What might we do to nourish and strengthen the Health and Physical Education learning area?

NB: This is the transcript from my keynote address at PENZ/NZHEA/EONZ Conference, July 2016.

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Mōrena tātou

Ka nui te mihi, ka nui te aroha ki a koutou

He kaiako ahau ki te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau

Kei te āko au Te Reo Kori

Nō Paraparaumu ahau

Ko Celia Fleck tōku ingoa

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

So other than being really nervous, it is in fact really exciting to be here today and a privilege to share with you some of my thoughts on current practices that strengthen Physical Education as a learning area, and how we might strengthen it even further.

My hope is that this keynote today will merely be a spark that will light the fire of a much greater conversation.  That over the next few days, and beyond, you will engage and interact with others, learn from others, share your own ideas, challenge and be challenged.

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As a curriculum area there are endless things that we do well.

  • Our holistic approach to teaching and learning and our focus on the wellbeing of our learners
  • Our ability to build and maintain strong relationships within our school communities
  • We provide opportunities for our learners to move, and to engage with others in what can often be a very sedentary and isolated school day
  • We provide opportunities for our learners to work together and solve problems and demonstrate leadership
  • Our curriculum area brings to life the front end of the New Zealand Curriculum.  Our key areas of learning provide the context in which everyday we see the key competencies, vision, values and principles, in action.  We are preparing our learners to be effective citizens in the 21st Century, and we encourage and enable them to be critical thinkers and to contribute to the wellbeing of self, others and society.
  • We are flexible, adaptable and responsive.  We provide immediate feedback and feedforward to our learners.
  • We are leaders and we grow future leaders.
  • We have fun!
  • Often for disengaged kids, PE is the area in which they experience the most success.  This is often evidenced by those kids that you are not teaching until period 5 but who corner you during the day to ask ‘what are doing in PE today Miss?’  You don’t hear too many other teachers getting stopped in their tracks with questions like that!

But the question that I was presented with and that I would like you to engage with today, is not what do we do well, but what do we do, and what might we do, that nourishes us and makes our learning area stronger?

I believe there are two things that we do that are critical to our professional nourishment and strengthening of practice in our learning area:

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We collaborate and we connect.

Our national conference has been strengthened by the formalised partnership and collaboration between PENZ, NZHEA and EONZ.  And partnerships with other stakeholders also strengthen our learning area.  Sport NZ continues to fund the Sport in Education Project, and now also Play.Sport.  Both of these initiatives highlight and prioritise the importance of the Health and Physical Education curriculum.

The PE community is a very collaborative one.  No one person holds all the knowledge, but sometimes as individuals and departments we hold too tightly to that knowledge.  There is a wealth of expertise in this room and throughout the country and globally.  Our key responsibility is to share that expertise, as our collective goal is the wellbeing and success of our learners, and the nourishing and strengthening of our curriculum area.  It is something we all need to contribute to.

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The word collaborate gets thrown around a lot, it is a bit of a buzz word at the moment, and I believe that in NZ we have a much better word, that while is not a direct translation, it embraces the concept of collaboration, and is one that is unique to our heritage – ako – to teach and to learn.  Notice how ako appears in Kaiako (teacher) and ākonga (learner) and how when you put those words alongside each other ako is the reciprocal part that joins these roles together. (Thanks Maurie Abraham for making visible that connection.) Ako recognises that at different times we take different roles; it recognises the knowledge that both teachers and learners bring to learning interactions and it acknowledges the way that new knowledge and understandings can grow out of shared learning experiences.  This is not about people simply getting along socially; it is about building productive and reflective relationships, where everyone is empowered to learn with and from each other.  This conference provides multiple opportunities for learning interactions – engage with them! Share ideas, ask questions, challenge and be challenged.

Everyone here today will have the opportunity over the duration of conference to collaborate, connect and reconnect.  Coming together face to face allows us to build relationships and connect with like minded individuals.  But thanks to technology and the many forums on social media, that collaboration and connectedness does not need to stop here.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that a significant number of the presenters at conference are active on twitter.  This valuable professional learning network enables the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum by allowing us to be connected, confident, actively involved, life-long learners.

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So, what then might we do to further nourish and strengthen our learning area?

I believe that we need to be stronger advocates for Health and Physical Education and the critical role that our learning area can play in the wellbeing of our young people and of each other.

The recent ERO Report on Wellbeing for Young People’s Success at Secondary School has reinforced the importance of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum in supporting student wellbeing, and in turn student success.

We need to wave it in front of school leaders and say ‘Hey, see this bit here… 


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Well the Health and Physical Education department can help you with that, we can lead the way.’

And hey, you know this whole deal about student wellbeing, well Hauora is an underlying concept of our curriculum area, lets make it a priority for our learners’.  Imagine if as a result of these ERO recommendations we had as much focus on wellbeing as we have had on literacy and numeracy.  Perhaps then it might be made more explicit that we are all teachers of wellbeing, and that deliberate planning for wellbeing across the curriculum is needed.

In an era of the Modern Learning Environment, Modern Learning Practices and Pedagogies are not so new or ‘modern’ to a Physeder who is used to having colleagues move in and out of each others spaces, to team teaching, to being flexible and responsive, to allowing students to work in small groups and facilitate their own learning.  We long ago adopted the guide on the side, not sage on the stage approach.

