How I Teach: Elyse Loughlin

How I Teach: Elyse Loughlin

The more I teach, the more I realize how lucky I am to be a part of the #physed community. Every day, I find myself being inspired and wowed by this group of amazing teachers from around the world. That’s why I’ve decided to take a second each week and highlight one of these incredible educators. This week’s post comes from one of the most fired-up, passionate, and hard-working physical educators I have ever met.

Name: Elyse Loughlin
Where Are You From: Albany, New York
Where Do You Teach: AW Becker Elementary School
One word that best describes how you teach: Hustle.

What apps/tools/resources can’t you live without?

Google Keep (is life)

Maybe 6 years ago I used a Moleskine planner that had the week on the left side and then a lined page on the right side. I spent the year diligently writing down appointments on the weekly layout and a weekly “to do” list on the right side. In that school year, I also learned to use Google Keep. It is a productivity app that is like Evernote, but free. As I was planning the next year I took the recurring items from the planner and created monthly “to-do” lists in google keep. Then I added reminder features so that I would get a weekly email with my to-do list. This made it so that the to-do lists were consistently used and not put on the back burner. It looks like this:

The “Never-ending #ToDo list” is my workflow and then the monthly to-do lists may be reminders for upcoming events to consider in my planning or things that will become part of my workflow. It’s nice because at the end of the year I just uncheck all of the boxes and then it is ready for the next year.

Plickers

I am TERRIBLE with paper. So I was never going to be a teacher that did exit tickets. Enter Plickers. I mostly use the Plickers for self-assessment. The most interesting result was when I asked them to rate their perceived ability in striking and how much they enjoyed it. Turns out that the kids that thought they were good at striking still didn’t like striking activities. Which after my own reflection was probably caused by how the activities were presented.

Google Slides

I am forever working on my slide deck game. I have a slide deck for each grade level and each year I try to add a bit more to each one. It is pretty common for teachers to have a PowerPoint for each lesson they teach that highlights their main points and anchors students to the information being presented. So why not PE? I try to be patient with myself because – in actuality – I have 6 preps each day, where other teachers doing powerpoints would commonly have 1 or 2, so I’m building this resource for myself.

Canva

This is a web-based design app. I use it to make things that people would normally use Publisher or PowerPoint. Real talk…publisher is the worst, so when I learned about Canva I started to use it to make classroom posters, flyers, invitations, thank you cards, and social media posts. It comes with templates and lessons on things like how to pair fonts for those of us that never took an art/design class or have been using comic sans for all our documents since 1997.

Cricut Design Space

I got my first Cricut my fourth year of teaching and used it so much I broke it less than a year later. The machine was pretty pricey so it didn’t get replaced until I received one as a birthday present 3 years ago. A Cricut is a die-cutting machine like an Ellison Machine, but way better. You make a design in the design space and then send it to the machine to be cut out of whatever material you need. The Cricut Explore Air can cut paper, vinyl, fabric, craft foam, and more. Here’s a bulletin board I made with it:


Spotify

If you went into my iTunes you would swear they stopped making music in 2005 (it would also be filled with a bunch of hardcore/screamo music, I was so cool).  To be honest I’m not the type of person that bought CDs or DVDs. My first CD was a mix I created from songs downloaded on Napster. So it should come as no surprise that my preferred music app is Spotify.  I love the “radio” options on it and the social media aspect of sharing playlist. I wish this would take off more in the #physed community. We all need a superhero playlist at some point, why not share what we have made?  I really cool app to pair with Spotify is Pacemaker. It’s a user-friendly DJ app that offers guidance for making a playlist with a nice flow. I do pay for premium on Spotify, but not for PaceMaker.

What do your #physed classes look like?

I have 11 classes (grades K-5) that I teach for 45 minutes twice a week.  My class size ranges from 16 to 24 students. I’m lucky enough to have a projector mounted in my gym.  It’s hooked up to a desktop computer in my office and I have a wireless keyboard and mouse to navigate the screen. 

Once a week I co-teach with our Pre-K teacher for 30 minutes. Honestly, the Pre-K program is something I cooked up to experiment with the activities I had contributed to OPEN.  But when those students became kindergarteners the next year and effectively became PE protocol and routines sleeper cells, there was no going back. With about 45 students in the Pre-K program, there is about 10 of them in each kindergarten class the next year that can help the students that are new to PE.  So it feels less like herding cats and more like organizing the kindergarteners from the show RECESS.  

