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Defining the role of a PE teacher

"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there." - Yogi Berra

Having clarity on the purpose of your role sounds like an obvious thing to do. For me, I wanted to have a clear understanding of my role and purpose as I move into my second placement for my PGCE.

Gaelic Football coaching in Hong Kong. Developing physical literacy - not just through focusing on the physical competencies, but by allowing kids to have fun in a positive environment. Not just what you do, but how you do it. The how is more important than the what.

Physical Education

"Physical Education is the planned, progressive learning that takes place in curriculum time tabled time and is delivered to all pupils." - AfPE, 2015.

Physical Education (PE) is centred on the principle that physical activity improves the ability of the individual to meet the demands of our environment. The demands of the environment in which young people have grown up in have changed, and with that change in environment, the purpose of PE in schools has also changed.

The current aims of PE in schools in England are that students:

  • develop competence to excel in a broad range of physical activities;

  • are physically active for sustained periods of time;

  • engage in competitve sports and activities

  • lead healthy and active lives.

It is clear that PE is about more than just developing the physical, and this view is reflected in other countries. For example, SHAPE America (2014) supports pedagogies that address the needs of the whole child: physical, cognitive, social and emotional. A resource that I have found particularly useful has been Breed and Spittle’s (2021) Game Sense model, which is based on the PE curriculum in the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and Canada, and Australia (Aus). Within this model, there are 3 categories of learning, broadly termed 1) skills, 2) knowledge, and 3) personal & social skills. It is widely accepted now that PE is more than just the physical, it contains affective and cognitive domains too.

The concept of physical literacy has gained a lot of attention across many fields, including physical education, sport and recreation.

Physical literacy can be defined as "the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and engage in physical activity for life" (International Physical Literacy Association (chaired by Margaret Whitehead), 2017).

I really like the description used in Canada of physical literacy - "the cornerstone of both participation and excellence in physical activity and sport for all."

In my view, the purpose of PE is to develop physical literacy. Whether the student aims to be an elite sports person or not, physical literacy is the foundation. And much like PE, physical literacy focuses on physical, affective and cognitive realms.

How does this effect day-to-day PE practice?

I am about to embark on my second placement this month. I must first start with the end in mind - what am I trying to achieve?

The answer to that in a broad sense is to develop physically literate individuals - individuals who, by the definition above, have the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and engage in physical activity for life.

Motivation is a complex process which differs between everyone, which points to the importance of knowing your students, and understanding what motivates them.

Confidence, like motivation, is a complex phenomenon and confidence looks different for everyone. Confidence is one of the things I try to inspire daily as a teacher or as a coach, as I've mentioned here. A powerful framework I have referred to a lot is the optimal challenge point framework (Guadagnoli and Lee, 2004). If a challenge is too low for a student, they can become bored and lose interest. If a challenge is too high, then they may become de-motivated because the task seems impossible. A key part of confidence is the relationship and individual has with failure.

Physical competence is something James McCann (Twitter: @jrmccann16) has developed a curriculum around. Given my background it is something I am a big fan of, and will definitely form part of my planning. Personally, I love the idea of using games to develop physical competencies or capacities (like conditioning for performance athletes). And if I can, I will develop physical literacy using a 100% games based approach. I'm a purist, skills pay the bills, and physical literacy is a skill.

Knowledge and understanding will underpin decisions to continue to value and engage in physical activity after students are told it is something they must do. But there are two types of knowledge - knowledge about and knowledge of. Students can easily gain knowledge about the importance of physical activity for life by sitting in a classroom and listening to powerpoint presentations. Knowledge of physical literacy requires a deeper level of understanding and come through expeirencing physical literacy (Woods et al, 2020).


In a line: the purpose of PE is to develop physical literacy.

In a line: a physically literate individual will have the skills and desire to participate in sport and/or physical activity for life.

Relaying it back to the quote at the start, I know where I am going (or where I want to go). Now the fun part of trying to get there. Which reminds me of what I wrote a number of months ago regarding adaptability:

"If I expect to have a perfectly behaved class, and the lesson runs exactly how I have planned it, then I am not living in the real world. Perfection is not a realistic aim, but progress is. Even the best lessons will have areas to improve or elements that aren't planned for, but thats the fun of it. Your best ability is adaptability."

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