Welcome back to school! I always love how students get a fresh start as the school calendar turns over. The classrooms are all set up with nothing out of place. Each year as I walk through the halls, I see new shoes, new backpacks, new clothes, new boxes of crayons, new haircuts, new students and new teachers. Student faces are full of joy and hope. You can probably even hear staff and students sharing stories about their summer adventures.
This summer I had an adventure that is not that different than many other teachers around the world. I decided to change school districts. It was a big decision, not only for my career, but for my family. This blog is going highlight the transition from being an established successful physical education teacher, to being the new teacher in a completely different school district. I’ve asked some well-known physical educators a few questions, with the hopes that you would be able to take something away if you were thinking about making a switch.
Kari Bullis most recently taught Physical Education for the last 13 years at Williamsburg Junior and Senior High in Williamsburg, Iowa. Kari will be taking over at Prairie Point (College Community CSD in Cedar Rapids, Iowa) as the ninth grade PE and Health teacher.
Ryan Armstrong most recently taught Physical Education and Health for five years at a public K-12 school in Malta Bend, Missouri. Malta Bend’s district had approximately 85 students; one of the smallest school districts in the state. Ryan will now be teaching in the fifth largest school district in Missouri (Columbia Public Schools) this year. In addition to adapted PE, he will be teaching elementary Physical Education in five buildings.
Jorge Rodriguez most recently taught physical education for eight years at Harvard Elementary in Houston, Texas. Harvard is an IB (International Baccalaureate) World School and a STEM magnet school. Jorge will be teaching K3, five and six-year-olds at the KAUST School in Saudi Arabia.
I’m Tanner Roos. I most recently spent eight years teaching at Hiawatha Elementary and a few sections at other schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This year I will be transitioning to a neighboring school district (Linn-Mar CSD) and teaching at Linn Grove Elementary.
When people leave positions that they have had for a long time, there is usually a good reason to make the move. It’s a lot of work to do a
similar job in a different school district. I asked the group what they were going to gain by changing school districts this year. If you decide to switch school districts, you might see these benefits also.
Focus on a single grade
Completely new teaching assignments
Experience with larger class sizes
Experience teaching a diverse student population
Increased community involvement with the PE program
Focus on teaching rather than coaching responsibilities
More access to organizations/companies to reach out to for support
Program promoted at a much larger stage
Gain more of a global perspective
Connecting and learning from other amazing district PE staff
Same school district as my children
Once you’ve made the decision to switch districts, you are going to have to figure out how to fit in within your school. I’ve asked the group to share their ideas on how they will balance bringing in their new and innovative ideas, with the current staff and students’ expectations from the existing program.
Ryan responds, “When entering a new school district, I believe it is important take a step back from the front lines and observe the current physical education program. See how things are done and what programs/activities are in place. I don’t want to come in and try to change anything at first. I will share new ideas and build relationships with the staff along the way and go from there.”
Similarly, Jorge said, “First, I plan on listening to my colleagues to understand where I fit in within the current structure of the school. Through that process, I will offer my input when appropriate. Hopefully, I will earn my colleagues respect through the quality of my work and be able to influence the school culture once trust is established.
Fortunately for Kari, she was able start working early in the summer with some of the staff to revamp the Health curriculum to make it more skills based. Her staff is filled with great teachers that are very open to new ideas. It is nice to get to know the other staff and their styles early in the year. It sets the stage for clear communication patterns throughout the year.
With any job change, there are going to be challenges. It’s important to anticipate them before making the move. It’s equally important to have a plan to overcome them. With all our jobs being different, here were our thoughts on this topic.
Having larger class sizes is a common challenge when switching schools. Kari suggests having a positive attitude about it and remembering that you are a good teacher. She reminds us that that seeing more students is a blessing rather than a challenge. The opportunity to have a positive impact on more students can have a profound impact on the school community.
Ryan has a different set of challenges that many of you might face. He will be teaching in five of the district’s 21 schools. I would imagine that number to be smaller for most people reading this. Having to teach in multiple schools is becoming more common, unfortunately. Forming strong bonds with the staff, learning how buildings operate, remembering student names, and recalling what is in each equipment room are all potential struggles. Armstrong intends to overcome these by being prepared and flexible with his activities as needed. He will work collaboratively with the full time PE teachers in each building to resolve any equipment issues. As well as attending pertinent meetings, Ryan understands the importance of sharing his own ideas and experiences. He believes that this is a process and getting in the flow of things is not going to happen in an instant. It’s going to take time.
