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What's worth doing? Teaching personal and social responsibility

by Scott Wikgren

"Never doubt that the efforts of one person can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."
—Margaret Mead




"What’s worth doing in school physical education (PE) and afterschool physical activity (PA) programs?" and "What kind of professional contribution does each of us want to make?" are questions Don Hellison raises in the third edition of his classic work Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Through Physical Activity. Some PE and PA professionals focus on teaching kids to enjoy an active lifestyle; others focus on teaching them to be competitive in sports or to take care of their bodies. Still others want kids to understand the role that feedback plays in learning a skill or how the overload principle improves fitness. They might even want kids to learn life skills. And many simply want to do everything—they want development in fitness, motor skills, and cognition, and they want to achieve any number of affective and social goals.

While all these are worthwhile goals, Hellison points out, "You can’t do everything, so focus on doing something." So Hellison focused on developing TPSR (teaching and taking personal and social responsibility), which is a set of ideas that have grown out of his attempt to help underserved and high-needs kids take more responsibility for their personal and social development in physical activity settings rather than succumb to external forces not in their best interests. Hellison writes, "Although no panacea for today’s social problems, providing today’s young people with guidelines for, and practice in, taking responsibility for their personal well-being and contributing to the well-being of others can make a difference in what they value and what choices they make. At least it can plant a seed."

Certainly the TPSR approach supports the overall physical education goal of preparing students to be physically active for a lifetime. In fact, it is really a prerequisite to achieving that goal. If students aren’t prepared to take responsibility for themselves and others in a physical activity setting, they are far less likely to engage in regular, healthful physical activity throughout their lives.

TPSR was initiated primarily with teens, but elementary-level teachers have found the approach to be equally valuable for younger children. Sandy Hagenbach, author of Teaching Children Responsible Behavior: A Complete Toolkit, writes, "Teaching responsible personal and social behavior can make a teacher or leader’s job easier, more effective, and more rewarding. There is less stress when students act responsibly and are respectful. Behavior management time is saved, there is more time for teaching, and students spend more time on task. We feel more fulfilled, and we are closer to reaching our potential as effective teachers. Yes, life is easier, but that is because our students are more successful."

Hagenbach has taken the TPSR approach and modified it for younger children, focusing on teaching students to show respect, to challenge themselves, and to be a friend while demonstrating teamwork.

Human Kinetics has a number of teaching responsibility and team-building resources, which you can learn more about by browsing the sidebar to the right.


Scott Wikgren is the director of health, physical education, recreation, and dance at Human Kinetics. He is a former physical educator and coach. He enjoys playing tennis and basketball, being outdoors with his dogs, and spending time with his wife and four children.



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