Twisting Tuesdays, Bare-foot Kiwis, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss the importance of helping students focus with physical activities. What activities can teachers do with their class? How beneficial can they be? Plus, hear about the strange objects Adam would ‘throw’ at his class to keep them alert and moving!
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
Welcome to The School of School podcast.
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Alright, welcome back everyone. Here with Adam. Say hi, Adam.
Oh. Hi, team. How are we doing?
Yeah, Robin's here again. Robin, you're becoming a regular. That's good.
I managed to keep my mic from last time. Hi, everyone.
Alright. And today we're talking about starting the day with physical activity to help kids focus in the classroom. Before we dive into starting the day with physical activity, why is physical activity important for kids?
Oh, where do you begin?
I always thought kids were just supposed to sit down and be quiet in the classroom.
Yeah, no. I think that physical activity, it changes the way you think. Right? So, it's as simple as that. So if you're running around, if you're doing anything physical, then the way that you think, changes. Imagine yourself running, or imagine yourself doing something, getting out and just having a run around with no real purpose, that's going to help a lot more. I'm just thinking, when you're saying about starting the day, one of the, I think, most essential tools that teachers need, if they want a really good learning environment is trying to gauge where children are at as they walk through the door. And understanding where their heads are at as they walk through the door and you'll see it at times where children aren't in a good place, right?
So they've had an argument on the way to school, or they've had a fight with their brother or sister or whatever it might be. Now, it's quite difficult for them to then turn off from that and especially if, as a teacher, I'm putting a bit of heat on them and saying, "No, you've got to concentrate on your times tables." At that point, they could give a toss about their times tables. It is so irrelevant and unimportant to them because their head is still well and truly into whatever's happened before they've arrived at school. I think it just gives people a chance to reset, but that's not just for those children who have had a tough time, but I guess it just also allows for a bit of a blank canvas to start the day.
And a bit of an indicator that, yeah, we're finished from home. We've come into school now. We've done this, now we're ready to go.
So what does exercise do to you? How does it change you?
Robin, I'm relying on you with a bit of science here. Can we do that?
Well, obviously it's fitness, but it's focus. It does provide focus, which I think, Adam, you mentioned. And it also, once you get into the classroom, provides some sense of calm and just the ability to be able to learn better, there's no question. I've got a kid who-
Clears the mind.
It clears the mind. My son has been involved in a lacrosse programme at his school for the last few years and he also does another course in strength and conditioning. Well, the strength and conditioning happens before school starts, which I think a lot of our kids, if they're in activities, have sports and practises before school. And then his first block, for the last two years, was lacrosse related so whether they were doing cardio, training, doing strength training, or just practising . And then he had his courses for the rest of the day, and I think it just did him a world of good. Truly, he could just focus then, he'd already done all of this outdoor active play and then he just sat down and learned. And I mean, obviously it improves your mood, there's no question, you just feel better having been active.
My question though on that is, what about kids who aren't ... they don't like sports? They don't have a sporting activity to start their day off with. Then how do you encourage people to get them outside to move in some way, shape or form or inside?
That's a broader thing because I think that physical activity could fall into two camps. There's the one side of it, which I think actually is probably what you are talking about with your son, that there's a sort of programme and a structure. And with the aim of it is progressing, so getting better or getting stronger, or getting fitter, getting better at lacrosse, those sorts of things. So, I think there's that aspect to it.
But there's another side to it that's just physical activity for physical activity's sake. Just purely recreation or something to get the blood going, something to sort of oxygenate your body, all those sorts of things that's not intimidating. So it's not something where I have to be able to do this. Would it be a good thing to say, "Right, guys today we're going to play basketball." And the winners go through to the next round because then you have the children just sitting on the side because they were dreadful at basketball. So they got kicked out of the round, Robin, like first round and that's it. So it kind of defeats the purpose.
So I think it kind of falls into two camps is that if you want it just to be, this is the pushing reset on coming into school and this is just an indicator of us starting, then I think it probably needs to be more in keeping with recreational. But then it can actually start to build on that once people, I don't know, develop the skills, the trust and all of those sorts of things. In the same way, you may not start the day by saying, "Right, I'm just going to choose someone at random to read out loud." Because that might just terrify a child to bits and you just might think, well, what's the point? So, we build up on these things in the same way.
