I Am Confident

I Am Confident.

No, I am not auditioning for a deodorant commercial.  I am not even trying to talk myself into doing something I don’t really feel like doing (say… a SSHRC grant application).

I Am Confident in the future of physical education in Canada.

There, I said it.  I will not deny that I have had my doubts about the future of PE (who am I kidding, I have doubts about the present…).  Sometimes it seems like we are banging our heads against the same old walls.  Don’t tell me we just need more proof of the efficacy of movement and PE – we know this stuff – let’s get ‘er done already!  I’ve said before that sometimes PE folks are the biggest part of the problem.  Yet…

I Am Confident in the future of physical education in Canada.

1239799_788145540908_367711197_nMy confident confidenceness springs from having recently participated in the 10th Annual PHE Canada Student Leadership Conference (SLC).  67 post-secondary student leaders and 14 mentors from across Canada loosely connected by the broad field of physical education coming together to explore leadership.   Check out the overview video here.

Two words: Wow!

Peter Gray, developmental psychologist and author of Free to Learn, describes three characteristics necessary for self-directed education / learning: curiosity (the drive to explore and understand), playfulness (the drive to practice and create) and sociability (the drive to share information and ideas).  For a little taste of Peter’s work check out The Play Deficit.  Anywho… The students (and mentors!) that I interacted with over the course of the SLC demonstrated these characteristics each and every day – in numerous ways!  Here are a few things I noticed over the week:

curiosity: no hesitation – a desire to explore personal leadership characteristics – genuine quests for understanding – a seeker attitude – focused inquisitiveness around what could be learned – openness to what mentors had to say – openness to what other students had to say – probing problems and not giving up – constant snooping around mentors and other students to see what could be heard, observed, learned and applied.

playfulness: every task approached with zeal and enthusiasm – every task faced with a desire to learn and succeed – undaunted in the face of (much) failure – a student driven campfire night that never quit – as many solutions to problems as there were groups – spontaneous games and dancing (and late night lake swimming!) – original creations – practice, practice, practice and, more practice.

sociability: constant, purposeful conversation – constant, purposeful listening – sharing of hugs, sweaters and ideas – stepping up and stepping back – debate – diversity – respect – integrity – genuine appreciation for the gifts and talents of others – and self – willingness to put an idea out there – willingness to remove it in favour of a better one – humility – questions, thoughtfulness and more questions.

Therefore, I Am Confident.

Confident that these leaders will NEVER stop learning.

Confident that these leaders saw the end of the conference as a beginning.

Confident that these leaders will surpass their mentors and then some.

Confident that the future of PE is in good, no, GREAT hands.

Confident that these leaders are curious enough, playful enough and sociable enough

to change the world.1379413_788148125728_113044222_nThank you.

Risky Business

Let’s face it.  Life is risky.  No buts about it – everything we do has an element of risk.  Sure, channel surfing on the couch is less risky  than actually jumping on a surf board in an actual ocean – or is it?  We’ll come back to this point but first let’s dig a little deeper into what risk is:

Everybody’s favourite encyclopedia defines risk as: the potential of loss (an undesirable outcome, however not necessarily so) resulting from a given action, activity and/or inaction. “Wait a minute… Only the potential for loss? What about all those famous quotes?

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” – Ben Franklin

“Do one thing every day that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt (and apparently the Lulu Lemon bag designer…)

 “The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” – Albert Einstein

 “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Looks like there is more to risk than just loss!  Let’s move to the concept of risk assessment – back to Wikipedia:

Risk assessment is the determination of quantitative or qualitative value of risk related to a concrete situation and a recognized threat (also called hazard). Quantitative risk assessment requires calculations of two components of risk (R):, the magnitude of the potential loss (L), and the probability (p) that the loss will occur.

cliffWow!  This risk business is more tricky than I thought, but I still think there is more involved than just the concept of what can be lost.  The above definition includes “value of risk” but then the equation is only (R) = (L)(p) – what about the potential gains?  Let’s try to find some context here by using an example from my summer holidays. Each year when my family hits Jasper National Park, we invariably end up at Horseshoe Lake flinging ourselves off of the cliffs into the crystal clear (and #frickinfreezing) waters.  If I use the formula for risk assessment it looks something like this:

RISK equals:

(L: fractures, contusions, water in places you don’t want water, death)

multiplied by

(p: chance of this happening based on height of cliff, skill, weather etc.)

