Thursday, June 10, 2010

Will You Lead the Charge?

This post was originally listed on PElinks4U

Visionary Phil Lawler
Jon Poole

Jon Poole is a Professor in the Department of Exercise, Sport and Health Education at Radford University.

Earlier this spring we learned that Phil Lawler passed away at the too young age of sixty. While I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lawler in person, it feels like I have seen his face a million times and read stories about his program for many years. In an assignment I give every year to my sophomore-level “intro” course, I have my physical education teacher education (PETE) students research “New PE" and, inevitably, a large majority of my students come back with stories about Madison Junior High in Naperville, IL. (See, for example, The New PE Curriculum: An Innovative Approach to Teaching Physical Fitness, 'New P.E.' Teacher Takes Students to the Max, New PE Trend Stresses Fitness and Fun).

After my initial reading of Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. John Ratey’s Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, a couple of years ago, I came to the conclusion that Phil Lawler was a maverick, an activist, and ultimately a visionary for bringing “new PE” from the sound bites shared on pages of newspapers, magazines, and morning TV shows and into documented reports of actual K-12 gymnasia and classrooms.

While we still need long-term studies to determine if those Naperville students continue in their path toward leading a physically active and healthy lifestyle, I am convinced he showed many of us a way to successfully position PE into the mainstream of traditional schools. It might not have been “the only way,” as I do believe there are many other forward thinking teachers out there trying to revolutionize the way children experience PE, and they do not rigorously follow the model Coach Lawler proposed. But it was “a” way. Clearly he was successful with his efforts in Naperville as he became the face of PE4Life ( for many years later. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read a tribute for him.

Phil Lawler focused on those students, the non-athletic kids, who so often are ignored in traditional PE classes. He saw first-hand that an over-reliance on male dominated team sports (such as basketball, football, and soccer) relegates the non-assertive, low-skilled, and less fit children to the sidelines as the athletic kids dominate game play. That is not to suggest we never play those games, of course, only that middle and high school PE should offer much more than that. His focus on fitness, wellness, and the fun of physical activity was the message the nation needed.

More recently First Lady Michelle Obama decided childhood obesity and the role of physical activity in the health of children would be her priority during her time in the White House. I am not sure if Phil Lawler ever met Michelle Obama (though both came from Illinois), but my guess is he would have been one of her biggest supporters on this initiative.

When visionaries such as Phil Lawler pass away, an obvious question arises…who will lead the charge now? Candidly, I see that as a challenge to PETE programs nationally. Personally, I need to ask myself if I am preparing the next generation of K-12 physical educators in such a way that Phil Lawler would be proud of their programs. Perhaps it is time to refocus our efforts on PETE programs and require a bit more than we have in recent years.

Refocusing Our Efforts in Teacher Preparation
Our respected pelinks4u leader, Dr. Steve Jefferies, made mention in a recent pelinks4u editorial, “A relatively new trend that has been emerging, primarily in response to obesity concerns, is the creation of a school climate that embraces healthy living and physical activity as integral to the school day. Because most K-12 public schools have a physical educator on staff, these individuals are uniquely positioned to provide leadership for such programs.” Then, more importantly for this discussion, Dr. Jefferies added, “However, to do so will take a change in the expectations that schools currently have for physical educators and the way we prepare them.”

In his paper describing the role of education in the National Physical Activity Plan, Dr. Daryl Siedentop shared that a refocused PETE program must prepare entry-level teachers to implement healthy lifestyles. PE programs should include the skills needed to develop staff fitness programs, working with community leaders to deliver after-school activity programs, and collaborate with classroom teachers to enhance school-based physical activity, among others.
This comprehensive approach to school physical activity is supported by our national association and the focus of a new book from Human Kinetics. The book states to “offer K-12 teachers and administrators the tools to plan and administer programs that go beyond PE class. These activities are integrated in the classroom, on playgrounds, in before-and after-school programs, in intramural programs, and in community programs.”

Similarly, Dr. Chuck Corbin and Tom McKenzie recommended, “Teacher preparation programs should restructure their curricula to include disciplinary classes that directly relate to what future teachers will actually teach, including information relevant to physical activity promotion and health-behavior change” (p. 49). The authors argue physical education teachers must teach their K-12 students behavioral self-management skills such as planning, goal setting identifying places to be active, soliciting social support, and self-reinforcement, among others. In addition, future teachers need experience with collaboration amongst parents, other teachers, school administration, and community leaders.

So now I have my summer homework: To honor a visionary and refocus the efforts of my teacher preparation program to prepare the next generation of teachers. It seems a bit daunting, I won’t lie to you, but I can’t wait to see what happens.

Works Cited
Corbin, C. & McKenzie, T. (2008). Physical activity promotion: A responsibility for both K-12 physical education and kinesiology. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 79(6), 47-56.
Delisio, E. (2001). New PE trend stresses fitness and fun. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from
Furger, R. (2001). The new PE curriculum: An innovative approach to teaching physical fitness. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from
Jeffries, S. (2010). Reflections on the past, visions of our professional future., 12(4).
Johnson, K. (2003). New PE teacher takes students to the max every activity stresses cardiovascular fitness. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from
Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new success of exercise and the brain. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Siedentop, D. (2009). National plan for physical activity: Education sector. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 6 (Supplement 2), S168-S180.

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