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Advocating for Your Profession

This is an excerpt from The Essentials of Teaching Physical Education by Stephen Mitchell, and Jennifer L. Walton-Fisette.

Now more than ever, physical education is a critically important school subject for reasons related to its contribution to children’s overall physical and psychological well-being and for the contribution it can make to the intellectual growth of children. These contributions are discussed in chapter 1; the focus here is on some specific advocacy issues and strategies.


Common Issues in Physical Education

This section addresses several issues you will face as you move forward in the physical education teaching profession:

  • Curriculum and quality of instruction
  • Curriculum time
  • Waivers for physical education
  • Licensing of physical education teachers
  • Class size
  • Online physical education
  • Assessment and accountability

All are important to the integrity of your programs, so they are not presented in any particular order of importance.

Curriculum and Quality of Instruction

Perhaps the first place to start your advocacy is with your immediate physical education colleagues because collectively you will all need to advocate for your program by implementing instruction that constitutes best practice. This point might apply especially to those who are less current with appropriate instructional practices and with standards and assessments that should drive a curriculum. Both individually and collectively, you and your colleagues should implement a curriculum that includes standards-based lessons high in moderate to vigorous physical activity time. Your teaching should take place in a well-managed learning environment. Good teaching within a well-planned program, as outlined in this book, is probably the best advocacy strategy available to you simply because it is the one thing that is under your control. Assessment of learning outcomes is also important because it demonstrates that you care about what your students learn in your classes and because it provides you with evidence of student learning. If you teach and assess well, you can guarantee that students will talk to each other, to their other teachers, and to their parents. The enthusiasm with which they talk will advocate for your program. Of course, students will also talk if you teach poorly, which would have a negative effect on your ability to promote what you do.

Curriculum Time

A key issue confronting physical educators has been the decrease in curriculum time available for the subject. Although SHAPE America recommends that elementary students receive 150 minutes of physical education every week and that secondary students get 225 minutes a week, few schools provide this much time. Nonetheless, teachers should be aware of these recommendations and use them in conversations with administrators. At first glance, some positive developments seem to be happening for physical education. The "Summary of State PE Requirements" sidebar provides a summary of data from 2012 Shape of the Nation Report (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2012), indicating that most states mandate that students be taught physical education. An elementary physical education mandate is in place in 43 states (up from 36 in 2006), a middle school mandate in 41 states (33 in 2006), and a high school mandate in 44 states (42 in 2006). In addition, the number of states that have physical education content standards, often adopting or adapting the National Standards, has risen to 50 out of 51 (including the District of Columbia).


According to 2012 Shape of the Nation Report (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2012), however, only 16 states had mandated a number of minutes per week for physical education participation in 2012. This mandate applies to 18 states at the middle school level and to 10 states at the high school level. Some states are local-control states that allow individual school districts to decide whether and how state curriculum requirements are implemented. Part of this decision concerns how much time is devoted to each subject. Most likely, then, you will find that curriculum time varies from school district to school district and even perhaps from school to school. Regardless, in these situations the quality of your teaching and your program will be your best advocacy tool.

Summary of State PE Requirements

  • Forty-three states (86 percent) mandate that schools provide their students with elementary physical education.
  • Forty-one states (82 percent) mandate that schools provide their students with middle school physical education.
  • Forty-four states (88 percent) mandate that schools provide their students with high school physical education.
  • Thirty-eight states (76 percent) mandate that schools provide their students with physical education in elementary, middle/junior high, and high school.
  • Six states (12 percent) (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, K-12.

Source: 2012 Shape of the Nation Report (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2012).

Waivers for Physical Education

A third issue of some significance is that of states that permit students to receive a waiver from their physical education requirements, most often at the high school level. This practice has expanded from 18 states in 2006 to 28 states in 2012 (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2012). Similarly, 33 states permit schools to allow students to substitute other activities for physical education class or for credits for high school graduation. These other activities typically include interscholastic athletics, marching band, cheerleading, and, more recently, ROTC. The assumption is that these activities provide the necessary amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity, but physical education encompasses the five National Standards that enable students to leave high school with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions they need to be physically active for a lifetime. A quality program involves more than just physical activity.


Although the most likely reason for adopting waiver policies is financial (fewer classes means that fewer teachers are needed), one argument often made for the physical education waiver concerns academic attainment, specifically that by cutting physical education from the school day, students are able to take a classroom subject instead, thereby enhancing their chances of attaining higher test scores. This argument has no support in terms of either empirical or anecdotal evidence. In fact, research evidence is conclusive in supporting the positive relationship between quality physical education in schools and variables such as concentration, attention span, on-task behavior, and academic attainment. In a recent review of research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined the results of 14 studies on school-based physical education. Eleven of these studies "found one or more positive associations between physical education and indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and/or academic achievement" (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). The remaining three studies found no negative associations. This information is important to take to your school board if they are considering adopting a waiver policy. A useful additional resource is provided by SHAPE America (2015) in the form of its Essential Components of Physical Education, which contains several recommendations for physical education about the learning environment, curriculum instruction, and assessment.

