A schools approach to developing student wellbeing:


My school is part of Youth Sport Trusts ‘PE2020’ project in Northamptonshire. The project involves eight different schools developing leadership and wellbeing through PE. Each school has complete autonomy over how they develop their programme. Our programme (developed by myself and my colleague Carl Brown) has already gained some recognition from Youth Sport Trust having been invited to speak at several events for them. On March 3rd we will be helping deliver a work shop with Kay Batkin at the Youth Sports Trust Conference in Coventry and sharing our take on the PE2020 project (http://www.youthsporttrust.org/events-awards/events/2016-conference.aspx ). Carl and I will also be delivering at the first Positive Schools conference at Cambridge University in July (http://www.positiveschools.com.au/UK/Positive%20Schools%202016%20UK%20Home.html).

I am going to briefly outline some of our main programmes, however if you have any questions please contact me via @peandme. We are more than happy to share information with you if it helps:


  • Positive Education (year 7 and 8 students) – Students in year 7 and 8 have one core lesson a week (one hour) of ‘Positive Education’. For year 7 their positive education lessons are based around the ‘Characteristics and Virtues’ programme designed by the Jubilee Centre at University of Birmingham (http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk). Year 8 students follow a ‘Positive Psychology’ programme based around the work of Ilona Boniwell’. We have adapted both programmes to meet the needs of our students and have included work on values (‘My Core Values’ which I will mention at the end and ‘Chimp Management’, mind management based Professor Steve Peters model). At the start of each term we measure students wellbeing through a test (developed by Dr Margret Kern), which focuses on students engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness and happiness.


  • Manor Chats (year 7 and 8 students) – In addition to their weekly core lesson students also receive a 35 minute lunchtime lesson. The lessons are based around the concept of TED talks. In Term 1 students planned and presented 5 minute talks on a topic of their choice. In term 2 students are currently being taught about resilience through a programme we have developed. This programme is 6 weeks long and once complete students are set the challenge of planning and delivering a true story of resilience (in pairs). Within this students present in their smaller groups and then the best presentations are put forward allowing several students to then speak in front of their whole year group.


  • Leadership Academy (year 7 students) – This is a group of 24 students who are taught skills in leadership including theory and practical. My colleague Carl Brown works on the practical element of leadership through the delivery of the ‘Youth Sport Award’ (Youth Sport Trust) and also through a number of coaching opportunities with primary school students and peers. As part of their theory students were taught something we call ‘Junior Sport Psychology’ in term 1 which covers basics of sports psychology within a leadership content. In term 2 students have been learning about ‘Chimp Management’. Steve and his team have been very supportive over what we are doing. One of the key reasons for using Steve’s model was the fact that we wanted students to have a take home message, one that they could use for the rest of their life (after all school is about lifelong learning). The inner chimp model is certainly a great way for students to manage their emotions effectively both now and in the future.


  • ‘My Core Values’ (year 7, 8 and 9 students) – What underpins everything is ‘My Core Values’. My core values are 15 essential values we work on with students in positive education and also form the lesson objective for key stage 3 PE. Humility, emotional intelligence (managing your inner chimp), respect (self/others), taking responsibility for your actions and resilience are some of the values we work on. Not only are they at the centre of our positive education and PE lessons but they are also used to challenge students behaviour which has proven to be very successful.


Although we have only been going since September 2015 the quantitative and qualitative data collected suggests that students wellbeing is improving. When we speak to students the most popular thing we do with them is chimp management. If you are not familiar with Steve’s work here is his TED talk:





So far so good. Students are ebjoying what we are doing and it seems to be working. So what about your school? Do you have a wellbeing programme or a set of values in place? Are you trying to develop a positive culture and if so how are you doing it? I am interested to hear from you.






So what is an ‘Amygdala Highjack’?

Newcastle United v Aston Villa

I have always been fascinated by human evolution and often wonder how our behaviour now has been influenced by our ancestors experiences from the past. Our emotion of course influences this behaviour, so what emotions are we hard-wired to have and what influence do they have over us? We are built with a neural circuitry which worked best for humans survival thousands of years ago and this has not really caught up with todays modern world.

