Meaningful Experiences in PE: Guiding Principles

‘Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you want you want out of life.’ – Ray Dalio

Guiding Principles of Meaningful PE

Movement has the potential to enrich human existence and Physical Education can be a site that contributes to this by creating meaningful experiences of movement. Meaningful experiences are those that hold ‘personal significance’ to the learner. PE Teachers who subscribe to the creation of meaningful experiences, are influenced not just by the achievement of learning objectives but by the value the learner attributes to all forms of movement and to PE itself. If teaching is seen as problem finding, problem defining and problem solving in a complex environment to assist the individual or collective to flourish, then we need guiding principles for our professional judgement and decision making. Ultimately we want children to become physically educated, to see how habitual daily movement can help them to flourish, no matter what version of a ‘good life‘ they may have. Often though, our teaching can get in the way of meaning making we end up providing children with a series of disjointed and meaningless experiences. A ‘Pedagogy of Meaningful PE’ is where the teacher attempts to position movement as something relevant and embedded into the lives of the children they teach. Below are 8 guiding principles for PE Teachers who may want to attend to the creation of meaningful experiences within their lessons as a priority:

 1. Meaning Making

We believe people find their own meanings in forms of movement… so we seek to guide the exploration of both positive and negative meanings through a multiple perspectives… and resist the urge to enforce our own personal meanings on them.

 2. Meaningful Experiences

We believe in creating meaningful experiences within Physical Education… so we intentionally look to prioritise the interplay of fun, social interactions, challenge, motor competence and personally relevant learning… and resist the urge to see them as convenient by-products.

 3. Fun

We believe that fun is an essential part of creating meaningful experiences… so we plan for fun by understanding our students’ personal culture and community values… and resist the urge to prioritise fun at the expense of other meaningful guiding principles.

 4. Social Interaction

We believe that positive social interactions are at the heart of meaningful movement experiences in PE… so we seek to carefully consider the way we organise opportunities for social interactions between pupils and with pupils and teachers… and resist the urge to always control the relationships within the learning context.

 5. Challenge and Competition

We believe that appropriate challenge leads to enjoyment and continued motivation…. so we provide experiences that place an emphasis on the challenge inherent in the process of completing the task in both the short and the long term… and resist the urge to only see challenge through the binary of winning and losing.

 6. Motor Competence

We believe that acquiring and refining motor competence is one of the best ways to develop students’ confidence… so we take a holistic approach to competence… and resist the urge to solve physical problems with only physical solutions.

 7. Personally Relevant Learning

We believe that meaningful movement is an important part of a good life… so we explicitly create opportunities for students to develop their own image of a good life and how movement might contribute to that… and resist the urge to assume that what is important for us is important for them.

 8. Delight

We believe that teaching for delight will provide a spring board to future sustained participation… so we attend to the experiences we create… and resist the urge to solely teach for prudential, intellectual, or affective means.

These guiding principles for Meaningful Experiences are a work in progress. My plan is to try to and uphold them to the best of my ability within lessons, and through practice and reflection I’m sure they will evolve. So as someone who wants to explore and attend to creating more meaningful experiences in PE here is what I am thinking so far….what do you think? Your thoughts, feedback and critique are most welcome.

Further Reading:

Learning About Meaningful Physical Education blog series about Meaningful PE

Meaning in Movement, Sport and Physical Education by Peter Arnold

Movement and Meaning by Eleanor Metheny

Practical Philosophy of Sport and Physical Activity by R. Scott Kretchmar

Beni, S., Fletcher, T., Ní Chróinín, D. (2017). Meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport: A review of the literatureQuest69(3), 291-312.

Ní Chróinín, D., Fletcher, T., & O’Sullivan, M. (2018). Pedagogical principles of learning to teach meaningful physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 23(2), 117-133.

Kretchmar, R. S. (2000). Movement subcultures: Sites for meaning. Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 71(5), 19–25.

Kretchmar, R. S. (2000). Moving and being moved: Implications for practice. Quest, 52, 260–272.

Kretchmar, R. S. (2006). Ten more reasons for quality physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 77(9), 6–9.

Catherine D. Ennis (2017) Educating Students for a Lifetime of Physical Activity: Enhancing Mindfulness, Motivation, and MeaningResearch Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 88:3, 241-250

Justen O’Connor (2018) Exploring a pedagogy for meaning-making in physical education European Physical Education Review

Justen O’Connor blog post on Exploring meaningful movement in PE

Finally thanks to myfastestmile for the inspiration for the structure of the guiding principles and to Tim Fletcher, Nate Babcock, Al Smith and Scott Kretchmar for their time and wisdom.

15 thoughts on “Meaningful Experiences in PE: Guiding Principles

  1. This is what I love about teaching PE, that our students have an opportunity to not only move and improve their physical literacy and competence but they get to engage in thinking and improve social skills, while enjoying themselves. A lot to consider in making lessons meaningful but buzzy when you see these things happening in your classes. A good challenge for us to create our own list like yours. Thanks!


  2. I really like the structure of the principles, particularly ‘resisting the urges’. If meaning is subjective and experienced by learners, then resisting many of our urges as teachers/coaches etc and being aware of those urges becomes important.
    Are the principles representative of your philosophy? Or are they strategies to help you enact a broader or different philosophy? i.e., are they the big picture or part of a bigger picture? Or both? Either way, I think this would be helpful for many pre-service or beginning teachers to consult as they inevitably draft their own personal philosophies of teaching. These are typically down with little guidance and few exemplars to work from. Yours would make an excellent exemplar, particularly if you adapt and refine it as a living document.
    Thanks for sharing this!


    1. Hi Tim…I’ve been thinking a lot about your questions. I want to change my philosophy, values, beliefs and ultimately my actions. I see how I act at times within PE lessons and school sport sessions and I don’t like who I am. This is an attempt to give me a framework to overcome the teacher I was and help me to become the teach I want to be. Currently I use them as a mental model to help me make ‘better’ decisions within lessons. Ecological Dynamics is helping me conceptualise how to use it. When we are in the classroom observing children learning in, through and about movement there is a lot of affordances – invitations for us to act. There is so much information that we can attune to, the principles help me to focus on certain sources of information that then allow me to act in a certain way. Before I would focus only on technical issues or issues of effort, the principles when I use them well make me look for other sources of information and this means I act in a different way. Hopefully a more meaningful way.


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