October Teacher Feature: Victor Kass
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.
This Teacher Feature brings you practical and inspiring ideas for teaching H&PE in secondary school.
Q&A: Victor Kass
1. What grades do you primarily teach?
I teach Secondary H&PE (grades 9 to 12) and currently have grade 9’s and 10’s. Next semester, I’m excited to be co-teaching a Grade 11 Outdoor Education course for the first time!
2. How long have you been teaching Health & Physical Education (H&PE)?
My career has spanned 12 years with the first two in Toronto teaching Science and the last 10 in Peel teaching mostly H&PE. I have been teaching at Louise Arbour S.S. in Brampton for the past 7 years.
3. Why were you interested in teaching H&PE?
Growing up, I was always physically active. My parents recognized early on that physical activity was not just something I loved to do, but it was key in keeping me out of trouble and focused in school. My favourite class throughout school was H&PE. In addition, my experiences competing in high school athletics also had a major influence on me.
The thought of becoming an H&PE teacher never really crossed my mind until my last year of high school. One of my closest friends and I were talking about future careers we were considering we both agreed that being “Gym Teachers” would be a dream job. NOTE: Neither of us refer to our shared occupation as “Gym Teacher” anymore. We are Physical Education Teachers or H&PE Specialists.
4. What are some goals you like to set with students to support success throughout the term/year?
Sometimes, I have found myself dealing with the attitude that high school “Gym Class” (I loathe this expression) is play time and should consist of mainly mainstream sports like basketball and soccer. Beginning every semester, I make it a point to find out what kinds of beliefs students have about the subject area and then to teach them about the true purpose of H&PE. I tell each and every one of them that their primary goal in the course is to learn how to be healthy and happy in school, the community, and in their future lives.
Now, you may be wondering shouldn’t we be talking about things like fitness goals? Let me explain… At the start of the year, I do have my students set goals like this, but it is important to point out that goal setting is personal, ongoing, and continues beyond the scope of the course. This is something I really try to instill in my students throughout their experiences in my class. If we aren’t setting personal goals, we lack purpose.
What I have found is that when students truly buy into these beliefs, success in the course is almost guaranteed, from an academic standpoint. Yet, the real success they experience goes much beyond that as they become happier and healthier individuals who are learning to get the most out of life.
5. How do you prepare an active learning space to ensure all students feel included?
During the first week of classes, teachers at my school are extremely good at fostering classroom communities where everyone learns each other’s name in a fun and inclusive atmosphere. This is no different in our H&PE program. My classes engage in a series of icebreakers and physical activities where the emphasis is on cooperation, not on competition. We also go over important routines and safety guidelines.
Throughout the first week, my students also work with each other and with me to co-construct our classroom norms. These are based on, what I believe, are the three pillars of RESPECT: (1) Take care of YOURSELF, (2) Take care of OTHERS, AND (3) Take care of the ENVIRONMENT. I always write these out on a large whiteboard, take a picture, and throw it up on our classroom website for future reference if or when my students need to re-focus.
I really like to obtain student input about the types of sports and physical activities they are interested in playing and learning more about. Over the past few years, I have obtained this data by administering Google Form surveys to my students and then referring to the analytics. I find this is more effective because students can answer the questions on their personal devices in private where they can avoid being pressured or influenced by their peers.
Finally, it is extremely important to consider modifications that can be made to equipment, as well as game rules to make the gym an inclusive space. For example, each year I usually have one or more developmentally delayed (DD) students integrated into my H&PE classes. When planning activities, I always consider changing the implement being used or determine multiple ways to score a point in order to provide greater opportunities for success. When my students become really comfortable with this, I will often place the onus on them to come up with modifications and it is here when the magic really happens!
6. Any key equipment pieces you like to use throughout the year? And, how do you ensure students use them safely?
It is very important that my students have an opportunity to try all of the equipment available in our storage room by the end of the semester. Whenever we are trying new equipment I make a point of demonstrating how to use the implements and request that students hold each other accountable for safety. If there is a lack of respect shown towards equipment, that may warrant a private discussion, or perhaps a talk with the whole class.
There are some equipment pieces I do use very frequently. These include: (1) Gator skin or rhino skin balls, which are multipurpose and very safe because they are soft, (2) Pylons of all sizes, which are used to set up boundaries, goals, or whatever the imagination can think of, (3) Hand Whistles, (I call them “squeezie” whistles), which I can hand to the students who take on leadership roles, such as running a warm up or refereeing a game, and (4) Bluetooth speaker and iPhone, which I use to play music from either the FitRadio or Spotify apps. Music is so great for transitions throughout a class, minimizing the use of my whistle, and of course, is a wonderful motivational tool for students.
