Fitness-based physical education that focuses on health and wellness has been proven to make students healthier, smarter, and better behaved. Unfortunately, the majority of American educators, school board members, and parents are still unaware of the research regarding the positive impact of exercise on the brain. In an age where physical education programs continue to be cut or deemphasized, the late Phil Lawler, deemed the “Father of the New PE” by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, believed that awareness and understanding levels must increase dramatically.
“The research on exercise’s positive impact not only on health—which is big enough in this era of childhood obesity—but on learning readiness, as well as behavior and mood, means PE needs to be the foundation of the whole education process,” said Lawler, who passed away in 2010. Game Changer: Phil Lawler’s Crusade to Help Children by Improving Physical Education pays tribute to his wellness-based approach to PE that energized a revolution in the world of education. To advance this movement faster, the book pinpoints 10 key factors that represent Lawler’s approach to transforming education through fitness-based PE and movement-based learning:
1. Create awareness in your community and beyond. “It’s simply a shame that more people—educators, parents, the media—don’t know about the powerful research supporting exercise as a learning-readiness tool,” said Lawler. He believed a large-scale campaign of education and communication was needed.
2. Target school boards, administrators, and parents. Principals, superintendents, school board members, and parents all have to buy in to the exercise-for-learning message. According to Lawler, “They need to fully understand and accept that kids that are more fit not only are healthier but also more ready to learn. They also behave better in the classroom.
3. Make technology a cornerstone of physical education. Lawler thought that exergaming was the future of PE and, to a larger degree, the future of education in general. Exergaming combines the latest technological advances with state-of-the-art exercise equipment to provide students with a practical and enjoyable way to increase their fitness levels and cognitive functioning.
4. Continually strive to be innovative. School administrators need to keep finding new ways to keep children engaged and active. “Bottom line, we need to constantly be rewriting the book on PE,” Lawler stressed. “It needs to be Real World PE 101, PE that makes sense to students, parents, and the public for a lifetime.”
5. Incorporate more movement in the classroom. Integrating movement into the education process, throughout the day and in the classroom, is the cornerstone of changing the way education is done. Conducting lessons while standing up or moving around the classroom is a step in the right direction because neuroscience has shown that movement facilitates cognition and that knowledge needs to be translated to the classroom.
6. Make physical education part of the scoreboard. In most situations, PE is not part of a student’s grade point average (GPA). With the new PE, there’s no logical reason for physical education not to be part of students’ GPA. “A student’s PE grade—if the PE program is health and wellness based—needs to be part of the GPA,” Lawler emphasized. “If not, you’re sending the message to students and parents that PE isn’t important.”
7. Constantly emphasize the link between the body and the brain. Enhancing the learning process must always be the major reason that physical education and exercise should be part of every curriculum. Lawler credited the growing mound of research on the positive impact of exercise on the brain for his belief that physical education will ultimately be the hub of the education wheel.
8. Get the community involved. Since this is a challenge in education and funding, more and more people are needed to spread the message about how fit children are smarter, better behaved, and healthier. Corporate America also needs to fully understand what this all means for their own future and the future of this country.
9. Revamp college programs for physical education teachers. In an environment where childhood obesity rates are increasing and overall fitness levels are declining, a health and wellness model must be the focus of PE training programs in order for physical education to meet the needs of 21st-century students.
10. Research to drive the revolution. Without research supporting the new PE philosophy and highlighting the benefits of exercise for academic performance, there will never be enough momentum to result in a paradigm shift in the world of education.
If these 10 factors are undertaken in earnest as Lawler suggested, this revolution can be expedited and begin enhancing the lives of more children. “I would bet that 97 percent of the country is still closer to the old PE than they are the new PE,” he admitted. “That’s completely unacceptable given the powerful research demonstrating the benefits of exercise in a learning environment.”
Game Changer: Phil Lawler’s Crusade to Help Children by Improving Physical Education is packed with ideas and strategies to help K-12 physical educators and administrators advocate for, develop, and support wellness-based PE programs.