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The Sound of Silence

Attending to the silences in national policy and staffroom politics seems as important as joining in the ‘banter’.

What isn’t being said? It seems, moving through Rossi and colleagues’ book, that paying attention to what isn’t said about physical education and in physical education is as important as what is said. In previous blogs we’ve explored the social tasks, the performances, the subjectivities, the spaces, and the micropolitics of the HPE staffroom and they all come with their own expectations about what you can and can’t do in practice. Nonetheless it is the unchallenged stories of physical education that ‘say’ as much about the “values, priorities and resources” of the subject moving forwards as the policies and practices.

Given the global picture of physical education there is a privileging of certain ideas – one of which is ‘hands on’ training. The positioning of teaching as a craft that is learned from a master practitioner isn’t a new one but, as each week’s new blog suggests, it also isn’t one that seeks to challenge inappropriate practices. Instead it encourages acquiescence and compliance, and limits “any resistance to what the pre-service teacher may consider inappropriate or unprofessional practices and they position themselves and perform in concert with the dominant school and staffroom practices”. 

The development of “standards as representations of teachers’ work” sees teaching increasing valued as “technical (over theoretical), training (over education), apprenticeship (over professional), School-based (over university-based), intensive (over developmental), and trainees (over students)”.  Consequently, there is a homogenised and measurable notion of the teacher and a set of core values that “make explicit the elements of high-quality effective teaching in 21st-century schools”. The emphasis is on inputs i.e. the standard of what the teacher does, rather than on “the individual teacher’s responsibilities to his or her students, peers and community” and the outcomes they engender. Worryingly, standards suggest clones (in terms of both teachers and learners) while context specific outcomes suggest the individualisation of learning. Standards seem enclosed and possibly cold while surely what we strive for is openness and warmth.

Paying attention to what isn’t said about physical education and in physical education is as important as what is said. 

When we close down the possible outcomes and silence different stories of physical education we strive continuity. Rossi and colleagues draw on the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to highlight the difference between aspiration and reality. The AITSL argue that “research is unambiguous in showing that a successful approach to effective performance and development relies on creating a strong and supportive culture in a school” and yet this doesn’t seem reflective of Millie’s (see last week’s blog) experiences. She didn’t find herself in the school context “that embraced and was committed to ongoing and collaborative professional learning”. Had it been then “perhaps more of her energy and time would have been spent on developing her teaching and learning practices rather than negotiating the disorganised, ‘messy’ and underdeveloped curriculum, assessment and reporting practices with which she was confronted in her first year of teaching”. 

It seems obvious to suggest that environment it is important, but when standards focus on individual teacher’s responsibilities and yet silence the responsibilities of the school to create a strong and supportive culture, words do speak louder than actions. Rossi and colleagues suggest that we need to find new ways of interrupting unprofessional practice by empowering rather than having power over teachers. The World Health Organisation, as long ago as 1998, articulated the concept of the “health-promoting school” and advocated for “the essential role that school organisation and ethos has to play in the promotion of participants’ well-being”. In revisiting the schools represented in this series of blogs I am left to question the role the schools played, both consciously and daily, in promoting participants well being”.

In the transition from non-teacher to teacher many of the participants in this study were the subject of harassment and bullying. The most common forms of bullying that teachers experience in Australian schools are perceived to be when “information is withheld which affects performance; questioning decisions common procedures and judgements; tasks are set with unreasonable or impossible targets and deadlines; attempts to belittle and undermine work; and recognition; acknowledgement and praise withheld”. These are not reflective of the best conditions for workplace learning, they are not safe and nor are they reflect of workplaces that are supportive of innovative risk-taking focused on improving practice and the workplace itself.

In concluding, this week’s chapter suggests to me do we need to take a more holistic and inclusive approach to schools as professional learning organisations. We must seek to frame teachers’ responsibilities not as the only measure of competence but as part of a culture that supports professionalism, well-being, safety and above all collaborative and democratic approaches to learning.  Everybody’s Learning. 

Rossi, T., lisahunter, Christensen, E. & Macdonald, D. (2015). Workplace learning in Physical Education: Emerging teachers’ stories from the staffroom and beyond. London: Routledge.

The Sound of Silence blog post is a thought provoking piece which reminds me that “what is not said” in those silent gaps of space and time truly tells a bigger story about where we currently are in the health and physical education field, and gives us reminders of what more we need to do to positively advocate for change and recognition in our profession. Some of the biggest challenges we struggle with across our profession is protecting the amount of time allotted for health and physical education classes and how that curriculum is delivered. In many districts, when schools are looking for ways to increase academic classroom time, health, physical education, and recess, as well as other subject areas, are often cut or decreased in order to gain precious extra minutes for core learning. What is implied through those silent messages is that health and physical education are dispensable content areas, and that there is less value in students learning those subject areas. The importance and value of teaching the “whole child” takes a back seat to the rigor and race to improve student test scores and academic achievement.

Another example of silence speaking louder than words happened recently in our state. Legislators attempted to include a bill that would change teacher licensing requirements for classroom teachers and other subject areas. Anyone who had a bachelor’s degree and some experience in a content area could apply for a classroom teacher license, and anyone with a high school diploma would be able to apply for a music, art, PE, and health education position. The “sound of silence” in that proposal spoke volumes to educators throughout our state. Anyone with background experience could apply to teach, educator preparation programs and the knowledge and skills necessary to be an effective educator were not needed to obtain a license, and that a bachelor’s degree was the only requirement necessary for classroom teachers but not all content areas, placing a value on the importance of some educational classes but not others. That proposal was just recently removed from the bill in our state, but that unfortunately, was not the case in another state. The ramifications of those changes would be devastating for education as a whole, as well as for the education of our students.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” Lieutenant General David Morrison, Australian Chief of Army.

This quote is a poignant reminder to all educators that there are times where we need to role model, speak up, and advocate for our profession, and attempt to effect change where change is needed. When we witness activities that do not demonstrate best practices and go against the grain of providing quality health and physical education experiences to our students, we need to do what we can to make a difference for all of our students. If we are to ever propel ourselves from the stereotypes and memories of physical education classes of the past, we need to draw a line in the sand on what we deem as acceptable and non-acceptable practice, or become party to accepting a standard that is less than our best.

Lastly, the greatest good I believe a school district can do for its students’ education is to provide the means and support for teachers and support staff to be the most effective educators they can be. Through quality staff development, mentorship programs, lesson reflections, and collaborative school and team efforts, school districts can create the strong and supportive culture needed for educators to grow and learn, and that empower educators to take innovative risks in their classrooms. Focusing on the development of educators, and supporting their growth, professionalism, and exploration should encouraged and fostered through all stages of their teaching career. As you said, we should all be learning!

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