By Terri Clark
It’s fall, again. And here we are, back in school, again. It’s time for a new crop of freshmen, the class of 2023, to begin their high school journey and begin their personal journeys through high school Physical Education. I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. Summer’s over – hate. New beginnings – love. It’s a chance to begin again, try new things, fix broken things, and welcome 240 new students to Patrick Henry Physical Education.
I begin each class of a new year with what I have dubbed “on-boarding.” One of the most important pieces of my class/curriculum is teaching students about my expectations. I will spend the first two weeks getting to know my students and helping them to get to know each other. Helping them understand what learning looks like in Physical Education and how we are going to work together to accomplish that. We will spend the next 9 months together, so I figure it’s best if we all learn how to work together and get along right from the start. So, on the surface it might not look like traditional Physical Education, but if you were to observe long enough you would see it’s all in there: teamwork, respect, communication skills, and responsibility. We will also spend the next nine months traversing our way through 9th grade-level Physical Education together so it goes best when we I can help them see that we’re all in this together.
New beginnings are always challenging in education. But they are particularly trying when you are transitioning from one theory of learning to a new one. In my 25-plus years of teaching I have seen quite a few come and go. But, lately, one in particular that has gotten under my skin and won’t leave me is Universal Design for Learning, or U.D.L., in the education community. I’m leaning into U.D.L. this year with all my teacher might. This theory keeps appearing over and over; from mentors, in my professional development, leaders in education and colleagues. I had the good fortune to attend a professional development in September where we watched a short Tedx Talk, “The Myth of Average,” by Todd Rose (check it out!). For this old teacher it was one of those “ah-ha” moments that changed everything. I’m thankful for that 18 minute Tedx Talk and what it taught me about how kids might or might not learn.
The idea behind this Ted Talk is that it’s a myth that there is an “average” student. If you take that assumption one step further expanding on the belief that there is an average student the logical conclusion is that you would teach to the “average.” So, if I teach to the “average” student I will reach “most” of my students. Correct? No, not at all. Because, it really is an erroneous assumption that there is an “average” student. So, here I am again, at the cross-roads of “ Old Teacher and New Physical Education. Believing that there is an average student, one that represents most of my students is more than inaccurate, it’s a belief system that will give you (and your students) less than average results. Knowing this once again challenges me with change. Change in the way I will approach instruction, change in how I assess students and it changes how I see each student as an individual.
After all of it, what I was left to think through were my thoughts on students and the newly found belief that there is NO average student. What happens when students only have access to an “average” means of accessing instruction and curriculum? Or what about instruction that does not reach them where they are on their continuum of learning? Sadly, I know the answer to that question; they are left out, left behind. That outcome produces two byproducts: students who feel like Physical Education is so basic it’s not necessary, or it’s so far out of their reach, “why even try?” Neither one of those options produce a student who is physically literate and ready to assume responsibility for their own health and well being. And, I must conclude, that is the goal. That is the, “cross the finish line, spike the ball, hit it out-of-the-park” goal for this teacher.
I will begin another year learning anew how students learn best and with the best intentions of delivering instruction that is accessible to every student while creating assessments that allow for choice in how students demonstrate learned content. I feel up for the challenge. Stay-tuned for updates. If you ‘d like to follow our journey this year follow me on twitter @teachingthemasses.
—Terri Clark teaches Physical Education at Patrick Henry High School.