How effective H&PE professional development can impact student learning
When it comes to professional development in education, there’s rarely enough time or funding to go around. That’s why making the most of the resources available is a must.
“It’s a complex system with competing priorities at every level,” says Joanne Walsh, Ophea Curriculum Consultant, long-time System Lead and Faculty of Education Instructor. “The Ministry of Education sets the priorities and directions for education each year which might then drive the priorities for the type of professional development teachers might access. This year, for example, mental health and well being and the connections to student success are a priority so that tends to set the priority for the type of learning that teachers might receive as part of PD days and staff meetings.”
Certainly, there are strong connections to be made between mental health, student achievement and the H&PE curriculum—but training for specific teaching subjects may not be as frequent or may need to be individually driven. So why is supporting the ongoing learning of teachers teaching Health and Physical Education (H&PE) essential? What works? And where can teachers turn for support? Read on to find out.
This article is the first of a four-part series where in each one we will take a deep dive into a different area research that has shown to be connected to effective implementation; sharing feedback from teachers, students, and education system leaders on what’s working, what’s needed, and what’s next.
The more support teachers receive on curriculum delivery, the more students benefit.
In August 2019, the Ministry of Education released an updated elementary H&PE curriculum. It’s a comprehensive and carefully crafted document. That said, delivering it is a tall order—especially given the importance of the task at hand: helping a generation of Ontario students to develop their mental health and well-being, physical and health literacy, and the comprehension, capacity, and commitment they will need to lead healthy, active lives and promote healthy, active living.[i]
Dave Inglis, a retired H&PE teacher and Co-President of OASPHE also points to the ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children & Youth on which Canadian children have most recently scored a D+ for overall physical activity. “If physical activity leads to stronger brain functioning, increased self esteem, better focus and decreased symptoms of anxiety among other things, we need to find time for it and make it a priority.” he states.
The updated 2019 elementary H&PE curriculum raises new questions.
While the curriculum’s content will be largely familiar to teachers who have taught from the 2015 version, there are some key differences.
“In secondary and in the previous elementary version there was a set of expectations called the Living Skills. Now the elementary curriculum includes Social-Emotional Learning Skills,” says Inglis. “We need to support teachers in better understanding this strand. How do you assess how well students are applying Social-Emotional Skills? How do you assess levels of student motivation? These are things I know teachers would like support with.”
Creating opportunities that encourage both asking and contributing ideas to these questions and others like these such as; what are the skills students in Grade 1 can use to identify their emotions? How can I help Grade 6 students recognize that coping skills include help-seeking, and what are the resources I can bring in to help them develop that skill? help to support understanding and can lead to quality implementation.
“We also have to be cognisant that not all teachers at the elementary level have extensive prior experience related to H&PE,” adds Walsh. “We need to provide them with more tools and strategies in order to provide students with quality experiences.”
What are the qualities of effective professional development?
“Policy launches should be accompanied by implementation support, without this it will lead to that policy being enacted haphazardly, inconsistently and possibly ineffectively,” says Tim Fletcher, Associate Professor of Physical Education in the Department of Kinesiology at Brock University.
But what should this support look like? Fletcher stresses that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to effective professional learning but there are a few key indicators to keep in mind.
“Effective professional learning for teachers needs to be based on their situational needs and grounded in their immediate context,” he says. This includes not only the context of their classroom, but also of their school and their community. Furthermore, it tends to work best when conducted in small groups that allow teachers to share their thoughts and experiences and learn from one another.
Effective professional learning is also ongoing in nature. It gives teachers the chance to try things in the classroom or gym, reflect on the outcomes, discuss what they’ve learned with their peers and try again.
“[These indicators] go against the more common format of the one-off day where you fly in an expert to present and then away you go, goodbye and good luck,” says Fletcher.
As well as leaving teachers with little in the way of ongoing support about what they have learned, these one-off PD sessions can be costly for schools. Attending a full-day training eats into instructional time. Between teaching, lesson planning and leading co-curricular activities, time is one thing teachers rarely have enough of.