Evolutionary Psychology with Stephen Pinker:

One unique aspect of our neural circuitry is the human survival mechanism which Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon called the ‘fight or flight’ response system. He believed that all animals including humans evolved a survival mechanism which allowed them to physically react to stress. Imagine your distant ancestor 100,000 years ago still in Africa and searching for food when suddenly right in front of him there is a salivating tiger (who is very hungry!). The brain has to very quickly make one of two choices… Do I run? Or do I fight? As humans if we successfully used this response system we survived and therefore the more and more humans had to use this the better we became at surviving. You have to hand it to your ancestors as without the successful use of the fight or flight response system some of us would not technically be here today!

So how does this survival system work work?…

The simplified version of it is that when our ancestor sees the tiger an area of the brain called the amygdala recognises that this is a life-threatening situation and activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the critical part of the brain that organises the response to this particular stress. A message is sent through the central nervous system to the adrenal medulla that is instructed to release the hormone adrenaline. This release of adrenaline into the bloodstream (along with a number of other hormones) causes several changes in the body including an increase in heart rate, pupil dilation, more energy given to the muscles and a shutdown to nonessential systems (digestive and immune system). Our ancestor either fights or runs away but what is at the heart of the decision is survival (on this occasion I think he run!).

So fast forward to 2015 and thankfully there are no tigers attacking us or tribes we have to fight off so therefore we don’t have to use this system anymore… Well actually this is not the case and definitely not how evolution works. The neural circuitry we have now as humans is based on what worked best for the last 50,000 generations, not just the last 5! So we still have this system but unfortunately we do not use it properly!

‪Understanding Emotional Intelligence: The Amygdala Hijack‬

The term amygdala highjack was coined by Daniel Goleman in his book ‘Emotional Intelligence’. I had heard the term before, especially in sports, however after reading his book I can now clearly see how this is an issue in everyday lives (and its something that we can control!). An amygdala highjack is when we have an immediate and overwhelming emotional response to a situation without really thinking about it logically or rationally. The response is completely over the top and on hindsight we often regret it.


Just think of different examples of when people have completely overacted and I am sure you will be able to remember when you have seen an amygdala highjack first hand. An obvious one in society today is road rage. Having lived in Abu Dhabi for two years I can say that on a daily basis I saw lots of crazy driving, however strangely little road rage (in fact I cant remember any at all). When I moved back to the UK last summer I was shocked by how much road rage there was. For example just on my street alone I have seen several arguments with people getting out of their cars because one car wont let another pass on a narrow street. The reactions I have seen are appalling and I am shocked that within society today we think this behaviour is acceptable and appropriate. I can not believe that some humans use the same energy and response system to react to someone not letting you go before them as to how our ancestors did when they were trying to save their own life. We have highjacked a system that is built to keep us alive not cause pointless arguments and needless stress on our body (especially the heart).

As a teacher of nine years I have also too often seen this type of behaviour both in the classroom and on the sports field. Through working within the pastoral system I have witnessed students getting extremely aggressive purely because they have been asked something as simple as removing their coat whilst inside. On the sports field I have seen overreactions from students playing football because they have been fouled by accident or given an offside when they thought they weren’t. Ironically one of the sports which you see a lot of physical contact in, yet more control over emotions is rugby (I am definitely an advocate for teaching this more in schools!).

In professional sports there have been a number of high profile amygdala highjacks when an athlete has seen red and completely overreacted. For example:

Zinadine Zidane headbutt –

John McEnroes tantrum –

Mike Tyson biting Holyfield’s ear off (possible the worst amygdala highjack in sporting history) –

It is strange to think that in todays society the threat to many humans in the UK is more often symbolic (“she called me a name”, “he’s looking at me funny”) than physical (life threatening), yet we respond in the same biological way. As a teacher I think this is something we need to address more with our students and also their parents (social learning is a major factor in shaping childrens behaviour). Remember education should be about life long learning. If we are sending our students into the world with top grades but little social skills then we are doing them an injustice. Emotional intelligence is just as important as traditional academic intelligence. So as teachers speak to your students about amygdala highjacks and get them to not just react but act accordingly to situations as it is going to be a very useful skill to them when they leave school! We want students to be able to assess situations sensibly and therefore respond accordingly.