Hmmm. I get it – bad things can happen.  But, what about factoring in the sheer joy of momentary flight?  The confidence boost of overcoming your fears?  The competence attained in managing your body in the air? I think TRUE risk assessment should also include the potential for GAIN as well as LOSS.  I’d like to propose a new formula:

R =    GAIN (M)(p)            multiplied by             EARNED COMPETENCE (S)(E)                LOSS (M)(p)

Essentially, both gain and loss are factored by multiplying the magnitude (M) by the probability (p); then gain is divided by loss and multiplied by EARNED COMPETENCE which is factored from skill (S) multiplied by experience (E) – easy right?  To redo my cliff jumping scenario (specifically my son asking to do a 45’ jump) after factoring in the potential for loss (people hurt themselves jumping every year), the potential gain (overcoming a fear of heights, gained competence) and, multiplying these by his previous experiences (diving board, previous cliff jumps) and skill level (tramp and tumbling skills, swimming level, balance) I whole heartedly gave my approval!  More importantly, I hope that I am teaching my kids to properly assess risk themselves – and not only for physical activity.

An article in wholeliving.com on the importance of taking risks states:

When we think of risk, images of hang gliding and rock climbing may come to mind — activities in which one false move can mean death of the most dramatic kind. But risk doesn’t need to involve danger; it need involve only uncertainty. Kruger defines it as “activities with uncertain outcomes” — and they aren’t necessarily bad. “There are possible positive outcomes to risks as well,” he says. “Otherwise, why would we take them?” (Daniel Kruger is a Psychologist)

Good point Dr. Dan!  Michael Ungar, author of the book Too Safe for Their Own Good (now on my Fall reading list), makes this comment on psychologytoday.com:

In psychological terms, we’ve known for a century that children who are pushed slightly beyond their comfort zone and given opportunities to fail in ways that won’t have long-term consequences, are children who do much better in life. But, as their caregivers, we need to give children opportunities to encounter danger and learn the rules for survival. A child who has never rode a scooter on a quiet street is a child ill-prepared for driving a car, much less walking to school and crossing a busy intersection. The risk-takers advantage is something we are psychologically and biologically driven to experience for ourselves. Far better to take risks when the danger is small and we are supervised than when we are older and unsupervised.

Did you catch that?  Opportunities to encounter danger.  Of course there are caveats (love that word) such as appropriate levels, supervision etc.  That is where my incredible formula comes in!  If, however, we never provide those opportunities for our children – how will they ever develop the ability to properly assess risk?  I once heard a speaker at a parenting session talk about raising strong kids rather than safe kids.  In his mind, if you taught your kids to be strong – you got “safe” thrown in as a bonus.  This may have been the same speaker who always told his own kids to “Be Aware” rather than “Be Careful”.  Subtle difference.  “Be Aware” implies risk assessment and confidence.  “Be Careful” implies avoidance and fear. Assess the loss.  Assess the gain.  Assess yourself (earned competence). Decide.

So.  Back to channel surfing vs. actual surfing.  A recent study on surfing injuries found that there were 6.6 significant injuries per 1000 hours (less than 1%).  Sedentary behaviour like channel surfing can lead to: an increase in triglycerides, decreases in ‘good’cholesterol levels, increased risk of obesity (24% per 2hrs/day of TV in adults), increased risk of chronic diseases (20% diabetes per 2hrs/day of TV) – just to name a few.  Hmmm…

As a parent, this is a pretty easy risk analysis – keep in mind that Canadian children and youth average 7 hours and 48 minutes of screen time a day.  As an adult, this is also a pretty easy risk analysis – even using my formula!

Surf’s up!IMG_4255

Two Wheeled Joy

387817_312352692123420_729312990_nMy lifetime love affair with the bicycle (in all its myriad forms) began at around 4 years old, I think.  My memories of learning to ride, although not complete, exist in flashes of colour, sound and touch.

Gold coloured bike

Conspicuously missing training wheels (gulp)

Hand on my shoulder

Reassuring voice in my ear

Greenness of the hedge flashing by

Reassuring voice NOT so close to my ear

Stolen glimpse over my shoulder of a rapidly disappearing figure

Feel of the gravel driveway on my skin

Taste of salty tears

Arms around my shoulders

Bum on the seat, feet on the pedals

Renewed trust

(Will you let go? I might!)

More green hedge

Straining to look forward and not backwards

Wind in my face

Freedom

A recent Globe and Mail article by Susan Rawley included the quote:

When I am on my bike, life couldn’t get any better.  Just like when I was 12.”

Susan’s middle-aged cycling adventure began from a desire for fun.  Those she meets on her bicycle often assume she is trying to get into shape, trying to deal with some health issue.  In her words,

“If they only knew how much fun I am having, how young and free I feel, how vital, they would get on their bikes too.”

Bike riding seems to provide access to our inner 12 year old like no other activity out there.   This young person within us does not care what she looks like, is not worried he will crash, adores the feel of the wind in her hair and is not afraid to get a little mud on his shorts or bugs in her teeth.  In the past few months of semi-spring in Edmonton, AB I have noticed the following “12 year olds” around town:

A silver haired lady riding her “Oma bike” no handed across a footbridge.

