Creating An Effective PE Program...Words From An Educator!


What is a successful PE program? This varies greatly with the philosophy of the practitioner, but if I were king, these would be a few critical pieces.  First, contact time should be at least three times per week for 30-45 minutes per class.  Daily contact would be perfect. In difficult budget times, we know PE is often one of the first things to go.  Rarely, it seems, do things that have been cut, come back.  Contact time problem solved, I think we must look at ourselves as a profession and decide if a sport-based model has served us well.  The answers abound.  This is the first generation of children with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Instead of guiding our students to physical literacy and functional movement that will keep them in good stead throughout their lifetime, we are often game organizers and referees. My own philosophy is pretty transparent.  Our content design should be targeted to help our students learn to live in their bodies.  When we send them off to the world, they should like the way it feels to be fit and understand how to maintain fitness without a gym membership.  We know, and so does the exercise industry, that most people who have a gym membership don’t use it, and yet, “New PE” abounds with exercise machines and mindless movement.  It places enjoyment over competence and the work associated with being fit.  The word “work” is not often mentioned in our field, but we seek rigor in reading, math and science.  It’s o.k. to say that we work!

In order to achieve physical literacy, we have to address how teachers’ observation skills are trained.  My utopic world has teachers that understand skillful movement and teaching progression.  They understand that motor skill, as well as fitness, develops on a continuum and if you know the pattern of development, you can task appropriately. The sport model in physical education is often a “one-size-fits-all” approach, that leaves most students wanting. Sport alternatives like cup-stacking are not physical education…period! Sorry cup-stackers, try getting the math teacher to do it during math class.  Someone has to explain to me how things like cup-stacking, dance, or dance revolution transfer to physical literacy. Sadly, attending one of our professional conferences will show one that our field has been taken over by the fun at all costs movement.  
So where does a teacher go to become skillful? Great question.  I wish I could name the undergraduate program.  My journey began with searching for strong assessment skills.  This put me in touch with the motor learning and development research community, and gave me a strong developmental understanding of movement.  Simply put, we identify developmental stages and move our students along a continuum based on those stages.  I discovered those in academia to guide me in this journey like Mary Ann Roberton and Jackie Goodway who eventually became mentors and friends.  My functional fitness journey began with Steve Myrland, Vern Gambetta and his GAIN program.  It was at GAIN that I met my friend and 5 in 5 collaborator, Kelvin Giles.  These world-class, performance coaches guided my understanding of functional strength and athletic development.  To be honest, I have more questions most days, than answers.  In short, one does not have to be an expert in everything, just willing to have an open mind and willingness to make connections.  It has been my experience that academics and coaches will often take the time to guide those interested in improving their practice.   

An eager learner may still face some challenges.  Instruction time that has been reduced is a reality.  In our case, we see students once every three instructional days.  That was the driving force between my before school exercise program.  “Rise and Shine”, as we call it, is open to students in first through fourth grade, four mornings each week.  We do a wide a variety of athletic development activities. Every day is different and our goal is creating kids who are adaptable.  In PE classes, we create our own exercise videos that last six minutes and can be practiced at home.  In 16 months, our students have used these videos outside of class over 6,000 times.  In both of these examples, I think we have found a way to develop physical literacy despite policy constraints.  Everyone’s situation is different, but a recent reading of Nassim Nicholas’ book Antifragile has framed my outlook. In short, challenges should drive us to find new solutions.  Failing this generation of children is not an option I am willing to accept. 


Greg Thompson
Physical Education Teacher
Longacre Elementary
Farmington, Michigan