3 ways I am using an Innovator’s Mindset in Phys. Ed and Health

Editors Note: William Bode is a teacher at Performance Learning Center High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In 2016, he will be entering his 25th year in teaching and was named the 2015 North Carolina High School Teacher of the Year.  He is the co-creator and an integral member of the #PhysEdSummit team.  As a high school physical education and health teacher, he adds a unique and necessary perspective to the discussions here at PHYSEDagogy as a guest writer for the blog.

I like to read during the summer as a way to recharge and get fresh ideas for the upcoming school year. As a connected educator, Twitter and Voxer, I get to see recommendations from other teachers on what they found to be worth their time. Believe me there are a lot of books out there that I want to read, but this summer I purchased two.  The first one, Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, is a book that made me feel that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts about how a classroom, school, and a district could be run to foster a culture of learning for everybody.

Like any good educator, George Couros, defines innovation first before he moves into the Innovator’s Mindset. He defines innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.”   “A way of thinking”, no mention of money or technology in his definition. My take away that leaves me truly empowered, is just like having a growth mindset, anyone can be innovative. Let’s look at a few questions that are posed in the book and see how we can be innovative in physical education and health.

  • “What is best for the learner?”
  • “Are your students engaged or empowered?”
  • “Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?”

There are three areas I want to look at as we reflect upon these questions: fitness testing, assessments/grading, and health class.


I am truly passionate about assessments and grading. I read books on grading, Grading Smarter Not Harder is my favorite, and even completed an action research project for North Carolina about the subject. When I first began teaching I never felt comfortable with grading students the “traditional way.” If you dress out and participate you get a good grade. Just typing that makes me cringe. Is that best for the learner? Since there is not any learning taking place, then I would say not. Most children can dress themselves by 4 or 5 years old and although being an active learner is important, dressing out doesn’t show learning has taken place. Some students learn to “play” the game of physical education and comply with the teacher’s request. And as much as we want our student’s to follow our directions, this has more to do with how they were raised and less about student learning.

Enough about personal feelings towards grading, and let’s see how we can have an innovator’s mindset. Since we have ditched the dressing out and participation grades, how can we assess learning. Most teachers would agree that your national or state standards is a good starting point. And I do to, and I have seen many teachers go to the Standards Based Grading model to ensure students are being taught what is mandated. There are many wonderful teachers that have made their programs strong and increased student engagement through the use of this model. Which leads to the next question, “Are your students engaged or empowered?”  I want to take the next step into truly empowering my students to create new things with their learning.

My first step in empowering my students is to let them choose from a list of activities what they would like to learn for the 4 weeks in a quarter class or 9 weeks for a semester class. I give them the autonomy to choose what they want to learn and then give them the time to actually learn it. Once students have chosen their activity then I provide a framework for them to develop the necessary skills based upon the  state standards. I call these benchmarks, and each activity has roughly 8 total. These 8 benchmarks become formative assessments that are ongoing throughout a unit. Once we have benchmarks they pre-assess themselves to understand where they are in achieving each benchmark. I use informal assessments as well through out the unit. I want to make sure they understand the basic knowledge of the activity and the skills they are performing. These assessments  are ongoing as well, but teaches students how to break larger tasks into smaller ones and evaluate their own progress. This is where I find technology to be the “accelerator” for learning. Students use iPads to record and watch themselves perform skills and play. They fill out Google forms and use that information to determine areas of strength and areas for needed growth. Based on this information they make the decisions on which areas they want to work for the first part of class. Also by them determining what to work on it gives me time to give more individualized help. Believe it or not, there are some days where I just watch my students, they don’t really need my help. They have become self sufficient and have an understanding of what needs to get dome in order to reach a specific benchmark. I really like it when we get to this part of a unit because I know my students have learned a valuable life lesson in how to work independently.

Fitness Testing

By the time my high school students get to my class, one of the first questions they ask “Do we have to do fitness testing?” You have to read that last sentence with that whiny voice that kids make when they are dreading the answer. My beliefs about fitness testing have changed considerably over the years. I started off being compliant and testing every student the same way twice a year. I didn’t agree with it, but that was what was supposed to be done. Then I became defiant and didn’t do it all. My thoughts were nobody cares, students didn’t try their best for a multitude of reasons, and it took up valuable class time. Also I rationalized the fact that I didn’t have the resources needed to properly administer the cardiovascular test. My school did not have a track or a gym, just a big open field and a parking lot. Excuses I could have overcome, but remember I was being defiant.  Now I knew the benefits of being physically fit and understanding where you, as an individual, stands on that continuum was important.

Over the past few years I have been experimenting with different ways to conduct fitness testing that students will try their best and the results will be a true indicator of their progress towards becoming more physically fit. I began this process by answering the question from above “Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?” If I wanted to be a learner in my own classroom, what would I want to do? First thing I would want are some choices. Personally I like PD where I get to choose what I am learning and ultimately what success looks like. That is what I did, I came up with several choices for each fitness component that students could choose from and that I had the resources they could use. For example, the cardiovascular test had three options to choose from: mountain bike riding, stair climbing, or run/walk. All were timed sessions and I/another student recorded laps or flights climbed. It was amazing how hard most students tried on their pre-assessments. Since students were split up, they didn’t seem to mind giving more effort. Now I hope you noticed I said “most students” tried hard, because reality was that even though I gave them choices, some students still don’t like to be physically active. I will have to blog about that in another post later, but I didn’t want you to think that it was all roses after I made this change. From these pre-assessments students were able to analyze their own data and make decisions on which areas they needed to most improve. This answered the next question “Are your students engaged or empowered?” Instead of me prescribing a workout plan, they created their own. At the beginning the workouts were very basic, but this allowed me to teach them about the FITT principle and other fitness concepts. As their knowledge deepened their workout plans improved as well as the workouts themselves.