A tattooed man on a BMX, also riding no handed, listening to his music and drumming along (with actual drumsticks).

A man in a business suit riding leisurely down a completely straight bike path carving slow turns side to side.

A woman heading to the University (student or prof, I have no idea…) riding an old school cruiser and wearing a very pretty dress to go with an even prettier smile.

I have no idea of the motivation behind each of these individual’s choices to go for a ride.  Transport, fitness, health – doesn’t really matter.  Each of them was quite obviously experiencing the inherent joy and freedom that comes surprisingly easy on a bike.

No matter what type of bikes I ride – banana seat, 10-speed, cruiser, BMX, hard-tail, downhill, all mountain. 393633_312348655457157_1001564004_n

 

 

 

 

No matter what style of riding I do – paved, gravel, commuting, triathlon, single-track, free-ride, urban trials, skate park, bike park. 299710_284451321580224_2038219132_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter who I ride with – family, students, teammates, friends, strangers, alone.200702_493437714014916_130855017_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy flourishes.  Two wheeled joy.  Wanna go for a ride?

A High Five and a Kick in the Pants

This post is for all my PE peeps out there. #pegeeks, #physed, #peplc, etc…

I was given the opportunity a few years ago to give the combined Robert Routledge Memorial Address / R. Tait Mackenzie Scholar Address at the joint HPEC – PHE Canada National Conference in Banff (Coming back to Banff, AB in 2015!). It was both an honour and a responsibility to address my PE colleagues in this manner – if you want to read the whole speech, including a summary of both men’s lives, click here (and scroll down to page 40). I feel the message is still of value today so here is the main part of the speech for your reading pleasure!

Two men.  One life cut short.  One life almost 20 years longer.  Obviously, I never knew R. Tait McKenzie and Robert Routledge died the year before I was born.  As I examined their lives and accomplishments, a few things caught my attention.  These were passionate, professional, committed individuals who stood up for what they believed.  If they were here today, I think they would have some things to say to us – I’d like to give you my interpretation…

Friends are important.  Friends love you.  Friends will tell you when you’ve made a mistake or if you are traveling the wrong path.  Lawry St. Leger told a story yesterday of a large hospital in Australia where once per week, the surgeons, interns, nurses and all staff associated with the surgeries would enter a room and discuss the week’s surgery.  No notes.  No recordings.  Honest.  Truthful.  Friends and colleagues who push each other to be the best and are not afraid to give and accept constructive criticism.  Let’s enter that room together as health and physical educators.  My role today is to be your friend in that room and talk truthfully and honestly like I believe McKenzie and Routledge would.  Sometimes we need high fives.  Sometimes we need a kick in the pants.  Today is about both.

I believe that you, my friends, are some of the most passionate teachers on the planet.  You model.  You teach.  You empower.  You love.  Your students are privileged to encounter you on a daily basis.  Your energy and enthusiasm lifts up your colleagues, energizes your students and carries you through the day.  Like a McKenzie or a Routlege, your passion begins in your subject area, but more importantly, it extends to encompass children.  I often tell my student teachers’ that if they are passionate about their subject area and love children there is no better career in the world.  If they don’t – get out!  My friends – you do both and you do it well.  High Five! (Go ahead)

Time for a kick in the pants…  Please don’t do so to your colleagues – this one will remain figurative but feel free to accept this mentally!  I am beginning to see an alarming trend in Alberta – and I think across the country.  Teachers are becoming less involved.  They are coaching less, running fewer clubs, and not stepping up when things need to happen.  Our provincial organizations sometimes struggle for participants and members.  Sometimes, we can’t even get up the energy to nominate people for awards.  Friends, we need to be involved in our professional associations.  Demonstrate to everyone that we are committed to the value of HPE and will not back down in the face of adversity.  Follow the examples of our predecessors – recognize your colleagues, advocate for HPE, celebrate success and get deeply involved in your school community.

There are over 1000 people at this conference.  When I think of HPE people, I think of people committed to improving practice and honing their craft.  Despite an overwhelming focus on literacy and numeracy, you manage to still seek out and attend PD.  You are committed to improvement and willing to work hard to find it.  Workshops, conferences, books, journals, websites – all fuel for your fire.  You know that what you do changes lives the way no other subject area can.  I commend you for your dedication to excellence and improvement – High Five!

Do you only teach the activities you are good at?  Do you avoid gymnastics and sexual health because you don’t feel competent?  Is your gymnasium a place where elitism reigns and varsity team members can train to their hearts content?  A colleague of mine encourages student teachers to ask the following question when they are planning: “Who are you planning your program for – you, or your students?”  Let me put it this way…  Say I was teaching math and I said to my students, “We really should cover long division, but Mr. Gleddie here is not so competent and it actually makes him very uncomfortable – so we’ll just skip it.”  Ask yourself the questions, “Who is NOT in my gym?”  Who is NOT engaged in my class?” Then go and work on the problem.  Kick in the pants.