So then, in a school-type environment where it's not a school of athletes, right? You just got lots of kids, some of those maybe natural athletes and gravitate towards that kind of thing, and others who effectively are not prone to doing physical activity unless made to. What could a teacher do to try to incorporate some of these ideas in their own classroom, not a PE class, but let's say a Year Three class, what could you do? How could you incorporate this notion of physical activity in the classroom and maybe at the beginning of the day or several points in the day to clear the mind and get some of those juices flowing in the body? What could you do? Is it okay to get your kids to jump up and do a dance or whatever?
Is that okay?
Well, it sounds like a good idea.
Did they do that?
Yeah! I mean, I think when I was a kid they did do that. They'd have some name for ... I can't think off the top of my head, but let's call it 'Twisting Tuesday' and yeah, there's a song that plays and you get up and you move. Maybe you're dancing or maybe you're just moving around the classroom but something that's like five minutes and maybe that happens multiple times a day, in different ways or you're stretching or you're ... so you don't even actually leave the classroom. You don't even leave your desk. You might just stand up and do some bends.
Well, we used to do that. I used to do that all the time, where you'd just get the children to jump up, you needed a break, right? You needed something just to push reset, something's gone wrong or whatever, and literally 30 seconds. And I used to do it where there were three things, I'd roll a log, I'd pass a rugby ball, and I'd throw a knife and you're either duck, jump and sort of twist it around.
You're throwing a knife in the class?
Wait a second.
Isn't that dangerous?
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Well, you're going to duck, right? Well, what am I going to say, oh, I'm throwing a bunched up sock? No one's going to duck because you don't care. So if you're going to throw a knife, you better duck, right? So these three instructions simply jump up, let's do it to the point where it's too fast, they can't keep up, everyone laughs, right? Let's sit down and talk about this again, let's talk about this fraction again. What happened just before? What went wrong? And these sorts of things that everyone can engage in because they know it, they know the rules, they know it's going to end in being impossible. And it's just something that just says, right, let's just hit reset for a second, eh?
Should we just make sure.
And then we'll get back to it.
Adam, should we just make sure we say, do not try this at home. I mean, people may take the knife throwing-
Don't throw knives in the classroom.
Don't throw knives in the classroom.
You don't ... yeah-
Throw a sock.
Yeah. I'll stress that real knives weren't used, but you've got to create something that encourages someone to do something.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I think things like those, I think that little things like those, I mean it's a wee bit different to what we started out talking about where ... but I think it's like anything, everyone feels comfortable doing stuff when they know the rules right? When people don't know the rules, that's when it's sort of a bit reluctant and then it kind of defeats the purpose a wee bit. So I think that if we're just using something as just a way of ... I don't know, I keep using that phrase, 'pushing reset', just so you can just start again. This is-
Well, as adults, we kind of ... see, this is one of the things that I find a bit difficult to wrap my head around. I'm just remembering ... I know it's really different in schools now and I've observed enough lessons to know that it's really different. But when I went to school, it was much more formal, I guess, than it is now and certainly the schools I attended. The first primary school I attended to still had a girls' entrance and a boys' entrance, right? We weren't allowed to play together, it was kind of Victorian mindset in the school. You had no ... as an individual ... you weren't an individual in the classroom, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. You had no individual freedoms. You couldn't choose when you went to the toilet, you couldn't arbitrarily stand up and stretch or make a noise. It was really about conformance and sitting in rows and columns and just performing to the teacher's expectations, right? That was kind of how I remember very early ... not in kindergarten, not in reception, but let's say by the time you got to Year Two, Grade Two, that's kind of what it was like in elementary school for me.
And I think some of those structures still exist, kids don't have a tremendous amount of freedom to do things. I'm feeling all bunched up and I need to change something so that I can get my head back to where it needs to be, right? And as adults, we all do those things. I mean, it could be as mundane as getting up and going to pour a glass of water and coming back is enough to change your mind. Or in my case, I mean, I actually recently, I brought a guitar to my office and I just plunk the guitar there and when I get frustrated, I just bring out my guitar, I play the guitar for five minutes, my whole head ... it's like now I've switched all those ... things that were happening in my brain stopped happening and a whole bunch of different things happened in my brain that were totally unrelated to that other thing. And it's completely changed my ... and now I can go back to it with a complete fresh open mind, right? It's like that interruption of your brain patterns, you kind of need that to, like Adam said, reset, right?
