ACHPER,  Concept based learning,  Goal setting,  Professional Development,  Teacher Reflection,  TGfU

Monkey on my back

Snow Monkeys 16 by P.Fabian CC BY SA NC

For many months now I have been mulling over some ideas that sit poorly with me.  I feel like I am a bit of a fraud but to be honest but I think I am a little hard on myself as a teacher. I am at a cross-roads and need to address the monkey on my back.

At APPEC I had the opportunity to go to a few different workshops or listen to key notes and I feel that through these I can better articulate what has been making me feel uncomfortable but allowed me to articulate this better for myself.

Ty Riddick @TyRiddick and Craig Aitkenhead @aitkenhead13 presented on using Go Pro’s in their Invasion Games unit.  It was really interesting to try these out – we strapped on Go Pro’s and played a TGfU game in small groups and then we analysed the footage looking at the decisions we made in game (and the choices we had).  This has had a major impact on students having a better understanding of what they are doing in game play and growing in confidence in game play and it is confidence in their work that can lead to more game play from our students.

Andy Vasily (@andyvasily)and Shane Pill (@pilly66) continue to have major influences on my work in the last few years.  Andy’s keynote was personal and he spoke about rethinking about what is important as a teacher.  What is important to you?  List the top 5 things and then see if any of these make your list: Mindfulness,  Being prepared, Being inspired.  Andy’s keynote really resonated with me.  I am acutely aware that I need to find ‘me-time’ in the crazy busy life I am in.  I have no complaints, I love to be active and busy, but I learnt from an early age that I needed my own time to be a better person, friend, mother, wife and colleague. I usually do this when I run, ride or swim.   But I also need to find the time to reflect on other areas such as being grateful for this amazing life; small things like an extra 5 min sleep in; a husband who is an amazing cook; students who thank me for my time; twitter folk who are supportive but also ask questions to make me think… a bank of greenlights so I don’t have to stop on my bike to school… what are yours?

Andy was talking about Awareness in our Mindful moments.  What do you do in your life that is a pattern?  What do you do because you have always done it that way?  (Shane touched on this too).  What patterns are inhibiting you from being the best you can be?  Do you create Stop signs to actively reflect and uncover the hidden gems of your practice and life?  Are you still searching for answers in your own learning and are you aware of what these should be? Are you in a fixed mindset?  These questions make up a lot of the monkey and I had been working on these before I listened to Andy, but he made them more aware in my conscious, they rose to the top.  What should I be focused on to be a better teacher?  Where are the holes in my knowledge?  Is this important? What do I need to know?  Why?  I imagine that we all have questions like this and I wonder what impact they have on our growth as teachers?  Do these impact our PD decisions?  Do we then seek answers through others or through internal dialogue? Do we seek out those who make us think or make us feel more secure or both?  Does our school actively push us to be better individually or through collective PD?

Andy also made me consider the importance of being prepared.  I like to be prepared, I am not OCD about this, but I don’t like winging things unless I have to.  As teachers, if we carefully prepare our lessons to a structure and we know what we are looking for (directed learning objectives, not guessing or just randomly assigning without evidence in lessons) then we can hopefully grow our students and get to know them as they work towards these objectives.  I feel confident that I am doing this but I know this could be an area for improvement, especially having a better idea of what my students can do and having a continuum or spectrum of growth would allow them to grow in the year with me and for me to have a greater awareness of this too.  When we are prepared we are ready to be in tune with our students, we aren’t worried about creating music lists or getting equipment out when we could miss those teaching moments with our students.

Inspiration can be so random and perhaps you have a list of your inspirations and maybe you add to them each day or not.  I have people I go to for inspiration but this changes based on where I am in my awareness and mindset and what it is that I am mulling over and where I want to go next in my practice.  You may be the person inspiring your students – maybe they know it – but maybe they don’t – yet, but they may blossom in time under your guidance and care of them in time.  Be inspired but also be inspirational for your students, you never know where this relationship may lead.  What will you do next to inspire others?  Will this be something small or big?  Will it involve Service or working with others or on your own?  I am still mulling over this.

Shane Pill was a dominant force at APPEC, he is a knowledgeable person and works hard to spread the TGfU message to our crowd.  He works with pre-service teachers and I am sad that I didn’t have someone like him to inspire me at University (our lead lecturer was awful – another story for another day) and his keynote on Gamification is something I have had the pleasure of listening to before.  Shane’s keynote notes are here if you are interested – you should be!