Haim Ginott (1972) reminds us of a somewhat scary responsibility: “I have come to a frightening conclusion.  I am the decisive element in the classroom.  It is my personal approach that creates the climate.  It is my daily mood that makes the weather.  As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.  I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.”  You, my friends, are instruments of inspiration.  Your work makes a difference.  You may not always see it today, tomorrow or in a year but the seeds are there.  Last night, Steven asked us to consider those kids like him – on the margin.  I received a phone call a few years ago from a girl that I taught in grade 7.  Amy had a rough life with parents in and out of drug rehab and several nights on the street.  Our school had a policy of linking staff with students at risk.  We were to smile a little more, talk if the opportunity was there and generally be there for them.  Amy called me 2.5 years later, out of the blue, and thanked me for my role in her life and wanted me to know that she was doing well, getting good grades and hanging out with good kids.  YOU make that kind of difference, whether you ever get to see the results or not.  When you get back to school – find that kid in the shadows – and begin  to do what you do best.  High five!

I’d like to finish with a creed.  Tonight’s social theme is “I AM CANADIAN”.  I’d like you to focus on, I am HPE!  When the right spot comes up – please rise and join me…

This next little portion is to be spoken to the rhythm of the ever popular “I am Canadian” rant courtesy of Molson Canadian in 2000.

Hey, I’m not a jock, Or a health nut

And I don’t give pushups for punishment, Or yell at kids, Or own a pair of short shorts

And yes, I did forget your name over the years, But I’m sure you were a really nice student

I follow the Program of Studies  – not the sport seasons, I teach physical education, not gym, And it’s pronounced HPECer, not H-P-E-C

I can proudly paint the ABCD’s on my gym wall, I believe in healthy schools not health kits, Inclusion, not elitism, And that a man can teach yoga and still hold his head high

Schlockey is a sport and a grocery bag is a juggling scarf, And yes, I teach sexual education and I’m good at it.

Health and PhysEd are the 2 core subjects that extend your life, The first choice of students, And the best part of the school day!

My name is “____” and I am H-P-E!

YOU DO GOOD WORK AND I LIKE YOU!

Not in My Gym

I recently tweeted a link to a story from slate.com and ignited a bit of a tweet-storm amongst the #physed crowd.  Jessica Olien (@jessicaolien), a writer and illustrator, wrote about her personal physical education experience (PE) in an article entitled, “Dodgeball Should Not Be Part of Any Curriculum, Ever: Making kids play team sports in PE is neither healthy nor educational.”  Although I would pretty much agree with this title and many of the points that the writer makes, I will admit that some aspects of the article rubbed me the wrong way – but this post is not really about those points.

Essentially, Jessica’s article described her journey through sport as experienced in her PE classes as a kid.  She wanted to be good at sports but described every new sport as a “fresh hell” as her self-confidence was annihilated.  For 12 years, with the exception of 1 week of archery in high school, Jessica described her experience as “agony”.    She felt that her personal failure at sport was perceived by her peers as an expectation for failure in other subjects, and/or life.

Calling the class “physical education” was a joke. The lesson I was learning about my physical body was that it was useless, inferior, and quite possibly infected with a cootie-like virus. We should have been learning about how complicated and capable our bodies were and how to make them healthier. Instead we were playing dodgeball.

From here on, Jessica makes a number of points / declarations:

1. Team sports (all other team sports are lumped in with dodgeball) are useless, do not develop life-skills, a sense of team and in fact, led Jessica to be a loner.

NOTE! The picture that accompanied the article actually seemed to be of a modified volleyball-type lesson using shorter, portable nets and beach balls for maximum engagement and skill development…

2. PE is traumatic and turns women away from fitness for life – Jessica did not improve her fitness, developed a poor self-image and does not play sports as an adult.

NOTE! The article references a British study that supposedly says PE “can be so traumatic that it turns women away from physical fitness for the rest of their lives”.  This is false.  I have the study.  The full report, not the media summary from The Telegraph. Although the research findings are certainly critical of many traditional PE practices (as am I), the authors make no claim to girls being turned off “for life” (especially being that the study was not longitudinal and lasted 11 months).   In fact, one of the ways the findings from the study are being used is to provide resources for teachers to improve the experience of girls (and hopefully boys too!) in their PE classes.

3. PE needs reform.  Classes are for everyone and not just “the athletes”. Fitness should be individual, not competitive.  PE should keep kids moving, not sitting around.  “Show them (students) their bodies can be a key to future happiness, not an obstacle to it”. (Hear, hear!)

Comments shared on slate.com in reaction to the article are, for the most part, quite vitriolic and some are even malicious.  A few folks deny the validity of Jessica’s story with commentators saying that “this happens in all subjects, should we get rid of those too?”  Others are very supportive and chime in about the negativity and humiliation they too, suffered in PE.  By contrast, the comments from my #physed twitter contacts were of a much different flavour.

