If you can see it, you can be it: The visibility of female coaches in international school team sport

‘I misjudged you…’ the father of one of our students said, shaking the hands of my co-coach and I as the full-time whistle blew. ‘You do know football’. Our team had just won the championship final in our local conference. I took his hand, smiled, and thanked him for his support.

Later, as we reflected on the competition, we wondered about his ‘compliment’. Would this have happened to a male coach? Would we have had to ‘prove’ our coaching abilities through our team’s performance, or would our experience have been assumed from the offset?

It has been a topic of some discussion between the two of us (we coach the female football teams at our school together) over the past few years. We have faced numerous issues during that time – from fielding regular challenges to our decision making from (always) male parents, that range from long-winded emails picking apart our coaching strategies, to outwardly aggressive verbal challenges during competitive events. We have faced incidents of hostility or overt rudeness from male coaches of opposition teams – one I remember vividly, when I challenged a coach from the opposing team that we were playing, who thought it appropriate to sit his entire boys squad directly behind our dugout so they could shout and cheer just metres away from our bench, disrupting our coaching and intimidating our players. His reaction to my polite request for them to move to their own teams area was met with a smirk and a refusal. My blood boiled. What sort of example was this coach setting his young, impressionable players? That girls sport didn’t matter? That you can disrespect female teams and coaches? Again, I wondered – would he have done the same thing to a male coach? Having discussed these experiences with my male colleagues in some depth, I can say fairly confidently that the answer would be no. Nor have they had to deal with any such issues, or challenges, with the regularity that we have faced. Fortunately, we have always collectively had enough self-belief to push on. But, for those female coaches who may be less-experienced, or less-confident, these sorts of negative experiences can be devastating, and perhaps reflects the low number of coaches we see in our conferences, or why some decide not to even volunteer in the first place.

Indeed, it has been noticeable for us throughout this time, as we have coached girls teams through the high-school level, that we are distinctly in the minority. We are always surprised and pleased when we see that we are playing against a school that also has a female coach. It happens rarely.

As a result of this experience, we were intrigued to see whether this was also the case in other international schools and sports conferences. We wanted to know more about the prevalence of female coaches in international school sport. Was our own experience an exception, or the rule?

Whilst there remains some difference in participation rates between boys and girls when it comes to playing sports in international schools, there does seem a greater sense of equality, at least in our experience.

Gone are the days when female sport was an afterthought.

There are now lots of great programmes and opportunities in international schools for girls to play sport, both locally and internationally. At our school, boys sport does not receive any preferential treatment in terms of equipment or coaching space. The girls teams get the same opportunities to train and play, and are included in all events.

However, one of the things that has always struck us when coaching our own varsity (U19) football team is the large number of male coaches running the other female varsity teams in our local conference. Out of eight schools, we have consistently been the only female coaches in our conference for teams at this level. Occasionally another female coach appears for a season, only to be replaced by a male coach once again the following year.

Not only have we often been the only female coaches in the conference for girls football, but Sadie has been the only female non-PE staff member that has had any involvement in coaching any sports teams at our school.

So why does this matter? We are huge believers in the importance of representation, in all aspects of life. As the actress Elizabeth Marvel said, “If you can see it, you can be it”. We genuinely believe that girls NEED to see females playing, and coaching, sport more. We see the difference it makes when they have female role models, who challenge the ideas held by themselves, their male peers, their parents, and society more broadly. We are able to empower them in a way that male coaches cannot, because they do not know what it is like to be under-represented, under-estimated and overlooked. It is important that they have opportunities to learn from female coaches who are passionate and knowledgeable, and who will push them to reach their potential. I’m not saying that male coaches can’t also do this. But when it is ONLY male coaches they see, and learn from, of course it will reinforce the perspective that sport remains a male-arena, and one in which women cannot truly be considered equal.

Indeed, whilst there is much to praise about the equality and gender balance found in international school sport, it is still far from perfect. In our own conference there remains a lack of competitive opportunities for female teams in some age groups, due to other schools failing to field teams in those age groups (i.e. failing to promote and actively encourage more girls to take part). More recently, we had to challenge the organiser of a local tournament who scheduled the competition in such a way that the girls teams were going to play a substantially lower number of games than the boys teams. We don’t believe there was any overt sexism in the decision making process, but on the other hand it was only rectified because we, a female athletic director and coach, highlighted it as an issue – it had gone unnoticed and unchallenged by our male counterparts.

As a result of our experiences, we were curious to find out more about the situation at other international schools. Do other schools have similar problems recruiting female coaches and increasing female representation?

In order to do so, we created a survey on the issue of female coaches, which was completed by 43 participants from a range of countries and international schools. This included Athletic Directors, Heads of PE, PE teachers, Aquatics Directors, a Deputy Wellbeing Director, an Assistant Headteacher, and a Head of Secondary. These staff represented a range of different size schools and different curriculums (British, Scottish, American, Canadian, Australian, Malaysian and IB).

These schools offered a range of different sports, and when it came to team sports the most popular were Football/ Futsal (90.7%), Basketball (90.7%), Volleyball (81.4%), Baseball/Softball/Cricket (51.2%), and Rugby (27.9%).

When looking at which of these sports teams had a female lead coach, Volleyball had the best female coach representation (62.8%), followed by Basketball (60.5%). However, female football teams were the least likely to have a female head coach, at just 46.5% – less than half of the schools surveyed.

Whilst in some schools there were female head coaches all the way through the school, upon closer observation head coach positions were slightly more weighted towards the primary and middle-school aged teams.

It was however really encouraging to read that in a number of schools there were female head coaches for boys teams, particularly for rugby.

We also asked respondents whether there were any difficulties in recruiting female coaches at their schools. The majority said ‘No’ (41.9%) – mainly due to the prevalence of female PE staff that were able to coach a number of teams. However, 34.9% of respondents said that there were barriers/difficulties in recruitment, and 23.3% of respondents answered that they were unsure.

