This summer my reading was related to Leadership. Leadership Theory is a hugely diverse topic, with definitions and descriptions varying enormously between authors. What they all agree with is that we can find leadership in every sort of work, project and initiative, regardless of scale, finances or environment. Given the many ways in which leadership operates, it is no surprise then that leadership is so difficult to define and describe. Books that focus on leadership theory, be it philosophy, style, behaviour or technical models all suffer from dry writing and possibly confusing causation and correlation. However within the pages of the books I read are a few ideas that might be useful and possibly shape our approach within the PE classroom for the better.
Coherence Making – The ‘world is not chaotic, it is complex’ and I would put forward this is the same for our classrooms. We as PE Teachers need to embrace this. The central tendency of a dynamic complex system, such as one of our PE classes, is to be constantly generating overload and causing fragmentation in thinking and doing. That the learning change we are trying to elicit in our pupils is going to be non-linear and messy. The experience of this messiness is necessary in order to discover hidden benefits. That of allowing pupils to make coherence out of that complexity. As long as we can keep our pupils safe, we can create an environment that allows their individual differences to surface. Coherence can only exist in the hearts and the minds of our individual pupils and we must allow them the chance to do that in their own time. Teaching uniformity may not allow them that opportunity. I have seen the benefits of both patience and a Teaching Games for Understanding approach has for my pupils over drilling out of context and will continue to look how to do that in other activities.
Absence of Trust – Trust is at the heart of a functioning cohesive team. Our PE classes often act as teams, with many activities we teach requiring our pupils to work together in one way or another. In the context of a team, trust is the confidence among its members that their peers intentions are good. That everyone can be comfortable being vulnerable with each other. Teams that lack trust waste time and energy managing their behaviours and interactions within the group. This leads to a reluctance to take risks and lowers the enjoyment of being in that environment. It is our role as a teacher to try to create an environment that doesn’t punish vulnerability, by challenging and dealing with any behaviour that may do this, quickly and effectively. This will allow all pupils, no matter what their ability in PE, to flourish in the knowledge that they will be supported by their peers and by us. My personal feeling is that trust within the PE classroom is built out of clear routines, rules and expectations. That we as the teacher then uphold these, firmly but with care. Following through on them every time effectively. It is through doing that our pupils see us as being honest and having ability. This is how trust then begins to develop and our pupils then might feel more comfortable to take the risks needed to engage and improve in our subject.
Short Term Wins – Change takes time. Within PE real change may take a lot of time. We probably all talk to our pupils about the overall aims of PE regularly. We discuss long term effects of a healthy and physically active lifestyle and how this will benefit the quality of their life when they are older. However this sometimes means we forget the here and now. The enjoyment and the inherent value of moving, of being in the moment. It also means that we might forget that pupils want to see some evidence that their effort is paying off. Therefore attention to short term wins is just as important as achieving our overall aim. We need to plan for short term wins within our lessons and Schemes of Work. They need to be visible and unambiguous to our pupils, even better if a large number of them can all see the results. This in turn can prevent effort from dropping and provides us milestones and opportunities as teachers to share and celebrate success with all our pupils within PE.
A word of warning though. As a teacher I like to feel as if I understand and can control my teaching environment. I don’t like to think of myself as a helpless leaf blowing in the winds of chance when responsible for my pupils learning and engagement in life long pursuit of purposeful physical activity. So at times I may seek out and grab at any explanation of how things may work. My reading of Leadership Theory has provided me answers that I like to certain questions that I have about how both I and my pupils work (or don’t work). This however doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true or it is right. Everything I read fills my head with new bits of information. The more I have, the better-equipped I am to potentially tackle and find solutions to the challenges I face.