@joeyfeith wrote an insightful response on branch.com that includes this statement, So is the author’s article completely wrong? No, I think that, sadly, some students still have to deal with those types of experiences in PE (and in classroom subjects too). However, I think her article’s title is way off, and spending some time chatting with the members of the #physed community might show her why.” Check out The Physical Educator for more of Joey’s brand of excellence.

@andyvasily blogged the following, Jessica, rest assured in knowing that what you say above (see point #3 above) is happening in a number of PE programs nowadays. Personally and professionally, my life is about making a positive difference in young people’s lives. There are a vast number of passionate and very caring PE practitioners out there doing the very same thing on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing your opinion and I sincerely hope you take the time to look at the websites above and to consider, with an open-mind, that physical education has taken on big change over the last several years. It is wrong that you were made to feel this way in school.”

So why are these PE teachers not ranting and raving to the world about the generalizations, over-simplifications and errors in Jessica’s article?  I think there are three reasons applicable to those who “get it” about PE.

  1. Relationships.  These people care about kids.  All kids.  Sizes. Shapes. Abilities. Disabilities. Races. Religions. Kids being the operating word here.  If Jessica had Andy or Joey as her teacher, I am confident her perception of PE (and adult competence) would be different.  The goal is thinking, feeling, moving individuals being successful (maintaining strengths AND improving weaknesses).  Confidence and competence are like the circle of life for kids in PE.
  2. Professionalism. These people care about teaching.  They are educators, pedagogues and master teachers who know when to step forward and when to step back.  They never “throw out a ball” and don’t value a class according to “busy, happy and good.”  They realize that PE doesn’t just happen, but needs an educated, motivated, informed, caring professional to be done right.
  3. Advocacy. These people care about PE.  They value its intrinsic and extrinsic worth.  They want to make the profession and the subject better.  They willingly seek and accept critique, judgement and accountability for the sake of quality PE.

Please note that both Andy and Joey acknowledge and are saddened by Jessica’s story.  There is no denial of her experience.  Story is powerful.  As my last post detailed, active positive stories are impactful and memorable. Apparently, so are active negative stories (See Strean, W.B. (2009).  Remembering instructors: play, pain and pedagogy.)   John Dewey once stated, ““We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”  One of the ways in which I deal with the issue of negative PE experiences like Jessica’s is to provide the pre-service teachers in my classes (essentially, “How to Teach PE”) with a framework for reflection on practice and consideration of the personal stories being created through their teaching.  Essentially, I provide one profoundly negative PE experience followed by many and frequent positive ones.

Let me explain…  The first class of my course begins with the most stereotypical, “old-school” PE class (much like the one I imagine Jessica had) that I can handle without throwing up.  For a detailed description, check out “Gym Class with ED Fizz”.  The purpose is to create a shared experience for us to reflect on, interact with and discuss.  Interestingly enough, a few students are comfortable with this experience.  A few just steel themselves for more of the type of PE they had in grade 10.  Most, however, are horrified.  In fact, the more times I do this exercise, the more students I have in my class who have NOT had a PE teacher like that.  This makes me happy!  The rest of my class focuses on creating positive experiences that lead students to value PE, develop an identity as a PE teacher and begin to explore appropriate pedagogy.

One of the best student papers I ever received was on the topic of media stereotypes and myths surrounding PE (check out @movelivelearn’s blog that includes this topic).  I had asked pre-service teachers to reflect on how negative media portrayals of PE might impact their own future students perceptions of PE and PE teachers.  Daniel (may or may not be a pseudonym…) not only had an excellent summary and analysis of these stereotypes, he had a very unique and wonderful way of responding.  In his conclusion he wrote (rough paraphrase from my memory):

In the end, it won’t matter what stereotypes or myths my students have seen and/or believe about PE.  Once they walk into my gym and experience my PE, they will know that is NOT me.  Humiliation? Not in my gym.  Athlete-centric? Not in my gym.  Gender biased? Not in my gym. Sports only? Not in my gym. Picked last? Not in my gym.

I believe that the very vibrant and pro-active #physed community on Twitter will also say, “NOT IN MY GYM” to experiences like Jessica’s and help to eradicate the poor practice that stubbornly hangs on.  We #physed folks need to adopt the challenge that Dr. Margaret Whitehead gave recently (IPLC, 2013):

Our mission or challenge

is to do all we can

to enable ALL to make progress

on their  individual

physical literacy journey

Please feel free to continue to share negative experiences of PE and to criticize and hold accountable those in our profession who are responsible for these horrific stories.  However, remember that not all PE teachers and PE classes are the same.  Please avoid painting us all with the same brush and perpetuating the stereotypes.  Also feel free to lift up those who are living the change and providing transformational movement stories with students in PE everyday.

