It’s not a question many people are tasked with on a regular basis, and it’s not one that I was used to dealing with personally.
I would say that since the second year of College I knew that I wanted to become a secondary P.E teacher. My old P.E teacher asked me if I’d like to help during some lessons in the summer and I loved every second of it (If you’re reading somehow Mr.Montifroy hello…. and thanks!). So from that moment on I knuckled down and started working towards achieving that goal.
In my opinion one of the best things about being a teacher (if not the best), is the relationships you build with the kids:
- What excites them
- How to motivate them
- How to make them laugh
- How to help them enjoy being active
Throughout my secondary teaching years I found that whilst all of the kids were obviously unique, building a relationship with the children and engaging them followed one of a few patterns. I’m aware I’m generalising, but typically if I couldn’t motivate/engage a child using one strategy, one of the others would work.
Three academic years ago a combination of factors led me to moving from being a secondary P.E teacher, to become a primary P.E teacher! (Something that was unfathomable in the staffroom, cue many questions such as “Why are you going to do some baby-sitting?” & “I didn’t know you were any good at colouring in!”).
The aforementioned skill set I’d developed through working with 15 year olds would need some tweaking if I wanted to experience some success with 5 year olds!
As a teacher I have always felt confident that I can engage children, plan quality lessons that ensure the kids progress and I had a firm understanding of how to ‘move a child on’ once they have mastered a level of a skill. I was very happy with how my work with the teachers and classes in KS2 was progressing in the 8 Schools I now work with.
But when reflecting at the conclusion of my first academic year in my new role, I wasn’t happy with progression in lower KS1 and in the Early Years and Foundation stage. It was time for a bit of soul searching.
I had another look at the skills ladders I had created, they seemed OK. I wasn’t asking too much or too little of them in terms of the FUNdamentals of movement.
I went back to my curriculum coverage plans, I was still happy that the children spent an appropriate amount of time learning each FUNdamental – seemingly nothing was pushed out.
So where was the buzz? Why did my lessons feel a little flat? I could see progress being made by the children, but I still felt something was missing.
I decided to have a quick chat with one of my colleagues, an EYFS teacher who I had built a good relationship with. On my way down to the Nursery & Reception classrooms I walked past the children’s outdoor area, the children ran to the fence and pressed their faces against it.
4 children: “Roooaaaaarrrrrr!!!!”
Me: Good morning guys
A cute, tiny little girl with pigtails: “Mister, in our next P.E lesson please can I be a fire breathing dragon?”
It turns out the classroom teacher had shown this little girl some pictures of dragons earlier that day and from that moment on she was hooked, like a very polite miniature Daenerys Targaryen (I’m sorry – my geeky side couldn’t resist). Mini-Daenerys was the catalyst for some deep thinking that night, my main thought – why couldn’t she be a fire-breathing dragon?!
The activities I used with EYFS at the time had a rough narrative, but the primary aim of their design was to develop physical literacy. But if I’m honest the narrative was a little clumsy at times and there certainly wasn’t any narrative cohesion from one lesson to the next.
I decided to find out about that classes next topic, so I could plan a block of lesson where all activities had a clear ‘narrative’ linked to what the children will be learning about in the classroom. I suppose Kristin Cuthriell would describe what happened next as a ‘Positive Snowball’, it worked!
The kids were even more engaged in lessons as a result of the mutually beneficial relationship of their classroom topic meeting Physical Education. They taught their family members the games, extending their learning/development further, they enjoyed P.E even more – meaning they got changed quicker and so on, and so on.
It turns out I had really underestimated the power of imagination – I don’t know if my time in secondary is to blame for this or maybe it was just me growing up into one of those boring adult things (My wife also likes to point out it might have something to do with me being male). But as someone that at that time wasn’t very familiar with the start of a child’s educational journey, I had forgotten of just how powerful a child’s imagination is.
Having moved from the end of the educational journey where the focus is completely locked on attainment, it suddenly became a great pleasure to see just how magical everything is when you come to School for the day and you can be anything you want to be!
A member of Staff from another School visited recently and asked a child questions mid-P.E lesson, I had the pleasure of listening in:
Visitor: Can you tell me what you are doing please?
Mini-Fireman Sam: That house is on fire.
Visitor (Confused/Alarmed) Pardon?
Mini-Fireman Sam: Yep. That house is on fire and I’m a fireman. We’re going to save the ladies clothes by putting out the fire.
Visitor (Still confused/slightly less confused): Where is the house? Is this hoop your Fire Engine?
Mini-Fireman Sam: The house has three levels, I have to throw water on all the levels to stop the fire or the ladies clothes will burn.
Visitor (Less confused/more curious): Do you think you can help the lady?
Mini-Fireman Sam: Yes, I hope so. Please can I just play now?
A few things made me really happy with that little inter-action. The first was how the little boy had lovely manners despite the fact that he just wanted to get on and save the ladies clothes!
The second was, that to him in that moment, he wasn’t just practicing different types of throwing technique towards a target. He had no idea that his ‘fire engine’ was further away from the house than some of the other children because he shown rapid progression in these techniques. He also didn’t mention that he had to stand on one leg because he needed to be challenged further still. He just wanted to save the ladies clothes.
Of course, all of the aforementioned was happening. But instead of questioning why his challenge was of a higher tariff, he was focused on the job in hand – like all good firemen should be!
By planning your P.E lessons with a clear narrative, you do not have to lose any of the pedagogical strategies that ensure your lessons are of a high quality. When done well, it will enhance your pedagogical strategies.
If you teach P.E lessons to small children I strongly encourage you to ask yourself how you foster cross-curricular links through your lessons, for me, taking a step back and approaching my planning with the children’s topic at the forefront drastically improved my teaching – whilst not cutting any ‘physical corners’.
It was a little daunting at first – but after seeing the results, it was very much worth it.