In terms of these perceived barriers to recruiting female coaches, the responses received fell into four distinct categories:

  • Family and childcare responsibilities – a difficulty in balancing teaching and family responsibilities, especially with late finishes and weekend games, were cited as reasons here.
  • Cultural factors – both in terms of the wider culture of the country in which the school is situated, and the culture of the school and PE department responsible for coordinating coaches. One respondent identified that the masculinity of Latin America culture presented a barrier to the greater recruitment of female coaches. In terms of the culture of the PE or athletic department, another respondent described how coaching positions were more likely to be given to male members of staff because they were viewed as ‘more able’ to coach a team successfully.
  • Not asking about possible coaching opportunities during the recruitment process – One respondent mentioned how difficult it was to recruit teachers to Bangladesh, let alone teachers that were able to coach sports teams – therefore it was not something the school sought out, or prioritised.

An interesting quote from one respondent highlighted the following:

Education is a predominantly a female dominated profession, all of the females I have worked with wanted to be involved, so I would suggest that if you struggle for female coaches, perhaps you are doing something wrong in the recruiting process?

Another respondent answered:

I do not think my school does a good job of recruiting for this in teaching posts. You have to actively recruit if you want to employ potential female coaches.

This certainly raises an interesting argument for schools starting to consider what teachers are able to offer during the recruitment process. As already expressed however, for some schools the ability of staff to contribute to sports teams and programmes may be very low on the list of desirable qualities they are seeking.

  • Confidence and a lack of coaching qualifications – Unsurprisingly there tended to be less qualified female coaches (or those with some prior experience). Several respondents cited a lack of knowledge or confidence from female staff, or a feeling that male coaches would be better for teams as students would respond to them better.

Whilst there were certainly many positives to be found in our survey results, and indeed it appears that there are many international schools and conferences with much better representation of female coaches than ours, statistically speaking, it is also clear that this still remains an issue that needs to be addressed more widely.

As a result, we thought that we would outline some recommendations for doing just that below:

  1. Increase coach education opportunities for female coaches – if the issue is a lack of knowledge, confidence or qualifications, consider how this can be addressed. Many NGBs now run online coaching courses, making them much more cost effective and accessible. Other strategies that have been used in our own conference have included PD days/ knowledge sharing exercises where staff from different schools come together to share ideas or run practical sessions. We have also reached out to external clubs and coaches and invited them to run coach education events.
  2. Approach your female staff. Ask them what they feel are the main barriers to their involvement in your sports programmes. Ask them how these could be alleviated. Perhaps something as simple as providing assistant coaches to help share coaching responsibilities could make a difference, particularly for those with families or responsibilities outside of school.
  3. Create, share and implement codes of conduct within your school and conference communities. This should include guidelines for parents, the managing of parent expectations by the Athletic Director or school administration, and an emphasis on your unwavering support of coaches if and when issues occur.
  4. Be clear about your philosophy from the offset, and spend some time trying to negate any worries that staff may have about putting themselves forward. Whilst some schools offer stipends for coaches, many do not. When done right, coaching requires a great deal of time and investment, and it should at the very least be enjoyable and rewarding for those who volunteer.

In closing, we would encourage schools to be more aware of the issue of female visibility in international school coaching, and to actively seek to appoint and empower female coaches. There must be a drive to increase representation across all levels, which in turn will benefit and empower our female students.

Written by Laura Davies & Sadie Hollins, 14th March 2021

Is the Active Mile initiative another form of draconian regulation?

I am a huge advocate for getting young people moving in ways that they enjoy. I have been told though, that I am known for casting a critical eye on what seems to be very ‘normal’ and ‘okay’ to most physical educators such as gender segregation or the continuation of elimination sports (urgh). I haven’t always been this critical, it took a PhD and intense study of our discipline to learn how we control, regulate and classify students. After taking doctoral classes with the amazing Dr Aaron Kuntz @aaronmkuntz, I learnt of the remarkable work of Michel Foucault, a famous French philosopher. Foucault’s work allowed me to see problematic practices in PE with different goggles and begin to question them. In this blog, I will share some of the reasons why the Active Mile initiative (and those of similar elk, e.g. couch to 5K, fitness testing, etc.) are notably problematic. But first, we need to understand a little bit about Foucault’s theoretical position, please see this as a reductionist view and in such a short blog, I couldn’t possibly do Foucault’s work justice.

Foucault noted that ‘schools serve the same social functions as prisons and mental institutions- to define, classify, control, and regulate people’. Ok, but what could that mean in PE?

Defining and classifying students: less able > more able by (largely) a physicality spectrum.

Controlling students > giving certain groups of student’s specific tasks in line with their showcased ability or having all students run laps for a warmup (P.S. probably one of the most boring warmups I see – sorry!).

Regulating people > advising how much exercise and what nutrition students should consume in line with normative ideas and cultural norms.

‘Regulation’ ‘Discipline’ ‘Control’

You might be thinking, woah these are all good things, we need students to be ‘fit and healthy’, which tells me three possible things: you may have adopted the idea that we should be governing our bodies through rules, routines and practices so you regulate students in specific ways (biopower). Two, that you may have inherited our PE history and adopt how you were ‘trained’ as a student in PE. Lastly, maybe your teacher training didn’t provide enough space for you to question these ideas or you have been completely ‘washed-out’ by what you see in schools and adopt what everyone else is doing. Either way, it’s not all bad, we can make changes to our pedagogies and curriculum, but first, we must see the problems in our curricula. So here is my critique for the active mile initiative.

The Active Mile initiative is a 15-minute walk or jog (often equating to one mile) largely done by primary school students to increase physical activity time in schools. It is carried out by a whopping 79 countries and over 6000 schools in England. For more information see here: https://thedailymile.co.uk/. The initiative should be ‘FUN: The Daily Mile is physical activity in a social setting and must be fun for the children. They can chat to their friends as they run along enjoying the experience together’ and researchers have claimed that the initiative has the potential to reduce the weight of students, improve self-esteem and on-task behaviour, that it is cost-effective and increases sporting performance, amongst several other benefits. See the summary of research in policy briefing documentation:  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/877150/Evidence_and_Policy_Briefing.pdf.

