Redefining Physical Education with Michael Jennings

Health and Physical Education are the most important subjects taught in our schools. This is not an opinion; it is a fundamental truth. Though we might try to convince ourselves otherwise, there is no philosophy, skill, or calculus that could override a human’s need to care for their own health. As the old proverb goes, “a healthy person worries about a thousand things; a sick person worries about only one thing.”

Educators, we should teach our young people to be healthy.

These young brains, bodies, and minds – busy learning how to speak and communicate, to organize and prioritize – are not metaphysical phenomena. They are, first and foremost, physical organisms, central to a student’s functioning. In the words of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, the human brain “did not evolve for you to think and feel and see, it evolved to control your body… everything we do, we do in service to the body.” In the light of this truth, we see that education should begin with the body. Learning to care for one’s own health and wellness is essential.

In recent years, educators have made great strides to enhance the fields of Health and P.E. – advocacy groups and educational hubs such as SHAPE America and state-specific leaders like CAHPERD (California), MAHPERD (Massachusetts), and IAHPERD (Illinois). Simultaneously, dedicated educators spreading awareness through a variety of creative avenues (like Andy Milne’s recent TEDx talk about the opportunity for the field to improve). And the field has shown, time and time again, its eagerness to advance.

Andy Milne & co. at the Barrington TEDx stage.

Enter Athlos, and its Director of Physical Education and Character Development, Michael Jennings. Jennings believes in the power of the platform, but agrees that we have a long way to go if we hope to maximize it.

Over the years, there have been signs that the field of physical education is being challenged. Jennings notices fewer job opportunities, funding being cut from in-school fitness, and decreased time in recess or free play. Though there are many reasons for the challenges placed on the field, Jennings notes a few core issues that he hopes to address.

Occasionally, P.E. departments have unnecessary resistance to outside assistance; instead, Jennings espouses a mindset that the more people at the table the better. If something is not going as planned within an organization, it seems like sound logic to bring outside perspectives on board. Solutions to difficult problems rarely come from inside the silo.

It is an interest in gathering a range of perspectives that inspired Jennings to host a fantastic event earlier this year. The event was titled Redefining PE, and it set out to reimagine the physical education to maximize its potential. There were presenters from a variety of fields and the genuine desire to learn and share. There were NCAA coaches, administrators, math teachers, business leaders and – of course – P.E. teachers. Jennings was proud to have speakers “from 14 different countries,” representing “such a broad spectrum of people all passionate about the importance of movement, physical activity, and physical education.”

The event took the physical education conversation out of its typical silo, says Jennings, which is always a good way to get started. Those who entrench themselves in their work have the opportunity to master their craft, but they also create blind spots. Jennings’ initiative offered educators the opportunity to pick their head up and communicate with people working one trench over – each an expert in their field, now collaborating.

If we hope to nurture the bodies and minds of future generations, breaking traditional molds of education is necessary. We were fortunate enough to discuss this and more with Jennings on a recent episode of the Good Athlete Podcast, where he shines a light on other pressing concerns, as well as his ideas on how to address them. (Hint: strength and conditioning is a massive opportunity in the PE space.)

Are you an educator? Coach? Any interested human being?? Check out the episode and share your thoughts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-117-mike-jennings-athlos-education/id1278410201?i=1000513474840