Self-directed professional learning opportunities offer flexibility.
For better or worse, professional learning in H&PE is often self-directed and done on a teacher’s own time.
“It’s important to be consistent in staying up-to-date with what the evidence is suggesting works,” says Fletcher, “but reading a 7000-word research article isn’t appealing to a lot of teachers.” That’s why he suggests seeking out organizations that act as conduits for research. “Knowledge translators, if you will.”
These include Ophea, of course, but also OASPHE, CIRA and PHE Canada. Not only do these groups use a variety of online platforms such as blogs, e-learning modules and webinars that can be accessed at a teacher’s convenience (and generally at little to no cost), they also communicate evidence-based practices using plain language. What’s more, training and resources are consistently delivered with an emphasis on efficiency, because teachers’ personal time is precious.
Connecting with peers who have differing experience is a powerful way to learn.
When it comes to H&PE, best practices are always evolving—which means that teaching techniques must evolve, too.
“All faculties of education work really hard to provide pre-service teachers with a strong foundation in H&PE,” says Walsh, “but there’s so much to know in terms of teaching in the Ontario context. That’s why it’s important for teachers to have the chance to continue their learning while they’re in service. We need a combination of quality training and connecting teachers for ongoing learning.”
According to Walsh, it’s especially powerful to connect new teachers with more experienced teachers. “Our young teachers are at the leading edge in that their full-time learning has been rooted in the most up-to-date pedagogy. They come into service with that but not with knowledge of its deep application.” Luckily, that’s something experienced teachers have in spades.
Give the Instructional Coaching Model a try.
One way that new and experienced teachers (or any teachers/peers in the education system) might consider connecting is through an Instructional Coaching model. Instructional Coaching is a teacher-directed model that was originally designed to support literacy and numeracy teaching skills but has been adapted for H&PE.
“It could be two colleagues coming together for a shared learning experience, one with expertise and experience teaching H&PE and one wanting to learn more about a specific part of their teaching practice,” Walsh explains. “They might begin with a conversation to determine what they want to know more about on a specific element of the H&PE curriculum and what that might that look like in the classroom or gym. They then establish a process for their learning such as looking at current research and/or the experienced teacher sharing their expertise. They might then work collegially to co-plan and co-teach a lesson and then reflect on what they have learned from the shared experience using question such as: What were your concerns? What did you observe? Did it engage the students? How could we tweak it?” This whole process might then spark further investigation and sharing of best or promising practices colleague to colleague.”
“Instructional coaching has many of the characteristics of effective professional learning,” Fletcher points out. “It is based on teachers’ needs, it happens in small groups and it’s recurring.” What’s more, based on evaluations conducted by Brock University over a two-year period, it has been shown to work extremely well in H&PE.
“Most of it can be done in the classroom,” adds Walsh—which makes it an efficient model for the already-busy teacher. “All it requires is an organized process.” Depending on the resources available in the school community, the mentoring partnership could be arranged by a system or instructional lead, or by the teachers themselves.
Don’t go it alone!
Between time constraints and available resources, finding a way to access quality training in H&PE can be challenging. No teacher should have to go it alone. Board support and support from principals is essential, and it’s important to continue to advocate for quality professional development.
It’s also vital that teachers support one another. “Learning is a social event!” says Walsh. “Deep learning happens when colleagues can come together to talk about their practice and teaching strategies.”
With the release of the 2019 Health and Physical Education (H&PE) elementary curriculum Ophea is providing professional learning opportunities throughout the 2019/2020 school year. For information on the focus topics, dates, and how to register visit: https://www.ophea.net/webinars
Also, stay tuned for more information throughout this school year as Ophea takes a broader and more collaborative approach to support teacher learning including partnering with other conferences, customized school board workshops, and regional training events. Follow us on Twitter and check out our monthly eConnection e-newsletters to keep connected on the webinar series and other professional learning offerings from Ophea.
After all, the better we learn, the better we can teach. And if there’s one thing that unites us as educators, it’s our passion for working in partnership to ensure a brighter, healthier, happier future for Ontario’s kids.