Jessica, you are welcome in my gym any day.

Want to share your positive PE experiences?  Visit the Facebook page Transformational Experiences in Physical Education to share your story!

Actively Improving Your Life-Story

MMTYI have recently been re-reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (author of Blue like Jazz and a few other tomes).  This time around the book has been especially impactful as I am in the midst of some exciting (at least to me) research using narrative as the mode of inquiry.  More to come about that soon!  A Million Miles is the story of Donald’s experience having a film made about his life.  Through the process, he learns a LOT about what makes a good story – and what makes for a story no one would pay to see.

If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers.  You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie… The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back.  Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. (Author’s note, xiii)

Miller comes to the conclusion that the life he is living is NOT a good story.  The essential question he asks  is, “If your life was on film, would anyone watch?”  Donald begins to “edit” his life and much of the book details that process.  I don’t want to give it all away – just read the book – it is worth it!  Yesterday, I finished a chapter that included the following quote from one IMG_3173of Miller’s friends, “I am too busy living actual stories to watch them on a screen”.  Later, as I was walking through the melting snow of the river valley with Rover, my dog (yes, I have a dog named Rover…), I began to think of how the stories of physical activity and movement we create in our own lives are memorable and impactful.

As you have seen in earlier posts, I was fortunate to grow up in a place where physical activity was the norm.  As I walked, I began to think of how we could improve our life stories – especially with physical activity – and several thoughts came to mind:

First, I thought of my mom.  She loves to walk, snowshoe, bike ride etc. and most of our family recreation activities growing up included an emphasis on the physical.  Pretty sure some of my love for an active life came from her…  She definitely created active stories for our family.  Once, she hosted a huge New Year’s Eve party where the “main event” was a multi-team Olympics that involved dog sled races with toboggans and other events both indoor and out.  I am sure that no-one who attended will forget that party!  Then, last Thanksgiving (the cool one in October in Canada), my mom and I cooked up the idea to have a full-on family dinner at a local park.  We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day, although the wind threatened the turkey and it couldn’t have been much warmer than 5 C (41 F).  We enjoyed a full potluck dinner, punctuated by Frisbee, football, playground games and culminating in a beach volleyball game that included ages from 7 to over 70.  Who needs to sit on the couch and watch football when you can play your own games!

Next, I thought of my friend Ryan who happens to be one of the most active people I have ever met.  He once used a period of unemployment in his life as an opportunity to hike the West Coast Trail.  Why sit at home when you can blaze a new trail?

I thought of my friend Cathy who is riding in her 10th MS bike tour this June (click to donate!) and consistently invites current and former students, family and friends to join her storied rides.  Why not invite someone new along for the ride?

I thought of my cousins Carlynne and Dan who, on a cross-country move from Alberta stopped in at my cousins Nathan & Heather’s house in Winnipeg for a visit.  Since they arrived at 2:00 am in the morning and Nathan had no idea they were coming Carlynne and Dan did what any of us would surely do.  They set up their tent on the front lawn and then hung a sign on the door saying who they were and to please wake them up for a visit.  Nathan’s kids woke up to an instant adventure and a mystery on their lawn (I think they used binoculars to read the sign…).  How about creating a little magic for someone else?

I thought of Nathan & Heather who, when their family solved the tent mystery, proceeded to invite the occupants in for pancakes, kept the kids out of school for the day and let the story develop.  Do you think the kids remember that day? The answer is a resounding, YES!  Why not break a few “rules” a create some memories?

I thought of my friend Heather (@RunSoulCycle) who is heading down to Disneyworld not to take part in the manufactured joy that is Disney but to do the “Dopey” challenge: a 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon all in one weekend.  What about challenging yourself to a more interesting story than meeting Mickey?

IMG_0827I thought of the ways I have tried to create active stories with my own family.  Last summer we IMG_1172competed in the Bruce Stampede (99th annual small town pro rodeo!) as a family and entered the calf scramble, greased pig chase, bloomer race (first team to put panties on a calf), wild cow milking (yes, the picture in your head is the right one…) and a wild cow race.  We will be continuing that particular story this summer at the 100th annual Bruce Stampede (and defending our cow race title) and have invited more friends and family to come along for the ride – care to join us?

IMG_0822If you look at the pictures on my Facebook page (or others) it is easy to see where the best stories are created: back-packing, skiing, biking, walking, winter camping, fishing, anything active and engaging makes for a better story.  This June our family challenge will be the Spartan Race – bring it on!

One more quote from Donald Miller: “We have to force ourselves to create these scenes.  We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner tubes and head to the river.  We have to write the poem and deliver it in person.  We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill.  We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.” (p. 214)

Interesting that most of these examples involve movement…  What kind of active story are you creating?  The choice is easy.  Sit at home and watch someone else’s stories or get up and move.