When planning a lesson is consider the following things:  Mosston’s Teaching Styles, Dean Kriellaars’s keynote on physical literacy, SHAPE America GLOs, and assessment.  Does this level of planning and assessment happen for every lesson? Absolutely not. When I started teaching I was basically throwing spaghetti at walls to see what would stick.  The GLOs didn’t come out until 2013 which was 4 or 5 years into my teaching career. I have always valued movement exploration in class, but it wasn’t until I heard Dean speak at CAHPERD 2016 that I started to lean into improving students’ self-efficacy.  So some of that spaghetti is still on the wall, but I’m working to take it down for something nicer. Working toward a standards-based curriculum with assessment is like marathon training: it can be gruelling, daunting, and life-consuming, but the hard is what makes it great. 

I like to start each unit with a really great hook, many hours have been spent searching for the perfect youtube video.  I’ve used videos of Dude Perfect to illustrate the difference between striking with a body part and striking with long and short-handled instruments. I’ve used a video of Serena Williams to introduce tennis.  We talked about how Serena had to overcome racism and classism to get to be a G.O.A.T. (because girls can be those too) and the impact of body image on female athletes. Sport is a part of our culture and I feel that one of the learning blocks that builds into “Engages in physical activity with responsible interpersonal behavior (e.g. peer to peer, student to teacher, student to referee). (S4.E1.5)” is discussing the impact of race, gender, age, or ability on how we interact/play together. My original video hook was of a guy dancing on a fishing pier. I used it to illustrate that dance is about expressing yourself (and the boys can do this too), and in most cases, it’s about spreading joy.  The videos take some time to debrief, but they serve as prompts for essential questions surrounding standard 5 – the value of physical activity – and are totally worth it. Getting assessments for standard 5 can be tricky, but these videos often provide a reference point before a deeper inquiry on the topic.

Last year I started doing what I call the “Weekend Update.”  It’s my version of a morning meeting à la Responsive Classroom. The students share what their weekend adventure was and I share with them what mine was.  Many times these stories allow for teachable moments in health and physical literacy. This practice was a response to my standards based curriculum design.  I was so committed to my plan and my assessments the year before, that I felt I didn’t make the same connections with my students that I normally do. The “Weekend Update” serves as a way for my students to feel equal and valued.  Not everyone has to share, but once the ball starts rolling they all will jump in.

What’s the most unique thing about your teaching?

My inspiration does not come from a love of movement or activity. It comes from a place of social justice. How is someone able to pursue happiness if the system maintains a status quo of inequity and low quality of life?  Because of this, my growth as a physical educator comes from a variety of spaces.

In college, I was granted a scholarship called Cortland’s Urban Recruitment of Educators or the C.U.R.E. program.  As a member of this program, I was required to take classes in the Foundations and Social Advocacy department in addition to my physical education requirements. It was in these classes that I first learned that racism was not confined to the ideas of blatant racial prejudice, but rather expands into systemic decision making that perpetuates things like high poverty rates and high maternal mortality rates in minority communities. I also had to complete observation hours in high needs urban schools each year I was in the program. I attended monthly meetings where we explored multicultural education, social norms, social change, politics, cultural identity, and the list goes on. I am very grateful that I was a part of the C.U.R.E. program because it helps me to see the bigger picture. I am not just a teacher, I am an agent of social change.

In what ways do you approach your teaching in ways that inspire/push for change within your school & community?

I’m looking to increase knowledge, change attitudes and social norms, and build skills and self-efficacy. I serve my teacher’s union as a negotiator to advocate for the wellbeing of my coworkers, because in the end that will also provide a better quality of life for the students too. Fun Fact: I attended my first protest before I attended my first kindergarten class. I don’t know what it was for, but my dad was dressed up as Elvis and I was wearing a shirt with a face on it and holding a picket sign. I also organized/carried out my own protest march at the age of 7 when my parents announced we would be leaving Long Island to move to Upstate New York.

As a graduate student at SUNY Cortland I studied Health Education.  Maybe it was the professors or maybe it was just the way my brain works, but I began to see how much social change is really possible through health and physical education.  And so my commitment to advocating to enhance the quality of life in my community was sealed. My community is not just made up of my students. It includes their whole families, the whole town, and my co-workers. I am on the Wellness Committee not just to make sure that kids are getting enough activity time or that the students are being served white milk instead of sugary strawberry milk.  I am on the Wellness Committee to advocate for the health and wellbeing of the whole community by identifying and breaking down systemic barriers.    

If you are going to make change, you have to know what makes people tick.  So much of the reading and podcasting I consume involve politics and behavioral economics. It started out with Malcolm Gladwell books and Freakonmics and has since evolved into books like The Power of Habit and Nudge.   

To make change, you also need to know what makes you tick. Over the past year, I have been intentionally working on my personal growth. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown changed a lot of things for me.  Speaking to my own shame allowed me to be present in it and then move on to more whole-hearted living.  