Licensing of Physical Education Teachers

Another advocacy concern is the licensing of physical education teachers. All states have a system for licensing teachers, and a specialty license is required for teaching at the secondary level in most states. But these requirements are not always in place at the elementary level; only 28 states require a licensed teacher for physical education. More than 30 states allow physical education to be taught by someone with a temporary license or with an alternative teaching license if the state licensure test is passed. This issue is important simply because inadequate teacher preparation cannot fail to have a negative effect on the physical and emotional safety of the learning environment and the quality of instruction within a physical education setting. Children suffer when inadequately prepared teachers are responsible for teaching in any subject, and certainly in physical education.

Class Size

Class size is an issue for many teachers, particularly those teaching at the secondary level where, because of scheduling reasons, some teachers have to deal with classes of 40 or more students. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2006) recommended that "the size of physical education class be consistent with those of other subject areas (e.g., maximum 1:25 for elementary schools, 1:30 for middle schools, and 1:35 for high schools) for safe and effective instruction." In addition, class size should not be increased when students with special needs are included in regular physical education classes. Larger class sizes mean that safe and effective instruction may become compromised. Any or all of the following may result:

  • Decreased instructional time because of management issues
  • Insufficient amounts of equipment and activity space
  • Decreased practice opportunities resulting in a slower rate of learning
  • Decreased student time spent in activity during class
  • Decreased ability of teachers to provide individualized instruction
  • Increased risk of student injury
  • Increased opportunity for off-task behavior of students

You should express these concerns to your administrators if they ask you to teach classes in excess of the recommended maximums.


Effective instruction with sufficient moderate to vigorous physical activity is your best advocacy tool.
Effective instruction with sufficient moderate to vigorous physical activity is your best advocacy tool.

Online Physical Education

Options are becoming increasingly available for high school students to take physical education in an online environment. This mode of instruction is now available in numerous states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2012). Although the online environment is certainly not ideal, it is perhaps inevitable in the 21st century that online physical education will become increasingly available. Whether this development is positive or negative probably depends on how well online courses in physical education are designed and implemented. Indeed, in his descriptive study of Florida Virtual School’s High School Personal Fitness Course, Mosier (2010) concluded that the course was a viable option for students. Curriculum specialists, administrators, and teachers combined a meaningful curriculum with excellent instruction, leading to favorable evaluations by students, parents, schools, and districts.


Online physical education courses are most commonly offered by state-approved or state-sponsored "virtual academies" or by for-profit companies. They typically emphasize high degrees of physical activity and fitness content. The key advocacy issue in play here is that any online course should reflect the state or National Standards. Specifically, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2007) recommended the following regarding curriculum and instruction for online physical education courses:

 

The curriculum and courses should not only be standards-based but should be relevant, meaningful, and challenging. A variety of sport, dance, aquatics, outdoor, and exercise courses might be offered at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. The curriculum should be research-based, follow best-practice guidelines, and be aligned with national, state, and local standards. Instructional strategies should engage students mentally, physically, and socially. The instructional design should allow for ongoing communication with the teacher. The student should receive instruction in the utilization and protocols for chat rooms, appropriate use of e-mail, and requirements for the submission of student work. Learning activities should encourage student partnerships for safety, enjoyment, and social support. Student physical activity plans should be developmentally and age appropriate, progressive, and provide both formative and summative assessment information for the student and teacher. (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2007, pp. 6-7)


Regarding the importance of appropriate assessment processes for online courses, the primary concern is that these courses should be assessed according to state or national guidelines. The most common form of assessment in online courses is self-report; students submit weekly logs of physical activity participation and other assignments that are increasingly standards based. The use of portfolio assessment is particularly relevant at the secondary level.

Assessment and Accountability

An advocacy issue of some importance is accountability, of both students and teachers. Students should be held accountable for learning, and teachers for teaching. Recall the importance of assessment, as described in chapter 14. You might need to convince other teachers and some administrators of the importance of establishing a standards-based assessment scheme that will measure student learning. In a few cases, state requirements are in place. For example, 22 states require physical education grades to be included in a student’s grade point average (GPA). Although 16 states have a required comprehensive assessment test for graduation, none of these include physical education on that test. Most states have an educational report card, buy only a few include physical education. Ohio stands out in this regard. It has a required standards-based assessment system in which student achievement data are recorded and submitted to the state department of education for inclusion as part of a school district report card indicator.


Strategies for Advocacy

The advocacy issues described in the previous section represent some of the important concerns you will probably have early in your teaching career. These issues represent the "what" of advocacy. The following sections offer some advocacy strategies, specifically the "who" and the "how" of being a physical education advocate.

