In their book Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath open the book with the metaphor of the elephant and the rider to explain how individuals are motivated to action. The Rider represents our rational and logical thinking brain, whereas the Elephant represents our emotional side. As you can imagine, oftentimes it doesn’t matter how much the rationale rider attempts to exert control over a situation, ultimately the emotional elephant is the one who is in control. This would explain why despite knowing something is beneficial for us, we lack the motivation to begin. Chip and Dan argue that when companies seek to implement change, they often only attempt to engage the Rider; they present the research, statistics, clear visuals, etc. but fall short due to the lack of emotional investment by those whom they wish to create change with. I was given this book at the end of the 21-22 school year as I prepared to begin as the Learning Leader (HoD) of a new department with new colleagues in the Middle / Senior school. As luck would have it, the gift was about 1 month too late, as I had already failed to introduce the meaningful physical education (MPE) framework to my new team by only accounting for the rationale rider.
The purpose of this blog is to share the process of change we’ve undergone as a department since then, as we seek to find common ground between our schools' renewed strategic plan and our individual philosophies in an effort to create more meaningful PE experiences for our students.
Contextual Background: At the end of the 21-22 school year, our school released its strategic framework, with the dedicated purpose of creating students who flourish. Many other components of the strategic framework align themself quite closely with student-centeredness, joy and meaning-making.
Step 1 - Establishing a Vision Statement
What does it mean for students to flourish in Physical Education? If this was to be the centre of our schools educational philosophy, then we should have an agreed upon definition of what that means in a PE setting. I selected two readings:After reading those articles, we wrote down ideas on chart paper of what we believed it meant to Flourish in PE:
I took all those ideas and attempted to craft them into 3 different vision statements, each attempting to encapsulate the ideas we had in relation to flourishing. At a later meeting, the three options were distributed for feedback from each member of the department who suggested edits / omissions / additions etc. Eventually we landed on some agreed upon components and sought to provide clarification to exactly what certain terms were meant to encapsulate.
Step 2 - Establishing a Mission Statement
After establishing our vision statement for student flourishing in PE, the mission statement was somewhat self-evident: create the conditions for the vision to be realised by each student (create the conditions for students to flourish in PE). What those conditions are would require some further unpacking. As a group we used a liberating structure called an “Appreciate Interview”, in which each member described a story of a time they were at least fairly certain a student had been successful in achieving our vision for student flourishing. The second part of the thinking routine was to reflect on the conditions that allowed that story to occur (what were the conditions that allowed that student to flourish?) In our discussion, a number of conditions were identified; challenge, connection to community, belonging, new/novel opportunities, peer support, teacher relationship, growth etc. many of which coincide with the features of Meaningful Physical Education as outlined by Fletcher, Beni and Ni Chroinin (2017).
Step 3 - Data Collection: Who is Flourishing?
While we have developed some agreement on what it means to flourish in PE and began to unearth the conditions necessary for that to occur, there was an important voice missing. To what extent do the students themselves feel they are flourishing in their current physical education environment? What conditions do they see as necessary for positive experiences in PE?
The first task was to develop a survey that we thought would accurately represent our vision statement. I used a battery of questions originally developed alongside Alex Beckey, Steph Beni and Declan Hamblin as a starting point. These questions were placed into a Google Form, where department members were able to indicate which questions they thought were relevant to the vision statement, which were irrelevant, suggest new questions etc. After that review, our final questionnaire was built for a last round of feedback, before being converted into a Google Form. The form was completed in class by students from Grade 3 to 12, students were encouraged to only consider their experience this first semester.
Step 4 - Data Analysis: What, So What?
The data from the survey was collected from 488 students compiled into a near 60 page document, which included different ways of visually representing data, some of which are indicated below. It also included the written responses to the descriptions of positive and negative experiences in PE from the semester.
On a PD day, we met as a department and analysed the data using another liberating structure; ‘What, So What, Now What’ or W3. This thinking routine encourages an initial objective analysis of simply what does the data say or suggest? Followed by a determination of why it is important and finally a decision on what action should be taken. At this initial meeting, each individual was assigned 1-2 grade levels that they taught and we focused on primarily the first two questions (or Ws), what and so, what? The guiding questions we used are found below. In addition, to identify the conditions that impact meaningful experiences (or flourishing), we conducted a thematic analysis, where we analyzed students written responses to "describe a positive experience you've had in PE" and "describe a negative experience...", based on the reason WHY it was negative, and not the activity itself, example:
In the above statements, we are not concerned with the activity (bowling / gymnastics), but the condition they identified as being responsible for that experience (positive or negative), in these examples the 3 conditions identified were: fun, social interaction, relevance.
The irony of this process, is that it lead us in someways to uncover the exact same things that were already evident in the research by Beni et al (2017) as well as in our appreciate inquiry. Students associate social interaction, challenge, relevance, fun and competence with positive experiences in PHE. So why was taking the time to go through the data more effective than simply reading the research? In many ways, data is emotional - we are passionate about our subject and believe in the value of PE. When confronted with data that suggests despite all your best intentions, students have had a negative experience; that can be hard to digest but also is hard to ignore. On the other hand, reading data that highlights the positive impact you've had on students can be very fulfilling. This data, as it represented our students experiences, was very moving for us a group and could have resulted in hours upon hours of discussion. It is this engagement of the Elephant that has enabled us arrive on common ground and will serve as motivation for future action (now what).
Beni, S., Fletcher, T., Ní Chróinín, D. (2017). Meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport: A review of the literature. Quest, 69(3), 291-312.