I also began to attend Power Breakfast Club meetings.  This is a community of young professionals that question the status quo.  The meetings start at 6:30AM and are held at local coffee shops or co-working spaces.  Each week there is a facilitator that leads a discussion empowers attendees to hop out of society’s default settings.  With topics ranging from “Conflict Management” to “Reactions to Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’.” Sometimes I think of it as being like multicultural life for adults.  This is the only group that I belong to that will talk about race and inequality openly. Because of my racial ambiguity, I’m not sure how many people in the #physed Twittersphere know that I am LatinX.  As you can imagine, being mixed-race is a very complicated thing, and while I am aware of my privilege to be passable as a white person, it’s important to me that I honor my cultural background. I was involved in multicultural life in college, but I don’t think I was ever fully comfortable there. Meaning because I don’t speak Spanish and am passable as white, I didn’t feel LatinX enough to be comfortable around other people of color. If you were to look at the Cultural Iceberg Model, most of the items listed above the water are from white culture while most of the items listed under the water are based in South American or Latino culture. I’m like a JLo song: a white melody to a latin beat. By attending Power Breakfast Club regularly I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin and in places for people of color. This life experience circles back into my teaching. I think a lot about social norms and how they promote white, heterosexual, and mostly male culture. This mindset was and continues to be isolating for me.

You’re an OPEN National Trainer, how did you get in that position?

Being named a National Trainer for OPEN has also contributed to my growth. When I was asked to be a trainer I literally didn’t know that people travelled all around to different physical education conferences to make presentations. Sure, a TOY would come to present at NYSAHPERD, but people like Pam Powers, Crystal Gorwitz, or Lori Dunn, I had no clue. So how did it happen that I ended up there? Its kinda magical.

In May of 2003 I traveled to SUNY Cortland to interview for the C.U.R.E. scholarship I mentioned before. When I applied to college I didn’t know how I was going to afford it. My grades were too good for me to qualify for the EOP program and I did not have the financial literacy to know how much money (if any) I would receive from filing a FAFSA form. So when this scholarship application came to me in the mail it felt like the only way I could afford this education, without taking some huge financial risks. What I’m trying to say here is that it felt like my dreams were on the line in this interview.

In the interview, I explained to the interviewer how I decided to be a PE teacher at 9 years old, and my plan to take as many classes as possible so I could graduate early and move onto my masters in my 4th year to save money. I began to cry when I explained that this scholarship was my ticket out of poverty and that my dream was to change the world through physical education. I can’t imagine how the interviewer thought that the interview would go, but I’m guessing tears and a life plan of that intensity for a 17-year-old was not it. He paused while I gathered myself and then said to me something to the effect of “slow down you crazy child. You’re so ambitious for a juvenile. You got so much to do and only so many hours in a day”…wait no, that’s Billy Joel… but the interviewer did remind me that college was an experience and not something to be checked off the list. And I can’t tell you how many times I go back to that advice, and how grateful I am that he gave it.

As the interview came to a close the man told me that he was working on a physical education curriculum and would be leaving the C.U.R.E. program by the time I would start school in the fall. He told me to keep in touch. The guy that interviewed me for the scholarship was Aaron Hart. And so through the magic of the Internet, NYS AHPERD, and US Games I managed to stay on his radar, and eventually be asked to be a National Trainer.

I am so grateful to be a part of this team. It has been a catalyst for my deeper understanding of pedagogical concepts. I have been a fan of Bloom’s Taxonomy since it was introduced to me in 8th grade, but I would have never known about Webb’s Depth of Knowledge if I hadn’t become an OPEN Trainer. Academic rigor and backwards design are concepts I was working to understand, but really struggling with because of lack of mentorship. OPEN has provided me with the privilege to travel and find mentors while also allowing me to provide support for other teachers that are also in the hustle. Being an OPEN trainer also keeps me accountable. I have great ideas to offer the #physed community, but I wasn’t really good at sharing my gifts until I became a National Trainer. I have contributed to a few modules, most recently the early childhood Rhythm & Move collaboration with Hip Hop Public Health. Getting the chance to make activities using the Head Start Educational Framework and the Multisensory Multilevel Health Education Model was thrilling (yes, I am that much of a nerd).

What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?

“Our purpose is not to make up anyone’s mind, but to open minds and make the agony of decision making so intense you can only escape by thinking.” -E. Bitterbaum to the 2006-2007 faculty of SUNY Cortland

Where can people find you online?

Twitter: @TheMsLoughlin

Instagram: @TheMsLoughlin

Spotify: elyse.loughlin

Editor’s note: Elyse is one helluva person and teacher. Make sure you don’t miss her keynote at this summer’s National PE & School Sport Institute in Asheville, North Carolina!

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Joey Feith is the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com. He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.