George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Teaching Personal/Social Management Skills in Physical Education

Harvey Zahn

Physical Education teacher, faculty advisor and author.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

In physical education, curricular requirements such as fitness development, motor skills and health knowledge must be pursued with vigor. But after my 38 years in the field, let me state the obvious. All teachers, specialists included, should consider their subject matter as secondary to teaching children. This primary mission occurs when we prioritize two goals:

  1. Building a sound relationship between teacher and student
  2. Guiding the student in the study of personal/social management skills (PSMS)

When students acquire PSMS, they are more likely to succeed academically, in play and in work. In the following section, I outline some PSMS strategies.

Time and Teacher Health

Every day, specialists are faced with students coming and going for short periods. It can be a struggle to find time for:

  • Catching a breath and reflecting during a lesson
  • Building a relationship with students
  • Writing some notes (see below)
  • Privately guiding individuals towards self-reflection and PSMS development

Two ways to create opportunities to facilitate the above in a PE environment include Green Time and Fun Fabulous Friday (FFF).

Green Time (Free Choice)

After students enter the gym and change into their active clothes, give them 5-7 minutes to choose among many activities: badminton, rope skip, basketball, wall climb, etc. During this time, make specific notes about individuals in the previous class, and then review notes made yesterday in order to provide feedback that is sincere, personalized and helpful about incidents that occurred. The Green Time allows you to discuss problems with a less emotional mindset. The conversation consists of just acknowledging an issue and a specific suggestion about how to handle it going forward. All discussions must be held in a nonthreatening, inviting mode. Over days, weeks and years, such communication develops healthy relationships and specific PSMS.

For a student who plays too aggressively, alienating his or her peers, begin with inviting or leading questions in private, such as:

  • "I called you in because I would like to help you with . . ."
  • "How are you today? Yesterday, you might remember that there was a problem with . . ."
  • "Have you thought of trying . . . ?"

Watching others at play with the aggressive student is an excellent modeling strategy or opportunity. "Do you see anyone who is having fun? What are they doing? How are they behaving? Would it be fun to play like that? Would you like to try playing like that? What would you have to do in order to play like that?" The student observes other players while considering the set of questions posed. Afterward, send him or her out to practice whatever surfaced during the discussion.

Fun Fabulous Friday (FFF)

Every two weeks, provide students with a multitude of activity choices that include everything an educator can bring into the teaching environment. These might include: climbing frame, table tennis, various active electronic devices, dance station, etc. FFF activities give you a more extended opportunity to continue the strategies noted above. More detailed PSMS development ensues. Some astute readers might imagine that students could take an affront at missing a chance to participate fully in FFF or Green Time. However, you need to spend only a short time with each student. When he or she returns to play, call another student over for a conference. As you develop a relationship with the student and he or she gains insights about how to interact more successfully, these conversations are enjoyable for both parties.

During FFFs, you have an opportunity to conduct a short roleplaying scenario either privately with the student or including another classmate. To promote tone awareness, give examples of how saying the same thing in different ways affects how one is received. After roleplaying, send the student out to participate in the FFF for a short time, and then call him or her back after a while to review how well the suggestions worked. This type of guided practice helps students absorb the lessons of PSMS development.

Students' PSMS development takes time and practice, as I discuss in my book, Teaching Elementary Physical Education in the Calm Zone. The teacher's notations about student behaviors are scientific and sometimes even bureaucratic, yet success comes only with detailed observation and a human touch.

Was this useful? (1)

Harvey Zahn

Physical Education teacher, faculty advisor and author.

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Khadijah Haywood's picture
Khadijah Haywood
7th grade Language Arts

This blog is helpful for teachers who teach core content subjects as well. It is important teachers need to reflect and catch a breath. I think about the days I just need to use the restroom. Sometimes you need the break in order to regroup.

Linda Kardamis's picture
Linda Kardamis
middle school math teacher in Ohio - I blog at

Great thoughts! I would add that when you ask questions wait patiently for the student to respond..... and try to get to the heart of the more complex issues -

Harvey Zahn's picture
Harvey Zahn
Physical Education teacher, faculty advisor and author.

