Many people know Don Hellison a heck of a lot better than me. But over the years our paths did cross a few times. And so, when I recently heard that Don, now aged 79, had suffered a stroke with some serious complications it got me thinking about him and the way he changed how physical education is taught today.
If you’ve been in the profession a while and taken your teaching seriously, the ‘Hellison’ name is already familiar to you. If you’re relatively new and graduated from a decent professional preparation program, while you may not recognize Don’s name you were almost certainly introduced to the idea that physical education can be an effective way to teach kids social skills and personal responsibility.
Don brought this thinking to the physical education world not by way of isolated ivory-towered theorizing, but through some tough real-world personal experience. Early in his career Don sought out the hardest inner-city teaching situations and toughest kids: Places and people that most of us would run from, not to. He dove in and together with his student-majors and graduate students tried to figure out how to improve these kids’ lives.
I admit it. I’m disappointed, confused, and more than a little bit frustrated. It’s now two-plus years since SHAPE America announced 50 Million Strong by 2029 (50MS) and some people still say they don’t know what 50MS is. Well, okay, “some people” (as in, those outside our profession) I can understand. But physical education and health education professionals, really? I don’t get it. So, let me give it another try with a teaching example:
In your mind, think about a school location you are familiar with. You are the elementary physical education teacher and teach 400 different students annually. Now imagine a world in which each and every one of your students is regularly physically active and doing their best to make healthy lifestyle choices. What are your students doing to live this lifestyle? What does the school day look like that supports this vision? What are you doing in your classes and outside of your classes to help your students succeed? What are your students choosing to do before and after school that keeps them physically active and healthy? What is happening in their homes, with their families, on weekends, and during holidays that supports this vision? Close your eyes and take a moment to visualize what this new and very different world looks like.
Welcome to the world of 50 Million Strong. It’s not hard to imagine. It’s not hard to understand. And it’s not hard to commit oneself to creating a classroom, a school, a state, and a country in which all school-aged students are choosing and doing their very best to live physically active and healthy lives. And isn’t this new world precisely what most physical educators and health educators would agree is the best measure of teaching success? Why else do we do what we do? If getting our students to be active and healthy is not our purpose what is? Surely this is our reason for being?
For New England-headed SHAPE America convention participants, it was almost unbelievable to learn that five years after a power outage cancelled the last Boston convention, a major snowstorm threatened to derail this one. Sadly, weather-related flight cancellations messed up the travel plans of some people, but for those able to get to Boston it turned out to be a hugely successful convention.
Tuesday’s high-energy 50 Million Strong by 2029 forum included more than 30 presentations, four hours of opinion and idea sharing, and lots of notetaking. If you couldn’t attend maybe you saw some of the Facebook Live streaming? Participants discussed topics such as “What does 50 Million Strong look like in practice?” “How can research support 50 Million Strong?” “How can we prepare future teachers to succeed with 50 Million Strong?” “How is teacher leadership vital to the success of 50 Million Strong?” “How will embracing diversity advance 50 Million Strong?” and “How can we measure and assess 50 Million Strong?”
Because the presentations were very brief, supporting materials were put online. I encourage you to download them and share them with your colleagues or future teachers. You can find out more through the SHAPE America 50 Million Strong webpage or using this link. Information collected from forum discussions will be shared shortly. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to keep sharing ideas and asking questions via the SHAPE America member blog Exchange.
It’s been almost two years since SHAPE America announced its commitment to changing the way health and physical educators do business. It might not have sounded much at the time but on closer examination it was a seismic shift in thinking. For years, those of us serious about being “good” teachers had done our best. We thought a lot about our instruction, kept up with new ideas, let national standards guide us, labored over designing quality lessons, sought to adopt best teaching practices, and embraced the need for better assessments. We were serious about our profession and critical of those throw-out-the-ball colleagues whose don’t-much-care attitudes were cringe-worthy. Given the many limitations we faced – the lack of resources, space, and support – what more could be expected from us? We already worked countless often unappreciated hours. Frankly, our cup was full. Surely enough’s enough! Quit asking us to do more!
But that’s exactly what SHAPE America was doing. At the 2015 Seattle convention, on behalf of SHAPE America, President Dolly Lambdin challenged us to rethink, retool, and reimagine how and what we did in our health education and physical education classes. And WHY? She wasn’t suggesting that we weren’t trying. No one doubted that most of us were trying as hard as we could. The problem was that our efforts weren’t getting the outcomes we wanted. Simply stated, to just teach well was good, but not good enough. Trying hard maybe counted for something, but the profession wasn’t getting the results it needed to thrive. Just as dieting means little if you don’t lose weight, teaching well isn’t so praiseworthy if student behaviors don’t change. And in most places, they weren’t.
The data was clear. Three decades of worsening childhood obesity. Kids moving less and eating more. Now no one’s suggesting that it’s our fault alone. But clearly as teachers, we’ve failed to successfully motivate America’s youth to become and stay physically active and to make healthy lifestyle choices. It just hasn’t happened despite the devastating and very predictable social, emotional, and financial consequences if these trends continue.
No matter your political preference, the results of the 2016 election surprised everyone. And while I don’t claim to be a political pundit – why would I since pretty much every prediction was wrong – I believe physical and health educators should learn an important lesson from this recent election.
Regardless of what you might think about the qualifications of either candidate or the two parties they represent, what’s striking is how effective Mr. Trump was and how ineffective Mrs. Clinton was in capturing voting support.
Please click here to read the full essay that was originally published on the GOPHER PE Blog. What do you think? Share your comments below this essay on PHE America.