My teacher education programme seems so very far away. 25 years away to be exact. I went to a well-regarded physical education teaching college (that no longer exists) and worked in two schools during my 36-week course. I remember the campus, but I struggle to remember many, indeed any, of the lectures I took or the practicals I experienced – except the ones we worked hard as a cohort to miss. I left with a vision for physical education that barely strayed from my own experiences as a teacher.
I was happy, for a while, to follow the example of my own teachers and be the teacher I went into teacher education aspiring to be. I was lucky, however, to fall into a masters degree and discover (surely rediscover but I can’t be sure) the “educationally focused, theoretically informed” vision for teaching that this week’s paper talks about.
A post graduate degree forces you to look your established beliefs and your vision for the future in the eye. It was the first time I had read an academic paper. I mean really read, rather than simply highlighting it so I could extract a juicy quote or two. From cover to cover. I had to if I wanted to pass the course. What I didn’t realise at the time was it would change me in ways I never imagined. I didn’t just read the papers and the books, I lived them and challenged them and then, eventually, wrote my own. But how many of my classmates did or are doing the same?
Some of them, I’m sure, are now the veterans of their school. They are the living legends who occupy a somewhat revered position of authority. But do they read the literature? Do they challenge their teacher vision? Going in to their second quarter of a century of teaching to they apply an “educationally focused, theoretically informed” lens to their work? And if they don’t whose fault is that? My/our lecturers/professors or the Government or the professions or theirs? The answer could be all of these, some of these but surely not none of these.
As I conclude the first section of the blog, I have a few questions for the authors. I wondered, as I read the paper, how inevitable the big visions of these students were. I wondered at the power of the assignment, the authority of the lecturer/professor and the importance of the grade. I wondered because I felt their respective power was silenced – at least in my reading of the paper. How much scope was there to write “my teachers had it right, physical education is about the elite because Maths and English are about those who can do sums and write essays?” I suspect none. That said, I am guilty of the same. I listen to well-reasoned arguments in essays and discussions (and am critical of less well reasoned ones) but don’t always create the space for those discussions to continue into careers. We need to do more of this. The question that remains however, is how do we keep the vision of 2020 alive until 2045?
Jess, McMillan, Carse and Munro (henceforth Jess and colleagues or other variations) explore the voice, or lack of it, that teachers have had when it comes to impacting the future of education; in this case physical education. They argue that such a voice isn’t simply a natural aspect of any new teachers’ persona that conveniently develops over time. Quite the opposite. It is something that has to be found, informed and nurtured in student teachers so they are able to use it later in their careers. If the next generation of teachers are going to act on our calls for shifting perspectives around what physical education is and does, then they need to firstly find their voice and then learn to use it.
The key problem, as Jess and colleagues argue, is that physical education has focused so readily on the physical and the practical that it’s lost track of the educative aspects of its charter. It’s narrowed its focus to such a degree that it’s become easy to suggest that there is a one-size-fits-all way of thinking that has stifled the voice of the profession. The increases in the profit margins of education, in the outsourcing of practice, and in the focus on elite performance have meant that the voices of teachers have become lost in the deafening noise of other agendas. Equally, the complexity of teaching and learning, of curriculum and assessment have been ignored by those in power because it’s a difficult thing to sell to the voter and the taxpayer. Instead teachers are controlled, according to the authors, by government agendas and third-party for-profit organisations who are hoping to take advantage of the open market of education.
In and around the national and international drive to improve standards in education are millions of classrooms with their students and their teachers. Despite the ceaseless noise surrounding education there is scope to change what happens in these classrooms. Why? Because “a teacher’s personal vision can help them to develop a picture of the learning they wish to achieve in their classes.” By challenging what they see as physical education, teachers can play a role in deciding what physical education means to the young people in their care. Without such a vision, teachers run the risk of amassing a seamlessly endless supply of tips and tricks without the focus needed to adapt these for the benefit of the individuals they support.
Jess and colleagues also warn, however, that we need to be aware of the ‘dark side’ of a teacher’s vision and the potential for disillusionment and low levels of confidence. We shouldn’t limit our ambitions for teaching but equally we must prepare young teachers to face the disappointment if dreams don’t come true and help then to reshape and repurpose their vision when they go astray or fail to blossom.
The findings of this paper highlight both similarity and difference. While the student teachers shared big visions of teaching – ones that aspired to lifelong physical activity (LLPA), engaged pupils in holistic learning experiences, provided inclusive opportunities for all pupils and prioritized adaptive practice– they presented different pathways to these apparently similar goals. Importantly, it is in these small differences that the personalised visions of these student teachers can be found.
“No student presented exactly the same subcomponents” of their broader vision for physical education. For example, Jess and colleagues noted that LLPA was mentioned in a number of student visions but the building blocks of such an outcome covered “a wide range of educationally focused subcomponents that included inclusion, holistic learning, enjoyment, meaningfulness and transferable skills.” The small differences more than the big similarities, therefore, tell us more about the “educational orientation” of these student teachers. They all showed a broad personal, teacher vision for physical education that matches subject wide expectations, and the broader discussions in the academic literature, but they also had a nuanced vision for how that might be achieved.
To me, in my reading of the paper, this suggests that learners don’t always (perhaps even often) learn the three or four learning objectives we might have for a lecture or a lesson. They pick up and latch on to different things and fit these snippets of fact into the already complex jigsaw that is their teacher vision. They compare them to their part and present experiences and hold them up against the “various people who played a part in shaping their personal beliefs about education.” And yet these visions are moments in time. The students know they will have to fit their vision into that of the school and the department in which they will work. They worry that they won’t fit in and will to need make changes and/or compromises. They know that they will need students and colleagues to breathe life into their visions.
It is important to note that these “student visions were educationally focused, theoretically informed and futures-looking, while also influenced by a range of […] factors from the past and present.” In short, these are the visions of student teachers in the midst of a university education. The challenge for the field is how to maintain the blend of “educational and theoretical ideas” once these teachers enter the workplace. We know that the ideas of teacher education are often ‘washed out’ in the workplace and we need to help those in our care to maintain and continually inform their vision for teaching and learning in physical education.
We are aware (from past blogs) that the marketplace of education is open for business and that teachers are being seen as technicians and enactors of others’ ideas. This paper shows that student teachers are well prepared to take on those mantles. That said, we need to continue to help them to not only envision a future for physical education that is supported by educational and theoretical ideas, but enact it, year-on-year, in the millions of lessons that get taught around the world every week. No small ask, but something in which we all should be invested if we want to change the way our subject is seen and done, and the impact it has on the children of today and the teachers of tomorrow.
What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching - Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).
Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, maybe challenge the findings.
Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?
Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something, or are looking for help, then please let the community know about it.
I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.
Jess, M.C., McMillan, P., Carse, N.R. & Munro, K. (Ahead of Print). The personal visions of physical education student teachers: putting the education at the heart of physical education. The Curriculum Journal.