This past week, I attended the fall conference for LMAIS (Lake Michigan Association of Independent Schools). This was the first year they had a breakout session devoted to athletic directors and physical education teachers, which I am both. Because I am the only faculty member in this department at my school, sometimes it can feel like I am on an island. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with colleagues Montessori and non-Montessori alike in the profession, and I am grateful LMAIS brought us together. If you are in a similar situation where you may be the only PE teacher or athletic director at your school and don’t have colleagues to commiserate with, I hope that you find the meeting our notes helpful in not feeling so alone.
The meeting featured professionals from eight different schools (including my own), and it was a mix of athletic directors, PE teachers, and some who did both (like me). We started the meeting with a brief introduction, especially because this was the first time we have all met together. We decided to split our time (which was around two hours) half and half between concerns for physical education, and then for athletics. Truthfully, the time flew by, and we were only able to touch the surface of several topics, and there are plenty of areas we did not even touch on. We made sure to exchange emails to continue this affinity group within LMAIS.
The first half of the physical education portion of the meeting was going over the logistics of each school’s PE program. We discussed questions like: How many teachers, how many classes per week, how long is a class? What became apparent was that the size of the school played a large part in programming. Without actual names, here are some examples school programming.
o 1st – 4th grade, 2-4x per a week for 35 minutes a class
o 5th-6th grade, 2-4x per week for 40 minutes a class
o 7th -8th grade, 2-4x per week for 55 minutes a class
o High school is 2x per week for an hour
o Several athletic directors and many PE teachers and support staff (teachers who also coach)
o 3+ play spaces
o Combined age groups per class (for example 1st + 2nd, 3rd + 4th), 2x per week for 45 minutes a class
o One athletic director/PE teacher and one full time PE teacher
o Two Play spaces
o Combined age groups per class (lower elementary, upper elementary, and middle school) 2x per week for 45 minutes a class
o There is one athletic director and several PE teachers (PE teachers teach sections based on their expertise and proclivities)
o 3+ Play spaces
o Each grade meets everyday for 30 minutes
o One athletic director and four PE instructors
o 3+ Play areas
o Each class meets 2x per week for 40 minutes a class
o There is one person who is both the athletic director and PE instructor
o 3+ Play areas
o Preschool is one time a week for one hour
o Lower elementary is 2x per week for 40 minutes a class
o Upper elementary meets everyday for 30 minutes a class
o Middle school students do not have PE, but must play a sport, and practice during the school day
o One big gym and one small gym
o Each grade meets 2x per week for 45 minutes each class
o There are three PE teachers per grade (this is a larger school)
o 3+ Play areas
o Each lower and upper elementary class meets once a week for 50 minutes
o The middle school is large, so they are broken into smaller groups, which meets once a week for 45 minutes
o There is one person who serves as both the athletic director and PE instructor for the full elementary
o The gym is used primarily for class, but there are two additional spaces that can be used
As you can see, even within our small group, the differences are pretty dramatic between our programs. We are all independent schools, so we have plenty of freedom within our own schools and programs. I imagine even between public schools there are still lots of differences in programming considering property taxes and resources available. I guess there is some solidarity in knowing that there is not a cookie cutter program that we should all be following, and that each program is trying to do their best. This also meant that individual program concerns usually did not have a one-size-fits-all answer.
We did attempt to address one colleague’s concerns specifically because he was brand new to the position. It is his first time teaching first graders, and he is having a hard time with behavior and compliance. It was during this discussion that I spoke about my philosophy of integrating the classroom curriculum with gym class. I spoke about my gym class observations, and how I believe integration is useful for reinforcing classroom content, and also gives gym class a sort of “legitimacy.” Gym is not seen as second recess, but like any other class that they follow classroom rules and procedures (while typically also having a lot of fun). I also mentioned how having a Montessori multi-age classroom is highly beneficial when the older students serve as good mentors and examples.
This led to a short discussion on which teachers integrate their programs with other content from the school. Most teachers want to have some type of integration, but in practice do not. This primarily was a function of time. The gym teachers do not have enough time to collaborate with the classrooms, and they do not have enough time to create content to serve that purpose. However, the teachers could clearly understand the benefit of integration. The discussion felt similar to the current discussion on “green energy.” In principle, everyone agrees it is a good idea to create energy from non polluting renewable resources, but in practice it can be very hard to do, and also very expensive (and in this metaphor, money equals time).
Overall, I left the meeting feeling pretty good about the new relationships formed, especially on the athletics side for sports leagues for next year. I also left the meeting with a feeling of gratitude. I am in a unique position where I have enough time and energy to create content that integrates with the Montessori classroom, and after talking to my colleagues, it was clear that they do not. It reaffirmed my belief that what I am creating will not only help Montessori schools, but has the potential to help any school that aspires to integrate their programs. If I can remove the obstacle of time and provide content that teachers will want to use in integrating their programs, then I am accomplishing my mission. If you haven’t already, take a look at my website store and download some free lessons so you can see for yourself.
P.S. In the weeks to come, I will be sharing about some exciting collaborations, which will also mean more free lessons and content!