Introducing Empathetic Practice in Physical Education The National PETE Conference Las Vegas October 6, 2012 Tony Monahan, PhD Queensborough Community College City University of New York Regular physical activity, even at moderate levels, is known to reduce many chronic health problems (USDHHS, 2000). • The USDHHS (2000) has called on public education to identify and address the causes of physical inactivity and poor health. • PE is the one school subject that is directly devoted to physical activity and is potentially the best venue to combat chronic diseases and promote healthy lifestyles among students (DeCorby, et al., 2005). • PE should be considered a critical contributing component to a complete education (NASPE, 2001). Benefits of Physical Activity Physical activity, even at moderate levels • reduces the risk of CHD, hypertension, colon cancer and diabetes • increases bone strength and lean muscle, decreases body fat • enhances psychological well-being, reduces depression symptoms • increases brain function and nervous system development (Jensen, 2005, Sosa, 1995, USDHHS, 2000). Traditional PE Does Not Benefit Everyone “Traditional PE” - Historically, PE has focused on calisthenics, skill proficiency and competitive success (Carlson, et al, 1995). Top activities in PE (mostly team sports) do not match up with the most popular adult activities (mostly fitness-related) (Corbin 2002). Cultural Transmission / Banking Education – “My way or the highway.” Students expected to be passive receivers of the teacher’s information (Freire, 1983, Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972). Traditional PE Does Not Benefit Everyone Traditional PE favors those students who are physically skilled while often alienating those who are not (King, 1991, Virshup, 1999, Westcott, 1992). “Old-style PE excludes kids who aren’t natural athletes. It tends to focus on games where the least skilled students are the first to be eliminated, and thus branded losers, and fails to build skills that kids can actually use” (Graham, as cited in Virshup, 1999, p. 138). This creates an unequal educational situation where only the minority of elite students succeeds while lesser skilled students become disillusioned (Carlson, et al, 1995). Most PE teachers are athletically elite (Dewar & Lawson (1984). Sociometric Status • The degree which children are liked or disliked by their peers. • A child’s likeability level by peer group ranges from popular (well liked by peers) to rejected (least liked by peers). • Children who possess strong athletic competence usually rank highly in Sociometric status. • Children displaying poor athletic skills are often ranked low in Sociometric status. • Poorly skilled children are often ridiculed in physical activity situations. • Humiliated children may withdraw or isolate themselves from physical activity which could further separate them socially from their peers. Adapted from Dunn, et al, 2007 Major factors affecting Sociometric status • Athletic competence • Physical appearance • Social skills (Dunn et al, 2007) Learned Helplessness • A perception of futility regardless of what one does, which could lead to a perceived lack of interest in performances and tasks and unwillingness to learn new skills (Martinek & Griffith, 1994, Walling & Martinek, 1995). Failure ↓ Belief in low ability ↓ Expectation of failure ↓ Reduction of effort/ Giving up ↓ Avoidance of public demonstration of low ability (Adapted from Robinson, 1990). What is Empathy? • Empathy involves an affective mode of understanding, an ability to perceive and share the emotions of another. • Hoffman’s definition: “an affective response more appropriate to someone else’s situation than one’s own” (1987, p. 48). • In order to better facilitate those who have experienced difficulty or failure in PE, it will be necessary for PE teachers to relate to students with physical abilities quite different than their own. Mirror Neurons • Biological basis for empathy • Provide a simulation of what others are feeling • Allows a person to experience an emotional investment when observing others We are hard-wired for empathy Developmental Empathy • Global Empathy: Response to distress (Infant’s cry) • Egocentric Empathy: Awareness without the ability to feel beyond self (Change the channel!) • Situational Empathy: Increased awareness, responsive reaction (Can be shaped or narrowed) • Transformational Empathy: Thorough capacity(Empathize with entire groups of people) Adapted from Hoffman, 1987 How Can Empathetic Practice Help Students in PE? 1. Know your students: names, interests, tendencies, social group, attentiveness, level of attention needed 2. Pay attention: observe body language and facial expressions (over 90% of communication is non-verbal) 3. Use your mirror neurons to build an emotional attachment (empathic understanding of the student’s point of view 4. Have positive regard for all students: desire success for all 5. Encourage positive peer interactions: avoid situations that can lead to student alienation or learned helplessness Conclusion • Although most PE teachers are athletically skilled, most of their students will not be athletic • The main goal of PE is to lay the foundation of physical fitness • PE teachers can avoid damaging social and psychological situations by understanding the dynamics of Sociometric status and learned helplessness • Empathy allows the teacher to understand from the students’ perspective Bibliography Carlson, T. B. (1995). We hate gym: Student alienation from physical education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 14, 467-477. Corbin, C. B. (2002). Physical education as an agent of change. Quest, 54, 182-195. DeCorby, K., Halas, J., Dixon, S., Wintrup, L., & Janzen, H. (2005). Classroom teachers and the challenges of delivering quality physical education. 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