Bring Your Parents To PE Week
by Will Potter
I first met Will Potter two summers ago at the 2016 CalPoly Elementary Physical Education Workshop in San Luis Obispo, CA. Will immediately struck me as an awesome guy who was clearly passionate about teaching physical education. When I returned to CalPoly last summer, I got to learn more about Will’s awesome “Bring Your Parents To PE” Week initiative. After seeing so many people from the online #physed community run with the idea and create awesome experiences for their school communities, I thought it would be great to have the man behind the idea share his own journey and experience with the project, along with a few tips to help others who wish to take it on! If enjoy Will’s guest post here, be sure to check out his blog for even more great ideas and examples!
When I was growing up my parents knew little to nothing about my physical education experience. At the elementary level, I didn’t have PE. In middle school, when I was first exposed to PE I hated it. It wasn’t until 7th grade, when one teacher opened my eyes to the joy that is quality physical education. After that I loved PE. As I got older and began to attend high school, as much as I loved PE, it wasn’t something my parents were exactly worried or concerned about. My experience, and my parents involvement in PE was probably typical of most students in my school district.
In college, as I worked towards my degree, I came across study after study that showed that parental involvement mattered in education. That the more parents are aware of what is happening at school, the better the child performs. Over and over again these studies and papers confirmed that a positive home-school connection is something beneficial, and desirable from both sides.
I want to get back to that in a minute but right now lets consider how our profession is perceived by parents, co-workers, administration, even the community. I don’t know about your specific situation, but arriving on my first day of work I was surprised at how little I was thought of. Don’t get me wrong, I was well respected by my co-workers, looked at as a peer, but…you know…the kind of peer who isn’t teaching a “real” subject. A colleague even told me “thanks for the prep,” as if I was there only to give him a break. Initially I was thought of as a teacher who’s subject matter was peripheral to the education of the student. A “luxury.” A structured recess period.
It isn’t fun being looked at as expendable, like an extra pinky finger that isn’t necessary or even useful. And this thinking goes past those we work with. Over the summer, I attended my high school reunion. A former classmate discovered that I was a physical education teacher. Not a minute went by before the words “dodgeball facilitator” came out of his mouth. I stared at him in disbelief. I was unable to believe that people still have this perception of our profession? I had to take him aside and show him what my program was and why dodgeball isn’t a part of my curriculum.
In a way, pop culture, the media, and the bad experience of some, has led to a poor perception of what physical education is. Sadly for most of America and the world, PE and dodgeball have become synonymous. Just like any stereotype or prejudice, the only way to break through the perception is to expose people to the truth.
My truth is a quality physical education program. A program that provides learning opportunities, with appropriate instruction, meaningful and challenging content. A program that is standards-based and contains real and genuine assessments. It is a program that emphasizes physical competency and teaching the whole child.
What are you proud of? How do you share it? Do you connect with parents? If you do, how do you connect them to your PE program? What are the ways that you bridge the gap? I asked myself that question, and I took some time to think and reflect about what I do to collaborate with parents.
I came up with four “I” words that I think encapsulate my thinking, and represent my goals when bridging the home-school gap.
Informing parents of what your doing, when you’re doing it and how you are doing it, is the first and easiest way to bridge the gap between a child’s school day and home life. Newsletters, websites, and social media channels are great ways that you can connect with parents.
— William Potter (@MrWillPE) October 24, 2017
Sending home a newsletter is an easy way to inform parents about PE. Whats more, in this new digital age, a newsletter doesn’t have to be plain, verbose or static. A digital newsletter in PDF form can be quickly mailed out to parents. With some basic tech-know-how you can add clickable links or embedded videos in to your newsletters.
Regardless of what your preferred communication method is, sending information home is the first key to success in bridging the “home-school” gap. If you inform parents of what you are doing in PE, they are more likely to ask meaningful questions to their children, and the pathways of connection will begin to open. Every district and school has a different policy about websites and social media and I encourage you to take the time to discover just what increasing PE on those channels can do for you.
Lets move from inform to instruct. Instruct isn’t so much about teaching parents what you are doing in PE classes, its is more about showing parents what physical education has become. It is about changing the mindset of parents, altering their preconceived notions of what PE is, and showing them what quality physical education looks like. This is best done through meaningful, conversation with parents. Meaningful conversation isn’t casual, it isn’t “hey did you watch Game of Thrones last night?” Those conversations are important too, but what I mean by meaningful conversations goes a bit deeper. These conversations talk about the conferences you are planning on attending, what new methods you are investigating. You’re telling parents about how cool SOLO Taxonomy is. Let your PE nerd flag fly, parents will respond to your passion and see you in a different light.
Participating in open house is another important way to make your presence felt. If parents see you at school wide events they will also perceive you as a part of their child’s everyday experience. It also allows for yet another opportunity to present your program to parents in a meaningful and tangible way.