If you are a teacher and currently run a program to help students control their emotions I would be grateful if you could contact me as this is an area I am interested in studying further.

Sperry (1968) – Split Brain Study

This is a blog for my AS Psychology group who have just completed the Sperry (1968) study.

So what was the study about?
The study demonstrated that the left and right hemispheres are specialised in different tasks. The left side of the brain is normally specialised in taking care of the analytical and verbal tasks. The left side speaks much better than the right side, while the right half takes care of the space perception tasks and music, for example. The right hemisphere is involved when you are making a map or giving directions on how to get to your home from the bus station. The right hemisphere can only produce rudimentary words and phrases, but contributes emotional context to language. Without the help from the right hemisphere, you would be able to read the word “pig” for instance, but you wouldn’t be able to imagine what it is.

HW task:
There were lots of strengths and weaknesses of the study. Your task is to discuss what you think the overall MAIN strength and MAIN weakness was. Feel free to also comment on what other students say as well. The next study we are looking at is Dement and Kreitman (info on the website in your section).

Baron-Cohen et al. ‘The Eyes Task’ – Cognitive Psychology/ Study 1/ OCR

This is a reflection blog posted specifically for my AS Psychology group which I would like them to comment on at some point in the next 2 weeks:

You have just started A-Level Psychology and are slowly getting your heads round how it all works. Of course this journey is a long one and with time you will have a great understanding, but you have made an excellent start. Remember in AS OCR Psychology (G542) we study 5 key approaches; Developmental, Individual Differences, Biological, Social and Cognitive with me. So far so good, well done to 12 C for the quiz scores today (don’t tell the other group about it!).

Within each approach you learn 3 studies and at present we have been learning about the Baron-Cohen et al. Eyes Task. This study was investigating whether high functioning adults with autism and Asperger syndrome had deficiencies employing a theory of mind. Earlier research by Baron-Cohen and others had demonstrated that children with autism had difficulties with first and second order tests, such as the Sally Anne test. However further research has suggested that adults with autism and Asperger syndrome can pass such tests.
Further research by Happe has demonstrated that adults with autism and Asperger syndrome had problems passing the strange stories task which involved participants understanding another persons mental state.

Some talks by Baron-Cohen:

Because the first and second order tests, as well as the strange stories task, were designed for children Baron Cohen et al. developed a new test called the Reading the mind in the Eyes Task. This advanced test aims to discover if high functioning adults with autism and Asperger syndrome do have problems with mind reading which it is argued is related to the ability to employ a theory of mind. Learning a study like this for the first time can be a little daunting, however as I said you are doing well. But what do you think about the study. I would like students to make a comment about anything, what you liked about it, disliked about it, what you would change, or even what you found interesting about Autism. I was surprised to hear that some of you have not heard of Autism before so make a comment about something you found interesting. I look forward to reading your comments.

Here is a video of 19 year old Dylan. He is Autistic and in the video he is explaining what it is like to be autistic. A great insight into his life. The second video is of Jason McElwain, an autistic basketball player. As a PE teacher I found this fascinating (you might notice something about a pistol that he says at the end… why is this unusual?). Thanks for your time and I will see you in class tomorrow!

What can sport psychology learn from Jonny Wilkinson’s illustrious career?

There is only one thing that would get the French singing ‘God Save the Queen’ and that’s Jonny Wilkinson. On May 31st Wilkinson finished his professional playing career in style with both the Toloun and Castress fans giving him a standing ovation and singing his national anthem. In sports something like this is unheard of however is a true reflection of the man who is seen as one of the greatest players to put on the number 10 shirt.

I have always admired his professional approach to the game and most significantly his ability to handle pressure. And once again Wilkinson demonstrated his ability to deal with such pressure as he kicked 4 penalties and one drop goal (on his right foot!) in Tolouns 18 – 10 victory over Castress in the Top 14 final crowning them the 2013 – 2014 champions.