However, after seeing the Active Mile in action in schools (pre and during Covid) and been informed on the initiative from several colleagues in the profession I have several concerns about its use. Please note, I am not talking about all schools here, I imagine there are spaces where the initiative is carried out with students in a democratic way and I invite those schools to comment and share their practices. The issues are that some schools carry this initiative out instead of PE (against policy briefing advice), students are required to walk or run around a netball court continuously and aren’t allowed to speak and the teacher stands in the middle shouting at students to go faster or stop talking (this sounds like prison to me), some students are forced to take part in this initiative even if they do not want to (using physical activity as a punishment) and schools are recording and publishing data as a form of surveillance of their students (rewarding and punishing some students based on results). I believe, the Active Mile carried out in these ways can put students off moving altogether and be extremely detrimental to movement choices long-term… causing serious harm.  

Moreover, activities such as the active mile and fitness testing regimes remove the individual choice of movement activity. Students no longer gain autonomy and freedom over movement choices as they are socially conditioned into data, numbers and behaviour markets. The end goal here is no longer finding a love of movement, but an outlet that students can be conditioned towards certain behaviours and slot into a governed society that functions through rewards and sanctions for those that do/not conform. Praise comes as public rewards for completing miles and sanctions in the form of vilifying and singling out those that do not partake (or partake slowly). These are the consequences of movement forms that regulate students into specific ways of being and are highly problematic in participatory democratic forms of being in society. Students way of knowing to move in specific ways become limited in their selections.

At the time of writing and rewriting this piece over several months of lockdown in England, I have noticed that many students enjoy activities that promote risk, precarity and fear such as skateboarding, aerial, and parkour. Skateboarding is huge in my local area, at the weekend I saw 32 young people jump the fence to get into the not even finished, but newly built skatepark in Newham, London. These activities are more likely to produce rushes of adrenaline, ways of knowing and being that cannot be regulated and produce citizens more likely to question status-quo ways of moving and being (walking a mile around a playground – similar to prison). Thus, I invite readers to maximise students ways of being and moving in exciting, meaningful ways that can be risky, inventive, innovative, that take students out of their comfort zones to provide challenge and experience, which might be a more engaging, stimulating, and a life-long way to promote the elusive ‘physically active life’ we are striving for. An example might be those stated such as skateboarding or parkour, which also serve as forms that challenge gender norms constructed in physical spaces. Further, providing culturally relevant activities such as those that invite student voice into the teaching space, where students can and should ultimately tell us the ways that are important for them to learn to move. 

In conclusion, recycling old forms of regulation into the PE space is not only reproducing inequity in our curriculum, which is detrimental to a socially just society, but highlights a further opportunity to challenge our practice in ways that should and can be reinvented for Gen Z’s and all those that come after them. We are better than that as a professional discipline. So, I leave you with a question, how is your space challenging norms, traditions and status quo movement opportunities for students to experience empowering opportunities? Let’s share and make our profession better for our students.

Written by Dr Shrehan Lynch, @DrLynchEdu, 5th of March 2021

Teaching PE during and after Covid-19

Have you ever thought how is to teach PE during the Covid-19 pandemic? What is lost (or gained)? Have you ever imagined what would be the future of PE after the pandemic?

PE has always been a very ‘hands on’ subject. However, we are now seeing that many aspects have changed in PE because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. We are seeing more individual activities, some online delivery of the subject and less physical contact. Teachers also seem to have added extra responsibilities and tasks to their roles as teachers, such as the cleaning of equipment and making sure that students keep their distances and wash their hands frequently. The added roles that PE teachers now have incorporated into their jobs (e.g. acting as school cleaners to disinfect equipment, or police officers to check the distance kept between students) could potentially increase PE teachers’ stress, anxiety and emotional exhaustion. These factors can thus eventually contribute to PE teachers’ burnout as a result of job stress caused by the new restrictions and rules implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A whole atmosphere of fears and insecurities has arisen with the pandemic. Fears about being infected with the virus, and insecurities from the teachers regarding how to plan the best possible classes given the circumstances. However, not everything is on the negative side of the spectrum. Some teachers see some advantages in using more technology for their classes, and some others, took this as an opportunity to conduct more classes outdoors and emphasise content related to nature and outdoor education. Teachers are also feeling nostalgia – that is, a wish to go back to the delivery of PE in the way it was done before the pandemic.

Nevertheless, we cannot avoid wondering if we are witnessing a change in the nature of PE? Are we facing a radical change in the constitution of the PE field? What would be the future of the subject? Change has been a common historical trend in PE, however, changes are now happening at a rapid and uncontrollable rate. Changes usually involve fears and insecurities, that is, fear towards the unknown. These changes are occurring in regard to content and context of the subject, as well as behaviours, tasks and responsibilities of teachers. We are now witnessing a PE subject where there is little or no physical contact, more individual activities, and added tasks and responsibilities for the teachers.

Understanding how the pandemic has impacted (and still impacts) the subject of PE and its delivery could create opportunities for more discussions and possible solutions for dealing with PE in regard to the Covid-19 situation, and thus help facilitate necessary adjustments in the subject.

Written by: Dr Valeria Varea, Örebro University, Sweden, 25th of Feb 2021: https://www.oru.se/english/employee/valeria_varea

Social Justice Education and Remote PE: Considerations

The current pandemic and the resultant lockdowns have meant that our health and physical education have had to be taken online! We feel this we feel has developed a real sense of community as teachers around the world have been sharing ideas to keep our students moving and learning!! Also reminding us of the importance of equitable practice; as most students are at home, what space/equipment is available or accessible to them is a necessary consideration. As a collective, we have been thinking about what we can do to support our diverse community to promote social justice and equity during this difficult time. So, we reached out to some of our community members for their advice when teaching health and physical education remotely.

