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PE classes have come a long way, points out New Jersey wellness teacher Suzanne Horsley, whose job title reflects her district’s dedication to making the class about more than just physical exercise. When she was in school, “we tended to the movement side of things, but we didn’t necessarily attend to the emotional or the social.”
Today, in Horsley’s class, kids still get exposed to the standard fare of physical skills, but they also have ample opportunity to practice things like cooperation, team-building, perseverance, and kindness. All of her classes incorporate personal goal-setting, Socratic seminars, and time for personal and whole group reflection. One special feature is daily journal time, which supports goal-setting and self-awareness (not to mention writing practice). Even the youngest of students keep a journal—Horsley encourages her kindergarten students to draw their goals and accomplishments.
Horsley goes out of her way to create a space where all students feel comfortable trying out new physical skills. “Wellness is a class that we learn in front of each other,” she says. “It's not like any other subject area. So if we don’t set up a safe space for learning, we’re not going to have everybody involved in the learning process.”
To learn more about integrating SEL skill building in gym class, see Alli McKain’s article for Edutopia titled “Setting Up an SEL Program in Physical Education Classes” or Doug Curtin’s article “SEL Possibilities in Physical Education.”