When P.E. Is More Than Just Physical Education

Director of Lower School Ingrid Moore and P.E. teacher EJ Watkins share how Steward's P.E. program has formally integrated character skill-building into classes.

By: Ingrid Moore, Director of Lower School, with EJ Watkins, Lower and Middle School P.E. teacher

An integral part of the experience at Steward is our physical education program. Each eight-day rotation, our students have P.E. three times in Lower School and we increase the frequency to five times per rotation for Middle School students. We believe that it is essential for children to learn and grow skills like running, jumping, catching, and throwing. These skills give students what they need for a lifetime of fitness. These skills, we know, will also support children as they begin to identify as athletes and teammates and work towards shared goals of team wins and championships.

Lower and Middle School P.E. teacher EJ Watkins embodied our school theme of inspiration this past summer when he returned home from a conference he attended at James Madison University. Following a compelling keynote address from renowned educator Jim Deline on the importance of character and the potential for embedding it into P.E. lessons, Coach Watkins determined that he could channel his inspiration into action.

Every fall the division directors meet with the teachers in their divisions to discuss goals, challenges, hopes, and dreams for the year. Even before this meeting, Coach Watkins stopped me on the colonnade to share with me his passion for incorporating character education into the P.E. curriculum. When we met formally, he explained his plan in more detail.

Teaching character traits intentionally and across the disciplines is essential to helping young people develop strong interpersonal skills as well self-confidence, self-regulation, and the values Steward espouses in its mission. Traits that are easily associated with P.E. include sportsmanship and being a good teammate, but the plan for P.E. at Steward goes beyond that.

Each month this school year will have a different character trait that the P.E. teachers incorporate into their instruction. Respect, empathy, responsibility, and trustworthiness are some examples of the qualities that they are emphasizing and explicitly teaching children. Each P.E. class begins with a 2-3 minute mini-lesson that captures or reinforces the target quality that the teachers then look to see demonstrated during class and outside the gym as well.

In September, the theme was caring. During a session where Middle Schoolers were playing ultimate frisbee, Coach Watkins reinforced the trait by asking the students to engage in “positive talk” with each other as they played. As we all know, Middle School can be a time when children begin to withdraw from activities if they don’t feel they can do well. But, when they were encouraged by their peers saying “nice pass” or “good try,” the impact was immediate and the kids seemed more confident and happier to engage in the physical activity.

Another example is how the coaches are providing time for students at the end of class to reflect on the activity in a way that compels them to find examples of these positive character traits in each other. My personal favorite is the “You Are Fantastic” cheer that Coach Watkins has taught all of his classes. This simple cheer reinforces that everyone has fantastic traits that they bring with them to the field, court, or classroom and it makes the kids feel good.

The program is off to a strong start and we are looking forward to continuing this approach all year long and seeing the results in our students and community.

 

 

 

 

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