“During lockdown, we’ve seen Physical Activity being described and used to replace Physical Education, we must consider the terminology we use when setting tasks. Is it Physical Activity or Education? This will be damaging in the long run, if we hope to develop physically literate students. Predominantly I’ve seen fitness workouts being set for home learning activities which are great for some not for all. To combat this, I aim to set a combination of health-related fitness activities, sport-specific skill development, a fun home challenge, and also wellbeing exercises. This should allow the vast majority of students to access and partake, if they’re not a fan of fitness, they can do a challenge or some wellbeing exercises.” Mr. A

“Covid-19 poses great risk to our economy and future job creation for our young people in schools. More than ever, we need to inspire this generation to think creatively, solution-focused and critically. Remote learning should include these components and be central to learning. More so than squats, press-ups and ideas of energy in/out consumption ratios. These draconian ideas need to become extinct to include our young people in engaging curricula relevant for 2021. Importantly, I encourage teachers to think about those from minority groups on the side-lines that often forgotten about: children in care, gypsy and traveller children and refugee children. Share and advocate your concerns regarding these children and young people and ensure they are not left behind in your remote learning options. Follow up, take the time to learn about them more and include their voices in learning options.” Dr. Lynch

“Although social justice education should facilitate an environment that caters for all students to experience the opportunity to critically understand the world around them. It is not surprising that some students will not experience this during the pandemic, as they do not have the correct equipment to engage with remote learning. This is worrying and puts these young people at a disadvantage which also has an impact on how they will be able to move and be physically active beyond the pandemic. Therefore, as educators, we need to consider offering a provision after the pandemic to allow them to catch-up/build their confidence back up.” Miss Omar

“Our lessons enable students from all backgrounds to take part in physical activity. During their physical lessons, we encourage physical activity through various means, allowing for flexibility. During theory lessons we aim to represent all through the use of videos, helping to showcase a variety of cultures – next week, we are showing Kabaddi!” Miss Hennessy

“If we want to share a workout, can we look for workouts related to a sport? For example, a judo workout. This will give them an opportunity to learn other sports, physical activities or games from other countries that may motivate them or lead to discovering something new that they enjoy. It is completely understandable to feel lost right now, but the most important thing is to know that being a teacher involves a social responsibility and it is our job to search, study and try different ways to give the best physical education to everyone.” Miss Gordon

A practical example

Below is an example of a project created by Miss Gordon that is both practical and considerate to our environment!

Remote learning in PE leaves us great opportunities to provide inclusive and differentiated education. Not all students have access to buy materials to practice sports/games at home, however, we should not let this limit our job as a PE teacher to send workouts links to our students, we have more options. For that reason, I have decided to investigate the use of recycled materials to build our sports equipment; inspired by my volunteer experience in Bangladesh, where the lack of material at school forced me to look for other ways to provide outstanding PE, we created materials to play Indica as an alternative to volleyball.

My project this year focused on the creation of a hockey stick which we will use during the lessons. With this approach, the students are encouraged to develop their creativity and imagination as there are many ways to design a hockey stick. This is an inclusive activity because the students use materials found at home and there is no default standard of perfection, just students using the resources available to them to create their own equipment and practice their skills. The level of difficulty can be decided by them since they will design their circuit or game with all kinds of obstacles (shoes, cans, plush, etc.) and the teacher can provide suggestions on variations of the activity to provide challenge. This is a simple example, but we have others like golf, which can be a better option to use in smaller spaces. The main idea behind this, is that even though education is not face-to-face, students still have practical activities that are individualised and suited to their environment. 

We do hope that you have enjoyed engaging with this blog. Please take care, stay safe, and let’s keep our community spirit going!

Written by Laura McBean – January 26, 2021 with collaboration from Mr. A, Dr. Lynch, Miss Omar, Miss Hennessy, and Miss Gordon.

Body image and PE: Moving away from the emphasis on calories

With the government talking about new plans to “tackle obesity” it really had me thinking about how many people would just take these procedures with a pinch of salt and not realise the destructive effects – especially within the PE community. The vast majority of people I know have had some sort of ideal sporting image ingrained into their heads throughout their experiences in physical education- one of the most common being the idea that “fat people can’t be good at sports”. This anti-fat bias can isolate students and take away an enjoyment of movement purely based on their appearance; this is a ridiculous assumption and can do so much damage to someone’s self esteem.This is something which has never sat right with me but is still something I definitely let influence my lifestyle hugely. 

Although PE has always been something which I love, it is also where I learnt about calories and weight and led me into a self destructive eating disorder in an attempt to fit the ideal image – although it went mostly unnoticed for 5 years or so, it got to a point where I was in the PE area whenever possible to do some sort of activity to burn calories, and people really began to notice. The thing I loved was putting me in danger and causing me to miss school just because of this idea that I had to weigh less to play better. I couldn’t tell you where this idea came from exactly, but I can for sure say that lessons which involved things like “designing a meal then burning it off” or anything which reiterated the idea that food had to be burned off made my thinking so much worse. Looking at lessons like that floating around now made me wonder whether it is just a few people who are negatively affected by the lessons; but then I realised that this in itself is an issue. If a lesson has the ability to put anyone in so much mental distress then should it not be rethought?

If the government plans of including calories on menus does happen, then these lessons could cause so much more damage to students’ mental and physical health.With the government strategy announcing calorie labelling, my immediate thought was not that I will make informed decisions as the government would hope, but that I could slip back into disordered decisions; with no research to support the calorie labelling plans, this could be the case for many people.The PE community can help prevent this in others by really rethinking the way the link between physical activity and food is taught. I understand the importance of teaching about nutrition but lessons like this could easily be changed slightly to try and avoid the emphasis on calories; for example you could make students design a post workout meal based on the type of workout done (e.g. high proteins meals after strength exercise etc). 

Although the government may begin this new “fight against obesity” I think that it is really important for the PE community to recognise that at the core, what we want for all students is to get them engaged and enjoy PE. A student should not feel as if they must change their body to be able to participate; PE should be accessible to everybody irrespective of their size.

Written by Dylan A – August 24, 2020.

