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Social Justice in Elementary School Wellness Education

This is an excerpt from Elementary School Wellness Education With HKPropel Access by Matthew Cummiskey & Frances E. Cleland-Donnelly.

Social justice “strives to create a society in which all members, without exception, are psychologically safe and secure, recognized and treated with respect” (Bell 2016, p. 3). Lynch and colleagues (2020) offer five tips for a socially just physical education program:

  1. Get to know your students, their identity, their cultural background, and their overall biographies.
  2. Provide an opportunity for students to be engaged in designing their learning experiences, thus gaining ownership of their learning.
  3. Include students in creating class expectations.
  4. Provide opportunities for students to debrief, reflect, and evaluate their learning experiences, similar to Hellison’s model of teaching personal and social responsibility (Hellison, 2011).
  5. Be a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage. In other words, be a facilitator of learning.

The two-part journal article “The A-Z of Social Justice Physical Education” (Lynch et al., 2020; Landi et al., 2020) provides an in-depth social justice glossary. We urge readers to study both of these readings. We will highlight a few of these important and relevant considerations when designing school wellness learning experiences.

Ability Awareness

A is for ability awareness, a critical concept to understand as school wellness educators. Describing students as able or not abled is not socially just. We must recognize that all students have unique abilities and frame our instruction to highlight our students’ strengths versus what they cannot do. That is why it is critical to understand developmental phases and stages in all domains of learning (e.g., psychomotor, cognitive, and affective and social). Development is age related, not age dependent (Goodway et al., 2019). Lynch and colleagues (2020) emphasize that physical ability is most valued in physical education, resulting in classifying students as low ability or high ability. A social justice approach, with a focus on ability, would describe what a student can do—for example, “Tien can demonstrate the preparation and execution parts of the overhand throw and is developing the complete follow-through action.” As teachers, we need to provide positive, descriptive feedback about what students can do and what aspects of the movement skill they can continue to develop.

Diverse Forms of Assessment

D is for providing diverse forms of assessment (Lynch et al., 2020). Process assessments that focus on the critical cues and the form of how a movement skill is performed provide learners with descriptive feedback and are more helpful for skill development than product assessments (e.g., how high, how fast, how far). Showing students how they move through videos, having a peer mold their body into the proper preparation stance, or having students draw a picture of their peer performing a movement skill are all viable process assessment tools. The affective domain should also be assessed in school wellness education; students can assess their feelings about a manipulative activity using things like an exit ticket for enjoyment (figure 3.1).

FIGURE 3.1 Sample exit ticket for enjoyment of a manipulative activity.
FIGURE 3.1 Sample exit ticket for enjoyment of a manipulative activity.

Knowledge of Minority Groups

K is for knowledge of minority groups (Lynch et al., 2020). Schools in the 21st century are quite diverse. In a school in southeast Pennsylvania, 53 languages are spoken by the student population. “As the social justice educator, you should seek to become informed of cultural norms circulating each minority group, along with understanding a group’s history” (Lynch et al., 2020, p. 12). Teachers need to be sensitive to their students’ cultural celebrations, practices, and beliefs. Lynch and colleagues (2020) highlight how requiring a Muslim student to engage in a learning activity with a Christmas celebration theme may be uncomfortable for this student. The student may be unfamiliar with the holiday traditions and thus be less able to see the learning experience as relevant. Understanding cultural norms may assist teachers in more valuable exchanges with students as well as in the design of appropriate learning experiences.

Queering Physical Education

Q is for queering physical education. Landi and colleagues (2020) discuss how physical education is a “straight” place and promotes gender binaries. We agree that many traditional teaching practices must be modified to respect all individuals’ perspectives and needs. We recommend no longer addressing children as boys and girls, but as fifth or first graders. In addition, Landi and colleagues (2020) suggest not using the terms leaders and followers within a dance unit, nor pairing students by creating boy/girl partners, but instead encouraging students to choose their own partners.

Standards-Based Education

S is for standards-based education. Landi and colleagues (2020) question the equity of implementing standards-based education. They suggest that because outcomes-based education is based on behaviorist theory, it treats all students the same and therefore is not socially just and leads to precarity. Butler (2004) defines precarity as a state experienced by marginalized, poor, and disenfranchised members of society because of their status as alienated. A socially just curriculum recognizes that precarity—such as an underresourced school, ramifications of gender identity, and acceptance of one’s ethnicity—may affect peer interactions, curricular decisions, and teaching practices. The authors of this textbook recognize the validity of this supposition; however, grade-level outcomes in physical education (SHAPE America, 2014) and health performance indicators (CDC, 2019c) do not necessarily lead to a one-size-fits-all model.

We suggest grade-level outcomes and performance indicators be used as guidelines. A school wellness curriculum must be relevant to the student population being served. Such a curricular approach recognizes students’ needs, gender identify, cultural background, and so forth. In agreement with letter Y, youth-centered and empowering, we agree that students should be engaged in making choices about their curriculum, be offered opportunities to reflect on their learning, and be involved in discussion relevant to acceptance and understanding of all individuals’ ability and worth. It can begin with creating class contracts and involving students in establishing norms for their classroom culture. Overall, “The A-Z of Social Justice Physical Education” provides profound considerations for all physical educators.

More Excerpts From Elementary School Wellness Education With HKPropel Access