Each of the team members have their own unique story as to how they came to this project.
For Kathryn, Physical Education in primary school (Australia) was quite a traumatic experience. Perceiving herself as unfit, unsporty, and overweight, she was constrained and restricted by sport and fitness discourses dominating how Physical Education was taken up by her primary school teachers and peers. In response, she could either change her attitude and behaviors, or continue to be alienated by, and in, Physical Education. Then, as she started Grade 7 (high school in Australia), she met a different type of Physical Education teacher; one who was interested in the links between physical activity and mental health. Encouraging Kathryn to find ways to move her body in ways that made her feel good, Kathryn began to capitalize on important aspects of physical literacy that helped her combat some of the social constraints evident in the Physical Education space.
For Nikki, physical activity, sport, and physical education were all spaces in which my privilege (including whiteness, fitness, and competitiveness) allowed me to thrive. As a child, I felt great joy when moving my body but I was always aware of the injustices that girls and women faced in physical activity settings. When competitive sport was no longer mentally and emotionally healthy for me, I struggled to find alternative activity spaces in which I felt comfortable. I had never experienced anything but competitive sport, including during physical education. My interest in the way that constructions of gender impact physical education experiences guided me through grad school where I realized that there are many more communities who are excluded from physical activity narratives. When I entered teaching, I realized how important and difficult it is to foster a sense of belonging for all children in physical education. I am still on this learning journey and find pleasure and passion in working towards praxis in this area.
For Lynden, growing up in a home that valued movement and physical activity, he was privileged to have opportunities to experience an array of sports and physical activity settings. Physical education classes were a place of happiness and joy while attending K-12 education. As I transitioned into my role as an educator, I quickly realized that a large portion of the students I worked with did not experience the same levels of joy associated with PE. Leading to critically reflect on my role as a PE teacher. What role did I have in supporting students as they develop their relationship with physical activity? While working with young people everyday, I’ve become motivated to establish learning spaces that promote joy through movement for all students.
As each of these unique stories became known to each other as colleagues in Saskatoon Public Schools, Nikki, Lynden, and Kathryn began discussions about the potential of a collaborative project that attended to diverse learners in Physical Education.
What it does
This project aims to promote and support responsive practices in PE that foster a sense of belonging, so that young people in Saskatchewan can live more active lifestyles. Specifically, through an online Resource Hub and Professional Development Series,, this project connects teachers of physical education to experts and quality resources related to belonging in physical education.
How we built it
Identifying a need within Physical Education to attend to the growing number of students who don’t see themselves in the learning environment, the team had their first meeting in the Fall of 2020. Each team member brought different experiences, perspectives, and skills to the group, and as such, we were able to form a comprehensive and well-balanced working group of passionate educators looking to create change in Physical Education. Through the brainstorming phase, we moved through many different discussions, concepts, and models trying to ‘pinpoint’ what it was we were wanting to achieve. Simultaneously, we sought support from peripheral partnerships with organisations such as the Saskatchewan Physical Education Association (SPEA), Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation (STF), and the Saskatoon Public Schools Division (SPSD). Collaborating with professional networks is important to our project, given broader philosophical orientations of our work as associated with creating a relational assemblage to enact change for, and in, Physical Education.
We were then tasked with writing emotional safety guidelines in Physical Education from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. Brainstorming many different theory/practice approaches to develop these guidelines, led us to the development of the rhizome, which further worked to inform the series of professional development sessions conducted with colleagues in SPSD and SPEA.
Understanding the importance of strength based approaches to this work, in more recent months, we have settled on the broader scope of this project to focus on ‘Pedagogies for Sense of Belonging in Physical Education’.
Challenges we ran into
Given the deeply entrenched narratives that constrain and discipline how Physical Education is taken up, we have encountered perceived and real barriers to this work. Some perceived barriers have included a reluctance to approach all teachers about this work, given that they might not support these ideas in the same way. Some real barriers have included the reality of some teachers not being interested to challenge the status-quo. Physical Education is also not given commensurate attention in the education sector, and as such, practices in this discipline are often overlooked and unattended to by other teachers, administrators, and policy-makers. Further, the underfunding of public education limits innovation and capacity for nuanced approaches to supporting wellbeing within the education sector.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are proud of many different accomplishments that we have been able to achieve in the past school year. We have been able to generate and produce practical outcomes, which include: -Comprehensive emotional safety guidelines for Physical Education (for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education); -A rhizome mapping illustrating ‘Pedagogies for a Sense of Belonging in Physical Education’. This rhizome includes broader social (and ecological) justice outcomes, but also practical approaches to achieving these outcomes; -A successful professional development series with positive teacher feedback and commitment to continue learning in 2021-2022; -Commitment from the Saskatoon Public Schools Division to provide professional development space for our work; -Securing Funding from the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation and the Saskatchewan Physical Educators Association; -Receiving support and commitment for continued collaboration from expert researchers at Canadian Universities; and, -Implementing these approaches through our own professional teaching practices during a global pandemic.
We are also proud of the integrity of our team. In this short amount of time working together, we have been able to establish strong and trusting professional and personal relationships within our team.
What we learned
We have learned that there is such value in collaborative work, and seeking the worldviews of our partners. Through the professional development that we have already conducted, we have learned that this work is timely; teachers are keen to continue their learning around Belonging in Physical Education, and social justice issues in PE. We have learned how to use one another's strengths and acknowledge our areas of challenge while working together towards a common goal. This process has taught us that there is still underrepresentation of physical education within education sectors and the importance of advocating for quality physical education.
What's next for Pedagogies for a Sense of Belonging
Our next steps on this journey are to create the ‘Online Resource Hub’. This will involve curation, creation, and vetting of resources that includes video interviews with experts. It is very important to us that content is of high quality, culturally relevant, and usable for teachers of Physical Education. We will develop a vetting system to seek worldviews and perspectives beyond our own. We will work towards the development of a web page and then connect teachers to the resource hub via professional development.
These experiences taught us that not every student we teach is going to have affirmative relationships with physical activity and physical education, and that rather than asking individual learners to adapt to broader systems and structures, that perhaps it was time that these broader systems and structures changed to more actively include diverse learners.