Image from: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/91268329932478105/

A note from the BAMEPE Collective:

As a profession when we argue for physical education to combat obesity epidemic, we are weakening the need for our subject. What other subject claims to combat a societal deficit and claims to improve it?

As a movement we think the link to obesity and calorie counting is unnecessary in physical education and it reduces the impact for meaningful movement and a love of sport and physical activity.

Coming-out, and coming-out again: My journey to becoming an openly gay teacher

Coming out as a gay person is never easy. Even if you feel completely secure and comfortable in yourself, even if you expect that those around you will be supportive, the process inevitably involves a great deal of anxiety, self-doubt, and often – fear. 

When you’re a gay teacher, you get to experience this process, in all its glory, repeatedly. 

Once I had come out to my family and friends in my late teens, I foolishly imagined that was it. That I now wouldn’t have to worry about questions, judgement or awkwardness. That everyone in my immediate social circle now knew who I was and would now have to accept it (regardless of how they felt about it). In my experience, there is certainly an element of both freedom and relief that comes from your first ‘coming-out’ (no matter how well or badly it goes!) And for a while, you get to enjoy the feeling of being completely yourself and not having to hide any part of your life. As I was at university when I came out, I enjoyed finding myself in a nice, protective bubble, where everyone knew and accepted my truth.

As is life, no one can live in a bubble forever. Once I began to make decisions about my post-student life, I realised that of course the process would involve meeting new people, and trying to integrate into new environments and organisations. The fear of having to ‘come-out’ all over again, returned. 

I chose teaching PE as a career almost immediately after finishing my degree, and completed a one-year PGCE programme. Suddenly I found myself in new settings and having to interact with a whole range of people; including students and teachers, who invariably would ask me questions about my life (as people do). Having only come out relatively recently, and already feeling fairly nervous, stressed, and out of my depth in my role as a trainee teacher, I would palm off questions about boyfriends, marriages or celebrity crushes with generic answers – not lying, I would tell myself, but not just being clear about the truth. Answering questions vaguely about a ‘partner’ without using gender pronouns or mentioning their name. Or – a signature move – quickly changing the subject, checking my phone, or dashing off to do some suddenly remembered, urgent task. 

During the PGCE course, a good friend of mine, who is also gay, asked one of our course leaders if we should be open with prospective schools and employers about our sexuality. Her answer was; ‘If they have a problem with it, do you really want to work there?’ This was sound advice, and made perfect sense, yet in the eagerness to land ourselves jobs as fresh-faced NQTs, we often didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up in interviews. 

I was fortunate that my first ‘proper’ teaching job was at a school where staff were very friendly and accepting (as they should be, in an ideal world, but at the time I was unsure that would be a given). As I became friendly with other members of staff, I became more confident to be open – I would use the word ‘girlfriend’ in a conversation, or when asked directly about it, would be honest that I was seeing a woman. With the students it was another story. I would usually shut down any questions about relationships or lie and say I was single to stop them asking anything further. Intuition tells me that some of them may have guessed, but they never (much to my relief) asked me directly. I would try to deal with homophobic remarks or comments made by students (to other students) detachedly, in the hope I wouldn’t be giving anything away about myself. That was hard at times, and I often wondered if I was letting myself, and my students, down by not being more honest. Perhaps I did not give them the credit they deserved. Later, I heard that another member of staff had come out and that the students had reacted positively. I felt surprised at their reaction, ashamed at my surprise, and envious that I didn’t have the confidence to come out myself. I had assumed that many of the students would receive this information negatively, when in fact the opposite was the case. Of course, there was the occasional negative remark made about it, but generally these were said in frustration as a result of other issues in class, an easy way to be critical or hurtful about this teacher when students were upset. 

As I progressed in my career, I decided it was time to be upfront to potential employers and would go out of my way to mention my wife in interviews. Having had a close friend go through an extremely negative experience at her school after being open about her sexuality (incidentally caused by staff, not students), I decided I would much rather unknowingly lose a job at interview because I was gay, than to find out they had a problem with it after I had already begun working there. 

Once I began teaching internationally, the concept of ‘coming-out’ was challenged in other ways. My wife had moved out to Thailand with me, and in a close-knit international community, people knew from the time of our arrival that we were married and had travelled out together. By this time, I was older, and much more comfortable with myself, and had no problem with being more open. However, I was yet to have ever directly discussed my sexuality with my students. Until…

Student: ‘Ms Laura, do you mind if I ask you a question?’

Me: ‘Sure, of course!’

Student: ‘Um, so I was just wondering… I mean, I have a pretty good gaydar, so I was just wondering if you’re a lesbian?’

Me: [Wondering if the student has noticed that my heart rate has shot up to about 1000 beats per minute in the space of 2 seconds]… ‘Um- Yeah, I am.’

Student: ‘Okay, cool.’ [Casually saunters away to leave me standing in a sweaty, anxious mess]

“So, I guess I’m out at work now!” I told my wife after work that evening. I work at a relatively small international school, and this student was certainly not the shy or retiring type, so I knew the details of our conversation would travel pretty fast. Once the initial shock had worn off, I felt once again that sense of freedom and pride that comes after realising that you have been completely honest about yourself and the world hasn’t come crashing down around you. My wife would often come to visit the school to sub or guest-lecture, and students knew who she was. Eventually she began working at the school herself, and now all of the staff and students know that we’re married, in the same way as they know about the straight teacher couples that work there. We even coach the girls football teams together. No one has ever said anything negative (to our faces at least) or seemed particularly bothered in the slightest. It’s a great feeling to be able to be so open and receive such acceptance. I can honestly say that I will never allow myself to go into the ‘work closet’ again. 

