Advocacy for Quality Physical Education Has a Home
Kinesiology professor pushes for healthy living locally and nationally
Cathrine Himberg teaches physical education teachers what “quality physical education” looks like in K–12 schools. The physical education teacher education professor has one goal: Equip these future teachers with the tools to re-shape the nation’s physical education landscape for the near future, directly influencing our nation’s health for the long term.
On paper, it sounds perfect. In practice, it’s a struggle.
“There are still a lot of principals and teachers and administration that do not know what quality PE is and what effect it can have on a school,” Himberg said. “That’s where we’re really trying to hit it.”
Gone are the days of dodgeball and telling a kid to run around the backstop for punishment. Today, more complex physical movements—and common sense—prevail when it comes to what are better options for students.
Nearly 20 years ago, Himberg startedsupportREALteachers.org (REAL stands for Responsible Educators Accountable for Learning) as a collection of research-based content, data, and resources that physical education teachers around the country could read, study, acquire, and use. All of it was, and still is, free.
Himberg, in her 21st year teaching at Chico State, advocates for more complex exercises and activities to fire up different parts of the brain, promoting stronger connections between physical and mental health. The goal is to activate better focused and higher performing students that will grow up to be higher functioning and healthier adults, thereby relieving the strain on our healthcare system.
But not everyone is open to change. Whether the barriers are excuses, bureaucracy, personal priorities, or somewhere in between, Himberg knows she’s often fighting an uphill battle.
“It has a lot to do with the obstacles people face, the lack of time to do the things they’re supposed to do,” said Himberg, executive director of supportREALteachers.org. “They’re often hired to teach and coach, and they get their accolades from coaching. It’s tough to do everything you’re supposed to do as a teacher, and at the same time coach well. And often they care more about coaching than teaching.”
This is where Support REAL Teachers comes in. The website is an initiative of the Center for Advancement of Standards-Based Physical Education Reform (CASPER), a nonprofit organization Himberg founded at Chico State in 1998. The first version of the site had four pages, until 2008 when then-graduate student Kevin Shephard (BA, Kinesiology, ’08; MA, Kinesiology, ’10) offered to update it.
The site features four main sections: The Importance of Teaching Quality Physical Education; Effective Teaching Strategies; Teacher Resources; and the 2014 documentary “No Excuses!”, directed by Himberg’s husband (and Chico State communication design professor) John Mathieu Roussell and considered for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools Campaign to promote its programs. Support REAL Teachers is more than a passion project for Himberg. Because of her passion about the studies and their messages (and not enough hours in the week), Himberg weaves the work into her teaching.
“Every year at least one of my courses includes a project that relates to the work I do with the website,” Himberg said. “That’s how I have recruited student volunteers to help in the past, and how Kevin became involved as a master’s student.”
Shephard, the site’s director, began looking at metrics in 2011. Since then, it’s enjoyed substantial growth. From January 1 through December 31, 2011, the site had 7,740 visits and 18,877 page views. In 2016, traffic increased to 260,793 visits and 654,594 page views—roughly 715 site visits and nearly 1,800 page views a day. Since page views have grown 35-fold over the last six years, one million page views in 2017 doesn’t seem out of the question.
The site’s value extends beyond campus borders and even reaches outside physical education. In 2012, 31 percent of all traffic came from outside the United States. In 2016, that number rose to 45 percent. The site’s most-visited page, by far, is Effective Teaching Strategies for English Language Learners, which has been shared nearly 20,000 times.
Additionally, Shephard, a part-time lecturer and advisor for University’s Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) program, reports that roughly 40 percent of the site traffic is classroom teachers. So, even though supportREALteachers.org contains data, strategies, and resources designed specifically for physical education, teachers from other areas find them valuable.
Much of the site’s success lies in how easy Himberg and Shephard have made it for teachers to obtain these valuable resources.
“Everything on our site is absolutely 100 percent free. We don’t host advertising, we don’t have any registration,” Shephard said. “We’ve declined advertising. We’ve been asked what our rate is for advertising, and we’re just not interested. All that does is clutter up the site and slow it down, and that’s not what we want. We want to make it effective and give teachers what they want, but we don’t want to make a couple of dollars here and there.”
Value-adds like free content are a teacher’s best friend. And when it comes to advocating for, supporting, and encouraging new physical education teachers, supportREALteachers.org is in a class by itself.
“Real teachers don’t babysit kids. Real teachers do the right thing every day as best they can with the resources they have,” Himberg said. “It’s not easy, and we need support for them.”