But I think-
But the children don't get to determine when they get to do that.
No, and I think that varies from school to school because I remember that was a massive shock for me coming from ... there was one school in New Zealand that I worked at and it was the last one that I worked at before I came to England and it wasn't uncommon to see different classes just going out onto the fields. Now, we were lucky, we had a lot of fields around us, sort of rugby fields and that sort of thing, so we had plenty of space. But that might be because actually we've got the work done that we need to today, team, so what we're going to do is we're just going to go out and we're going to have a run. We're going to play a few games or whatever or it might just be one of those where this is what's needed.
But that was throughout the school, that was the ethos of the school, it was just the done thing. It was kind of like use your professional judgement as to when you're doing it and no, there weren't teachers out there every day from nine till three, just playing games and taking the mick. But I think the biggest shift when I came over here-
I'd be nice though.
I remember doing that. Oh, it was amazing and I remember doing it because that was the way that I'd been taught to teach. And I remember taking ... I'll tell you what, two things happen. Number one, in New Zealand, we wear bare feet everywhere. So the children said, "But it's not PE." And I said, "Don't worry about it. Just take your school shoes off, take your socks off, and we'll get on on the field. We're fine, we're good as gold. Come on, out we go."
So two things happen. Number one, everyone is appalled and upset and outraged that I've taken children out without shoes on their feet, that was the first thing. And the second thing was, is there's not enough time in the term anyway to get through all of the content, you can't just go out whenever you feel like it. And I just thought, well, I've been told, excuse me and my professional judgement to think actually this is going to be beneficial. This is going to be beneficial for these kids, the dynamic in the classroom, the all of those things. But it's the school that sets that tone, Andy, and you're right, there's plenty of schools that would see it as a waste of time. That we don't trust the teachers enough because actually what you should be doing is doing more learning, not out there playing a game or having a bit of fun.
The other thing is, oh no, that's for Friday afternoons. Oh, so you're allocated a space for fun outside? You know what I mean? And I'm being slightly facetious here because the children do like the Friday afternoons and whatnot. But there's a whole lot of things, professional judgment's one of them that I think that depends on how trusted you are and what you do.
Yeah. I think the challenge for schools is, you got to hire the right people, right? So you got to get teachers you trust. So if you're a school leader and you're in the fortunate position of being able to decide who's going to be working in your school, because that's not the case everywhere, right? In some places, you don't get to choose who the teachers are that you have to work with, the school union has a hard, big say or the school board or something, right?
You've got to get the right people that you trust and then let them do the job you hired them to do and that's really, really easy to say but for someone who's been running companies for a long time, it's really, really hard to do, right? But that's where you got to try to aim to get to and you know what, you're going to blow it sometimes or your teachers are going to blow it and they're going to make their own call. But you got to get beyond that, just got to trust them. Treat it as a learning experience, go for it.
Not everything is so high stakes, right? You can't panic because one teacher did something unexpected one day and just go, "Oh my God, the whole world has gone wrong and we need to..." I don't know, it's that trust culture, right? It's not there in schools a lot from what I can tell, trusting professional judgement , trusting ... why is that? Why do school's feel so hard done by, they feel like the gods are going to come down and-
Do something horrible to them. Yeah. Thor is going to bang his hammer and generate lightning bolts and change the world and give you misfortune for the rest of your life because you're not appeasing him.
Perhaps it's an image or a perception that they're trying to maintain.
I think ... well, there's two parts to it. I mean, there's one part that might be, realistically you get paid for bums on seats, right? So the number of children you have provides my budget. So if my school's seen as a school that, God forbid, they let run round in bare feet then there could be a mass Exodus of pupils, that affects my budget, that affects ratios in classrooms, those sorts of things. So there is that tangible bit but what I see most often is that there's a perceived ... it's almost like keeping your house clean in case the Queen comes, right? Now, we don't know if the Queen is ever going to come to my house, but you better keep it tidy and you better keep those biscuits in there because you just don't know. And if you don't have the biscuits, she'll probably come, it immediately ramps up the chance of them coming.
