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The G in Professional Growth Stands for Gather

A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a physical educator must gather resources to stay relevant. Those who prepare well and embrace professional growth opportunities can move beyond relevancy to exemplary. 

Let’s begin with a question, Do you want to be a really GREAT teacher for your students, parents and administration at your school?  If so, what does a great teacher look like and sound like? What does that mean in terms of your program, your content selection, and your instructional style? I believe truly great teachers have the following 5 “Human Resources” arrows in their quivers:

1. Preparation and Organization: 

We all know the value of this, yet many of us could benefit from a P and O tune up. Who’s the most organized teacher on your staff? How does he/she prepare the learning environment, units, and lessons? What protocols does the teacher establish at the beginning of the year and how does he/she reinforce them as the months go by? Does the teacher utilize technology to streamline and simplify roll taking, assessment, grading? Is it possible to observe him/her teach a lesson that showcases the teacher’s organization and planning? 

Gather information from this preparation/organization mentor.

2. Subject Matter Expertise: 

Physical educators must be exceptional instructors in a myriad of individual sports, team sports, track and field, dance, aquatics, martial arts, group fitness, just to name a few. Add to that a deep knowledge of the standards, and don’t forget to layer on a need to understand teaching progressions that extend skill basics like throwing and catching, to sophisticated games like cricket, football, ultimate, and more.

Could you benefit from learning how to teach Pilates, Functional Fitness, or intermediate Hip Hop? Taking classes is an obvious answer, but let’s try something a little different. Invite someone from your school family/community to teach a class(es) for your students in a subject area you’re not familiar with and/or comfortable teaching. Ask your guest instructor if you could videotape the class for review later and ask if she will watch it with you. Have an excused student point an iPad/videocamera (on a table or similar) at the teacher while YOU participate with your students. A good rule of thumb to enable fast learning of a kinesthetic subject is to:

1. Participate during a lesson just as a student would at least twice. 

2. Team-teach – you lead a couple segments you’re most competent with and assist the main instructor.

3. Team-teach – you lead most of the class and the expert assists you.

4. Watch yourself on videotape and solicit feedback from the mentor teacher. 

Gather information from this subject matter mentor.

3. Instructional Expertise: 

A great lesson plan in the hands of a mediocre teacher is likely a mediocre lesson. A mediocre lesson plan in the hands of a great teacher is very likely a great lesson. We all know that WHAT you teach is important, but HOW you teach it makes all the difference in terms of student engagement and learning. 

Who is that teacher(s) at your school that is consistently creative, empowering students, and incorporating useful technologies? Who might watch a videotape of your instruction and give you useful feedback? Personally, I believe the best thing any of us can do as teachers is to view a videotape of ourselves with a mentor and a good assessment tool to guide the process. My colleagues and I at SPARK wrote a number of these over the years, and they accompany SPARK programs Pre-K through High School and After School.

Gather information from this instructional mentor.

4. Relationships with Students and Parents: 

Great teachers develop loving and respectful relationships with their students and their parents. They frequently communicate about what students are learning, doing, and achieving in their classroom. One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to go to the well.” Have a group of parents that know you and your program best and are willing to support you if/when you need it. 

Use these relationships to better understand the community you teach in. For example, in a school district about 5 miles away from me, there was a much publicized and contentious lawsuit against a supplemental physical education program that was being provided to the elementary schools (free) by an outside non-profit. It was a variation of Yoga, modified to be developmentally appropriate for children. Eventually, after great expense a judge finally ruled the Yoga classes could continue – they were not religious in nature. I sometimes wonder if the divisive and costly issue would have been avoided if the unit was simply called, “Power Stretching”…

As an Athletic Director, Head Coach, and PE Department Head, I would interview prospective teachers, coaches, and employees who would come in contact with kids. During the vetting process I always hoped to hear, “I love kids.” Great teachers love their students and care deeply about their development and futures. When love and caring comprise the foundation, students try harder. They want to do well for the teacher that is their champion. 

Great teachers adapt to the way individual students learn, they don’t try to wedge students into one or two narrow teaching styles or strategies. Teachers that differentiate learning show they care about individuals and their needs. This establishes an atmosphere of respect for each young person and fosters positive relationship building.

Gather “great teaching capital” by building relationships with your students and parents.

5. Social Media Utilization:

A few years back I asked physical educators, “What is your favorite PE resource?” The most common answer was Twitter and Voxer, because of the people they met there. Once again, the “Human Resource.”

If you are a physical educator and have not yet tried either of these networks, I strongly encourage you to do so. They’ll connect you to colleagues in your community, your state, your country, and your world. You can ask for help, (e.g.) “My gym is closed for repairs next week and I’m in a tiny classroom with 45 3rd graders. I need ideas!” Or you can post a video of a lesson segment you did that was particularly creative and successful; then enjoy the feedback you receive. You can have a conversation with like-minded people you’ve never even met and discussed topics like standards-based grading, or what’s the best way to assess a particular national standard at a grade level. 

Via Twitter and Voxer you begin building a PLN – Professional Learning Network – and Gather valuable resources such as: lesson plans, professional development (free PD is plentiful), the latest apps, tools for advocacy, and much more. There are many more social media sites of course (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, etc.), and they all offer PLN opportunities.

Gather subject matter knowledge, instructional expertise, technology tools, and a supportive PE network by engaging in social media.

My top 5 is by no means complete or comprehensive. What would you add? 

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