I wanted to tell my story as part of this blog, not to sound preachy, or to presume to tell other teachers how open they should be in their workplaces – I know how challenging it can be, and that sadly, sometimes people will have negative experiences when they come out at school. Even when I knew about other teachers who had come out, or received advice that it might be better to, I wasn’t ready to do it until I was. Yet in these current times, with important questions rightly being raised about inclusivity in all spaces of society, I feel it is a crucial moment for teachers and schools to take steps to address issues of social inequality and injustice, and to not shy away from discussing them with students. I hope that my students will see that I am comfortable with who I am, and I want to be open to discussing issues or answering questions they might be afraid to ask elsewhere. For those of us who work in environments that are diverse in many other ways, being ‘out’ allows students, other teachers, and even parents, to have interactions with someone they may not typically choose to surround themselves with, and gives us an opportunity to challenge their ways of thinking in a positive way. I hope that by virtue of simply existing happily in a space where our sexual orientation is not considered an issue, we may even help students who may be struggling with their own identity. Although I am aware that being able to work in the same school as my wife puts us in a somewhat unique situation, I also hope that through seeing us together, students get to witness a healthy and functional relationship that may challenge their preconceptions. I certainly sometimes wonder, had I known a gay teacher when I was growing up, how it may have alleviated some of my fears, and how differently I may have felt about what was possible.

It gives me hope to see so many young people becoming more understanding, inclusive and kind. In today’s world, when it is easy to believe that hate and anger are increasing, and that these are the driving forces of society, those of us that are privileged to work with young people often get to experience the opposite. The next generation has the potential to far exceed us all in terms of their ability to create a truly diverse and accepting society, and I am often blown away by the way they turn their beliefs into actions in a powerful way to create change. And if even one person grows up having the confidence to be themselves because they got to see it when they were formulating their own ideas and beliefs about both the wider world and their own identity, it will have been worth it. 

Written by Laura Davies – BAMEPE Collective Steering Group Member – August 17, 2020.

An honest reflection…

The BAME PE collective recently launched an initiative called ‘Women Leaders’, this took form as a video series with 19 women who shared their experiences within physical education, their journey into their current positions and their advocacy for equity. The idea for this was born from the feedback received when BAMEPE presented at conferences at earlier in the year, delegates suggested that we could increase representation through the sharing of stories. All the videos in the series can be accessed on our website here: Women Leaders Series

Taking a step back from our ‘Women Leaders Series’, when I sat and watched all of the videos, I was compelled to write something. Firstly, BAMEPE, Shrehan and I, would like to say a massive thank you to all the women who took part, we really loved listening to your experiences which triggered me to reflect and consider where I am now and where I want to go. 

On a personal front, I have been quite quiet over the past through weeks and I have not wanted to speak to anyone. It does not matter how hard I try to do this; this approach has not actually worked or been beneficial for my mental health. Most people who know me personally are aware that I suffer from depression and at times it gets the better of me, which is why I choose to shut down, hide away and manage it to the best of my ability. I have also returned to counselling which has been very helpful – I have found accessing this online to be a different experience, a better one in fact.  

Recently, a decision was made that I was unhappy about. In fact, I was angry, frustrated, upset and I felt undervalued. I did not get over these feelings and I started to see signs that I was sinking into depression and that frustrated me even more as I felt that I had been working so hard to build myself back up through counselling to just be thrown off track. I just did not get why something like this could have such a profound effect. 

A couple of weeks later I understood that it was not the decision per se as I can live with it, but it was how it made me feel which was unworthy. That unworthy feeling triggered me to relive my past as it is something that I have constantly battled for the best part of my life. It has not gone but I am dealing with it. Writing for me has been a great help and whilst being at home weekly Zoom’s with my counsellor, friends and family have also helped. I cannot thank my family and friends enough for the support they have given me and continue to give me as it takes a level of patience and understanding that sometimes I don’t even have for myself. 

Going back to the videos, they reminded me that I have come a long way, I do deserve my seat at the table, I should not accept being undervalued and most importantly I can, and I have said NO.    

I really do hope that through sharing, that I encourage you to love who you are, believe in who you are and to never give up. You are worthy.  

A wonderful gift/reminder that I received from a friend

Written by Laura McBean – July 6, 2020

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International PE-Teaching: A Reflection

I had been teaching in the UK for a few years when I was first introduced to the idea of teaching internationally. A colleague of mine had secured a teaching position at a British international school in Spain, and immediately I was intrigued. Until that point it had not occurred to me that this was a realistic option, and whilst I knew that international schools existed, I had not ever seriously considered working in one myself.

I quickly became more and more interested in the idea. I would spend hours scrolling through TES adverts and dreaming, but there was always something that held me back from actually taking the next step. The idea of leaving the UK, and my family and friends behind, just seemed too drastic. But the seed had been planted and was there to stay.

It wasn’t until going through a breakup that I finally decided it was time to ‘bite the bullet’. It was now or never, and the allure of living overseas, and travelling the world, had become strong. I applied to a few schools and was excited to be offered interviews. One was for a school in Thailand – a place I had always wanted to visit.

I remember having the interview very early in the morning, around 6:00am, before travelling to work. By lunchtime I’d received a formal job offer, and by the end of the school day I’d accepted. My life had changed in less than twelve hours.

Moving abroad for the first time was everything you’d expect it to be – terrifying, exciting, overwhelming – and everything in between. The first few weeks were a whirlwind, and I, a middle-class white girl from the suburbs, definitely had a few ‘pinch me’ moments, along with battling severe homesickness, culture shock, and repeatedly wondering what an earth I was doing. Over time this settled, and I began to enjoy all of the benefits I had been promised as a new international teacher.

The small classes. The well-behaved students. The respectful parents. The facilities. The pay! The chance to travel, easily, and affordably.

I loved it.

Returning home for personal reasons in between international stints only served to remind me what I’d left behind, and it wasn’t long before my wife and I decided to head back into this world.

Now in my fifth year at my current school (and seventh year teaching overseas overall) I have found myself reflecting upon this journey – upon international schools and teachers, and their place in the world.

