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Connecting: Online and On Stage

Posted By Adam Metcalf, Thursday, May 4, 2017

After filling up my water bottle, I make my way to the front of the large conference room at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.  Twenty minutes until “go time” and a steady trickle of attendees are already filling up seats.  I make sure my laptop and projector are in working order – always a huge relief.  Hit play on my custom “Boston-themed” playlist and post the QR code throughout the room so that people can scan and have access to my presentation and resources in real time.  Ten minutes to go and all but a few seats are full; clusters of comfortably dressed P.E. teachers find spots on the floor or stand along the walls.  I see a few friendly faces in the crowd, crack a few self-deprecating jokes, and thank them for taking the time to attend my session.  Five minutes to go, all the seats are filled and the floor and the walls are pretty well packed as well.  I take a quick lap around the room and informally ask a few questions to get a feel about the levels of experience with the topic. Thirty seconds until go time…full house…slowly fade volume down on Dropkick Murphys…deep breath. Here we go…

As soon as I became a Physical Education teacher, I was blown away by the lack of ongoing quality support and professional development for our content area.  Because everyone has their own experiences to draw from with regard to P.E., the norm of “happy, sweaty, busy” kids seemed to be good enough.  The bar has been set very low for Physical Education, and as a result teachers too often coast through the school day using teaching methods based on their own experiences, and then coach various athletic teams in the evenings.  Of course, this situation is often magnified by obstacles outside the P.E. teachers’ control, like very large class sizes, inadequate resources, or scheduling shortcomings.  This cycle continues throughout the school year and into the next.  Seeking constructive feedback is difficult for Physical Education teachers.  When P.E. teachers don’t know what they don’t know with regard to current best practices in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, the expectations for our profession will continue to remain low. 
In late 2012, I discovered an online community of Physical Education teachers sharing and exchanging ideas through 
Twitter.  These incredibly passionate teachers saw the same problems that I saw with regard to our profession and were actively looking to change.  As I grew more involved with this network of teachers, I saw how much it was improving me as a teacher and how the constant sharing and reflecting made for better learning experiences for my students at The Avery Coonley School. 

My continuous journey to improve led me to being featured on streaming webinars, online roundtable discussions, and video tutorials where teachers from all over the world could watch, ask questions, and request resources – all for free!  Through the connections I had made in the #PhysEd online community and a grant that I received from ACS, I was able to travel to Australia and Singapore in 2014, where I visited nine teachers in eight different schools.  Because of these connections I have gained an invaluable look at some of the most innovative schools, programs, and teaching methods in the world.

There was one problem that kept creeping up, however. Public speaking.  I had some pretty intense anxiety about being in front of certain groups.  Speaking in front of kids came relatively easy to me; however, speaking in front of adults was terrifying.  Presenting to parents during curriculum night or colleagues at a faculty meeting seemed to cause some serious fight or flight responses to take over.  It was something that I had to overcome if I wanted to help reshape the Physical Education industry. 

As I saw it, the only way to get better at public speaking was by doing more and more of it.  Despite my apprehension, I continued to do webinars, presentations for Illinois Physical Education teachers, and was even featured on several podcasts.  The feedback from those who attended or took part in my presentations reaffirmed that the work I was doing was meaningful and worth the amount of time, effort and – yes – the stress that I went through in the process.  Just as I was inspired by new ideas from my online colleagues, I was planting new seeds in the minds of Physical Education teachers and they were learning and growing as a result. 

 Last year, I decided to expand my reach and begin to give presentations on a national level.  I presented about Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment at the National Physical Education and School Sport Institute in Asheville, North Carolina last July.  In February and March, I presented at the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (San Diego) and the SHAPE America National Convention (Boston) about implementing technology to streamline student feedback. I also talked about how I enhance our Middle School sport units through the combination of two student-centered instructional models (Sport Education and Teaching Games for Understanding). The response to all of these presentations has been enthusiastic, which is of course rewarding and reassuring to me on multiple levels.

I am the product of the sacrifices of several immensely generous people.  My wife may think that I’m a bit on the crazy side, but she sees my passion and is wonderfully supportive to my cause and vision.  My parents’ hard work and strong emphasis on education paved the way for me to have the ability to choose my career path.  The encouragement and autonomy granted from The Avery Coonley School administrators, teachers, and families has allowed me to grow as an educator and reach students far beyond our community.  I have never and will never take these privileges for granted.  

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