But how does he do it? How does he keep so calm in high pressure situations when other professionals crumble… When other professional let emotions cloud their decision making… Although he has done this consistently throughout his career the best example of his ability to perform in such situations was his extra-time drop goal (again on his right foot) in the 2003 World Cup. Maybe its a natural talent he has? An innate ability to cope with pressure? Could he possibly simply block out the crowd and the nerves and just focus what he needs to do?

I think if you were to ask both him and Clive Woodward who worked with Wilkinson most famously throughout the winning World Cup campaign they would disagree. To be that good, especially when it comes to dealing with the pressure of kicking a winning World Cup drop goal you need more than just natural talent… much more.

I think it is often an injustice when we associate success at the highest level to merely natural talent and often we don’t fully appreciate the commitment and dedication that turns a talented person into a champion. Messi, Nadal, Farah, Bolt and of course Wilkinson are examples of those who have committed themselves fully from the transition of talented athlete to champion. One major factor in these athletes success is their ability to ‘Think Correctly Under Pressure’ or as Clive Woodward calls it ‘T-Cup’.

As a teacher of PE, Psychology and Sport Psychology there are many theories, models and beliefs that help us understand how athletes deal with pressure successfully in sporting situations. However when I heard Woodward’s T-Cup theory several years ago I was amazed with just how much sense it makes. What was unique about this concept was that it was penned by someone who has played and coached at the highest level and his experiences shows when you break his theory down. Even several years ago when I first heard about T-Cup one player sprang to mind… Wilkinson.

According to Woodward the first ingredient in creating a champion like Wilkinson is that you need to have TALENT. You have to have a talent to play your sport to the highest applicable standard. In the 2003 World Cup the 15 players that started in the final for England were all talented. The problem was however, so were the 15 Australians facing them. So what do you need on top of talent to become a champion. What extra ingredients does Wilkinson posses?

The first extra ingredient according to Woodward is TEACHABILITY. Just because you are talented does not mean you know everything. You have to be willing to learn, to unlearn and to re-learn. If a talented player thinks he knows everything he will never develop any further. Woodward describes this person as having a ‘rock’ between their ears when what you need is a ‘sponge’. There are many great examples of sponges; Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Steve Redgrave, Jessica Ennis, Ben Ainslie are just a few who never stop learning. They push boundaries and constantly ask questions of themselves and indeed their coach’s. An essential factor to this is that if the athlete needs to be a sponge then so does the coach. Top coach’s work closely with their athletes to get the best out of them but they understand that no one knows an athlete more than the athlete themselves. Therefore the coach’s must be flexible sponges themselves and not ‘know it all’s’.

This sponge concept is almost an academic approach to being an athlete because you are constantly questioning and searching for the right answers (even when those answers are not particular what we want to hear as an athlete). When I think about my best students they have always been the ones who are sponges when it comes to learning. They learn with a smile on their face and learn purely for the sake of learning. They don’t know all the answers but definitely want to know them. They turn up to lesson with some new theory, fact or concept and stay behind at the end to ask further questions. They ask questions in lessons that stop you in your tracks and when I ask them questions their level of response reflects their attitude and understanding of the subject. It reflects who they are and where they want to go which is to the top of their game (whatever that may be). This approach is exactly the same as when I teach higher ability sports students or have worked as a football coach in the past. When I worked in the USA I had the privilege of coaching a Jamaican U19 striker. He was a sponge when it came to every aspect of the game. He soaked up information and was better for it. I also worked with a number of players who were on huge soccer scholarships who instead of sponges were rocks. They knew it all and did not show the passion that I saw in the sponges.

Wilkinson is certainly a sponge when it comes to learning the intricate details of his sport, particularly kicking. Woodward speaks highly of his ability to soak up information. You only have to listen to Wilkinson in interviews to know he clearly understands his sport inside and out which is certainly a reflection of his sponge like ability. When you watch Woodward’s team talks whenever Wilkinson is playing you can see the intensity in the eyes of the famous number 10. Wilkinson is clearly taking everything in when Woodward is talking. He respects that his own knowledge of the game must be on par with his ability as they will work hand in hand if indeed he wants to be the best. Wilkinson probably does not ever use the term ‘luck’, that is more of a rock way of thinking. He relies on his knowledge of the game and the different experiences he has gained in training, matches or simply situations he has visualised… Winning thinking… Sponge like thinking!

