The A-Z of Social Justice in Physical Education: Part 1

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During this time of ambiguity, fear and isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for human connection has been pervasive for me and within my local community. My fellow educators and trainee teachers have frequently shared how much they are looking forward to being back in their teaching spaces and how much they miss interactions with their students.

On social media, there has been an inundation of educators questioning their previous physical education practices and wanting to make a change for their students upon return to whatever normality we all face.

Having time to reflect on our teaching practices is important because as teachers, we have entered a profession in which critique is omnipresent and we are professionally obligated to improve our practice for our students. This can be a challenging task when each year our classes and students change, however, it is our duty to adapt our practice for all our students.

Free Access Article

Toward the end of 2018, I recognized that many physical educators wanted to improve their practice to be more socially just for the students they serve. However, they did not have the tools, resources and sometimes knowledge to be able to do so.

I attempted to fill this gap for practitioners by writing an article with co-authors Sue Sutherland and Jennifer Walton-Fisette, which was published in the April 2020 issue of JOPERD. The article, “The A-Z of Social Justice Physical Education: Part 1” is free to access on the SHAPE America website.

In the article we explain the need for a socially just education, describe what social justice is in physical education, and discuss the starting point of looking at 10 strands of oppression: age, language, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status to question our practice, biases and perspectives.

Ten strands of oppression visual interpretation

The remainder of the article then follows the letters of the alphabet (A through M) to explore ideas and strategies that you can evaluate and potentially implement in your practice. Here is just a brief excerpt to give you an example:

  • A — Ability Awareness. Predominantly in physical education, physical ability is most valued. An ability-aware educator would consider teaching the concept of ability to students, to help them reframe assumptions about those who are considered “incompetent” or “unable” through creating an inclusive context where focus is not heavily on ability.
  • B — Be Aware of Your Bias. In order to engage fully in social justice education, an understanding of your own bias is imperative. It is important to be aware of both your explicit (conscious) and implicit (subconscious) bias and how this impacts our teaching.

We emphasize several key points throughout: It is fundamental as educators that ideas and strategies should be context- and student-specific. This means professional judgment, teacher autonomy, and choice are paramount.

Furthermore, a socially just education requires a different teaching paradigm whereby teachers become facilitators of learning spaces rather than directly instructing each class; students have freedom, choice, voice and a safe space to identify in ways that they choose.

The ideas and strategies amalgamated contribute to democratic ways of living in society, where students learn to respect and understand differences and learn to appreciate those differences. These values are essential to our society in whatever form it evolves to in the coming months and years.

April 2020 issue of JOPERD

After reading the free access article in JOPERD, I encourage  you to look out for Part 2, which will discuss how teachers and teacher educators can prepare for and teach about precarity in physical education. The article will include resources, readings, and examples from practice to support you in your journey to becoming a more socially just physical educator.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions, feedback and suggestions.

Additional Resources


Shrehan Lynch
Shrehan Lynch

Shrehan Lynch completed her Ph.D. at the University of Alabama and is now a senior lecturer at the University of East London, England. She trains teachers on all teacher training routes including PGCE, School Direct, and Apprenticeship programmes. Her specialisms are research on physical education, teacher education, and social justice. She can be contacted on Twitter @DrLynchPE or via email at slynch@uel.ac.uk.