Whom to Target

You should target certain people and groups at all levels with your advocacy messages. At the local level it starts with your students and their parents. Parents are important because they attend school board meetings and vote for board members. Remember, your students talk to each other and to their parents or guardians, so word of the quality of your program will spread. Also, at the local level you should talk with other teachers, administrators, and school board members. You might encourage classroom teachers to collaborate with you and reinforce each other’s content within your own environments. For example, incorporating mathematics concepts into a physical education lesson is easy, and a classroom teacher can certainly use content from fitness or sport as examples to teach mathematics concepts. The same argument can apply to your interactions with teachers of science, literacy, music, and social studies, so be creative in your suggestions to these teachers. As for your school administrators, invite them into your gymnasium. You have no better way of advocating for your program than by showing off the good work you do to those in decision-making positions. So arrange for your principal, deputy principal, curriculum director, or school board members to come to your gymnasium. As a courtesy, and because it is politically wise to do so, you should check with your school administrators before communicating with district-level administrators or school board members because policies may be in place to govern those interactions.


External to your school district, all teachers should engage in discussion with legislators because they are the people who will debate and vote on educational policy. You might want to invite them to your classes as long as you get permission from your school and district administrators. Become familiar with your state legislators and with the legislation that determines education practice in your state. Knowing the law can help you identify where educational practice is not in alignment with legislation and will allow you to inform your administrators if your district falls out of compliance with mandates. Finally, contributing to advocacy efforts at the national level is important and worthwhile, and doing so will engage you fully in your profession. Besides knowing your state legislators, be aware of your congressional representative and senator. Be prepared to contact them when federal legislation related to physical education is under debate. Recent issues at the national level have included legislation that would continue federal grant funding for physical education programs and legislation that would make physical education a core subject in the schools and thus eligible to gain additional federal funding. These and other issues are important for your profession. Joining your state and national professional associations is also important because these are your primary advocacy organizations. More on these organizations is presented in the section on professional development.

How to Advocate

As mentioned previously, one of the most effective advocacy strategies is to invite people with decision-making responsibilities into your gymnasium. But acceptance of the invitation is never guaranteed, and any visit might be fleeting. For that reason, you need to develop promotional materials that demonstrate the content and efficacy of your program. For example, a colorful and well-constructed paper or electronic newsletter that engages parents and provides an indication of what happens in your physical education program will go a long way to educating them about your contribution to their child’s education. Similarly, a well-put-together, current, and informative web page will give information that others can easily access.


Regardless of whether you are promoting your program by invitations to outside stakeholders, in print, or online, you must know your arguments and be able to substantiate them with data. Chapter 1 provides some data, and you can convince people that physical education can be effective because it

  • improves physical fitness;
  • improves motor skill development;
  • improves academics;
  • teaches self-discipline, social skills, and personal responsibility;
  • strengthens peer relationships;
  • provides physical activity;
  • reduces stress;
  • improves self-confidence and self-esteem;
  • teaches lifelong health and fitness skills; and
  • provides experience with goal setting.

Figure 16.1 provides additional useful data points for you in terms of the benefits and effects of a quality physical education program. Specifically, it indicates the potential influence that engaging in physical education can have on the likelihood of participating in physical activity outside school. This idea certainly makes intuitive sense because by receiving quality instruction, students will be more skillful and therefore more confident in their ability to engage in physical activity in their spare time.


Figure 16.1 Influence of PE on activity outside school.
Influence of PE on activity outside school.
Adapted, by permission, from PHIT America. Available: www.phitamerica.org/Benefits_of_P_E__in_School.htm


Key Points

  • Physical education teachers engage in advocacy on a daily basis in their teaching and in their interactions with students, fellow teachers, and administrators.
  • Advocacy issues include curriculum time, waivers, licensing of teachers, class size, and online physical education.
  • Advocacy efforts should target students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and legislators.
  • Advocacy can be accomplished in print, electronically, and in person.
  • Teachers should know and use available data to strengthen their arguments in advocacy.

Advocacy and Professional Development

Advice From the Field

How can physical educators best advocate for themselves and the profession?

Jeff Jacobs, Worcester Elementary School (Lansdale, Pennsylvania): Physical educators need to recognize that they are advocates for their profession at all times! We are consistently observed both in and out of the classroom. As a result, our words and actions speak volumes about ourselves and our profession. Always remember that your students can be your best and most persuasive advocates. It begins by planning and implementing appropriate lessons. These lessons should be based on standards and have a balance of educational value and enjoyable activities. Great lessons keep students talking with their parents and others about their positive experiences in physical education.

How do you stay current as the field of physical education changes?

Amy Prior, Gray Stone Day School ( Misenheimer , North Carolina): I am a member of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) at the state, district, and national levels. Membership allows me to attend conferences at the state, district, and national levels. I participate in various groups on Facebook, Twitter, and Voxer, and I subscribe to various journals.

What advice do you have for other physical educators?

Diane Wyatt, Abilene Middle School (Abilene, Kansas): Join your state AHPERD and join SHAPE America. Always keep learning from others and promoting your profession. If you don’t promote yourself and let everyone know what you do is important, then how will they know? Educate you administration, school board, teachers, parents, and community members on the correlation between fitness and academic success.


Learn more about The Essentials of Teaching Physical Education.

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The Essentials of Teaching Physical Education With Web Resource

The Essentials of Teaching Physical Education With Web Resource

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