Moved to Move

47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1I have always believed in the importance of physical education.  Movement has been an integral part of my own life since I was a child.  As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life (still working on that) and eventually settled on a career in education, physical education was always at the forefront.  2013 marks my 20th year as a physical education teacher and after nine career “adjustments” (new positions, new schools, new degrees) over this time span, two constants have emerged: physical education and working with children and youth.  Despite this long term committed relationship with PE it is only very recently that I have made the leap from thinking PE is important to a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life-changing and life-giving need for human movement.

Currently, the two most common arguments shared for increasing daily physical activity and advocating for more physical education include benefits to health and academic performance.  Here’s a quick overview:

  • Health Benefits: physical activity: is the #1 treatment for fatigue; decreases anxiety by 48%; decreases diabetes by 50%; decreases knee arthritis by 47%; decreases depression by 47% (these stats are from Dr. Mike Evan’s brilliant video entitled 23 ½ hours – there are many, many more stats like this!).
  • Academic Benefits: a research brief summarizing the relationship between physical education, activity and academic performance includes these findings: reducing PE time to increase classroom time does not improve academics; increasing PE can lead to improved grades; active kids tend to perform better academically; activity breaks improve cognition and behavior.

Awesome.  The more ammunition we have to advocate for quality physical education the better.  These are all valid reasons that should not (although often they are…) be ignored.

There is, however, one problem.  A BIG PROBLEM.  When all the focus is on extrinsic or functional rationale we miss two very important aspects of movement itself.

Aspect #1: Movement for the sake of Movement! Movement can stand on it’s own – it has inherent worth and efficacy all by its lonesome.  Consider this quote:

People perceive in order to move and move in order to perceive.  What, then, is movement but a form of perception, a way of knowing the world as well as acting on it? (Thelen, 1995)

Movement is essential to who we are as human beings and is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan.  For example: infants who averaged 41 days of creeping experience were more likely to avoid a “visual cliff” (plexi-glass covered drop-off) than infants with 11 days of experience (Witherington, et al., 2005).  At the other end of the spectrum, women over 80 years old who participated in a targeted exercise program (strength and balance) had significantly less falls than the 80 year-old women who did not (Campbell, et al., 1999).  The health and academic benefits are a great bonus, but are really just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the treacherous terrain of life.  Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical.

Aspect #2: The Intrinsic Joy of Movement I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen.  As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those reveling in the snow.  We need this joy!  As Scott Kretchmar writes:

When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to.  When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible (2008)

Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:

“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.”  “Great!  I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.”  “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity”  “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”

Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education.  The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it.  As a bonus, they’ll also get all the health and academic benefits.  If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park.  There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight (you’ll also most likely see me laying at the bottom of the half-pipe after attempting to ride the wall…).

Want to advocate for physical education?  Want healthier kids and a less sedentary society?  Become a spokesperson and model for the inherent worth of movement itself.  Be a joy-seeker and find ways to allow others to find their joy through movement as well. As for me, I am off to the skate park!

This post was done as a guest blog for ParticiPACTION.

Ol’ Yeller

20130304-194451.jpgOK – time for the first rant of my blogging career…  Why do we tolerate  / allow coaches (especially, but not exclusively, in school sport) to yell at youth?  Allow me to share the impetuses for my rant.

Exhibit#1: I was watching a junior high basketball game and the coach on the other team was a YELLER.  He YELLED (I am capitalizing to illustrate how frickin’ annoying YELLING is) at a lot of players through-out the game but one particular instance stands out for me.  One of the girls on his team was at least three feet taller than all the rest and as such was gathering in a substantial amount of rebounds.  Apparently, that was not quite good enough for the coach because he proceeded to YELL at her, “JUMP ALREADY! JUST JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP! AHH – WHY WON’T SHE JUMP?” The girl was obviously embarrassed, chagrined, uncomfortable, mortified, etc. but to her credit she kept smiling, albeit a little painfully.  Hmm, wonder how long she’ll stay in basketball…

Exhibit #2: A teenager I know tried out for, and made, the football team (for my non-North American friends I mean the kind with helmets) at his high school this year.  Despite an expressed interest and potential burgeoning love for a new sport – not to mention the fact that he is a bit of a beast and would do very well – he decided to not play for the team.  One of the main reasons was a coach who YELLED something very similar to the following, “WHAT THE F@$% WAS THAT? ONE MORE MISTAKE AND YOU ARE OUTA HERE! THERE IS NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES ON MY TEAM. GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME OR RIDE THE BENCH.”  Add this to a few racist slurs and I applaud this teenager’s decision not to play. Keep in mind that these words weren’t even directed at my teenage friend, but at another player on the field.

