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UKPE Cross-border Learning and Innovation Collaborative

UKPE Cross-border Learning and Innovation Collaborative

Making space for interdisciplinary research, dialogue, and collaboration in Physical Education and Health and Wellbeing

Small steps can make a big difference in moving physical education forwards – blog by PE teacher Naomi Davies

This is the third blog in the series where Naomi Davies, a PE teacher from Wales, reflects on the small steps she is trying to make to ‘do better’ for all her learners.

Small steps can make a big difference in moving physical education forwards

My name is Naomi Davies and I am a physical education (PE) teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni, a two-site secondary Welsh medium school located in South Wales. I was also a pupil in this school, which means that I am now working alongside colleagues who were once my own PE teachers. To a large extent, my values and beliefs about PE have developed as a result of my experiences in this school, experiences that have been both positive and successful. However, I am becoming more interested in learning about how we can adapt and evolve as a department, and how I can adapt and evolve as a teacher, recognising that much of my learning to date has taken place within this context (as both a pupil and a teacher). Through my engagements with, and reflections on, the new Curriculum for Wales, I am beginning to challenge what success looks like in PE, and to re-imagine PE so that it can meet the needs of all our pupils – in our context, and our ever-changing society. This is not easy to do, especially in a department where lots of things already seem to ‘work’. But what if we can be even better, for even more of our pupils. In this blog, I will share with you some of my reflections on this challenge.

I understand young people’s engagement and learning in PE as a journey, one that starts in school and continues beyond school and into adulthood. Learning in PE is not one thing, it is made up of an array of different experiences that young people develop over time – in different ways, and at different times. Importantly, learning experiences in PE not only support the ongoing development of a variety of movement skills and competencies, but also support young people in becoming better learners – to become confident and ambitious learners, who are not afraid of failure. In fact, learners who understand failure as an important part of the learning process, who can reflect on failure and use this knowledge to shape their future learning. To do this well in PE, we have to make sure that the learning experiences we offer are deemed worthwhile by our learners. Pupil voice, therefore, is critical to developing a curriculum that young people want to engage with/in – where they see how it connects to them, their moving bodies and their lives more broadly. However, for me, this does not simply mean ‘pupil choice’. In order to support the development of young people as effective and confident learners, teachers have to have some say in what and how they learn – to challenge, stretch, but at the same time, ensure that learners have a safe space for their learning.

Finding this balance between pupil voice and teacher input/experience/expertise is challenging to do. I decided to attend the UKPE workshops to engage in dialogue with other teachers about this issue, and to try to work out a way of achieving this balance. Like all schools in Wales, we have recently been tasked with designing a new curriculum. I see this as an opportunity to move the subject forward, but I’m not always clear about what this looks like or how it is achieved – particularly within a well-established and already ‘successful’ PE department. Engaging in the workshop was useful, especially learning from the teachers in Scotland who have gone through a similar process of curriculum reform. It was comforting to know that they had grappled with similar issues. It was also comforting to be reminded that change takes time, and that small steps can make a big difference. We talked about building on good practice, and also about reflecting on and evaluating change so that we continue to learn and develop over time.

Moving forward, I think that there are some small changes that we can make to develop our curriculum and pedagogy, to challenge our learners, but also to ensure that they understand the relevance of their learning within PE. One such change is simply to communicate the goals of each activity and each lesson in a more explicit way, making it clear to learners that learning can sometimes be difficult, but that this is an important and necessary part of the learning experience. We will pay more attention to helping our learners understand that challenging contexts will contribute to their skill development but, perhaps even more importantly, that they will also contribute to their development as a person. This might also be achieved through my own behaviours and attitudes, demonstrating that I too can find learning difficult, that I am not an expert in all activities, but that I am willing to ‘have a go’ and sometimes fail – and that’s okay. This approach might also support our endeavours in addressing some of the gender issues in PE. For example, if I can teach activities normally taught by my male colleagues, such as rugby, I can model a willingness to learn, show how I deal with feelings of discomfort, but also highlight my potential to succeed. These are just some examples of the small changes that I hope to make which, in the long run, might lead to shifts in how teachers and pupils understand and value PE.


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