It is undeniable that such schools have become popular choices for expatriates living overseas, as well as increasingly for the children of wealthy, native families. Such families value greatly the opportunities that an international (and English-medium) education can provide for their children, but it has become more than that. Several of the early international schools (many now global franchises) are closely linked with highly prestigious independent schools in the UK – Harrow, Shrewsbury, Rugby, King’s College, to name a few. In their desire to market themselves, they place great emphasis on the ideals of upper-class ‘British-ness’, mimicking many of the events and traditions of such schools as though they were common-place in British culture, to parent-customers who soak it up, eager to see their children succeed in gaining places at top tier universities, and entering highly sought after careers; medicine, law, business, engineering, and so on.

When I first entered this world, it was exciting to me. As someone who had attended a regular state school in the UK, and then taught in one, I had never experienced this level of privilege, and I will admit that I enjoyed witnessing this world up close.

Over time however, I also developed a level of discomfort. An awareness of my role in an arena, where business (not always, but often) came before education. Where I was a willing participant in an organisation selling an elitist ideal of British education, and presenting it as superior to that of other countries.

More recently, world events have caused me to confront and reflect upon this further, and at times, I will admit, it has been difficult to make peace with. Am I upholding white, colonialist structures? Is the imposing of ‘British’ values upon students from other countries and cultures ethical? Am I doing enough to challenge the institutions I work in to be diverse, culturally aware, and inclusive places for all students and staff? Whilst many international schools pride themselves on being truly ‘globalised’ places, when teaching a national education system (and therefore its associated content, values, and biases) in a country that is culturally very different, it can sometimes feel as though we neglect to acknowledge the obvious problems that this presents.

So how have I come to terms with the aspects of international education that can, at times, feel at odds with my personal philosophies on education?

It has not been easy and is very much an ongoing process. By no means do I believe that my work in this respect is done, but below I am going to offer some thoughts about how these concerns may be addressed, specifically within the arena of PE:

  1. An international school is not (and should not be) an island. These schools are situated in local areas rich in culture and it is essential that we, as educators, enable and encourage our students to form relationships within these communities. The benefits to be gained from forming and maintaining community links should be at the very least, mutual, and ideally, weighted towards those communities outside of the international school. I have written about this in more depth in this article about a collaboration between my school and an organisation called Playonside, who work with migrant communities on the Thai-Myanmar border. I strongly believe that providing opportunities for students to interact with those from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds is essential. Even more essential is for students to be educated on local and regional issues directly by people from these communities, rather than hearing an interpretation of events from their (usually) white, (often) western teachers.
  2. Look for opportunities to bring traditional/ cultural activities into your curriculum. Many international schools teach curriculums that mimic almost exactly what would be taught in their ‘home’ countries. But the students we are teaching are often not from these countries, and have a cultural heritage of their own, which they must still have opportunities to learn about. Whilst many international schools have language and culture departments that do a fantastic job of educating students about the countries they are living in, this cannot, and should not, be their responsibility alone, but instead should be weaved into all subjects, by all teachers. In my experience, there can be a tendency for international school curriculums to neglect to provide activities and experiences that are part of the cultural fabric of the countries they reside in. For me, in Thailand, challenging this has meant exploring traditional activities such as Muay Thai or Takraw, and considering how I can introduce them into our curriculum. It has meant developing a further appreciation for nationally popular sports such as Badminton and Volleyball, and trying to learn more about the history, rules, and players of these sports. It has meant taking time to ask questions and show an interest in the knowledge, interests and experiences of my students.
  3. Extra-curricular sports can be an incredible way to build relationships both within and outside the international school environments. Often, such schools are heavily involved in sports conferences and leagues with other international schools. These conferences provide amazing competitive opportunities for students but can become so busy that there is little time for other opportunities. They can also be responsible for creating ‘bubbles’, in which privileged students interact only with other privileged students, and rarely with local students, schools or organisations. I am fortunate that where my current school is located there are several international schools, including ours, that do reach out to local Thai teams, schools and clubs, and organise events within the community that are not exclusive to international schools. And in fact, these are the events our students often enjoy the most – events that provide them with the opportunity to meet, interact with, and befriend other young people outside of their usual environment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but highlights just some areas that international PE teachers might wish to consider. Ultimately, we are all on a journey, and must accept that in trying to get it right we will often get it wrong, and have to rethink our approach. But whatever happens, we must keep trying.

If anyone ever asks me if they should consider teaching abroad, my answer is simple. Do it.

But I now add an addendum to this, something I wish someone had told me before I embarked upon this journey.

Do it. But…

Do it with an open-mind. Do not assume that how you teach in the UK is how you should teach in another country. Ask questions. Do research. Truly acquaint yourself with the customs, traditions and nuances of the country you are privileged enough to be a guest in. Consider how to acknowledge and show appreciation for the cultures that you will find yourself surrounded by. Learn about them and respect them.

Ask yourself what you can learn from this journey, and do not assume that the knowledge you think you have to offer is any more valuable than the knowledge you will receive in return.

Written by Laura Davies 12.2.21

Photo by Lush Life Films

Welcome to Melanin and Me Podcast

Meet your hosts of Melanin and Me 

Melanin and Me’ explores all things health, wellness and lifestyle. Covering topics such as mental health, relationships and career progression through the lens of two women navigating the complexities of womanhood and the Black British experience. 

Rae is an educator and sports enthusiast of African descent, born in Zanzibar and raised in the UK. Ash is a sport development professional and fitness expert of mixed Caribbean and British heritage, born in the Cayman Islands and raised in the UK. Ash and Rae met whilst studying at Loughborough university and continued their journey together by supporting women like themselves by creating safe, honest and open spaces.

“The idea came together after a tweet from myself to Ash” explains Rae.

In which I expressed an interest to start a podcast. Ash had exactly the same idea in terms of starting a podcast and what the podcast would be about. For Ash and Rae, their shared frustrations of the misrepresentations of black woman led to the creation of Melanin and Me, which provides the perfect platform to get the voices of Black Women heard in a safe space. 