Including parents in your physical education program is scary, it is nerve-wracking it is stressful. For most of us, we can talk in front of a room full of children for hours and not blink and eye, but put one parent in the room and all of a sudden we get more ticks than a sleeping bag after a camping trip. While It may be out of our comfort zone to do so, including parents in you classroom is the best way to show off what you do and how you do it. My annual “Bring Your Parents to PE Week” the main way I include parents in my PE program.
“Bring Your Parents to PE Week” is a week-long event that I started doing in 2006. I use my regular teaching schedule, and classes meet as usual, but for this week parents are invited to participate with their child. My primary desire when I began Bring Your Parents to PE Week was to promote the PE program at my school. I wanted to show parents my value as a teacher and to make sure people understood that PE was more than just nonsense “busy, happy, good” games. I wanted to be taken seriously and to let parents know that real learning was happening. In my mind, I thought even if I wasn’t taken seriously, the event would be a great way to explain to parents what I do everyday. Now, after 10 years of “Bring Your Parents to PE” events, I don’t know why I ever doubted doing it and I encourage everyone who hasn’t done one to start one. Here are some tips on how to run a successful “Bring Your Parents to PE Week” event:
- Program ?. Pick a day early in the school year. A good time is after the first month when your students have learned the routines and day to day expectations.
- Promote ?. Once you set a date, send out or email fliers and schedules. As the event gets closer, send out a weekly reminder to parents to RSVP for the event. If you have social media, use it to notify parents and get the community excited for the event. Be creative in your style, consistent in your message and persistent. The more you promote the event, the more excited people will be, and the greater turn out you will have.
- Plan ?. When I plan my classes for the week I am always sure to include the following elements: A team building challenge, a fitness activity, a dance, and a cross-curricular activity. When planning this event, I work hard to create experiences that showcase as many different and unique things that I can, since I want to demonstrate to everyone what my PE program is and why it is special. If your PE program has other highlights be sure to include them as well. During the event remember to keep it safe, because injured parents do not make for longtime friends or PE allies. Keep it fun, it can be hard but definitely don’t let parents get too competitive, and remind them to take it easy, especially with the younger children. Remember to model best practices, definitely be yourself but be your best self. Also don’t forget to invite classroom teachers, administrators, and, if a parent can’t make it, make sure the family knows they can send an approved special guest or grandparent.
- Praise ?. After the event there are some things I like to do. First, and most importantly, at the end of each class, I will immediately say Thank You to all the parents who attended. I will always tell parents who attend that without them this would be just another regular day at PE. Later that day I will send a personalized thank you email to participants and whenever possible I will include a photo of them and or their child from the event (remember to take lots of pictures and videos throughout the week!) Another thing I will do with all the photos I take is create a slideshow that I can use to promote future events and of course I always share my success with other professionals so that they might be inspired to try it as well.
Including parents in PE definitely leads us into our last “I”: Impress. Impressing parents isn’t about what you know, or what you do. Its about giving parents that feeling that their child is experiencing something special in PE. You want to leave parents with lasting memories that they will cherish. When I was in first grade, I crafted a Christmas ornament in school. Its nothing fancy just some ribbon and preserved pretzels that form a picture frame with my photo in it. But every year, without fail, my mom proudly displays it on the tree and tells me the story of how excited I was to give it to her.
When I became a teacher I wanted to give that feeling away to other parents. I wanted to make those sentimental “refrigerator” keepsakes that my mom loved. Throughout the year I give parents digital and physical take aways that they can see, keep and save for the future. These memory tokens will remind them of your PE program far longer than their memory of who won a game, or what the score was. I talked a bit about that when I mentioned the personalized thank you notes I send after the “Bring Your Parents to PE Week”, but there are some other ways you can do it.
An end of the year slideshow is a great way to showcase your PE program. Usually I premiere mine at my school’s open house!
Homework is another great way to get parents to see what you are doing at home. Giving students optional take home fitness challenges help bring the topic of health, and physical education into the home and make for great interaction between students and parents.
A student of the week photo is something else you can give to parents and students and it doesn’t require much work. Each week, I pick a student to be student of the week. If you work at a larger school, pick one student per class so that more people get a chance to be in the spotlight. That student gets high fives from the entire community all week and at the end of the week, they get to keep the picture of themselves. On the back of the picture I will always write a short note congratulating them and encouraging them to keep up the good work.
Now that we have covered the four “I” concepts for bridging the gap, I want to go back to my original questions: How are you viewed by your school community? If you did some or all of the things above would you be seen differently? Would you finally be supported by the faculty and administration? Would you achieve more support from the community? If you are thinking “that is a lot for me to do” or “I don’t think I can do all that at once,” don’t worry. I didn’t implement all of these at once. I picked one every year or so to add to what I was already doing. And I know it takes work, but I promise you it’s worth it!
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