New to H&PE? We’ve got you covered!
Teaching H&PE for the first time this school year? This is an exciting time to learn and grow within your professional field, and promote lifelong healthy, active living with your students. Alongside the excitement this new opportunity holds, you may have some pressing questions; where do I start, how do I help students feel included, and where can I go for support?
Ophea provides the tools and resource educators need to implement Ontario’s H&PE curriculum (Grades 1-12). With step-by-step lesson plans, supplementary resources, professional learning opportunities and more, Ophea is here to support you. In addition to quality tools and resources, it’s important to embrace your new role by keeping positive, building confidence and having fun!
This article provides insight, tips and planning advice on how to get you started and keep you motivated throughout the school year:
Set Your Gym Up For Success
“I think that, for many generalist teachers, the gym feels like a very scary environment,” says Andrea Häefele, an H&PE specialist teacher at Highgate Public School (Markham, Ontario). “You’re exposed and you can’t stay behind a desk.”
The good news is there’s no need for self doubt or worry. An H&PE class provides students with connections and comforts they need in order to thrive in their learning. “I like to plan my semester based on the big picture” states Petja Taivassalo H&PE Department Head at Langstaff Secondary School (Richmond Hill, Ontario). Petja suggests teachers should reflect and ask themselves what they want to accomplish over the course of the semester? “For me, my instructional goals are based on the curriculum, student needs and interests, and the community, all of which creates my big picture plan.”
When it gets down to specifics, retired secondary teacher Brenda Whitteker highlights that, “...you’ll need to do the same good planning you already do in the classroom, and you’ll use the same lesson format. The minds on, the action, the consolidation along with a warm up and cool down.” In many ways, a well-run gym can and should even resemble a classroom. “If you walk into my gym you see posters and assessment charts on the walls, kids know where to go to find a partner. It’s very orderly and planned, which is what all classrooms should be.” adds Häefele.
Lesson Planning: Give every activity a purpose.
The most significant difference between the classroom and the gym, is that you’ll be keeping students active throughout as much of the class time as possible, and safety is a top priority. And while the active nature of H&PE requires some different types of planning (i.e., planning the right equipment, strategies for assessment, and following safety guidelines), there remain many similarities to classroom planning. “There are expectations in the curriculum that we’re mandated to follow,” says Häefele, who knows first-hand that H&PE class is much more than just fun and games. In the same way that an English teacher wouldn’t give students a book and tell them to ‘just read it,’ activities played in the gym should have a purpose and specific learning goals. For example, while students may be active and having fun in a game of Flying Chicken Baseball they’re also learning important, transferable fundamental movement skills (i.e. running and receiving) and active living concepts (i.e. participation and fitness), in addition to living skills (like communication and teamwork).
Assessment: Make sure it’s ongoing!
Similar to any other subject, assessment and evaluation in H&PE should be based on the curriculum expectations and should take place before, during and after activities. “Students should be given opportunities to make predictions,” says Häefele. “What would happen if they played the same game with a different piece of equipment or changed the size of the playing environment?”
A popular assessment idea includes videotaping a game and playing it back for students to have them analyze and explain their movements and strategies. “Our students love technology, so how can we harness this interest? For me using video feedback is a great way to capture the moment. I can’t be everywhere, so teaching students how to record each other is a great way to capture their moments of success” says Taivassalo. He also shares that video feedback is great for students to self-and peer-assess, as well as a way to communicate with parents and guardians. Taivassalo adds that, “connecting is everything, being able to show students a photo of themselves, or show parents a video of their child’s performance is a great way for everyone to learn.” Most importantly, keep in mind that, because assessment in H&PE is largely observation based, it’s important to give students plenty of descriptive feedback, and to ensure that they get multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Emotional Safety: Set ground rules and include everyone.