The podcast can be accessed via the following platforms:

Apple podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/melanin-me/id1525362967

Anchor: https://anchor.fm/raina955/episodes/Introduction-to-Melanin-and-Me-eg7rdr

Google podcast: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy8yMTdlNjFjYy9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw==

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/3Rw06X6TLcXWKMSSp8zjkw

Happy listening! Feel free to reach out to us at: @Melanin_and_me 

Written by Raina Omar and Ashlea Smith – August 10, 2020.

Multiculturalism in Physical Education

Introduction

Multicultural education is an “education that values diversity and includes the perspectives of a variety of cultural groups on a regular basis” (Santrock, 2001, p.171). Within recent years the population of schools have become more culturally diverse. According to Lievesley, (2010) one fifth of UK’s population will be from an ethnic background by 2051. However, there are not enough equitable experiences for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) pupils. This can be put down to the lack of ethnic teachers in the teaching profession (DfE, 2018) and the lack of cultural competency of current white professionals (Harrison, Carson, & Burden, 2010). White professionals, can be unaware of their own disruptive behaviours, critical whiteness and unconscious bias when interacting with BAME pupils, the curriculum and the ‘hidden curriculum’ in school cultures (Duncan, 2019; Flintoff & Dowling, 2019; Richardson, 2015). BAME pupils often notice this blindness and can lose motivation to study and attend school and don’t feel they can discuss their health and well-being matters with teacher. Ultimately, they will disengage in the education process (Lac & Baxley, 2019). However, if multicultural education is conducted then BAME pupils have a greater purpose, attainment level and sense of belonging with their learning and enhanced wellbeing. Although, this is an issue for the whole education system, this article will look at it from a Physical Education viewpoint.

A PE lesson is the starting point of many athletes’ careers. Teams within PE and sport will be multi-cultural and need to coexist to be successful. Moreover, PE allows children to put multiculturalism into practice, rather than it being restricted to the theoretical material of PHSE. PE can increase emotions and heighten ethnic and religious differences which can serve to normalize ‘racialised notions of Whiteness= Normal; Blackness=Otherness’ (Wilkins & Lall, 2011, p. 374). Consequently, PE teachers need to have the knowledge and understanding of how to meet culturally diverse students’ needs and the multifaceted relationship between culture and learning (Flory & McCaughtry, 2011).

WHY PE?

  • It can push political boundaries and can teach the same ethos to the children receiving such education (Docheff, 2000).
  • PE can help eradicate any misconceptions around children from diverse backgrounds (Stroot & Whipple, 2003). 
  • PE is the core area for teaching teamwork, identity, embodiment and for social difference and development (Flintoff, Fitzergerald & Scraton, 2008).
  • Developing cultural awareness enables students to become more knowledgeable, understanding and respectful of everyone (Choi & Chepyator-Thompson, 2012).    
  • Children will be able to understand, respect and how to work with people from all backgrounds in PE, in school and in life (Dowling & Flintoff, 2018)

Counter Arguments

The assumption that disengagement with PE is due to cultural negligence is misplaced. Teachers cannot accurately measure if cultural barriers have been broken down. Barker et al. (2014) reported that their participants opposed PE on philosophical grounds, disruptions and disengagement due to personal effort. 

According to, Kulinna, McCaughtry, Cothran, and Martin (2006), teachers will become overloaded with information on one-day course so will not retain the key aspects. If they do, then some may not have the time and support to consolidate their learning. Due to timetabling and pressure of subject’s teachers may not be able to put theory into practice and then reflect upon their practices. Some teachers may feel that not addressing or even ‘over addressing’ the subject of cultural diversity could prove to be counter-productive (Asare, 2009). However, teachers need to address it in a proactive manner and it should be placed at the forefront of teachers mind when considering children’s needs. 

It is worth noting that although some teachers are from a non-diverse background and will only teach in non-diverse schools, a multicultural delivery and content is still important. Educators have an obligation to widen the horizons of the children they teach and not limit them to their immediate cultural environment they know during education. Furthermore, educators are responsible for a whole generation that will move into adulthood and be the next leaders and workers of the world. We have an obligation to make and shape a better world than we currently live in for the next generation.

Some initial teacher training organization will state that they do offer training on multiculturalism and explain that education should meet the needs of all pupils. From my observations and conversations with other teachers, most teacher training providers do not provide the depth of knowledge that non-diverse educators require to understand and be aware of their own unconscious bias. Unconscious bias cannot be discussed in one lesson, and then the job is done. An educator needs consistent training and reflection for multiculturalism and unconscious bias, in the same way teaching in general requires.

Strategies to improve 

  • Make the curriculum more diverse- You could teach sports such as Kabbadi when teaching attacking and defending principles (Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014) 
  • Make your content material more cultural aware. For example- Do you show British BAME athletes when discussing ‘British’ sports? We should talk, discuss and share our ideas and thoughts (Culp, 2011) 
  • Use pupil voice and find out what sports they actually enjoy rather than prescribing said sports (Doolittle & Rukavina, 2014)
  • Reflect on your own assumptions, beliefs and biases (Culp, 2013).
  • Understanding the concepts of Critical Whiteness/Notion of ‘Other’/ Us vs Them (Flintoff & Dowling, 2019). 
  • PETE’s teaching cultural diversity within PE to trainee teachers and through training days for in-service teachers. Why should it be just an optional lecture or a token gesture? (Hemphill et al., 2012).
  • Engaging trainee teachers in professional development opportunities with practicing urban PE teachers (Hemphill et al., 2012).

Summary

I believe that PE can develop cultural awareness in the children that we teach. We can create an environment that teaches non-physical skills such as team-work, kindness, empathy and respect for others. Moreover, that it is the responsibility of ALL teachers not just those of BAME backgrounds to ensure that ALL children have a multicultural diverse curriculum and understand cultural awareness and diversity (Sliwa et al., 2017). 

With the right education and an open mind, the world can change: 

Photo credit: @LiverpoolFC
Photo credit: @EnglandCricket

Friends are made by the heart, not by skin colour, gender, or religion.

Written by Omar Green – June 2, 2020 – originally posted to: https://www.ogsportztalks.co.uk