Shane’s major message to me which was reiterated by Sporticus’s recent blog post and the one that has come from being Mindful, Aware and looking for inspiration comes down to this: If you don’t know about the topic you are teaching then you should question whether you can really teach it. (Shane didn’t say this specifically but this is what I am gleaning).  I am a converted TGfU teacher, I use it as much as I can – I love the problem solving and collaborative nature of this style of teaching. But here is the thing – I am not an expert in movement and decision making in game play.  I listened to Ty and Shane as they gave examples of what players should be looking for (hip movement, foot positioning) for feedback or choice and I didn’t know about many of these things.  I am currently coaching JV Basketball and am on the strongest learning slope I have ever known – and it is such a challenge to keep up (I don’t some days) – I am way out of my proximal development zone but it is both anxiety ridden but also so brain stimulating to learn about the movements and think about the technique and also the tactical awareness and how to read this in game play and give feedback to my players who are so eager to learn and have a hunger to win (they have to play with their brains first – this is paramount!).

I did not come away with any mind blowing new ideas from APPEC but I have found the voice to articulate what has been bothering me – that monkey on my back – I am on the quest for more knowledge about movement to give more meaningful feedback to students so that they are able to make better decisions in game play and hopefully grow in confidence to stay playing.  I want to continue to use TGfU and Visible thinking routines to help students unpack their thinking and to work out what makes them think/say that and be more aware of explicitly teaching these concepts.  I want to maximise movement and motion in my lessons that encompass problem solving, social discussion, knowledge about movement and decision making/choices in game play.  I want to have games that are progressional and differentiated and are inclusive so that my students, particularly HS girls, are more involved and keep moving and playing beyond Grade 9.  Now I need to figure out where to start and how to action this plan.

Thank you to the APPEC and ACHPER people – particularly Andy and Shane and my inspiring friend Sporticus for making me articulate and give me new direction and force me to think about how I can go from good to great as a PE teacher.


  • mhamada

    Hi Sporticus, thank you for your thoughtful words. Perfectionism conjures up different images for me, and I have grown to realise that I fit somewhere into this paradigm both professionally and personally. I read an article recently written about “super mums” and the author writes about how in this day and age the current working mother’s don’t have a long line of historical data as it isn’t so recently that we had so many full-time working mother’s raising young families and trying to find balance in their lives as well as trying to obtain fitness levels, study madly to be better qualified, travel for our jobs, bake, cook, dance and being an amazing parent as well as a partner and friend all perfectly in all the right amounts of time. And that women tend to assess each other’s abilities based on this. I thought to myself, I am in here – but I am judging my work quality based on what I see around me (and through twitter my sphere is getting so much bigger so I see more that I think I should be doing and less about the things I am already doing…) but I agree with you that the key is to acknowledge and learn from being more aware but also to be mindful of what is important and see things in perspective. I would like to also tell myself to care less about what I think people might see of me; and to focus on the students in my care and make sure that their learning is not being impeded. I thank you – it is important to know that others also struggle with this and take comfort in the knowledge that I can find like minded souls to share and learn with.

  • @ImSporticus

    Hi Mel. Although we have never met, I think in some ways we are kindred spirits. I believe we share something that is both a strength and a weakness both professionally and I’m going to assume personally. That of being a perfectionist. Our perfectionism manifests itself in the high standards of performance and achievement we set in our pupils, but when they don’t reach those standards we look to ourselves to find the problems and the solutions. This desire for perfectionism can lead to some dark places. An almost compulsive desire to obtain the unachievable, which from my own personal experience isn’t healthy; physically or mentally. However it does mean we do strive to get better, to perform at a new or higher level than before, which can greatly benefit the people around us with whom we have contact with. What I am slowly coming to realise is that to achieve balance is to try and master the pardoxes that surround us. Where we can strive to be perfect, but at the same time see our imprefections and give them room to exist. This then may lead to a healthier balance which hopefully will create a positive cycle of self development. It is through self development that we can be the best we can be for others as well. Just know you aren’t the only one with a monkey on your back and hopefully that thought might give you some comfort and peace with whatever you have to face.

  • mhamada

    Thanks Justen, I will reflect on these words – I know that I can be super harsh on myself and need to think about how to take my students strengths and make them see that they are strengths, they tend to look for the bad-side first, but celebration of their talents and skills and traits is so important – wise words.

  • Justen

    If you were my child’s teacher or Bball coach, I would be very happy. You are reflecting which means you are constantly improving. To progress, support your students to access increasingly complex resources to find answers to their increasingly complex movt challenges. As for skills being worse. I tested FMS in the 90,s and was saying the same thing about skills getting worse. I suspect every generation laments a loss in the next. I doubt that kids are substantially less skilled. Embrace the diverse talents your learners have, skilled or not, draw on this and forget about what they can’t do. Concentrate on their strengths. The rest will lift.