So a champion like Wilkinson is talented and teachable, but what about dealing with PRESSURE and how important is this to the professional game? I have always wondered what goes through Wilkinson’s head before he kicks a penalty or a conversion. I bet he blocks out the crowd and doesn’t feel the nerves…. Wrong. Wilkinson often says that when he is standing ready to kick he can actually see his shirt moving due to his heart beating and that its impossible to block the crowd out. When I heard Wilkinson say that he is nervous every time he kicks I could not believe it… so this guy is human after all!

He does not fight the nerves, instead he uses them to his advantage. His senses are of course heightened but if you think about it this is actually a good thing. From a human evolutionary perspective this nervous feeling was originally developed to keep us alert and help us defend ourselves from danger. So on the rugby pitch he actually uses this to focus in on what he needs to do. Instead of fighting it he uses it to his advantage, sometimes its actually good to be nervous (something e don’t teach our students and young athletes enough). He also has his secret weapon when it comes to kicking (Doris) which I will touch on at the end.

So this ability for Wilkinson to cope with pressure is essential to Woodward’s T-Cup theory of what makes a champion. How many talented players would have let the nerves of that World Cup winning drop goal opportunity get the better of them? How many sports stars have you seen buckle under the pressure, choke or get the so called ‘yips’? I still remember Roberto Baggio’s 1994 World Cup final miss against Brazil. As a 13 year who was currently playing football at the time I noticed a look I had seen in the eyes of a few players I had competed against in the past. That look of uncertainty and fear. The pressure on that occasion was too much for Baggio, yet for Wilkinson, he rarely seems to show his nerves no matter how he feels. He sets the bar when it comes to coping with pressure.

Woodward often uses the phrase ‘being comfortable with pressure’. The pressure is there no matter what, its not going away and therefore you have to deal with it. Essential to this then is practicing being in high pressure situations. It has always been common knowledge of Wilkinson’s rigorous training regime and attention to specific detail when he trains. He would set high pressure situations up, for example kicking from the corner flag, to help him prepare for matches. Wilkinson believes that if you can kick from an impossible angle or distance you are more prepared for a realistic angle and distance during games and in fact it becomes easier. So pressure is certainly something you can train yourself to cope with better and no one does it better than Wilkinson.

Finally Woodward believes having the right ATTITUDE is essential to being a champion and they are based on the following 10 behaviours:

1) Obsession (he says it is actually a good thing to be obsessive about the big and smaller details if you want to be better than the rest of the talented people you compete against)
2) Punctuality (definitely a major one for me as a teacher! Woodward believes that being on time says a lot about who you are as a person. In the 2003 World Cup no one was ever late to a meeting!)
3) Assume nothing (always be prepared for the unexpected)
4) Responsibility (take responsibility when you loose, if there is a problem with your game fix it don’t ignore it)
5) Enjoyment (of course this is essential for intrinsic motivation, an athlete should never forget why they started playing their sport in the first place)
6) Execution (be precise in what you do in a game, whether it is a pass, a kick, make it right)
7) Team (be part of a bigger team and not just an individual)
8) Trust (essential if you are to work as an effective team who believes in each other)
9) Collaboration (communicate and share ideas as 15 brains are better than just 1)
10) Beyond number 1 (you have to go above and beyond if you want to be better than the best).

From a sport psychology point of you there are some really interesting concepts that you can relate to both Wilkinson and the T-Cup theory. There is definitely a high sense of internal locus of control when I think about Wilkinson’s attitude towards rugby. Wilkinson clearly believes that he has control over what happens on the pitch and believes the outcome is in his hands. He will never blame external variable for his failure, it’s down to him and him alone.

“A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation).” (Zimbardo, 1985)

You only have to listen to Arsene Wenger after his team looses and if its not the referees fault then it will be someone elses… certainly not his or his players though! When I think of blame I always think of attribution theory. When Wilkinson wins he will attribute this success to himself and the team for playing well (internal attribution). And when he looses he blames the same people as he did for winning, as they are in control and it is no one elses fault but their own (external attribution). This gives him a sense of control over what he does which I personally believe is essential for self-actualisation (becoming everything you are capable of becoming!).

