September Teacher Feature: Russ Minnis
Ophea’s excited to bring to you a series of “Teacher Feature” blogs. Featuring Q&A’s with leading Healthy & Physical Education teachers, the blogs share ideas, insights, and resources straight from the source.
Our first Teacher Feature is Russ Minnis, bringing you practical ideas to help get your school year off to a great start.
Q&A with Russ Minnis:
1. What grades do you primarily teach?
I teach JK-Grade 8. (18 classes)
2. How long have you been teaching Healthy & Physical Education (H&PE)?
This is my 19th year as a teacher, 16th as an H&PE specialist; all at the same school, École St-Jean-Baptiste, CSC Providence (French Catholic).
3. Why were you interested in teaching H&PE?
When I was in elementary school, I had a fantastic H&PE teacher. It was incredible to see the positive change in myself and peers when we knew we had PE class. This teacher motivated us all to do our best, no matter what that was. He was animated and full of positive energy. He had a big impact on our overall day, and we felt good knowing we had his class.
He later changed schools, ending up at my high school the same year I was in grade 9. He made the same great impact as a secondary coach and H&PE teacher. I wanted to be like him. Since grade 7 I knew I wanted to be a French H&PE teacher.
4. What are some goals you like to set with students at the beginning of the new school year?
Goal setting is very personal at the beginning of the school year. I ask students to reflect on their previous year to help them set a new goal(s). Goals are very different from one student to another, and are sometimes very specific or alternatively very general.
For example, one student’s goal could be to bring their change of clothes most of the time. While another student’s could be to change partners more often to help create inclusive activities. Some students may also want to focus on fitness, trying to achieve a new degree of endurance accompanied by drinking more water. Others may want to simply be less competitive, more inclusive, try harder, concentrate on a skill, or participate more often.
There are always more specific goals associated with each unit, however the goals at the start of the year help situate the student’s mindset for a good start to the entire year.
5. How do you prepare an active learning space to ensure all students feel safe and included right from the start of the year?
From the first day, I teach students about physical safety, including:
- The gym: fire escape, lock down, where they can and cannot play, how to use the change rooms, washrooms, outdoor spaces, fields, etc.
- Cooperative games units: to learn the importance of personal space, participation, cooperation, leadership, opinions, how success is measured, etc.
- Safety rules: such as “appropriate intensity” –where in each situation and activity, students evaluate what the appropriate intensity is to ensure personal and peer safety and success.
- Introducing a variety of activities: students feel good having a choice when it comes to who they play with, what equipment they use, and how they can practice to help improve their abilities. I try to offer a large variety of activities throughout a unit so students can feel good that if they didn’t succeed this time, there will be another chances in a different activity.
6. Any key equipment pieces you like to use throughout the year? And, how do you ensure students use them safely?
I try to use a variety of equipment pieces to support students in finding the best tool to learn, practice, and show success during activities.
I try to avoid having too many sport specific kits. For example, I don’t need 30 basketballs to teach a bounce dribble. Instead, I could have basketballs, volleyballs, playground balls, high bounce foam balls, kickball, etc. Each type of ball adds a new level of difficulty and challenge for students to learn the skill. Variety is key in keeping students interested!
I try to choose new equipment that can be used with students from JK to Grade 8. Younger students need variety to discover new abilities through inquiry, older students need variety to keep the learning fresh and challenging.
I also always introduce new equipment to each class; asking students to help decide what appropriate safety limits are for each piece of equipment. Including students in the discussions helps with their understanding of specific rules.
7. What helps you, as an educator, build confidence in students when teaching H&PE?
I try to make H&PE an event each time students come to the gym. I use a variety of activities, equipment and music that students can engage with. I want students to have fun learning new skills and strategies through different games and challenges. As an H&PE teacher, I have a huge responsibility to show students the pleasure in being happy, healthy, and active! Therefore, once they have the desire to come to H&PE class, the confidence to tackle any challenge will follow.
8. What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this year that will support your students in building healthy living skills?
I’m looking forward to helping students work on their personal goals, use their skills, and develop strategies to succeed at school and at home. Helping them understand that their choices and options are very important. I would like to challenge them to give their very best, no matter the discussion, the activity, or the moment. Overall, to try to put their limits to the test and see where it takes them.
9. Do you have go-to resources or tools that you would recommend to new H&PE educators?
I absolutely recommend using Ophea’s Teaching Tools website. It offers a variety of resources and tools, and it’s a great starting point for all skill levels, ages, and abilities within H&PE.
I also recommend CIRA Ontario – their games resources are awesome. My favourite games are:
- TAG, TAG and more TAG. My students love a tag game warmup.
- WHY PAPER and SCISSORS ROCK. Nothing solves a problem like a quick RPS game.
10. Any words of advice you could share with H&PE educators as they start the new school year?
In my opinion, an H&PE teacher is the best career available! It is very rewarding knowing that we can have a lifelong impact on our students. However, teaching H&PE must be “intentional” and not “occupational”. There is always a time and a place for playing any old favorite game for fun -but we are professionals. Our time with students is precious, and teaching should always have meaning centered around a learning goal. It should not be used to keep students occupied. Students need and deserve great teachers!
Do you have tips or recommendations to share with new or returning H&PE teachers to help kick-start the new school year? Share them with us @OpheaCanada using the hashtag #OpheaHPEtips.