  • mhamada

    Hi Andy, it was so good to meet you and your lovely wife at APPEC, you are such a grounded couple and I aspired to be more grounded in my own life. I hope that our move to ISB will give us a chance to ground with our growing family. I want to spend more time with my own children and this quest for greatness is one I know I will grapple with – and the knowledge that I am asking myself questions correlates to me trying to find what I need to be doing better. I want to try and be more balanced in life too – thank you for sharing so much here Andy, and I look forward to spending more time with you later.

  • mhamada

    Justen, thank you for your comment here. I want to better understand a few things that I as a practitioner grapple with with TGfU. I use TGfU, conceptual learning and Guiding questions and more, and I love teaching in this way – my students are so much richer for this. However I want to know how I help my students as they are grappling to be stronger skillful players. I teach G10 (15-16 year olds) and we are working on Volleyball. We have done lots of movement and tried to use TGfU but the kids want to get better at skillful movement, timing on the skill set (service, hitting, blocking etc) and I am trying to find the balance here. How do I as the JV Basketball coach equip my players best for really skillful game play. I am working on TGfU for tactical awareness and for greater student collaboration and by guiding them through questions about their play and then build on that with skillful play (jump shots, lay ups etc) to assist them with their work. I also want to better understand how it is that our students are less skillful in this day and age – could this be to do with me being not as equipt as a teacher – is this because we are using TGfU and not all skilled play? I am trying to best understand this. Thank you for your support in this matter!

  • Justen O'Connor

    TGFU as it was originally developed at its core is not a teacher centric pedagogy. It is a student-centred pedagogy. I am concerned that you feel as an educator you are struggling to be an expert in movement and decision making in game play, and it worries me that TGFU has progressed to the point that teachers are feeling inadequate. The essence of TGFU is that the learner is the central character in this and the teacher a facilitator. I know elite coaches with years of experience who struggle to understand complex patterns and tactical understandings in games. These are not elite athletes and you are not an elite ‘coach’ and I would strongly encourage you to rid yourself of this monkey. Co-learn with your students, ask interesting and compelling questions, but be comfortable with not knowing the answers. Find out together, make mistakes together and work out what works together. Failure is an important part of this exploration and trying things that don’t work is essential.

  • andy vasily (@andyvasily)

    Mel, firstly it was wonderful meeting you again in person at APPEC. Although we had met years ago at UNIS, it was just a fleeting moment, so I appreciated being able to spend time with you chatting in Hong Kong.

    I also admire your honesty about where you are at with your own teaching. Teachers need to take more opportunities to openly discuss what they grapple with and in reading what you had written, I can say with total sincerity that I’ve been there and still am there.

    The pursuit of excellence in teaching is really the pursuit of excellence in life. I firmly believe this with all of my heart. It’s not solely about teaching but more so about uncovering our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that we hold about ourselves. In the process of doing so, certain truths reveal themselves. Then, through reflection we can find that sometimes the truths that we hold about ourselves are at times misconceptions and not accurate. It’s usually that little voice of doubt inside of us that makes us feel not so good at times. Other times we may find that voice of truth and reason that allows us to identify exactly what is holding us and create a plan of action to address these weaknesses.

    I often feel as though I am a fraud myself. I think some researchers call it ‘imposter’ syndrome. Many successful people in business, education, entertainment etc. can suffer from this so called ‘imposter’ syndrome at different points in their careers. For me, it can creep up suddenly making me doubt my own beliefs and to doubt the teaching practice that I have worked so hard to develop over the years. However, I’ve learned to trust myself, trust my work, and never settle for being a ‘good’ teacher and always striving to open my mind and heart to new ways of learning and growing. I can squash the imposter syndrome thing much easier now by understanding that I will never have all the answers that I need in life, but the adventure and challenge comes with always striving to learn more and better myself.

    Everything that you describe in your reflective post here is about your pursuit of both personal and professional excellence. Without question, you are figuring the answers out as you move forward in your life. Ultimately, you continue to grow as a teacher and are better able to strike a balance between personal and professional development in your endless pursuit of being the teacher that you want to be. So many teachers are stuck on the professional and completely fail to understand the impact of the personal on their teaching.

    Your openness here in this blog post will be an inspirational boost to those teachers out there who may be struggling with their own thoughts, ideas, and questions about teaching. Well done for sharing Mel. Thanks.

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