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Revving Up the Revolution

This is an excerpt from Game Changer by PE4life & Ken Reed.

Chapter 9

Revving Up the Revolution
Ten Key Factors

Given the growing mound of compelling research regarding exercise’s positive impact on the brain, it seems inevitable that these findings will transform not only physical education but education as a whole. How quickly that happens is contingent on the rate at which key stakeholders become aware of—and fully understand—this information.

“Fitness-based physical education can make students healthier, smarter, and better behaved,” said Lawler. “That’s proven. It’s not a theory. Now the challenge is to help every educator, school board member, and parent become aware of that fact and fully understand what it can mean for our children. Most educators still aren’t aware of this powerful stuff.”

We’re living in a time when physical education programs are being cut or deemphasized, and new elementary schools are being built without gyms. Ironically, the exercise-based brain research that’s coming out at the same time will ultimately not only save PE but also make it one of the most important subjects in schools. Quality PE and movement-based learning initiatives can be effectively and efficiently integrated into the entire school curriculum. Madison Junior High School, Naperville Central High School, and many other schools are proof of that.

“Physical education has gone from the ‘Rodney Dangerfield of education’ to the hub of the wheel of education,” said Lawler. “The research on exercise’s positive impact not only on health—which is big enough in this era of childhood obesity—but on learning readiness, as well as behavior and mood, means PE needs to be the foundation of the whole education process.”

The challenge is that the majority of educators, school board members, and parents are still unaware of the research regarding exercise’s positive impact on the brain. Additionally, many of those who are aware of the research are ignoring the findings, or they don’t know what to do with the new information. Others are simply reluctant to change “the way we’ve always done things around here.”

“It’s a shame this movement isn’t advancing faster,” said Lawler. “Given the overwhelming evidence for the value of exercise in the education process, we could file a malpractice lawsuit against educators—school board members, administrators, and teachers—for not offering fitness-based PE on a more regular basis, as well as more movement initiatives in the classrooms. The problem is, too few educators are aware of the research. Awareness and understanding levels must increase dramatically.”

Awareness and understanding. That brings us to 10 key factors in revving up this PE revolution. This isn’t a chronological, step-by-step process. Many of these actions need to be undertaken simultaneously. As a whole, they represent Phil Lawler’s approach for actualizing his vision of transforming education through fitness-based PE and movement-based learning.

1 Create Awareness
in Your Community and Beyond

“It’s simply a shame that more people—educators, parents, the media—don’t know about the powerful research supporting exercise as a learning readiness tool,” said Lawler. “What’s needed is a large-scale education and communications campaign.”

“The ultimate irony is that PE has been dying as a profession just as all these positive developments have been happening,” says Wikgren. “Nobody changes anything without data, but now PE has the data. We need to publicize the hell out of it. Ultimately, we have to get the parents.”

Lawler saw the challenge as being related to both communications and culture change. He believed that lasting culture change requires an integrated communications plan to move people along the culture change continuum: from awareness to understanding to acceptance to attitude change to behavior change.

“We need a group of key stakeholders to collectively devise a plan to help schools change their cultures as quickly as possible,” said Lawler.

“The research on what exercise does for the brain is certainly going to help,” said Phylis Pickett, a long-time physical education instructor in Illinois and a colleague of Lawler’s in the fight for fitness-based PE. “It will speak to every administrator. Still, it’s going to take a huge education and communications effort. No matter how compelling the evidence, it’s still going to take a comprehensive sales effort.”

Lawler and Harvard’s Dr. John Ratey agreed that getting President Obama and his wife, Michelle, involved in a national campaign would help the cause immensely.

“We need to get President Obama out front talking about the importance of exercise and fitness,” said Ratey.

“One thing that would really help is to get the President and First Lady actively pushing fitness and wellness lifestyles,” said Lawler. “Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign looks like a good start.”

Barack Obama may be the most fitness-oriented president the country has ever had. He regularly gets in a daily hour-long workout, six days a week. He alternates between weight training and cardiovascular exercise. His favorite activity is basketball, but he does a variety of cardiovascular workouts. Obama believes that turning to a fitness regimen when he was a 22-year-old student at Columbia University transformed him physically and mentally.

2 Target School Boards, Administrators, and Parents

Lawler believed that teachers—both in physical education and other subjects—are important but secondary targets in this revolution.

“Building principals are the key,” said Lawler. “All the success stories we have are tied to a passionate principal who believes in the exercise for learning message. We also need to get superintendents, school board members, and parents bought in. They need to fully understand and accept that kids that are more fit not only are healthier but also more ready to learn. They also behave better in the classroom.

“Talk to any administrator in the United States today and their issues are (1) academics and standardized test scores; and (2) behavior issues—discipline problems, attendance, etc.,” said Lawler. “They’d like their kids to be as healthy as possible, but what drives them are academics and behavior, because that’s what they’re evaluated on by school board members and parents. So, we need to talk to them speaking their language.

“Obviously, we need to keep talking to PE teachers, but we aren’t going to change the PE culture through PE teachers. They weren’t trained in the New PE, and they were brought up in a sports-based PE culture,” said Lawler. “School boards, administrators, and parents are going to have to change the PE culture. School board members, principals, and parents are going to need to be educated, and once they’re educated, they’ll demand fitness-based physical education for health, learning, and behavior reasons.”

Parents intuitively believe that physical activity, fitness, and academic performance are linked. In one study, 95 percent of parents said they agree that “regular, daily physical activity helps children do better academically.” Lawler believed that we need to do a better job arming parents with the ammunition they need to demand more physical education and physical activity in the school setting.

Lawler also believed that parents will embrace the New PE once they fully understand it and the science behind it.

“The purpose of education is to improve the quality of life,” said Lawler. “That’s the universal purpose around the world. Every parent, in every country, wants to improve the quality of life for his or her kids. There’s no doubt the New PE improves the quality of life.

“The cost issue will come up. What does a high-quality PE program cost? The better question is, what will it cost if we don’t do it? Putting computers in every school was expensive, but it was clear that the costs would be higher if we didn’t do it. The same holds true for quality wellness-based physical education.”

One message that school board members and parents need to hear is that the New PE is education based and treats every student fairly and with respect. It’s nothing like the military-style PE that they might remember from their own school days. Many of today’s adults have bad memories of being embarrassed—or worse—in their PE classes, and those memories taint their view of physical education to this day.

Grundy Center’s Beth Kirkpatrick says that humiliating activities such as dodgeball, along with humiliating and intimidating teaching tactics, need to be put to rest with the Old PE.

“The New PE has to be No Humiliation PE,” says Kirkpatrick. “If students fear humiliation in the gymnasium or locker room, we’ll get nowhere. We also can’t intimidate and abuse kids to get them to move the way we want them to. Too many PE teachers and coaches are guilty of exercise abuse. Also, physical education should have nothing to do with competition between students. For example, in the mile run, we don’t need to start the whole class at the same time. That can be humiliating to the slower students, who may be working as hard or harder than the faster students based on heart rate monitor data. Stagger start them. Physical education isn’t about a race.”


Read more about Game Changer.