From Knowing to Doing
To be an effective teacher requires overcoming the illusion of control, and fearlessly applying proven practices to benefit students. The reality of how far some educators need to go in order to apply research to practice was brought home to me recently when I visited an elementary school in the district where I work. Upon walking into the gymnasium before school, I found a few hundred students ranging from grades K thru 2 seated in neat rows with their legs and hands folded not making a sound. It was appalling. I thought I walked into North Korea and Kim Jong Un was about to give a speech.
Of course, I was not in North Korea, but in North America. In place of an unbending dictator were two New York area physical education teachers standing in statuesque admiration of the control they wielded over those young cherubs. Initially, I walked out of the gymnasium disgusted, but I immediately returned to address the physical education teachers who should be well informed on the importance of movement; especially before academic engagement.
I reminded them of the benefits of movement in the morning that I reinforced with current research in department meetings, and for summer reading. One of the teachers responded that he was well aware of the benefits as he himself was the recipient of morning exercise. Though he himself had reaped the benefits of morning movement, I found it ironic to currently find myself in a gymnasium filled with stationary students who also appeared petrified to exercise their vocal cords.. A different teacher said to me that it would create liability issues to have students engaged in movement during the morning. She also mentioned the noise that they would be making. I also found her response interesting. These same students would be playing during recess, but the morning somehow would create liability issues. I do not believe the teacher has a law degree, but as a school administrator, I have become accustomed to lawyerly responses when a teacher wants me to bend in their favor. I also have no problem with children laughing excitedly, talking, and making joyful noises.
When I shared the fact that other schools in the district were applying movement during morning arrival, one of the physical education teachers arrogantly responded by saying, “I would like to see that.” As if somehow I was delusional in believing that better methods of engagement existed. I mentioned the fact that one school was allowing students to dance in the morning, and yet another school of equal size was taking students on morning walks around their building. That teacher’s rude comment feigning a lack of belief was troubling coming from a supposedly seasoned practitioner. Was he truly unaware that students could enjoy line dancing, yoga, aerobics, calisthenics, etc., in a safe manner with minimum space?
I finished my soap box with the physical education teachers by emphasizing that if my child attended that school, I would not want them sitting in the morning before heading to class. Knowing what is best for children, would anyone want less for their own? Maybe it would require more effort on the part of teachers, teaching assistants, and school administrators, to organize activities that would get students’ blood flowing, send more oxygen to their brains, and increase the firing of neurons. All of which raises the essential underlying question: Did we devote ourselves to the field of education in order to cater to the comforts of adults, or is our mission to do everything in our reasonable powers to benefit the learning-process of children?