7. How do you help build confidence in students when teaching H&PE?
It is very important to me that my students enjoy my course and have the desire to continue taking H&PE throughout secondary school considering that only 1 credit in this subject area is required for graduation. I attempt to do this by exposing them to a wide variety of activities, while at the same time providing them with a voice, and continually looking for ways to increase opportunities for success. For example, I really like having my students play small sided games, which are often modified versions of sports. This provides individuals with more “touches” on the ball and hopefully a greater chance to improve their movement skills.
Furthermore, I make an effort to promote the GROWTH MINDSET amongst my students. This means recognizing effort, improvement, and leadership over athleticism. It means emphasizing that “failing forward” is an important aspect of learning and that mistakes are a key part of the journey. I do find, especially teaching mostly 13 to 18 year old boys, that this can be a challenge. But, I do my best to remind them to build each other up instead of bringing each other down and, if a dispute does arise, I try to teach them to work together. One trick that works surprisingly well is having students play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” when they cannot agree on something. It is quick and, more often than not, it results in a speedy resolution with both parties able to move on from the issue.
I also try to provide them with roles to develop their leadership skills, such as scorekeeping and refereeing. One teaching strategy, which relates to this, is called Sport Education and I began using it 4 years ago. It is awesome! Recently, I presented a workshop about Sport Education (English only) at the Healthy Active Living in Peel Conference.
8. What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this year that will support your students in building healthy living skills?
This year, my goal is to get more students involved in self assessment. In our H&PE program, daily participation is extremely important, not only in building healthy living skills, but in student achievement. The belief is that if students are self assessing more, then they are also self reflecting more about what they’re doing on a daily basis in H&PE. My hope is that this will not only translate to higher achievement, but a stronger awareness of individual strengths and weaknesses, which will then lead to informed and effective goal setting. In future, I see this naturally leading to an increase in student involvement around the co-construction of learning goals and success criteria as my H&PE program becomes more and more student centered.
9. Do you have go-to resources or tools that you would recommend?
I must admit that I’m a bit of a tech geek. My clipboard was replaced by an iPad long ago and I am always looking to try new apps that may or may not augment my H&PE program. Some of my favourite apps include Google Sheets (for my attendance & anecdotal notes), Team Shake (for making randomized groups/teams), Sworkit (for fitness blasts), and Remind (for communication). I am also a big time advocate of Google Classroom and Google apps for education. I have written a couple of guest blogs where I discuss how I use Tech in H&PE for Teacher Tech with Alice Keeler and EdTech Magazine.
One of my go-to websites is Ophea’s PlaySport where you can find a database of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) focused games, diagrams, videos, and adaptations to increase or decrease the challenge. Furthermore, I really like Ophea's Teaching Tools website where you can find Lesson Plans, Supplements, Activities, and more! Lastly, I also use the Peel District School Board’s, Character Attributes in Action resource, which provides a plethora of physical activities and games that emphasize the board’s six key character traits. What’s really cool is that each activity is linked to a YouTube video, which can be watched to help deepen understanding.
One of the best resources for any teacher is their Professional Learning Network (PLN). Much of what I have learned, I have borrowed from other great teachers! In addition to the informal discussions my colleagues and I have on a daily basis, we have an H&PE department Team (Google) Drive where we share our best practices online. These shared Cloud storage folders, such as Google Drive, are wonderful collaborative opportunities for teachers within and beyond their own boards of education. This brings me to my online PLN on Twitter. This is where my improvement as an H&PE teacher really began to take off. I have learned so many cool and amazing things, as well as shared many of my own experiences and resources with other H&PE teachers throughout the world! If you’d like to find me, my handle is @CoachKass!
10. Any words of advice you could share with educators that may be new to teaching H&PE?
Starting out in teaching, whether it is H&PE or another subject, is very overwhelming. The job is fast paced, somewhat chaotic at times, and can take over your life if you let it. One of my former department heads once told me “teaching is like running a marathon. If you start out sprinting, you’ll never make it. Pace yourself.” I will never forget these wise words because they are SO TRUE! Each year, you should brainstorm a few professional goals, but try to avoid overdoing it. I believe in doing a small number of things really well versus being involved in a bunch of initiatives and doing a mediocre job on all of them. Too often, young teachers are often encouraged to get involved in numerous extracurriculars on top of teaching their regular classes and this is so unfair. Therefore, don’t be afraid to say “NO”. It’s okay. The sun will still rise tomorrow!
When it comes to H&PE, anyone who has the opportunity to teach in this subject area really is “living the dream” (as my former H&PE Department Head, Leigh Hanna would say). So teaching H&PE is a privilege and we cannot forget that.
Do you have tips or recommendations to share with H&PE teachers? Share them with us @OpheaCanada using the hashtag #OpheaHPEtips.