The 3 Hurdles of Alignment – Part 2

By John Parsons, Director of Innovation for PE and Sport

In Part 1 of my blog (click HERE to read), I discussed the challenge of aligning beliefs and values, with what we say and what we do. I explored the ‘first hurdle’ of being really clear on what we believe and value first as this both communicates outwards and should then guide our communication and action. Unfortunately, in many cases, individuals and organisations ‘fall at the first’ by not going through the process of really establishing beliefs and values, or the ‘WHY’. In a PE and Sport context, this has led to curriculums that are sport led as opposed to child and learning led, an approach which has too frequently only catered for about 20% and a subject which does not align to the broader values of the school.

What often happens as a result of the above is that we end up valuing what we measure rather than measuring what we value. An example of this is the ‘run till you drop’ fitness testing in young children which seems to be making a comeback. Proponents of this approach will point to an increase in the fitness levels of these children to prove that it works and must therefore be introduced to every child in all schools as a way to measure their fitness and, by implication, the performance of the school. Whilst we are all concerned about children’s inactivity levels, we should be thinking long term and working to create positive relationships with physical activity for life and really thinking about the type of experience we want children to have to develop this lifelong love of being active. Just as being treated all the same, standing in queues waiting for their turn to fail will not achieve this, neither will getting all children to run until they can’t run anymore. Instead, we should be providing experiences which ensure that all children feel like they belong, can achieve and be successful, treats them as individuals and gives them a sense of ownership.

We should be communicating and measuring what we really value – children’s physical skills of course, but also their confidence to move and be active, how they cope when things get difficult, how they engage with, support and learn from others, whether they can solve problems, come up with their own ideas, evaluate their own and others’ performance to name some. Surely this is the really important stuff rather than whether they can make a chest pass, a forward roll, a flick pass etc. The win-win is that by developing the really important stuff, they develop these skills much more quickly as well, and we don’t just need to make it the main focus in a PE context! This therefore brings us to our next hurdle – aligning what we say with what we believe. How do we communicate with children, other staff and parents in a way that really aligns? Some suggestions might be:

  • What does our curriculum itself communicate? Does it talk about what the children are learning or what they are doing? Does it show sports/activities as the focus of their learning or as servants to develop their personal, social, physical, cognitive, creative, health and fitness skills?
  • What do we communicate to children via our PE displays? Does it show them that PE and Sport in this school/setting is for all children and is about a broad range of skills and abilities and not just being the best at a sport?
  • What do we tell the children the learning focus of our lessons is? Is it about sport specific outcomes or do they reflect the broader skills and abilities which we value?
  • Do we role model in the language we use, e.g. do we talk about taking a risk ourselves in the lesson? Accept responsibility when something has gone wrong/not worked in the lesson? Ask the children for their thoughts/input?
  • What do we praise? Is it always physical performance/winning or do we deliberately focus on and praise the positive behaviours we want to develop in children? Do we praise the child that drops the ball because they reacted positively and ran after it as quickly as they could? Do we praise their partner who encouraged and supported their partner when they made a mistake because that is what they agreed they would do?

So, the final hurdle is aligning what we do as well as what we say, which is not easy to do consistently as it’s easy to fall back into old habits. This is about really being deliberate and thoughtful in our planning and delivery to ensure we align our teaching methods to provide the right environment to enable children to develop these skills. I’m yet to have a teacher or coach on a course who tells me they don’t really value these broader skills and abilities; the acid test for all of us is whether we walk the talk. If we think it’s important that children learn to evaluate their own and others’ performance, do we invest proper time in it even though it’s hard by providing regular opportunities to peer coach each other? Do we plan in and support them by providing the scaffolding they need, e.g. working with them on how to give feedback; empowering them to understand what good quality/success looks like? If we value creativity in children, do we build in opportunities in every lesson from them to explore and create their own ideas and solutions? If we value problem solving and decision making, do we plan activities where things will go wrong, tell them that this will happen and then enable them to work together to fix these problems rather than going in and fixing it for them? If we value independent learners, do we allow children to work independently, do we excite them to go and try things at home/in the playground? If we value all children, do they all get a chance to succeed, e.g. through focusing on the concept of Personal Best? If we value resilience/perseverance, do we ensure that as well as success, we ensure that we stretch every child and create an environment where they not only feel safe to fail, they actively look for that challenge – just visit a skate park if you want see this type of environment in action (nearly always without a coach/teacher present).

As always, it’s easier to write about this stuff then it is to actually do it and live it. In my teaching/coaching career I got some stuff right and lots of stuff wrong. What I do passionately believe is that it is achievable and that if we can get over these 3 hurdles, it will make a massive impact on creating positive relationships with physical activity for life for all our children.