What it really takes to make a difference as a PE teacher

Being a health, sport and physical education teacher is a truly rewarding career. The life lessons you teach your students may not impact your students until weeks, months, or years after they have left the classroom. Occasionally you will receive a smile, a thank you, or if you’re really lucky, a beautifully written card on their graduation day. However, the more likely reality is that you may never know the true extent of the impact you have made. Having the opportunity to make a genuine difference in another person’s life is incredibly satisfying…and a significant responsibility.

There is no secret ingredient or checklist that incorporates all that it takes to be the perfect PE teacher. All teachers will develop their own routines, styles and approaches. However, these are some of my thoughts and reflections about what it means to be a great PE teacher and how I strive to make a difference in the lives of my students. Keep in mind though that I still consider myself to be a “work in progress”!

Relationships are everything

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, this quote made famous by Mark Fields, President and CEO at Ford Motor Company, really resonates with me. Above all else, the capacity to build strong relationships with students in your class is fundamental to a positive learning environment. This is an integral component of building trusting and respectful relationships with students. Something as simple as commenting on their sporting performance from the weekend or asking how their music performance went, helps to present you as approachable, engaging, caring and genuinely interested in your student's wellness. As humans first, and teachers second. Time spent interacting in conversation with your students, is never wasted.

Set and enforce high expectations

This one is a little more difficult to discuss in a tangible manner. High expectations are not things you can see or touch, but your capacity to build relationships with your students will determine the extent to which they try to meet those expectations. In my opinion, the higher the better.

I am certainly not the most physically imposing PE teacher, so I rely heavily on compelling my students to strive to reach their full potential by setting consistently enforced, but challenging expectations in my classroom. Whilst initially, students may find those high expectations confronting, over time they are able to understand my expectations stem from my strong belief in them to achieve. This not only consolidates my relationships with the students but often teaches students to strive to reach their full capacity. Nurturing self-confidence is one of the most important parts of an effective learning environment and the conditions under which they are more likely to challenge themselves.

Inspire through role modelling

When compiling my thoughts for this post I asked a variety of people (the majority of whom were not teachers), what the most noteworthy traits of their favourite teachers were. ‘Passion’ was the standout characteristic. A key aspect of inspiring and motivating students comes from the example teachers set through their actions. I am not suggesting that PE teachers have to be elite athletes to inspire their students, but you must model a positive attitude and passion for healthy lifestyles and its benefits, mentally and emotionally. This passion will be reflected in the time and effort you invest in preparing lessons, giving feedback, and empowering students to be the best versions of themselves. Trust me, students notice all of these little things. Think about your favourite teachers and their personal attributes, was this reflected in their classes?

Strike a balance between fun and focus

Learning should be fun and most often students will be more receptive to learning through play. So finding a balance between fun and focus is pivotal to creating engaging lessons for your students. Irrespective of age, humans are more engaged and mentally invested in things they enjoy doing. I feel, as PE teachers we are at a distinct advantage in terms of the variety of ways we can present subject matter to our students. The challenge, therefore, lies in striking a balance between having fun, while also facilitating purposeful, targeted, challenging learning experiences. Meaningful relationships and high expectations help contribute to ensuring the focus is maintained while your students and you have fun. You know this balance has been struck, when you can walk away from a lesson, with a smile on your face, while feeling complete confidence in the tangible learnings your students have gained from that lesson.

Meet the author…

Kirby is a health, sport and physical education graduate who pursued her passion and became a PE Teacher. She is currently acting as Head of Department in health and physical education at Wavell State High School. Not only does she teach full time, she is also an elite cricket player with the Queensland Fire/Heat. Kirby was recently awarded the 2016 Inspirational Teacher Award, from The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation Inc. (ACHPERQLD), after being nominated by her students who reported the immense respect and admiration they hold for her.


Last updated:
13 December 2016