Our ability to lead the way, as schools move towards these more collaborative practices, places our curriculum area in a strong position to lead and role model effective teaching pedagogies.

Prue Kelly, former principal of Wellington High School, has been public in her view that ‘When the PE department is humming, the whole school is humming’.  That is an endorsement that we need to celebrate.

We also need to consider how we can further enhance our networks and networking.

(These networks can take many forms:


  • Within own department
  • Across depts in our own school
  • Across PE and other departments in other schools
  • Across ECE, primary, intermediate, secondary, tertiary sectors
  • Face-to-face and virtual)


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Networking within our own department might seem obvious, but I spoke recently to a PE teacher who taught level 1 and 3 PE and had no idea about what was being covered in the junior HPE programme or at level 2 NCEA!  There have to be conversations happening within departments to ensure a seamless education for our learners.  We do not teach young people in isolated calendar years.  They bring with them prior learning and experiences, and they have future aspirations.  We need to connect with our learners to ensure we are meeting their needs, but we also need to connect with each other to ensure we are working towards the best outcomes for our learners. There is still a lot of work to be done in supporting each other, and this where the networking that happens between schools is also vital.  Again it comes back to not holding on too tightly to knowledge, and sharing good practice widely.  And that example was only in a PE context… What about a department that provides junior and senior pathways in PE, Health and Outdoor Education – how much networking and collaboration between these teachers occurs?  Not to mention our Home Economics teachers – where do they fit into this picture?

And what about networking across learning areas?  I have seen first hand how working across the curriculum provides rich and authentic learning experiences that leads to deeper understanding.  Integrated teaching and learning, and assessment can minimise stress and anxiety for our learners, and improve wellbeing and success.  When using a shared context, and a collaborative approach, curriculum areas working together serve to strengthen the knowledge and understanding of each other.  

When we combined Physical Education and English and used one piece of work to provide the evidence towards two Achievement Standards in two curriculum areas, we found that the relevant and meaningful context in PE provided higher levels of engagement with the ‘English’ task and higher levels of work completion and submission.  As well, having the English lens on the piece of work enabled the students to articulate and develop their ideas more clearly and coherently, and it gave a greater depth to their responses.

For our primary colleagues working with a crowded curriculum, integrated teaching and learning is one way of ensuring Physical Education does not get further marginalised.

In order to see where the potential lies for links to other curriculum areas, and other areas within our community and wider society, we must know and understand our curriculum area deeply.  Our curriculum document needs to be a well worn document that is integral to our conversations, planning and review.

There are limitless opportunities for how we and our learners might network and connect with others.

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Google hangout is a platform that allows educators and learners to explore the world beyond the walls of their classroom and even their immediate community.  We are constantly challenging our students to consider different perspectives and others points of view, but how often do we provide opportunities for this to happen ‘in real life’?  In preparing for this keynote I spoke to Greg Thurlow from Papatoetoe High School and his year 13 PE students (via a google hangout!) about their experiences using a Google Hangout.  The students were learning about skill analysis, and in order to encourage some critical thinking Greg set up a hangout with a colleague and class at Keri Keri High School.  Both groups of learners did some research into each others schools by looking at the school website.  They formed some assumptions about the school and its learners, and about what context each might be learning in.  They then took part in the hangout and tested and challenged these assumptions.  Now beyond the social curiosity the teenagers had of each other, they were also very curious about each others’ learning experiences, and this led to a far greater depth of discussion.

There is real potential for the use of Google Hangouts in connecting learners with ‘experts’ to enrich learning experiences, and also to connect learners across sectors to support learning from Early Childhood Education, through Primary, Intermediate, Secondary and Tertiary.

(Benefits of Google Hangouts:

Enabling a range of perspectives, connecting in different locations brings different points of view which are relevant to a lot of the society based themes.

SPEECHE factors in real life!  Relevant and authentic

Learning is not isolated – can have different meanings for different people

Students can make visible links to why

Visible opportunities to identify, make and challenge assumptions

Can obtain meaningful data through surveys and student responses.

Students can interact/connect socially


Sharing of knowledge and growing awareness that there is more going on in NZ.

Wider online learning community – ask questions, critical friends

Reciprocal growth)


So some final food for thought…

(How might we….)

I worry that in what is often an assessment driven environment in secondary schools and a sports saturated environment in primary schools, that we forget to focus on the joy of movement itself and allow students to learn through play.  And in our efforts to justify our academic status we are spending too much time in the classroom.  How might we ensure that movement, and the joy of movement, stays at the core of our practice?  Physical Education is about learning in, through and about movement.

How might we move from storying technology as the ‘road to all evil’ and the root of inactivity, and use technology to enhance young people’s experiences in Physical Education?  Use what we know motivates them to engage with technology to engage with being lifelong learners in Physical activity.

I recently listened to a TED talk by a teenager in America who was asking the question “what if we (hacked the curriculum) and based education on the practice of being healthy and happy?”  

Awesome idea!  And it made me wonder, if schools were to do this how well positioned would physical education be to contribute to, and in fact lead, such a curriculum?  

How might we ensure that physical education contributes to students health and happiness?

Educational change is uncomfortable, but we have to keep moving forward ‘if you’re not on the edge you’re taking up too much room’

So I believe that if we are to become stronger as a curriculum area we need to be constantly asking – ‘How might we be better than before?’

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Kia ora koutou.


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