So I think there's this sort of like ... what's creeped in, certainly over the time that I've been here in the UK, is this, if I don't do the right thing in someone's eyes, that's it. The school's doomed, I'm doomed, the children are doomed. Everyone is literally doomed like a sinking ship. And I think that that's really sad because we've got these amazing, amazing teachers with amazing, amazing children with really supportive leadership teams that get scared. Yeah, that's a really difficult one to turn around because what they're worried about is the Queen turning up and trying to convince them that the Queen's not going to turn up or if the Queen is going to turn up, it's okay because she doesn't want the same building every time. And I think that that's the part that's missing, people are just so terrified of getting it wrong.
Yeah. They're worried that she's going to turn up while they're doing their twists or their dance at their desk or they're out on the playground just goofing around, having fun.
What about the flip side of that? What about teachers who maybe would not gravitate towards doing any physical activity whatsoever unless you made them do it? I don't like going outside, I don't like moving, I don't like it. I don't like music, I don't like dancing, I don't like any sports. I just like to read and I like to do math and that's my teacher, right? So should there be some kind of policy at the school that says you got to get the kids out, you can't just sit them down in a classroom and just do all the academic stuff all day?
The reality is, and I'm going to refer back to something you told me once, Andy, which was a great thing. I believe it's-
Don't believe anything I say. I just make stuff up as I go.
No, it's alright. I'm just trying to think. It came from your man, Zig Ziglar, I'll come back to it.
Zig. I love Zig Ziglar
I'll come back to it. Yeah. But the reality is that, look, you can write all the policies you want but when you get in the classroom and you close those doors effectively, you're the professional and you make those decisions. Is someone going to be keeping tabs on how often you go out onto the field? No, of course they're not. And nor would I want to work in a school that does that, that monitors how well you're doing it. So I think that the Zig Ziglar part was coming back to something that you said, you said it to me once and it was how you phrased, is knowing your children important and if the answer to that's yes. When should you start, what you would implement and understand that was straight away, obviously.
And I think that where that works in schools is you've got to see the impact on the children and unfortunately, often teachers are in silos, right? They're by themselves, so they don't see maybe, if they've never done it, they might not see the impact on the children. They might not see the worth or they might not see how it can diffuse a situation that they're having every morning or those sorts of things. And I think that that just comes back to leadership and coaching because all of us don't like doing some stuff.
I remember as a newly qualified teacher, now for those of you who ... you won't necessarily know this, but I had a Maori great grandmother and other than that, there's no Pasifika/Maori blood running through my body whatsoever. And in my newly qualified teacher year, so your very first year teaching, this head teacher said, "You're going to take on the Kapa Haka group." Which is a precious thing. So Polynesian children and Maori children and to perform. I was terrified but if you have the supports and those things, then it's okay. But I think that's the thing I think-
You learn the Haka?
I learned all sorts, it was awesome.
I had some amazing people from the community come in and teach me things and a lot of the Pacific cultures have slap dances. Oh, they're the best, man. That's for another time but yeah, no, I learned a huge amount but I was also utterly terrified and those sorts of things. But I think that's the thing for all of these teachers that don't do it, it's probably because they're intimidated too.
And so what's the best way of getting people motivated to do something? Well, in my experience, if you learn how to do it, you're not intimidated by it.
Then it just becomes like a choice then, but you're not doing it.
It's called getting out of getting out of your comfort zone and we don't like doing that.
But it's important to do. One thing you've mentioned a couple of times about the bare feet, my kids had the opportunity to spend a term in New Zealand going to school and that is one of my fondest memories. The rule of the primary school was you must come with shoes on and then after that, it's a free for all. And my daughter every day would come home with bare feet, happy, joyful. I loved it. So thank you for bringing that up because-
All kids should take their shoes off and run around.
It's one of my fondest memories too. The last time I went out there, we dropped my sister's youngest at the school and outside the front entrance were about 8 billion pairs of shoes right? So basically every child that's come to school has decided probably the same rule, right? You must wear shoes to get there. I felt like getting on the phone to the old school back in England and say, "Look at this! Look at this, nothing terrible has happened! Look at this. They're loving it out, they're running around in their bare feet." Anyway.
So I think the final, the top tip from all of this, what we've learned is let your kids take your shoes off.
Both literally and metaphorically.
I like it.
Absolutely right, Robin.
Yes. I love it.
No shoes required. Thanks everyone.
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