The Intellectualization of Physical Education – Really?

Intellectualisation of PE Pic

The above refers mainly to the teaching of games and the various articulation of its incarnation in many bodies of thoughts (The learner and topic centred approaches that I advocate for teaching cuts across all learning areas). The intellectualization process I refer to is the very systematic analysis of human behaviour and its responses to different stimulus in the learning and teaching cycle. This analysis is then used to help predict and therefore shape into strategies that work for teachers and goes beyond the ‘gut feel’ or the common ‘corridor planning’. It is about teachers looking outside their realm of knowledge constantly and combining it with what they know and have gathered from training and experience.

Physical Education (PE) teachers are a confident lot, as expected coming from very strong sports backgrounds, where self-esteem is a must, or starting off very clearly wanting to be developed in an industry that has its own very strong attractors. The idea of being a ‘jock’, an educated one of course, or, better still, someone who can influence others in the area has always been socially a very attractive proposition, especially if you are predisposed in that way. Sports has always been emotionally inducing in society and to be part of it has always its fair share of enthusiast. The discussion here is about the inherent trait of such teachers happily co-existing with the important developmental process of reflective learning.

Is the intellectualization process the domain of keyboard and journal warriors existing in publish-or-perish, self-enhancing environments? I have been at times told that my attempts to re look teaching processes in PE as making something simple be very difficult! Now, I take this collegial opines as a potential reflection of a very real underlying focus on the ground (amongst PE teachers) to rely more heavily on personal work experience for professional progression. This pressure is not a deliberate attempt to ignore research and other developmental (i.e. professional development opportunities, further training, journal referencing, etc.) help but rather a more comfortable feeling of ‘just knowing’ what is right and wrong. My personal experience seems to suggest a proliferation of attending outcome-based courses over process-heavy, training-for-trainers type opportunities when it comes to teachers needing to attend courses. Even then, it is with some reluctance, especially if its motivation is external. Recently in a conversation with a senior educational leader, she lamented about her ex school’s PE department trying to match the teaching for understanding approaches used in the other areas of mainly classroom based instructional programmes. I explained to her that we have been pioneers of teaching for understanding in PE (as compared to the other subject areas which started out using industrial-age mass training processes) since the start of our country’s PE training programme (we had Loughborough lecturers seconded in the early 80s at our sole PE teacher training institute). In an interview I was conducting for potential teachers, I had one very passionate and enthusiastic teacher stating, “The day I can’t run with the students for 2.4 km (a standard test item in our schools), is the day I will stop being a PE teacher!” This teacher could very well be stating a popular standpoint of literal, reproductive role-modelling as the only effective teaching approach, focusing on a very strong internal locus of influence for teaching abilities.

On the other hand, we have very important academic, research and explorative type work out there that can really make a difference to the way we operate, if we are willing to accept the potential of external knowledge boosting our own abilities. Albeit this incredible repository is sometimes seemingly hard to get hands on from the teachers’ perceptive. The availability of such knowledge, based on experience of someone like me (who may not have the latest accessibility know-how) is shrouded in an aura of privilege access. (Note: In Singapore, access to such information is made possible via central bodies facilitating access through ready to use research repository membership access, etc.) There are access requirements that needs to be applied or looked for, membership to join, etc. All this can be overcome fairly easy for the teacher that is looking for it but very sadly, a non-event for those who are busy doing their day-to-day job and getting detached from this aspect of professional development. In a research presentation event I attended at the local teacher training institute last year, I was lamenting to a colleague on the dearth of school presence at an event that is dedicated to innovation in classrooms. I sometimes wonder how long such creative implementation last after the effect of a research project or journal publication wear off.

When teachers finally get hands on good research and knowledge, they have to make sense of academic slanted language that are not the easiest to digest for a non-researcher. The world of books are the other source and the coaching-manual type are usually the ones heavily relied on for teaching help. Again, I suspect books or manuals that have clear indications of action outcomes, not the process exploration type, are probably more popular. The ability to connect human behaviour to carefully explored ideas from philosophy, psychology, sports science, etc. on a daily basis during real time interaction with learners is not something that comes easily or conveniently for all. The simple descriptor for this is reflection and it is a holistic process that considers all constituents of successful learning and teaching. The one thing we do have in abundance is personal experience based evaluative, almost judgemental, habits that at times does get in the way of professional development. I was recently commenting to a colleague on the instructional contents of one of our coaches (we predominantly employ professional coaches for our school’s sports teams). I realised the importance on having a reflective process that is not judgemental but collaborative. Coming from an experienced background, it is easy to be blind-sided to potential learning.

So, what is this writer trying to state? There are loads of formal academic level discussion on the above that looks towards the re engineering of the nuts and bolts of PE teaching and learning processes. Perhaps re engineering is too strong a verb but rather rediscovering hidden steps that have been inadvertently covered up by personal experience (the teacher’s) and a strong case of well-earned optimism that negates own (teachers’) learning experience. All this is part of the intellectualization process that I think is necessary. One important thing to realise is that the process of finding deeper meaning in what we do for implementation is not an attempt to find difficulty when there is none. In my writings, I write quite a bit on the idea of complex systems but also reminding that there is nothing complex about complexity! We acknowledge the interplay of many factors and we acknowledge that we are the masters of these understanding. I will reiterate that the learners should face a continuous smooth process that hides the many considerations we have inputted in their learning experiences.

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