To the Teacher Class of 2021/2022

To the Teacher Class of 2021/2022,

In the final experience as a PhD Candidate at the University of Texas I sat impatiently waiting to be recommended by the College of Education’s Dean, Dr. Martinez, to receive my doctorate. As I sat there, UT’s Core Values were shared, and I was full of pride as I had and do affirm the university’s calls to action. I got to walk across the stage in my regalia and became Dr. Knipe. In the days after, as I reflect on my journey, I find myself wondering what these values look like for me and you as Health and Physical Education Teachers, Teachers Educators and Partners in this time in history and for us moving forward?

I am a person of faith and I know we are all here for a reason. The core questions for this blog are

-What difference are we called to instigate/make in this moment and within the communities we are in?

-What does it mean to have made it through a pandemic(almost), extreme bipartisanship, unforeseen misinformation, frequent school shootings and racial unrest like we haven’t experienced since the civil rights movement?

I would be remiss to continue without first acknowledging you as the reader. As teachers who made it this far….CONGRATULATIONS!!!. You have made it through and are either starting or getting close to some well needed rest here this summer. Not all of us made it. We lost lives and we also had teachers pushed out of our profession. I used to think it was the weak, the uncommitted, and the teachers that weren’t in it for the right reason who moved on from their post. As I matured and I watched some of the best teachers I personally knew stick to their beliefs and in their unwavering pursuit of what was best for kids being forced to ask themselves to compromise their values and beliefs for the job. In this way it had become a job. A life’s passion had been reduced to a paycheck as the passion and artistry of teaching for each child had been stripped from them. If this is you my advice would be first to try a new school. A fresh start in the same role may be just what’s needed to keep your passion afloat. For those of you who see no option that leads to the classroom right now or next year we hope someday you will find your way back.

For those of us who are staying in the field, what can we learn from UTs core values about where to go next? Learning, Discovery, Freedom, Leadership, Individual Opportunity, and Responsibility

Learning — A caring community, all of us students, helping one another grow. 

As I said in my 2020-2021 Microblog our field has been a great example of lifelong learning well before the pandemic but the free sharing in the #HealthEd and #PhysEd community was brought out and broadened out over the last two years. Taking on this role of students and sometimes teacher within the professional community is powerful as we open ourselves up to grow and to foster each other’s growth. Being reminded that we are not alone and that we are a part something bigger pushes us to pursue new solutions to age old problems together. In this hope we seek others and information that will shape our daily work and the experiences of our students. It is in these communities that iron sharpens iron, and we are renewed for the meaningful work.

The Call to Action

The call here is to continue to build and invite people into supportive and inclusive communities that provide time and space for deep and substantial growth. What role will you play in fostering or building a community at your School? District? On Social Media? Nationally?

Discovery — Expanding knowledge and human understanding. 

As a newly minted scholar, I have been inspired by those at the college level who have been learning from and partnering with those in K-12 schools. Why? I believe these practitioners and professors are challenging the traditional view of where, how and who constructs knowledge and who gets credit for the findings. See I believe the expert on teaching Health and Physical Education is the teacher teaching Health and Physical Education. The pedagogical expertise of how to reach today’s students is with those who are teaching today’s students. Furthermore, the ways that you move and lead in your school community and the broader community the school is embedded into also is where knowledge can be created. It is in these relationships through researchers and practitioners that rich and meaningful knowledge can be coalesced and shared by the duo or team with the field and world together. In this synergy the magic of discovery is taken full advantage of and can be used to elevate the field to its rightful place in education and society.

The Call to Action

The call here is finding a discovery partner.

Practitioners – who do you know that you can reach out to in order to partner with at the colleges and universities near you?

Academics – how can you take professional relationships that are stuck in acquaintance to partner? How can you maintain relationships with your students and help that relationship transform from between Professor and Student to colleague?

Freedom — To seek the truth and express it. 

So…. I struggle with the above statement. The statement reads “the truth” as if truth was out there and all we have to do is uncover it. The use of “the” also is singular as if there were one truth that was shared by all people. Another way of understanding truth is to see it as formed by groups or society. Therefore, because there is more than one society that has truth each truth is just as real, tangible and valid.

The Call to Action

The call here is to better understand your own truth and to learn to appreciate others’ truth. In this way of thinking neither group is wrong. At the same time two opposing truths can both be right. Seek to understand the other person’s view of the world. With an open heart, instead of in a patient attack mode ready to persuade them to take on your truth and abandon their “misunderstanding”. Express your truth but always humbly. Holding it only so tight to allow yourself the room to learn and grow.

