Let me first start by saying that after you have taught elementary PE for more than thirty years, there is a chance that your body will start to react somewhat like the character of the Tin Man in the story of The Wizard of Oz. My joints fit the part without a doubt. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can’t get moving. I just seems often that I need a little “oil” to loosen up the joints as I begin my day. Usually I accomplish this by working out at my local fitness club so that by the time I am dressed for school I am ready to go!
Most days I laugh about this Tin Man analogy and other days I spend some time reflecting on it. Just because I have been teaching for “ages”, and my body reminds me of that fact by not always being able to complete the physical tasks of the job with the same grace and ease that I did in my twenties and thirties, does that mean my mind and teaching ability need to automatically follow suit? That is to say just because my body acts “old” some days, do I have to teach in an “old” or “ancient” way to match?
While it is certainly true that everyone is different, we probably all know a Physical Education Teacher or two who would fit the age/teaching ability correlation. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not accept the notion that physical age equates to “job age”. In fact, I might even argue that as my body has gotten older, my mind has gotten younger and my teaching has gotten better.
So you might be asking yourself how I have been able to reverse the aging process and keep my love of teaching alive? I thought this was a perfect time to write about this exact subject because I have just come back from the National PE Institute in Asheville, North Carolina and I feel more energized than ever! I spent three days with some of the most accomplished, enthusiastic, and dedicated PE teachers from literally all over the world. I had an amazing opportunity to present a session and share some of my favorite activities and assessments. I also learned so many new activities, technologies, and best practices as a result of attendance at other sessions. I was inspired by keynote speakers and also had the chance to relax and chat informally with teachers who are as enthusiastic as I am about being the best possible PE teachers we can be.
While no single conference can sustain you for your entire career, I’ve realized that there are some significant factors that have helped to keep me energized, positive, and ready to embrace each day with excitement and enthusiasm, and I would like to share them with you.
Get Connected & Stay Connected
I began teaching at a time when the Internet did not exist and I had neither the financial resources nor the district support to attend conferences. I was the only PE teacher in my building and my district did not hold department meetings very often. I remember feeling isolated and unsure and rarely had the opportunity to learn new ideas from other professionals. Fortunately all that has changed and there are so many different ways to get connected and stay connected to other PE professionals. These connections energize my teaching every single day!
Professional State Affiliates – My first connections outside my district came from professional affiliation with my state organization – NYS AHPERD. I met so many amazing professionals as a result of my membership and it seemed that my professional world opened up when I opened my mind to the possibility of getting more involved. A good friend showed me the way and before I knew it I was volunteering for committees, making new friends, learning new ideas, and presenting at conferences. I cannot underestimate how this connection changed my professional life. No longer did I feel isolated. Rather, I felt that I was a part of something bigger, something better, and something that I could benefit from and contribute to.
Social Media – The next connection came as a result of social media. I resisted the idea of social media for a very long time due to the negative potential involved. Professional connections that I made at a SHAPE America conference convinced me that there was a wonderful PE learning community on Twitter and I decided to embrace the world of Twitter. While I have only been on Twitter for less than a year, I have learned so much! The PE professionals on Twitter are interested in moving our profession forward in the most positive way possible and are willing to share their ideas freely to make that happen. I was so excited to meet many of these professionals at the National PE Institute and I feel as though I have a brand new set of professional connections! (See here how to get started using Twitter for PE Professional Development)
Resources: Seek; Use; Ask. Never Stop Learning!
I used to think that I had to know it all to be a good teacher. Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that I do not have all of the answers. What I have learned along the way is that there are others who know the answers that I am searching for. The trick is to find out who those people are and ask for help. There are so many resources available and the internet, social media, professional organizations, and professional development opportunities are all great ways to find what you are looking for. I find great excitement in finding a new resource and I love to share that excitement! In the past few years alone I have learned about Plickers, Google Forms, Go Noodle, Comic Life, and QR codes and I share these ideas with as many people as I can. The more I share, the more I learn and the more excited I become!
Be Open to New Ideas But Find Your Path.
In my house we say: “Play to your strengths”. Not every idea works for every person or program. When I attend professional development sessions or I connect with other PE professionals, I bear this in mind. It is easy to get overwhelmed when you start something new. I make a point to allow myself to make ideas or new programs work for my style and comfort level and to take it one step at a time. We have all heard the term: “success breeds success.” By piloting a new program with one class or grade level I have been more successful than trying it with the entire school. Find your path by trying out something that you enjoy. I love technology, and new gadgets or apps always excite me, but I realize that what I embrace with excitement, others dread with trepidation. Give yourself permission to try new things and acknowledge that not every new idea is best for you or your program.
Communicate and Celebrate Successes/Challenges – Reflect
When times are going well, it’s easy to share, but when times are challenging, it’s hard to know where to turn. While successes and challenges are both worth sharing, reflecting at the end of everyday has helped me to put everything into perspective. I write a blog called: “The Best Parts of My Week”. I started this blog because my principal, who was new at the time, would randomly ask students and staff what the best part of their day was. Some days it was easy to answer quickly and other days I really had to think to come up with a moment that would qualify as the “best part” because that particular day was challenging. I began to search each day for the best part and by writing my blog I am able to share the successes, whether they are big or little. In reality, not every day is perfect and the truth is that some days are more challenging than others. By reflecting on my day and sharing the challenges without dwelling on the negative I have found that most people are willing to help find a solution so that I can move forward in a positive path.
Circle the Wagons! Surround yourself with those who fill you up.
I have worked hard my entire career to be the best teacher I can possibly be and to advocate for quality Physical Education. Despite quality Physical Education Teacher Education programs there are still PE teachers that “roll out the ball” and perpetuate the stereotypical “gym teacher” image. They say that “the best defense is a good offense” so my game plan has always been to surround myself with like-minded professionals who support my work and help me become a better Physical Educator. I find these professionals in my district, at conferences, by being a member of professional organizations such as NYS AHPERD and SHAPE America, and on Twitter, and I am thankful each day for my wonderful support network. I truly believe that the best way to advocate for our profession is to provide a quality program and serve as a good example by leading a healthy lifestyle. This mission keeps me energized!
The Tin Man’s challenge was that he needed to keep moving and an occasional squirt of oil to keep his joints from rusting (and as I recall a little oil went a long way). My challenge to you is to be like the Tin Man. Never stop learning and moving forward on your path, participate fully in the journey that the path leads you on, have faith in the mystery of the adventures that will come your way, and always take your friends along for the ride!
About the Author: Margaret Robelee is a PE teacher at North Park Elementary School in Hyde Park, NY. She has a blog called The Best Part of My Week and has been teaching for more than 30 years. She is an advocate for quality Physical Education and loves technology!