And then there are the challenges teachers like Jorge might encounter
by moving nearly 8,000 miles away. If you are considering a change this big, it may be very difficult to anticipate challenges for living and teaching in a new country. For Rodriguez, family is the first priority. The biggest challenges so far have been trying to balance their needs with his professional needs. Having an appropriate balance between home and work is going to take some time to figure out. It is also a challenge to learn a new system. The KAUST School is very different from what he is used to, and Jorge anticipates needing to unlearn and relearn how to deliver a quality program.
Becoming a part of the school culture is often difficult for teachers that are bogged down with work early in the school year. It is easy to stay in your office because you are busy. Here are some suggestions for making yourself a part of the school culture, rather than just doing everything on your own.
Although many people often say to stay out of the staff lounge, I suggest the opposite. In my situation, the gym is completely isolated from the rest of the building. If I don’t go into the lounge, I may never make those important staff connections. It’s been ten years since I’ve eaten my lunch in the lounge. Although I prefer to work through my lunch, making myself a part of the school culture is equally as valuable.
Ryan suggests collaborating and sharing resources with the staff. When the staff know you are a valuable resource, they will lean on you as they try to incorporate movement into their classrooms. Additionally, he recommends engaging as a volunteer for school events. This gives parents and students a chance to interact with their PE teachers in a less formal way. Relationships develop and grow during those moments when everyone has their guard down a little bit.
Promoting yourself and your program is another great way to engage with parents and the community. I asked this group of teachers and how they intend on promoting physical literacy. Here were some of their responses.
Create a PE website
Attending PTO meetings
Have a link to PE specific
Hang visuals/posters/academic language cards throughout the school
Share successful teaching strategies with the staff
Physical Education newsletter
Provide students engaging and meaningful lessons because they can be the biggest advocates for our programs
Before or after school physical activity programs.
Seesaw digital portfolios
Many teachers consider making a switch from their current teaching assignment. The hard part is deciding when it the right time to take the leap. For me, it was when I realized I didn’t have a say in what school I worked in. My fifteenth year would have been school number eight for me. I wanted to feel like I had a home. I took the leap. I have one now.
Kari Bullis struggled with her decision to take the leap. She tells us, “It was a really hard decision for me, but I had been teaching at the same school for thirteen years. I felt like if I didn’t leave now, then I never would. The decision to leave would only get harder and harder as the years passed, and I might not have another opportunity. One of the biggest things that helped me to take the leap was talking to other teachers that had been in a similar situation and asked them, “If you could go back and make the decision over again, would you make the same decision to leave?” They all said, “Yes!” The hardest part is knowing whether or not you are going to regret your decision; but knowing they didn’t regret it really helped me to ultimately take the leap.”
Ryan Armstrong describes how he knew it was time to take the leap. “I am getting close to 30 and didn’t have much of a social life. My town was so small there was literally nothing to do. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without the experience I gained in my five years there. Additionally, I believe I did as much as I could at my past school considering how small the school was. I want to promote a physical education program at a larger scale and have more of an impact on the community. Also, much of my focus was dedicated to coaching, thus limiting my teaching effectiveness. It was time for a change.”
Although Jorge Rodriguez discussed his decision in detail on the Global Physed Voxcast, he reflects upon it here. “In retrospect, I was not happy. Life requires compromise, but I think I reached a point where I did not feel fulfilled professionally. I would say someone should consider switching positions or environments when their core beliefs are being compromised.”
Finally, I asked everyone to describe their expectations of the first semester in three words.
Kari Bullis @BullisKari: Challenging, Exciting, Journey
Ryan Armstrong @RArmstrongPE: Involved, Process, Positive
Jorge Rodriguez @PhysedNow: Adventure, Learn, Play
Tanner Roos @MrRoosPE: Relationships, Collaborate, Choice
Tanner Roos teaches K-5 Physical Education at Linn Grove Elementary in Marion, Iowa. Additionally, he co-hosts a YouTube talk show Let’s Talk #PhysEd with Jason and Tanner, where he interviews some of the most influential Physical Educators in our field. Tanner also serves as the editor for The PE Pirate Scroll.
Tanner Roos @MrRoosPE