Let me make a few clarifications to the above exhibits and then close with two main thoughts.  Although I was in attendance at the basketball game, the words above are in no way to be considered a direct quote – only my remembrance of a vivid event.  I do not know if he was a teacher as well as a coach at the school.   The words of the football coach are from the teenager’s perception and, in his mind, accurately portray at least the spirit of the exchanges that went on at practice.  This coach is a teacher at the school.  Ladies, lest you think you are off the hook, it just happens that these two recent exhibits are men – ladies can be YELLERS too!

Thought #1: Does it strike anyone else as odd that while we would we never condone a teacher YELLING at our kids in a classroom, for some reason it becomes accepted in a gym / field setting?  “THAT’S A F@#&ING MULTIPLICATION SIGN NOT DIVISION! DROP AND GIVE ME 20 YOU MISERABLE EXCUSE FOR A MATH STUDENT!”. Weird.  Stupid.  Simply put, yelling (see, I stopped, it is that easy) does not work.  Yelling does not inspire performance.  Yelling does not show that we care. Yelling does not develop skill. Yelling does not build up our youth. Stop. Please.

Thought #2: So far, whenever I have shared the football story, people say, “Oh, but that is just the way football is.”  Really?  Football can operate in no other way than by demeaning and belittling youth with public humiliation and slander (@lifeisathletic – I’d love your thoughts here!)?  What a crock!  I love contact sports but can think of no reason why this mentality has to be the culture of football, rugby, hockey etc.  I know plenty of coaches in these types of sports who are very effective without being an Ol’ Yeller. Please, save the yelling for cheers and praise.

Waiting to be moved by your responses (but leave the megaphone at home…).

Move Yourself to Work

I like walking to work. Or riding my bike. Rollerblading. Running. Gonna try kayaking (just need a kayak),long-boarding and XC skiing one of these days too. My current commute is 5-8 km depending on my chosen route, mode of transport and season. At one point, when I was teaching junior high I rode my bike 23 km each way. Yes, I do this in the winter as well (my record is -36 C w/o wind chill – not doing that again…). You may rightly ask, “why”? Let me explain with a few pictures and fewer words.

NS_RiverI happen to live less than 5 minutes from the largest urban parkland in North America (7,400 hectares or almost 20,000 acres).  That means for much of the year I can access trails and paths on my way to work.  This was not always the case.  One of the reasons we moved to our current house was to be closer to this jewel.

Fall ride home.This is my Spring / Summer / Fall (Fall is my favourite!) ride home – sweet single-track to chase all my worries away, experience some eustress and leave the distress in my dust. Most days I put in a few extra kms just because – I mean, have you LOOKED at this picture?

StairsWalking in the winter can lead to unexpected vistas like this one.  When I biked this way in the morning the stairs were bare.  In the afternoon you could taste the silence brought on by the new snow.

WinterBikeIt is good to challenge Old Man Winter.  Especially on my winter-bike taking on big Alberta trucks and bigger egos.  Nuff said.

IMG_0891One more shot of a favourite trail.  You might say, “But I don’t live by all these nice trails like you do – it wouldn’t work for me.”  Phooey.  Everyone has options.  Get off the bus a few kms early or walk to a stop a few klicks away.  Park your car somewhere further away.  Ask others at work if they use active transport and get some tips.  Absolutely can’t make it work?  Take a lap around the office building at lunch!  Try moving yourself to work just once a week – guarantee you’ll get hooked. Your body, mind and soul will thank you.

Made to Move

Welcome to Purposeful Movement!

This wee blog has been a long time coming but sometimes life just seems to get in the way…  I will be touching on a wide variety of topics (OK, sometimes more ranting than touching) with the common theme being movement of all sorts.  Physical education, for sure.  Sport, yup. Physical activity, yup. Physical literacy – you betcha.  Children and youth – absolutely (a bit of a specialty of mine).  Joy – wouldn’t miss it.  So, to kick this off and give you a bit of glimpse into my psyche (scary, I know), here is a poem I wrote for my Masters thesis.   Yes, I said a poem. Enjoy!

Child

For a fleeting moment, the child is still

Face dirty and smiling

Jeans grass-stained, torn, mended, torn again

Pockets full

Before the image really registers, the child is gone

A blur flying among the tall grass, fences and pastures

Free to explore and enjoy

Movement everywhere, in everything

Bikes, balls, trees, fields, swings, space

Pretending, feeling, building, creating

Work is play, play is work

Sweating in the late afternoon sun

Dirt clings but does not matter

All day he moves over the farm

Running, jumping, crawling, throwing,

Walking, creeping, leaping, rolling

The only constant is constant movement

Joy seeps through the dirt

Eyes are bright and expressive

Face mirrors mood

Reveling in the smallest accomplishment

Sharing success excitedly with any who will listen

At the end of the day he falls

Into a contented sleep

Dreaming

Of

Joy.

Yet to come.

Josh Ogilvie

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