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The Role and Responsibilities of the Physical Education Teacher in the School Physical Activity Program

This is an excerpt from Schoolwide Physical Activity by Judith Rink,Tina Hall & Lori Williams.

The NASPE (2003) recommends that children obtain a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity in a day. It is not possible in most schools to provide the 60 minutes of daily physical activity for every student through the physical education program alone; this has led to development of the idea of having comprehensive school physical activity programs. Some students attend physical education one day a week; others attend two or three days; and a few have daily physical education. The physical educator is to provide maximum physical activity time within the class period, teach skills and activities that transfer into physical activity outside of physical education class, motivate children to be physically active, and take the role of physical activity director for the school. If students are to receive the amount of physical activity they need each day, other opportunities to be physically active within the school day must be provided. The physical education teacher has unique responsibilities in the school physical activity program to ensure that students are physically active within the physical education class. The physical education teacher also has the responsibility to help direct and guide opportunities for physical activity within the school outside the physical education class.

Provide Maximum Physical Activity Time Within the Class Period

Physical education class is just one avenue during a school day that provides the opportunity for physical activity. During the allotted class time it is recommended that children be moderately or vigorously active for at least half of the class period. Several factors can contribute to making this happen:

  1. Effectively organize space, equipment, and students.
  2. Provide adequate equipment that allows all children to be active at the same time (e.g., one ball per child).
  3. Limit teacher talk or instruction time.
  4. Plan practice opportunities that are structured for maximum participation (e.g., individual, partner, and small-group activities; nonelimination activities; activities that require no wait time).
  5. Structure the class so that learning occurs while students are being physically active.

With maximum and quality activity time, children become more skilled, knowledgeable, and physically fit.

Teach Skills and Activities That Transfer Into Physical Activity Outside of Physical Education Class

Physical education programs have the responsibility to teach skills that students will need to participate in physical activity outside of the physical education class and skills they will need for a lifetime of physical activity. Skills learned in physical education class transfer to skills used in a child's play. From the kindergarten-age child playing tag, to the second grade child jumping rope, to the older child playing a game of kickball, the skilled child is more likely to participate in physical activity. If a child is confident in his or her skills, there is typically no hesitation to play; however, the low-skilled child, especially in the upper grades, is less inclined to take part in group activities for fear of failure and peer ridicule. Students need skills to be participants in physical activity.

Good physical education programs take the time to teach children activities they may do on their own. Examples of these are jump rope chants, nonelimination tag games, hopscotch, Four Square, tetherball, and basketball activities such as Horse and Around the World. Including these activities briefly in a physical education class and then encouraging children to play them on their own is likely to promote more physical activity on the playground and in their neighborhoods.

Motivate Children to Be Active

Another role of the physical educator is to encourage and motivate children to be active. There are many ways to do this, including promoting community activities, assigning physical activity homework or home fun, showing an interest in the out-of-class physically activity in which children participate, and leading by example.

Promoting Community Activities

There are typically numerous activities in communities that promote physical activity, such as organized recreational sports, dance classes, gymnastics programs, and martial arts. A bulletin board in the gym, the school Web site, and regular announcements are simple ways to promote these opportunities. Brochures, Web sites, or newspaper announcements are available from most physical activity venues.

Homework and “Home Fun”

While homework is often not a pleasant part of a child's evening, physical activity homework or home fun can be. Home fun may be practicing jump rope tricks with or without a jump rope; participating in simple exercises when commercials come on television; playing outside; walking the dog; talking a walk with a parent or guardian; participating in electronic games that specifically promote physical activity; or practicing manipulative skills such as throwing, kicking, and striking. Physical education homework or home fun can be checked through an honor system by asking for a show of hands with young children and documenting on a physical activity calendar for older children. Sending a physical activity calendar home when children go on holiday or summer vacation is another way to encourage physically active lifestyles. Physical education teachers could ask the classroom teachers to send a physical activity calendar home with the summer reading list.

Praise for Participation

A word of encouragement is a simple way to promote physical activity. Praising young students for play may sound somewhat strange to most of us; but for a generation that experiences limited physical activity, it may be necessary. Simply inquiring about student involvement in physical activity and praising students for that involvement carry weight with young children. To take this a step further, if a teacher shows up at a youth league sporting event or a dance recital, the child will be elated.

Leading by Example

One final way to motivate children to be active is for the physical education teacher to lead by example. A physically active and fit physical education teacher is a positive influence. The physical education teacher should occasionally share with the students how physical activity fits into his or her life.

By maximizing physical activity time in physical education class, aiding students in transferring skills and activities to out-of-class play, and making efforts to motivate children to be physically active, the physical educator can greatly influence the daily physical activity needs of students.

Play a Leadership Role in the Development of the School Physical Activity Program

The increase in the number of overweight children and the decrease in physical activity time in school make for a national problem. Curtailing this national epidemic can be addressed at a local level, and the physical education teacher must be the “go-to” person to promote change in the schools. The physical education teacher is the physical activity expert in the building and should take on the role of physical activity director for the school. The responsibilities should include the following:

  • Being an active member of the school wellness committee
    • Helping in the evaluation and planning process for the school
    • Actively learning about and promoting opportunities for physical activity in the community
  • Serving as a resource person for classroom teachers
    • Informing classroom teachers about the need for and benefits of adding small bouts of physical activity to the school day
    • Providing resources and training to the classroom teachers
    • Aiding teachers in understanding and implementing appropriate practices for physical activity (see chapter 5)
    • Providing opportunities for the teachers to engage in physical activity before or after school
  • Organizing schoolwide physical activity experiences
    • Planning schoolwide activities such as field day, fun runs, a walking program, and morning exercise breaks
    • Encouraging fund-raisers that promote physical activity (e.g., Jump Rope for Heart, Walk for Diabetes, St. Jude's Walk)
    • Planning before- and after-school clubs for activities such as jump rope, walking, dance, gymnastics, and intramural sports

Learn more about Schoolwide Physical Activity.

More Excerpts From Schoolwide Physical Activity