What I did find is that students better understood why we measure our fitness and how they can do it in the future when they become adults, which for me as their teacher I want them to learn before leaving my class. It is funny as I write this I am thinking of other ideas I could do to improve this process, using my innovator’s mindset to make something new and better. Notice I didn’t talk about technology again in this section. The students use technology, but only as an accelerator for learning.

Health Class

  I have been teaching for 24 years, all in physical education except last year. Our school expanded and now had a full enrollment of 9th graders. So I embarked on a journey into teaching health for the first time. I asked a lot of questions to my health teaching colleagues to get their insights. My first unit did not go as well but provided me with valuable information as I created my second. A lot of trial and error for sure, but isn’t that what learning is about. I give this little bit of background to tell you how I am going to move forward this upcoming year.

I have two colleagues that really know their health. Mary McCarley, who is the North Carolina and Southern District High School Health Teacher of the Year for 2015, is a friend and colleague of mine. We have worked on a few projects together in the past and now I needed some help. I attended a session she did at our state conference about case studies to help students learn about certain topics in a fun engaging way. I really like it but I wasn’t ready for it in my first year of teaching health. Now that I have time during the summer, I was ready to tackle the planning needed to make this my own. This is where my innovator’s mindset kicked in. Mary’s case studies are awesome and I probably could just duplicate them and it would fine. But that’s not me and I am not sure it would be best for my students. I tweaked her original case studies by using younger examples and giving them profiles like you would see on social media. Most kids are on social media so I wanted to tap into their world to hopefully peak their interest more. As the class progresses my case studies will “post” what is happening in their lives. These “posts” will gives clues to possible health issues this person could face. It will be up to the students to determine what the warning signs are and what can be done to prevent them from getting worse.

My other friend and colleague is Matt Belles. I met him when he was the curriculum specialist for physical education and health in our district. He is now a professor in college working to develop the next generation of HPE teachers. I attended his session at our state conference where he was discussing service learning as a means to personalize and teach health. I really like the concept but it worked for his students who had transportation. I had to make it my own to enable my students the same type of learning experience that was appropriate for their age and maturity level. Matt and I talk often on how this can be accomplished and I hope to roll this out this semester.

The question from above is “Are your students engaged or empowered?” I wanted my answer to be empowered. There are skills I want to teach my students beyond the health curriculum. I want them to learn how to ask their own questions and discover those answers to deepen their learning. It will start with a simple question. How can you help yourself or someone you know become healthier? Right away I am giving them a chance to explore something that is relevant to their life. Once the students have identified how they can help someone become healthier, I ask them a series of questions to help them tie their learning back to the curriculum standards. Also I ask them to come with a series of questions that will help them determine how to better understand their topic and where they kind find the answers. Once this process is complete they will find someone they can connect with either face to face or with the use of technology that can continue and deepen their learning even further. Students will develop their own questions to ask and set up times to connect. I am aiming at students learning how to communicate in the professional world as well as the value of connecting with other people. Through out the project students will record lessons learned through some type of blog, podcast, or maybe even a vodcast.  Students will have a thorough knowledge of their topic and then develop a plan to actually make and possibly even implement a plan to make their person healthier. As a culminating event I want students to share what they have learned in a professional development style event. That is the plan, which needs more planning, but I look forward to facilitating and watching my students grow through this process.

Final Thoughts

  As I read “Innovator’s Mindset” I had already done or was in the process of planning learning experiences for my students that would not only engage, but empower them. It always has been and always will be about my students. They are the driving force behind the decisions I make and I hope they are yours as well. I feel that every lesson can be tweaked and improved because each class I teach is different and deserves special attention. As I conclude this post, I would like to give two characteristics I believe are beneficial in having an innovators mindset. George Couros lists eight in the book, and I agree with each one whole hearted. As I read the book I feel there is an underlying message throughout the book. Passion and Work Ethic to me are two components that I see as important. I have noticed in all walks of life that if a person truly loves what they are doing they do a better job. I truly love teaching people, young and old, it is a passion for me. I enjoy getting up for work each day to see what the day will bring. I won’t lie everyday is not all roses, but most days are exciting and full of new adventures. Since I enjoy what I do, I don’t mind working hard at getting better at it. As a former competitive athlete, my goal was to get better each workout, each practice, and each game. As a coach I carried that same attitude with the teams I coached. Sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t reflect true progress with a win or a loss. I always ask my students and players, “Did you get better today?” Very often I find myself thinking about how I can improve my classes. After I have processed it, I start planning how to best implement my new ideas. I will seek others to run my ideas by as well. I am never quite sure if I am overly enthusiastic about discussing new ideas with others, but that is why I enjoy Twitter and Voxer, there is always someone there to discuss with you your next big thing.

If any of my post resonates with you then I recommend you pick up a copy of the “Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros. The book really gets you thinking forward and can set you on your own path to leading others in developing their innovator’s mindset.


6 Comments on “3 ways I am using an Innovator’s Mindset in Phys. Ed and Health

  1. The Innovator’s Mindset was my school’s summer book to read. I really enjoyed the book. It helped me realize that I was moving in the correct direction.

  2. I love how you connected the book to physical education and LOVE the additions to the characteristics. So crucial in this idea…we are much more resilient and willing to push ourselves when we are passionate about what we are doing.

    Thank you for connecting this to your area of learning…this is what I hoped would happen from the ideas of the book. It was always meant to be something that was built upon, not followed. You did it brilliantly here.

  3. Pingback: The PE Playbook – July 2016 Edition – drowningintheshallow

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