The teacher looks at the classroom clock and says “It’s time”. The whole class quickly place all their belongings away into their desks. Some push in their chairs but the majority are racing to the door, trying to gain their position as close as possible to the front of the line like they were fighting to be the first customer for a one-time sale on a 70-inch flat screen TV. As everyone is trying their hardest to keep their squeals of excitement contained, their eyes are glaring at the last student as they roll between the rows of desks trying to get through the few chairs that were forgotten to be pushed in. As this one particular student gets to the end of the line, the rest of the class makes a sigh, yearning for the teacher to start leading the class to the gymnasium. The line starts moving forward and everyone moves along like a marching band, knowing if you step out of line, the whole class will be forced to return to the classroom. As the class turns a corner in the hallway to continue to walk towards the gymnasium, an educational assistant joins the end of the line and greets the last student.
At the gymnasium, the teacher hands off the class to the Physical Education teacher. The whole class is beaming with excitement and after greeting the class, everyone quickly runs to the buckets of pinnies to get into their colour groups. As the first 5 minutes of class begins, the last student rolls in at a turtle pace with the educational assistant following alongside. This student is then transferred from their wheelchair and into a walker by the support of their educational assistant. As this student is being buckled into the walker, the rest of the class is finishing their warm up.
The student in the walker wheels their way towards the group, the teacher turns to the student and tells them that they ran out of pinnies and gives them the choice to join any group they want. The teacher turns back to the class and goes right into the lesson explaining the 5 sending and receiving centres that are set up around the gymnasium. As the teacher assigns each colour group to a centre, they realize that there isn’t an appropriate centre for the student in the walker and the assigned equipment is not compatible for them to use with their walker. The teacher walks past the student in the walker and approaches the educational assistant to give them a rubber playground ball. “Use this ball and see if you can bounce it back and forth with them. Try to stay to the side so you’re not in the way.”
Forty minutes of PE class pass by. The homeroom teacher arrives back into the gymnasium and just like that the class has come to an end. The students take off their pinnies and line up to exit the gymnasium. As the class starts to leave, the student in the walker is still being transitioned back into their wheelchair by the educational assistant.
And there you go. This is the reality for many disabled learners. They are treated as the other; the student who “needs”, “requires”, and the one who “cannot”. Over the past years we’ve had the opportunity to work with many educators and system leaders to support the subject area of Physical Education at the elementary and secondary levels. While there are amazing programs out there, one of our missions here at Play Beyond The Label is to support the educators who are struggling to meet the needs of all of their learners. Whether the issue is a lack of equipment, difficulty planning for varying levels or increasing engagement, our goal is to include disability as a forethought in all classroom planning, not an afterthought.
With the school year already off to a whirlwind start, we’d like to break down 4 areas that may help you get started as you are planning your Physical Education class…for ALL your students.
1) Language Matters
Which one do you find the hardest to say: Disabled, Special Needs, Handicapped, Worchester Sauce. Jokes aside, what we’re trying to say here is our number one rule, get to know the student. There is an emerging discussion surrounding language being used when talking about people with disabilities. The phrases “She is disabled” or “He has special needs” may seem synonymous to someone who is not part of the community, however these two phrases hold their own meanings and attachments to those being spoken about. We’d like to talk about how our language matters when it comes to teaching students with disabilities, and how the words we use as educators can help shape the way our own students and colleagues acknowledge the rights of the disabled communities.
When you think of the word ‘special’, what comes to your mind? A treat you reward yourself with after a long week of work, someone or something that is different or on another level, or something that stands out as being 'outside of the norm'.
We are 2 educators at Play Beyond The Label and are going through our own process with learning and practicing the language we use when speaking about people with disabilities. Everyone is somewhere different in their journey and learning. The language and vernacular are constantly changing, but remember that the words ‘Disabled’ and ‘Disability’ are not new. We wanted to share that it is ok to say the word.
You will start seeing that we have started to use the word with pride as we both have disabled family members. Disability is a reclaimed word; part of an identity and a community. The words disabled and disability is not a negative or a positive necessarily in terms of describing the person or experience, but something which combines with everything else to make that person who they are, as they are. Language and terminology is always evolving. We are learning and we will still make mistakes. As educators, continue to make an effort and intention to know all your students, and if you’re unsure with what language to use… ask.
Disability is part of human diversity and our stance is simple. It’s a human right for disabled students to have equal access to quality programming at school, whether in mathematics or Physical Education. There isn’t anything special about it. We need to all do better to make our instruction and teaching accessible for all, so that inclusivity is the norm.