Wilkinson is well known for using visualisation (mental imagery and rehersal) when he kicks. Remember I mentioned Doris earlier? Doris is an imaginary woman who sits 20 rows back in the stand behind the goal, holding a can of Coke. As Wilkinson prepares to kick, he visualises the flight of the ball ending up in Doris’s lap, knocking the drink out of her hands. “The idea was that, instead of aiming at the posts, you were aiming at something specific 30 yards back,” he has said in the past. Visualization in sport is a training technique that forms a part of the larger science of sports psychology. Visualisation is also known as mental imagery and rehearsal. It improves the quality of movement, increases the power of concentration and helps to reduce the pressures of competition on the athlete whilst at the same time improving their confidence. Wilkisnson is able to create this image of Doris and others and use it to his benefit. Although there is no substitute for skill, imagery has certainly benefited Wilkinson’s career.

It is clear that Wilkinson focuses on winning, as does Woodward. When the 2003 World Cup campaign started the whole squad and staff believed that they would win. Failure was not a word used or even thought of. You would not hear ‘but what if we loose the final?’ ever being said. Instead you would here ‘how amazing will it be when we win’, even when there earlier games did not always go to plan. The belief was there. When Baggio kicked that fateful penalty you could almost read his mind questioning himself ‘what if I miss?’. The thought process of Wilkinson when he kicks I can imagine would be a lot different. He will never focus on failure, only on success. McClelland developed the achievement motivation theory and considered the idea that an individual has needs including a need for achievement (the other two being the need for affiliation and power). Those who have a ‘need to achieve’ (N-Ach) are very different to those who have a ‘need to avoid failure’ (N-Af). Wilkinson definitely needs to achieve (also known as having high N-Ach) as he thrives on challenge. His kicking from the corner flag is a classic example of high N-Ach. He looks for challenges and puts pressure on himself, whilst at the same time focusing on achieving. Those who avoid challenges because they are too focused on failure do not often succeed in sport. Baggio is certainly not one of these people, you only have to look at his career to know this. But on that occasion when he missed his penalty he was not thinking like his usual N-Ach self but more like a NAf thinker. Wilkinson however consistently demonstrates the desire to achieve and this would certainly be reflected in his positive self-talk – ‘im going to score’, ‘were going to win’.

He has been a role model to so many and certainly a hero of mine. It’s a shame that sports has lost one of its greats but I am sure he is not finished with the game just yet. From a PE point of view he has inspired many youngsters to take up the game of rugby. From a sport psychology point of view he is a great example of what someone with motivation and belief can do. There are lots of theories and models that could sum up Wilkinson as a player and person. But for me T-Cup gives us a great insight into what it takes to be a champion and the type of person that in the final few seconds on extra time in a World Cup final be able to score the winning drop goal on their wrong foot! Wilko, you will be sorely missed from the game!

Im still very new to blogging so any thought or comments would be much appreciated!

What is ‘Physical’ Education in 2014?

The term ‘Physical Education’ has certainly undergone some changes over the years. One of the earliest syllabi used was the 1909 ‘Syllabus of Physical Exercises’, which focused on two domains: the physical and the educational. In terms of the physical domain the syllabus addressed several key issues of the time such as developing students general health, correcting posture and promoting growth. Within education, the concept of improving self-discipline, concentration, manual dexterity and determination was of importance.

After the 1909 syllabus there were several changes to the way in which PE was taught. One of the most influential coming from ‘The Green Book’ published in 1933. The Green Book focused on developing students’ physique and general physical capacity to move effectively. However with the impact of the Second World War and advances in Science PE became centered on physical fitness and less on physique and movement as it was previously. What is clear with The Green Book is the lack in appreciation for skill. The 1909 syllabus may not explicitly mention skill, however it does consider the idea that students should have a source of ‘aesthetic sensibility’, yet in The Green Book there is a clear shift in agenda. PE was about being fit and healthy.