Am I to understand that you purchased my book and are unhappy with the content? If so, why leave such an abrupt comment? I have never experienced such a comment. Ironically the book in good measure is about relationship building and ways to develop social/emotional skills. I am trying to follow my own advise and hold my tongue in response to your "feedback."
As for the material end I wouldn't even know how to refund money to you. Also the majority of the cost goes to the publisher and book seller ( McNally). Aside from the countless hours I spent writing, the cost of publishing and selling is more than any return I get. I wrote it from passion and commitment not for economic gain. The book is clearly a very detailed extension of the blog, which apparently attracted you in the first place. I am sorry to have disappointed you in some way. I have yet to receive any negative response from other educators. I would suggest to return the book to McNally.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

@Harvey, the comment in question named someone else, not you, and had nothing to do with your blog post. In any case, the comment has been deleted, since it was off topic.

Molly Curtis's picture

Thank you for your insights. I couldn't agree more that teaching is about creating a positive relationship with each student as well as preparing them to develop personal/social management skills. I particularly liked the idea of having quick conferences with your students once in a while. My students have physical education everyday so we have Fun Friday every week and this is a great idea that I am going to try to implement. Thanks!

fbcps's picture

I teach Middle School Phys Ed and Health and we have been doing a "green time" type start to our classes for several years. We use "Green time" for when students are getting changed in the locker rooms; when a student is done changing, they get to come into the gym and engage in activities while the rest of the students get changed, as opposed to sitting and waiting for attendance. This also allows us to actually talk and connect with our students when they come into the gym one by one. In Phys Ed, most classes are typically very large, and it becomes very difficult to get to know kids on a personal level. With Green time, they not only get to hone their physical skills in a low pressure environment, but also talk and connect with the teachers. Does anyone else use this time for a similar purpose? I'd be interested in hearing what others are doing during changing time as well.

fbcps's picture

Another part of this post that I have found has a strong impact on the social and emotional education of a Physical Education class is where the author described removing overly aggressive students from the class and having them watch their peers who are able to appropriately play with one another. I have found this to work on both the elementary and middle school level, as we all know that you can tell a student something over and over, yet sometimes it takes them actually getting to see it in action before they fully understand, especially if it involves their peers. This method has proven to be far more successful to me than trying to correct a student in front of a group while giving instruction, and especially more effective than raising my voice. Has anyone else seen similar results?

Ms. Samp's picture

Hi Harvey,

I really enjoyed reading your blog on teaching personal/social skills in the Physical Education classroom. I myself am a Physical Educator so I couldn't agree more with having those connections with students gives a different interaction with us as Physical Educators. I especially like the green time idea in using that time to interact with the students and giving them that free choice. However, how did you balance green time with locker room duty and no supervision in the gymnasium if you have locker room duty? I feel this would definitely be something I would like to try with my students this next school year. Thank you for sharing this I can't wait to try this with my students this upcoming school year!
-Jenna Samp

Harvey Zahn's picture
Harvey Zahn
Physical Education teacher, faculty advisor and author.

Hi Jenna,
I am pleased that you can see value in this simple concept of Green Time. Now for the complex parts. Allow me to beat around the bush before I attempt to answer your question. Teachers are clearly central players and need time for themselves. Without a healthy teacher, relationships with students are more likely to have elements of frustration or worse. Even just a medatative moment to sip tea can be of value in this regard. Then one needs time to jot a note or two about incidents from the last class to be used next time when those students return, which will make those conversations far more pointed, rather than vague remembrances -- one of several elements adding to the success of these interactions. Finally, this time is also when you refer to your notes from the last time this class came to you. In doing so, you call the student (s) in question to your (relaxed) side, and perform your relational magic ( the hardest part of this process). If i can be so bold, I write all this for you to show to whoever organizes your time. If I understand your situation, there is some duty in the hall/locker room as well as the gym/classroom? That is educationally questionable. For the reasons I outlined above unless you are a quantum particle you cannot do two jobs at once and there is a job to be done for those 5-7 precious minutes at the beginning of each class. I hope reason trumps tradition. If I misunderstood your dilemma I would be happy to try again.
Much luck and health

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.