Role Models

“For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.” Seneca

It’s performance management season again and I’m really beginning to despise it. Not for what it is trying to do, but what it has become. There is a pernicious idea that has taken hold in my experience of performance management that more is always better. No matter what you may have done last year, no matter what targets met, no matter what key performance indicators improved and no matter what new initiatives started, more is always required. More is always better. Never maintain, refine or transcend and definitely not ever do less, so what is truly important can be done better.

The targets that performance management generate are aways external, something that is easy to measure and easy to evidence. Everybody is in on the game, but perhaps what we provide in PE can’t be better, until we are better. I’m slowly coming to realisation that the very best thing I can do for the children in my care is not provide more for them, but to become a better version of myself. If the end game of performance management in schools is to improve the organisational effectiveness of meeting its mission of educating children, then surely a focus on me becoming a better teacher and better human being will best achieve this. Teaching and learning is a human endeavour after all.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about role models, both in my personal and professional life. With regards to professional role models I’ve been remembering the great PE teachers I’ve work with and what made them great.

Hugh was my PE teacher at secondary school. He was the quintessential professional, no matter whether he was teaching in the classroom, in the gym or on the side of the sports filed he was always in control. It didn’t matter what happened, be it insults, injuries or incidents he dealt with them immediately and with absolute calmness. There were times I tested his patience both as a student and as a sportsman. It was his composure in dealing with me that made me respect him. Even more so now, as I’m occasionally on the receiving end of what I did to him.  He is a role model of temperance.

Noel was my first head of department. He had a reputation of being notoriously strict. Every morning I would watch him deal with pupils who had infringed the school rules. He would read to them from the school handbook and then deal with them following the school policy. Rules, routines and responses consistently applied in every part of his job, but that wouldn’t stop him challenging rules if he thought they were incoherent or wrong. When I spoke to him about this and how much extra work it must create, his reply has stuck with me ever since “not half as much work created by teachers who undermine the school rules.” He was a role model of justice.

John was a teacher who had left my current school before I arrived, but I had the pleasure of working with him through representative rugby and the local university. He really was a master teacher when it came to PE and School Sport. I remember watching him teach line out lifting to children. He had a hundred and one different ways of saying and teaching the same thing and could pick the right one for pupils in from of him. I’ve never encountered another individual with such subject specific knowledge and pedagogy. He was a role model of practical wisdom.

Bob was an assistant head in charge of pastoral, but still had a half time table of PE. He had an immutable belief in the potential of children and the power of sport as a vehicle for education. He never labelled anyone he interacted with, be that pupil, parent or teacher. However he was in my mind a brave teacher who never let things slip. He chased, he spoke up, he challenged and he was radically transparent in everything he did. He is a role model of courage.

These PE Teachers are remembered. Their impact is still imprinted on the people they interacted with, not just for their acts, not just for the outcome of their acts but because of the type of people they were and are. I have to play the game. I have my performance targets of ‘more equals better’, but I also have my own targets based on who I consider my role models. I want to demonstrate more temperance like Hugh, consistent rules, routines and responses like Noel, increased subject specific knowledge and pedagogy like John and develop stronger relationships through bravery like Bob. I may never be as good as them, but I can use them as role models to become a better version of myself, leading to better judgements and decisions in my professional life. They may not be perfect but they provide me a better reference point to become a better PE Teacher than the targets of my performance management.

So, who are your PE role models, and why?

Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, think of the good qualities of those who live with you: such as the energy of one, the decency of another, the generosity of another, and some other quality in someone else. There is nothing so cheering as the images of the virtues displayed in the characters of those who live with you, and grouped together as far as possible. So you should keep them ready at hand. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.48

One thought on “Role Models

  1. At my high school, dance was part of the PE curriculum, but it wasn’t popular – kids in the mid-1970s didn’t really want to learn how to square dance. One of the younger PE teachers was studying jazz and modern dance, and she started incorporating that into our PE classes. It became so popular that the PE department started offering separate classes in jazz/modern dance (which counted as PE credits) and our teacher was able to persuade the school to refit a space to use as a dance studio. I believe she got a lot of pushback on this from other teachers who thought the space should be used for other purposes, but she was able to persuade the principals of the value of the studio in keeping us interested in physical activity.
    Our teacher also started a dance club and offered classes after school as well, in addition to taking us to dance performances and to master classes with visiting companies. Her advocacy on our behalf and her commitment to supporting an activity that we were interested in, and learned a lot from, was something we were all truly grateful for.

    Liked by 1 person

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