7 Steps to Go From Surviving to Thriving With HPE at Home

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For many years, the words “Shelter in Place” meant lock the gym door and then continue on with instruction as usual. However, when those same words came from state and national leaders last week, they took on a completely different meaning for teachers — one that none of us were prepared for.

Like most teachers, I had to take a crash course in new learning platforms, software and apps that could help facilitate remote learning.

I kept waiting for someone to snap their fingers or wave their magic wand so I could magically transform what typically happens in the gym or on the field and blacktop with a group of classmates to this new digital version — something easily completed by each student in isolation.

I started creating videos and gathering health and physical education resources from the internet to prepare for the instant transition to a virtual HPE classroom. Because I wanted nothing but the best for my students, I started putting in extra-long days and logging insane hours on the computer, drastically more than I allow my own children.

Then, while lying down snuggling with one of my daughters before bed one night, she offered to let me borrow her stress ball because she said she could sense I was “pretty rev’d up.” 

Clearly, I needed to pump the brakes and put on my oxygen mask first, so I would be able to help others put on theirs later. So, I took a really deep breath and started to reflect on the situation, my goals, expectations and feelings. Now that I’m fully adjusted, I’m able to begin assisting other health and physical educators.

Here are my suggestions for 7 steps health and physical educators can take to go from surviving to thriving with HPE at home:

1. Make sure students feel safe and cared for.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care!” Make sure that your students’ most basic needs are met before you inundate them with a ton of work. What this looks like will be different for everyone depending on family situations, your school and district resources, and available technology. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple message or call home from a teacher. It will take time, but I guarantee it will be time well spent.

2. Pace yourself and know your limits.

“You can’t pour from an empty pot!” Distance learning is here to stay … at least for another 6-12 weeks. We’re not quite two weeks in, yet it feels like it’s been an eternity. Structure and routines give a sense of control and are very powerful tools to help you stay on task without overdoing it or getting burned out. Listen to your body and check in with your thoughts; when either are not happy, take a break and reach out for help. There is a whole Twitterverse of #HPEatHome folks going through this simultaneously who would be happy to help.

Kate Cox Sidewalk Chalk Message

3. Make It Meaningful

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, I had been doing a lot of research and implementing changes to make my physical education classes more meaningful and relevant. Finding motivation to be active falls into a few different categories:

  1. Challenge/Competition
  2. Social Interaction
  3. Motor Competence/Success
  4. Personal Relevance
  5. Fun (which can also be a byproduct of the first 4 listed)

We all know the plethora of physical and mental benefits that participating in exercise provides. In order to reap those benefits, you have to move your body. Often in times of chaos and stress, finding the motivation to be active can be challenging. You’re even more likely to hit a roadblock if your activity of choice typically takes place in a team setting or group class, because you don’t have that social interaction or accountability to show up.

Meaning Learning Infographic

4. Prevent social isolation from physical distancing.

One of the hardest things about not being physically present in a class setting is the lack of community feeling that I value so much. I believe that social interaction is the “heart” of meaningful movement experiences. The more I thought about this, the more it made sense. Humans are tribal by nature, and therefore seek to belong and be part of a community.

In her book, The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal talks about the collective joy that results from moving with a group of people, and how it generates that sense of belonging that humans naturally seek. While social connection and interaction is harder to replicate remotely, it is possible. With some effort and creativity, we can provide opportunities for social interaction through the learning pieces we send home.

Being mindful of the various motivational buckets is important to consider both personally and professionally. As health and physical education teachers, we should send home lessons and activities that are educative, meaningful and equitable, even if done remotely.

In order to do this, we need to be aware of our students’ current skill level, state of mind, “classroom options,” and access to technology.

5. Make movement purposeful.

We all agree that we want our students to be active for 60 minutes a day. Sending home lessons that encourage them to play with a purpose may help to achieve this. All movement is good movement, but movement with intention is so much more beneficial.

My good friend Will Potter started a big movement, “Bring Your Parents to PE.” Like it or not, we are now bringing PE to the parents. This is a tremendous opportunity for HPE professionals to showcase our incredible learning opportunities, not just “roll out the ball” type activities. Happy, busy, good is a start — but we can do so much better!

6. Encourage appropriate social interaction when possible.

Certain SHAPE America Grade-Level Outcomes (GLOs) adapt easily to the home setting and help generate some social interaction, such as:

  • GLO (S1.E11.5) — Combines locomotor skills and movement concepts to create and perform a dance with a group, and
  • GLO (S1.M1.8) — Exhibits command of rhythm and timing by creating a movement sequence to music as an individual or in a group.

How can students create a dance in a group while they are physically distant? One option is to create a dance with their families. Or, if your students have access to technology, connect with friends and create a dance together using Zoom, Google Meet, TikTok, or any other social media platform they can use.

I tried out the idea with HPE colleagues Melanie Levenberg, Brandon Herwick, and Lynn Hefele. Admittedly, it was not the same as being in the same room dancing together, but I know we all experienced the collective joy that our shared movement opportunity provided.

Four people in a group chat session online

7. Allow Voice and Choice

GLO (S5.M6.7) demonstrates the importance of social interaction by helping and encouraging others, avoiding trash talk, and providing support to classmates.

I took this GLO and created the following HPE-at-home lesson:

  • Divide class up into teams. Using Google Classroom, send students a Google Sheet with the team assignments, a team challenge, and a FlipGrid Code.
  • The first team challenge allows for student voice and choice: Accrue as many minutes of physical activity as possible.
  • The team with the highest total at the end of the day wins. Students have 3 tasks:
    1. Log the minutes and describe your activity on the spreadsheet.
    2. Record a short video clip of yourself participating in that activity on FlipGrid.
    3. Leave feedback on at least two classmates’ videos on FlipGrid.
Spreadsheet of FlipGrid screenshot

The feedback I got from students was extremely positive. They reported doing more movement because they were encouraged and supported by their teammates. They felt like they were part of a team (which they reported was something they also missed about our typical class setting). They also loved being able to see their classmates, albeit not in real time.

Additional Resources


Kate Cox
Kate Cox

Kate Cox is a National Board Certified physical educator who is passionate about physical literacy and high-quality professional development. Kate is the 2017 CAHPERD Middle School Teacher of the Year and a 2018 SHAPE America District Teacher of the Year. Kate is an instructional coach for H-PEC and has been teaching 4th-8th grade physical education for 18 years. Follow her on Twitter @katecoxpe.