Every September 150 children join my school in Year 7. In terms of Physical Education you can split them into two distinct groups: those who value movement and those that don’t. For those that do value movement everything you provide in lessons is a treat. For those that don’t everything is a struggle. The second group is getting bigger every year making it harder to teach. It is impossible to learn if we don’t want to learn. Children have to see that the time they are investing in gaining skills and knowledge is valuable. Ulrich Boser in Learn Better makes the following point “We all see the world through the frame of meaning. We engage in activities that we believe have value.” Boser goes on to say that people need to find their own relevance in a subject in order to be driven to learn in that subject. Just telling children that movement is important in not enough. Neither is seeing movement solely through a narrow lens of fitness. We need to expand both our own and our pupil’s notions of what movement can offer in their lives. Then provide opportunities to find personal meaning themselves.

Physical literacy seems to be gaining traction as a concept. Physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life. Whilst this may potentially provide PE Teachers a framework to offer a holistic curriculum beyond just fitness I don’t think it offers much value and meaning to children. Why should they engage in physical activities in the first place? Margret Whitehead in Chapter 4 of the book Physical Literacy: Throughout the lifecourse provides an answer. “Physical literacy can be described as a disposition characterised by motivation to capitalise on innate movement potential to make a significant contribution to the quality of life.” It is highlighted part that seems to be missing from much of the discussion surrounding Physical Literacy and Physical Education.

This is why I am drawn to James McAllister’s definition of the physically educated person. In The ‘Physically Educated’ Person: Physical education in the philosophy of Reid, Peters and Aristotle, McAllister defines the physically educated person as someone “who has learned to arrange their lives in such a way that habitual movement they freely engage in makes a distinctive contribution to their wider flourishing.” It is either through movement making a significant contribution to the quality of life or to their wider flourishing that can potentially provide the value and meaning needed for children to learn within PE. McAllister uses Haruki Murakami, the acclaimed Japanese novelist, as an example of this. Murakami wrote What I talk about when I talk about running, a memoir of how he has found personal meaning and value in running. Of the personal lessons he has learned by putting his body in motion and how they have helped him in his life.

Therefore the idea of ‘flourishing‘ can help us expand the notions of what movement can offer. Flourishing is a state of being rather than a feeling or experience.  It comes from engaging in activities that both express and produce the actualization of one’s potential. By seeing daily movement as a powerful activity that can help us to become better versions of ourselves. Building a personal resource for living well that combines high levels of physical well-being, emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being. If we as teachers approach PE from the wider perspective of flourishing then just fitness or gaining sport skills then perhaps we can provide some value and meaning to those children who see none. Perhaps like joy and delight providing this meaning maybe beyond us. Perhaps it will only be found once the child has left school. However let us at least try to sow the seeds of a wider, deeper and richer idea what movement has to offer children in their lives.

Simply put:

Daily movement helps us to flourish and realise our potential 

Physical Education can provide the tools needed to move daily on our own terms

A physical educated person is someone who has learned to arrange their lives in such a way, that daily movement that they freely engage with, makes a distinctive contribution to their wider flourishing

8 thoughts on “Flourishing

  1. As always, a reflective post that dives into the topics and themes that many teachers grapple with in regards to their practice. Thanks for that! Physical activity and sport were my saving graces while growing up. They allowed me to find purpose and meaning, to find confidence in myself and a reason to move forward. In really coming to understand this about myself over the last several years, it changed the way that I set up and delivered my PE program. As physical educators, we have the potential to change lives through our work by creating an environment that hopefully allows young people to thrive and to find purpose in their lives through movement. To me it’s not about physical literacy and certainly NOT about fitness testing, nor is it about TGFU, Sport Ed, Game Sense, Cooperative Learning etc. These things are merely tools to help us deliver our programs. At the heart of what we do is helping young people to find joy and delight through movement, and to intrinsically motivate them to embrace physical activity for life.

    I feel incredibly lucky to have shared this message in my recent TED X talk. I discussed in-depth how movement and physical activity provided me with my own suit or armor which protected me against the genetic predisposition I have to addiction and depression. In losing two brothers to addiction and depression, I firmly believe that I did not suffer from these things because physical activity and sport changed the neurochemistry of my brain allowing me to live differently than my brothers. Our programs are about SO much more than physical literacy. Our programs are about instilling hope, joy, and delight through movement. Who knows how many lives we can change by ensuring we never forget this. Thanks for this post.


  2. Agree with all you have written. PE provides the main opportunity for the development of physical literacy. What is not in place in some schools and is not engrained in the philosophy of some teachers is the understanding of how some of those students feel. In many ways PE has not evolved with teachers still choosing traditional activities which suit the ‘sporty’ kids and a lack of creativity and non-traditional activities. Our job is to find ways to motivate which will always be challenging and will require creativity, empathy and ultimately comes down to relationship building.


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