As with everything our beliefs and values change with the times. By the late 1970s the benefits of PE were viewed differently to that of pre and post-war Britain. Where the physical domain was the more dominant, it was clear that PE also now promoted benefits in the affective, social and cognitive domains. There was a more holistic approach to PE. The 2007 National Curriculum had several new and exciting elements to it, particularly the five key processes; developing skills, making and applying decisions, developing physical and mental capacity, evaluating and improving and making informed choices about healthy and active lifestyles. At an early stage in my career it gave me direction to plan an exciting curriculum that would have a positive impact on lifelong learning, something I call ‘360 Degree PE’. But within this exciting curriculum there were also obstacles PE teachers had to overcome.

As PE teachers we are all passionate about sports. We all played sports at a range of levels and most likely were involved in some form of coaching. For two years prior to attending university I coached football full time for an American Academy. Coaching scholarship players is very different to teaching PE at a secondary school. Within my coaching I was very specific with my instructions and my sessions were very much ‘teacher led’. When I began teaching PE I often found it difficult to move away from this and even now am conscious about how much teacher talk time is taking place. As PE teachers we want to give as much guidance as possible to move our students from one level to the next. But is this what PE is really all about and the main priority if we are to promote a life-long appreciation for health and fitness? When I began teaching although I knew the importance of a 360 degree curriculum, I still taught very teacher led lesson with a focus on developing skill. There was certainly a dissonance going on in my mind, I valued the overall benefits of PE and the different domains, yet I was passionate about students skill acquisition. This passion for skill acquisition indeed influenced my MA in which my focal point was developing students skill levels through the use of instant video motion analysis (through IPads and the app Coachs Eye).

As PE teachers we need to consider (and be aware of) all four domains (physical, affective, social and cognitive) in a broader sense and not merely focus on skill. One of the major difficulties when teaching a skill is that we spend a lot of time talking about it, breaking it down into its different and often intricate stages. Of course this is essential for skill acquisition however talking for too long takes valuable time away from actually practising the skill itself. Are we using the limited time in PE lessons effectively… are we truly offering an education that students can use throughout life, not just in the present? Do we spend more time telling students what they will be doing in lessons than actually doing?

Last week our Director of Sport Alex Smith told me about a lecture he attended by Neil Rowllings, which partly focused on the lack of physical activity in PE due to too much teacher talk. This concept was highlighted again in Neil’s recent blog article entitled Where is the ‘Physical’ in Physical Education. The article supports the fact that within the PE setting we want our students active and exploring for themselves. It should not be an environment where there is more talking than actual physical activity. At the same time Neil argues that PE should not want a curriculum in which calories are burnt but nothing is learnt. Essential is the environment we create and this in itself is dependent on the type of curriculum we delver and what our goals are in PE. Edward Deci sums it up pretty well in his TED talk (see below) on ‘Self Determination Theory’ in which he says “Don’t ask how you can motivate others… Ask how you can create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves”. This type of environment can not be created if we as PE teachers talk for too long. I definitely feel that for students to be motivated they need to be active.

Promoting Motivation, Health and Excellence: Professor Edward Deci Ted Talk

Neil Rowllings also suggests that it would be ‘brave, innovative and unique for schools to use non participants to time the amount of teacher talk and actual physical activity by students. So Alex and I took the test! On 27th February during a period when several year 7 PE groups were taking part in lessons Alex and three of his A-Level students observed a total of four lessons. There main objective was to record the total time students were physically active in the lesson. Each lesson is 50 minutes long however due to movement around a large school and time getting changed there is usually only around 37 minutes. These were the times recorded:

Group 1 (Boys Football) – 16/37 (43%) minutes student activity
Group 2 (Boys Football) – 13/37 (35%) minutes student activity
Group 3 (Girls Football) – 10/37 (27%) minutes student activity
Group 4 (Boys Gymnastics) – 8/37 (22%) minutes of student activity

We are going to do this again in the next few weeks and this will also now form part of the assessment criteria in lesson observations. Have you done anything similar? If so what were your results? Either leave a comment or Tweet me (@PEandME). For further information on the four domains of PE please check my recommended research journals and look in research used in PHD (PHD research specific – Bailey et al. 2009).