The elementary H&PE curriculum takes a skill-building approach that helps students feel safe, comfortable and included. By setting some firm ground rules, educators can also add to students’ feelings of security. “Emotional safety is so important,” comments Häefele. After all, if students feel threatened or unsafe in H&PE class, they are much less likely to enjoy physical activity and to go on to lead a physically active lifestyle outside of school. “You need to think about how you’re running activities so that they’re non-threatening and everyone can participate,” Häefele advises. She calls this ‘giving students choice and voice.’ Are there ways that students can modify the activities so they’re having fun and being successful while still achieving the learning goals? For example, could they try playing borden ball with racquets or a texturized ball... or volleyball with a beach ball? Making changes to activities can help create inclusive spaces, relevant to the students and suited to a range of abilities.
Whitteker, meanwhile, advises avoiding elimination games. Not only do they leave some students feeling excluded, but when a student has been eliminated, they aren’t being active. And students who are eliminated are often those who would benefit most from the activity and practice. Small group activities are often beneficial—especially for students who are reluctant to participate. Perhaps most importantly, are the ground rules you lay. “This is a subject where bullying can happen,” says Häefele regretfully. Because of the nature of the subject – with students sometimes changing in changerooms without direct teacher supervision and students learning new skills in a public forum, there are opportunities for students to be vulnerable. Taivassalo adds, “I place a lot of focus on creating an emotionally safe culture in my program. So regardless of physical environment of who is teaching at the front of the class, my students feel safe and trust each other.”
Make it clear to students on the first day of class and on an ongoing basis—that they’re there to support each other, that put downs won’t be tolerated and that you, as the teacher will be taking an active role in supporting a safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment.
(Check out Ophea’s All About H&PE resource to download a poster and video on the Fundamental Principle of Physical and Emotional Safety)
Playing Safe: Know the guidelines for the province and your board.
Of course, when kids are being active, physical safety is of prime importance. All teachers should review and become familiar with the Ontario Physical Activity Safety Standards in Education, which represent the minimum standards for risk management practice for schools boards. “Teachers should also talk to their administrators and find out about their board policies,” says Häefele. “Sometimes different administrations or school boards modify the guidelines to ‘up’ the safety standards. For example, some school boards ban skiing or require that students wear goggles when the Ontario Safety Guidelines don’t.”
And then: There is health education.
Healthy Living is a key part of Ontario’s H&PE curriculum. Some teachers are more comfortable with this part of the curriculum because it can be taught in a familiar classroom setting but for some, this part of the curriculum brings its own set of new challenges. This subject helps students develop an understanding of factors that contribute to healthy development, and a sense of personal responsibility for lifelong health and respect for their own health and bodies. Many teachers effectively integrate the big ideas from the Healthy Living part of the curriculum with expectations in Language and the Arts. Some teachers make active connections, integrating learning with activities in the gym (i.e. healthy eating tag – giving examples of foods from different food groups when tagged, developed on a physical activity goal related to a health-related component of fitness).
There are some topics within the healthy living strand that can be challenging to teach because of their personal nature and connection to family, religion, or cultural values. Approaching these topics with sensitivity, care and mutual respect is important. Ophea has a number of resources to help teachers with a variety of topics that can be challenging to teach, including Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Resources: Grades 1-8, which include lesson plans on Human Development and Sexual Health, and Approaches to Teaching Healthy Living: A Secondary Teacher’s Guide.
Still not sure where to start?
Ophea’s Teaching Tools website offers programs and services to support you. The site includes everything educators need to enable children and youth to lead healthy, active lives. “There are thousands of lesson plans, activities, educator guides, tools and templates already set up, with everything you need to take into account,” says Whitteker. “A teacher could follow these and do a whole year’s planning for H&PE!Then, once they’re more familiar they can start adapting them to suit local needs.” And, if you’d like a little extra help, why not look into Ophea’s professional learning opportunities and webinars.
Don’t Forget: Physical activity is fun!
With a little planning and preparation, you’ll be teaching with confidence—not to mention having fun with your students. “Overall, kids enjoy going to the gymnasium,” Whitteker reminds us. Simply put, your primary role is to foster enjoyment in those who already have it, and to help inspire it in those who don’t. “Knowing where the health of kids is going these days,” Whitteker adds, “we need to nurture and support building that love of physical activity and healthy living more than ever.”