Controlling the climate of culturally diverse classes in physical education
What goes into the anatomy of designing culturally responsive environments? Often as physical activity professionals, we fail to consider the effect of how the physical environment can inspire or discourage students who come from different backgrounds. How we design our physical spaces for learners is not only a practical consideration to showcase what we do, but a mark of an excellent teacher and a practice of responsible pedagogy. In fact, the physical appearance of the classroom or gym could be the most important initial gauge of the teacher’s mission statement and philosophy of physical education.
While many of our students have been the beneficiaries of positive environments for physical activity, the majority of students enter spaces that resemble little more than a holding tank, not only in appearance but in the way the place “feels”. Oversight such as this has drastic implications for students. The physical makeup of our areas and how it impacts learning for diverse students is an overlooked area of focus which is worthy of our attention. Probst (1974) noted that individuals of diverse groups assess educational environments using three fundamental questions:
1) Can this place be mine or adjusted to me?
2) Can I produce results here?
3) Can I relate and get along with others who are here?
Reflecting for a moment upon these questions gives greater insight into the perspective of diverse learners as they enter our physical education classes. For us to consider the perspective of the diverse learner in our class, we only need to think about past situations in which we have not felt comfortable.
"The messages we send go far beyond the words that come out of our mouths".
It has been postulated that 60-90% of communication is non-verbal. Given this, it is important to understand that the messages we send to culturally diverse learners in our physical education classes are not always spoken. When considering that many of the structures in schools are predominantly Eurocentric in nature, this is a very important aspect which should not be disregarded. When diverse learners are constantly surrounded by images which reflect the dominant culture in terms of curriculum, practices, languages, routines, and activities, the smallest of details which are familiar to these learners can assist in promoting success for these students. These details could serve as a first step in breaking barriers, relieving tensions, and addressing apprehensions.
While a responsible educational climate is only as good as the instruction and learning that takes place, the climate does help to lay the foundation for what is expected of students, who many not fully understand the importance of rules, routines, and curriculum initially. It is up to us as teachers then, to take the role in the promotion of equitable practices in our classes.
Using Probst’s three questions as a guide, let’s consider aspects which can be found in culturally responsive gyms and physical education spaces, which can be transmitted to students without the need for excessive verbal communication. Rather, these are aspects that they can uncover in a relatively short period of time:
Can this place be mine or adjusted to me?
Syllabi (as age appropriate)
Posting student produced projects and assignments
Posters/images of athletes from various racial backgrounds
Posters/images of athletes regardless of gender
Posters/images of athletes regardless of sexual orientation
Representations of athletes from different backgrounds in underrepresented sports
Posting images of the community and from the community
Having objects included in class made from various textures, materials, and colors
Not promoting dance activities as the sole means of introducing cultural activities in physical education
Avoiding a sole emphasis on a cultural group simply because of the calendar (i.e. Black History Month)
As necessary introducing different languages into physical education routines and class commands
Creating a mural or bulletin board
Reflective wall pieces (RWP’s)
Introducing music and sounds from different cultures in class
Can I produce results here?
Promoting rules which state rewards and consequences for behavior
Avoiding bias toward “favorite students”
Having equipment for students of various abilities
Having consistent consequences for students
Rewarding examples of correct behavior
Modeling appropriate practice in physical education as an educator
Not picking the same students to be class leaders
Not picking the same students to be class leaders in order to keep them “on task”
Referring equally to boys and girls in class
Having appropriate student modeling of activities regardless of gender
Advocating for quality resources for the physical education program, regardless of location
Posting positive affirmations of success and setting high expectations (particularly for urban students)
Can I relate and get along with others who are here?
Partnering students from different backgrounds and gender and appropriate
Presenting games and activities from each individual’s culture
Highlighting the cultural contributions of different groups to physical education and sport
Cooperative activities with group discussion
Posting a bulletin board which gives a brief description of what people like to participate in
Using older students as guides/role models for younger students
Enforcing rules consistently for all, regardless of who they are
Providing praise for students, regardless of who they are
Giving student’s choice in the selection of some activities
Giving student’s choice in choosing types of equipment used to learn skills in physical education
Creating a scrapbook, video record, or time capsule of activities from the past year(s)