Leadership — The will to excel with integrity and the spirit that nothing is impossible. 

There are many versions of leadership. In the statement above we are called to lead by example and to embody a growth mindset. To be the person in the room just crazy enough to believe they can change social systems and the world for that matter. The kind of leadership needed in our society requires us to abandon truths that no longer hold their weight. To challenge people and systems that don’t fit the future that is a place where as It’s Time Texas Founder Dr. Baker Harrell would say “The healthy choice is the easy choice”. We need to be just crazy enough to believe that our dream that a healthy and active lifestyle will be the norm. We need leaders like you to dream more and dream often. To create a vision of the world you want to live in, for your students and children and grandchildren to live into and empower others to work toward that new world.

The Call to Action

The call to action is to dream big and to share that vision. To lift up those also in pursuit and to lead the way.

Individual Opportunity — Many options, diverse people and ideas, one university. 

Replace the last word with field or program. For some of you, you see yourself as a steward of the field or your program. As a steward we have two options. We can be a custodian of the field/program for all that it was and currently is or we can be agents of change who seek to broaden, expand and deepen the mission and who is included as fellow agents and who is served by said vision. Our field and programs suffer from and perpetuate inequality. There I said it. It’s hard to type and hard to read. We love our field, but the reality is our field and society are not where we might want it to be. We still live in a society that hasn’t embraced the power and beauty of diversity. We live in a society that has not provided an equity in opportunities for all. Those with marginalized identities still do not have the access to a healthy and active lifestyle that we should all have the opportunity to benefit from. The socioecological model applied to physical activity and health helps us to understand that our opportunities are influenced by systems both locally and globally that limit our ability to choose healthy habits (Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/socialdeterminants/index.html). The good news is that these systems are socially constructed and if they are socially constructed then they can be dismantled, and new structures can be constructed that are more equitable. To enter into this work, we have to first believe that there is enough for all. That the worlds resources have more than enough to provide for all humankind the needs to not just survive but thrive.

The Call to Action

The call to action here is to be that person that believes we together can create a more equitable society for those with different abilities, sexual orientations, race, gender, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, and neighborhoods where the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Responsibility — To serve as a catalyst for positive change in Texas and beyond.

In place of Texas insert your state, town or neighborhood. “My actions may seem small, but their collective action will be great. Our actions may seem small but their collective impact will be great.”, from Kevin Carroll’s PE Pep Talk. If we believe in the power of the collective, then we know that each of us has a responsibility in our own spheres of influence. For some that sphere is their classroom. For others there are multiple spheres and for some those spheres overlap and shrink and expand. No matter how focused the circle or wide the reach the responsibility to each play our part must be owned by each individual. We need you to play your role. To play your role hard. Be willing to be fully present. And during those times that you can’t, be willing to step aside for the next person to assume that role as you find your next role.

The Call to Action

The call to action is to own your responsibilities as a member of the Health and Physical Education community. It’s your role. Only you can fulfill your role in the way only you know how. It’s your intersectional identity that makes you that perfect fit to hold those responsibilities and carry out the corresponding tasks. Only you.

Conclusion

As I close this chapter of my life and relinquish the roles I played during my 13 years in Austin (including UT Elementary Physical Education Teacher, Healthy Families Initiative Coordinator, After School Program Director, It’s Time Texas Ambassador, Sustainable Food Center Trainer, The University of Texas Graduate Student, AAPER President, and TAHPERD Committee Member) I am left feeling blessed for the ways individuals have poured into me. Through their words and door opening, I grew from an early career professional to where I am today. At the same time, just a couple weeks ago at the 2022 SHAPE America National Convention I was reminded that I am again at the starting line of a new role. In the fall I will take on the responsibilities that come with being an Assistant Professor at Southern Connecticut State University in the Physical Education Teacher Education. This is a role I don’t assume lightly. As any beginner I find myself feeling like an imposter questioning if I belong or if I am capable of fulfilling my calling. Many of my closest colleagues have been there for me in these moments and I have been reminded of my mentor Dr. Carolyn Masterson. She saw something in me as a fledgling undergraduate student. I can only hope to fulfill half of who she was/is to me.

In closing, I believe in you. I believe in the potential our field possess. So put your phone down or close your computer and start dreaming and doing. We need you.

Thank you for reading and I looking forward to hearing from you.

This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Bob Knipe, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of slowchathealth.com

Pair this blog post with the following:

Dear Parents by Matthew Bassett

Sex Ed Needs You by Christopher Pepper

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