Advocating for the subject that we love, is an important role that we can all play and I am delighted that this week’s blog post is written by an educator and passionate advocate for whom I have nothing but the utmost respect. Read about Jamie Spark‘s journey from the classroom to roles at a state level and check out the actionable steps that WE CAN ALL take to advocate for quality health and physical education. Jamie will become the next President of SHAPE America in April and I am confident that he will continue to speak up for us, our teachers and our subject. You WILL want to join him in his advocacy work!

In 2010, I exchanged my whistle and my athletic work attire for a suit and tie.  Even though it was actually more business casual most days, transitioning from health and physical education teacher to the Kentucky Department of Education was a dramatic shift in my career.

I quickly noticed a pattern of feedback as I stood regularly stood in front of large numbers of my fellow health and physical education teachers. Countless educators were disgruntled with the lack of support of their profession and role in contributing to the health and academic success of students from the state and even their local school. The existing problems within the profession was even more amplified by over a decade of high stakes accountability. The legislation and implementation of No Child Left Behind focused on a few “core” subject areas, minimizing the importance of and even excluding health and physical education. Teacher experiences for health education and physical education were all too common. Teachers….

  • Received little or in most cases, no professional development support, and if they did have access, it was typically a requirement to attend training events outside of their area of teaching, such as writing or reading comprehension.
  • Did not have access to relevant or current curriculum.
  • Were given minimal time to teach their curriculum including the impossibility to cover what was required with state standards.

As a result of this experience, I quickly started to form an area of focus that would soon become my passion… advocacy! I had the self-realization that there is much more I could be doing for a profession that I deeply believed in the value of. Even though educators needed an outlet to complain, complaining was not going to get us anywhere.  My fellow professionals need the support and training to better use their voice. This quote from The Lorax has become one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I reflect on being “called-out” by a person at a Coordinated School Health meeting one time, “you are very passionate Jamie, but only the people in this room can hear your message”.  With change in mind, I began to invest my time and talents into advocating for my profession.  I have a deeply held belief that health education and physical education are the two most important subject areas in education. I truly believe that my fellow HPE teachers are the most important teachers in their building. However, as a nation, our current educational priorities do not align to this reality.

Continuing to do nothing was simply not an option. One of the first steps in doing my part to advocate for health and physical education included embracing social media, like Twitter. It is also why I began my initial involvement at the state association level and has now included various roles with the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD).  In 2014, I joined the board of directors with the American School Health Association (ASHA) and served on both the advocacy and professional development committees. In March 2018, I was elected as the President for SHAPE America. I will begin my presidency at the SHAPE Tampa convention this April.  I learned that volunteering through service in a professional organization was an effective way to advocate to decision makers and policy makers.  It also has continued to serve as a call to action for others to get engaged and involved in advocacy!

On March 5 and 6th, I look forward to attending my fifth SHAPE America Speak Out Day in Washington, D.C.  Advocates, including higher education professors, health and physical education teachers and other educators from around the country will be meeting with members of Congress to tell our story and share our successes thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  ESSA is a huge step forward identifying health education and physical education as a well-rounded subject.  This definition makes health and physical education eligible for federal title funds for the first time ever.  It’s a historic step forward, however, we still have a lot of work to do to further improve the profession. It takes EVERYONE getting involved and using their voice.  If the skill of advocacy is an identified skill outcome of effective health education, I believe it’s time for professionals to commit to model our own health literacy and be the best advocates we can. Even if you are not able to attend #SpeakOutDay in person, you can still advocate by…

  • Using SHAPE America’s Action Center to email your members of Congress
  • Follow and Tweet support for #SpeakOutDay on Twitter and social media
  • Send a Health and PE letter of support to your local newspaper (there is a template in the action center)
  • Backyard advocacy: invite policy makers to your school to participate in quality HPE experiences

I am excited to continue to be an advocate for health and physical education. I am no longer working at the state DOE, my new role with ETR allows me the opportunity to speak out even more because our mission is health equity! Our students deserve more, our communities deserve more and “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

See Jamie Sparks in action in his video looking at Health Equity through the lens of Health and Physical Education.

3 thoughts on “Advocacy

  1. I’ve been impressed with Jamie Sparks for a long time, and I’m totally thrilled that he’s now working at ETR–I work there too, and sometimes I get to work with him. It’s such a delight to see his inspiring column in one of my favorite blogs. Thanks for your passion, Jamie. And thanks for posting, #slowchathealth!


    1. I’ve gone from being in awe of Jamie, so much so that when I first saw him at an ASHA conference I was too nervous to speak to him, to driving to a mural in Nashville together so we could take a photo together. He’s an inspirational educator and a man of many hats (I saw him in a stetson once).


  2. Pingback: The PE Playbook – February 2019 Edition – drowningintheshallow

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