals think they are doing well and what they need to do to improve.
- Videoing for improvement has long been a part of sport practice.
- The concept of marginal gains has gained significance over the past several years. Essentially this cyclic activity entails looking at processes and squeezing from each part of the process a slight improvement. In doing so, there is a knock-on into the next phase of the process.
The ethics of the teacher-coach should not be solely the province of the PE teacher.
Time and health are two precious assets that we don't recognize and appreciate until they have been depleted. Denis Waitley