2) Make Learning Universal
Check out our blog post on Universal Design for Learning, Coming In Hot Like a Fully Loaded Baked Potato. In this post we break down the core components of UDL. Here is a simple chart to help with your planning and focus this year.
- Instead of offering activities with accommodations for specific students with disabilities... Try to design activities with a “menu of options” for all students to choose how they learn best.
- Instead of trying to find a specific role for a student with a disability to participate in a game... Try to create a game where every student can explore a different role to perform the tasks at hand.
- Instead of giving the student with a disability a separate task to work on with an EA... Try to explore multiple entry points to the game so every student can participate together.
- Instead of thinking about how the student with a disability will fit into the game you’ve planned... Try to plan with ALL students in mind from the beginning of your program planning.
- Instead of trying to do it all... Try to collaborate with the SERT, support staff, the learners themselves and their families. Be open to learning.
3) Don’t Do it Alone
As educators, especially in another pandemic year, the pressure sometimes seems insurmountable. Between sanitizing equipment and monitoring behaviours and running extracurriculars, you are trying to maintain an engaging and appropriate program for your students. We hear over and over that there is simply “not enough time in the day.” So, our advice is to use your time wisely. Knowledge is power, and sometimes we need to reach out to our partners in education who may have some expertise or guidance beyond what we know to make it work. Find these people, talk to them, invite them into your teaching space and take their suggestions.
- Student’s Homeroom Teacher & Educational Assistant: A 15-minute conversation with the educators who know the student best will provide you with pivotal information needed to teach them. Try starting with
- “Hey, I’m starting my sending and receiving unit in P.E. next week, what equipment do you think will be most successful for _________?” Hint: Set aside a time for this, a conversation with the Educational Assistant in the “heat of the moment” during P.E. class is not the time, and it doesn’t bode well for the learners who are waiting for support while you converse.
- Parents/Caregivers: Your student may be reluctant to let you know how it’s going, but their family won’t be! Check in with parents/caregivers at home at least once a term to get an idea of how they feel their child is doing at school. Try this:
- “_________ was a bit withdrawn when we were practicing territory games, is this something they struggled with last year in P.E.? Do you have any suggestions on how I can engage them to participate?”
- Consultants: This word is a general one, but your school board should have a wide range of consultants who hold higher expertise and experience in particular areas and are able to support you with planning and programming. To name a few, their expertise are specific to the fields of: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Blind/Low Vision, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Behaviour.
- Physiotherapist/Occupational Therapist: In Physical Education, a PT and/or OT can hold the key, or many keys, to your questions surrounding supporting learners with disabilities in your class. They can support learners who may require physical adaptations beyond what you are able to provide in the classroom, provide equipment and make really simple suggestions and strategies that you can start implementing right away for that UDL-style approach you are going for in your class. It will take some time to connect with the key players we have mentioned above, but we promise it will be worth it.
4) The IEP; Our Weapon Of Choice is one of our favourite posts we have written. The Individual Education Plan is the most powerful tool for an educator to have when getting to know a student with a disability and planning for their progress for the school year. As you may know the Health & Physical Education curriculum very well, take the time to accommodate how the student learns best to meet those expectations. In some cases, you may have to create a Physical Education program page in the IEP, as the students require a modified or alternate program in order to be successful. Here’s a strong statement for you, if the student with disabilities is in your class, they are your responsibility and that includes what they are learning.
Now for real… let’s try this again...
The teacher looks at the classroom clock and says “It’s time”. The whole class quickly places all their belongings away into their desks, everyone pushes their chairs in as they’ve become accustomed to a routine to make sure pathways in the classroom are clear.
The majority of students are racing to the door, trying to gain their position as close as possible to the front of the line, with some trailing behind to help other students pick up their belongings and tidy up. As everyone is trying their hardest to keep their squeals of excitement contained, a group of four eager classmates hurry to help a student in a wheelchair navigate to their assigned spot in the middle of the classroom line.
The teacher leads the class forward at a practiced pace, not too fast so everyone can keep up. As the class turns a corner in the hallway to continue to walk towards the gymnasium, an educational assistant greets all of the students and walks alongside of the line, while strategically having one specific student in clear view.
At the gymnasium, the teacher hands off the class to the Physical Education teacher. The whole class is beaming with excitement. After greeting the class, everyone quickly moves to the buckets of pinnies and find their assigned peer buddy to get into their colour groups. The student in the wheelchair moves with the group. Out of nowhere a peer buddy throws a pinnie to the student in the wheelchair and they both giggle, as they know their colour group is always first to be ready to go. The student is then transferred from their wheelchair and into a walker by the support of their educational assistant as their buddies gather the adapted equipment they need for the class. It’s time for everyone to play.