Ready, Set, Reentry! Back to School Tips for Health and Physical Educators

Across the country, health and physical educators have headed “back to school” — with some teaching from home and others in person with physical distancing. With so many unknowns at this time, it’s helpful to rely on our HPE colleagues who are going through similar experiences. Together, we can stay strong and deliver high quality, standards-based instruction to our students.

Recently, members of SHAPE America’s Physical Activity, Physical Education, and School Health Education Councils joined together for an epic Twitter Chat on this very important topic of school reentry for health and physical educators.

I cohosted the chat along with Melanie Levenberg, and our panelists included:

  • Lisa Paulson (Physical Activity Council)
  • Toni Bader (Physical Education Council)
  • Chia-Liang Dai (School Health Education Council)

Here are some of the great ideas, tips and resources that were shared by the health and physical educators on the chat:

Q1: How are you mentally/physically/emotionally preparing to teach this fall? How does that compare to what you have done to prepare in past years? 

  • I’m loving and embracing working out at home. Exercise is the nonnegotiable key to me staying physically and mentally healthy. I end my workouts with a few minutes of mindfulness/short meditations from @Smiling_Mind. Also, check out the #SHAPEPA Physical Activity Council Wellness Series!
  • Emotionally, honestly, I’m feeling anxious for the awkward Zoom discussions in which students haven’t had the opportunity to laugh and get to know each other. I’m exploring creative ways to foster relationships with students and build new relationships with new students in an online environment/remotely.
  • I teach future professionals how to find their “style of teaching.” My style isn’t to lecture for 50 minutes. Our class will be most valuable if students offer perspectives from personal experiences, and that rapport-building takes time. I want raw and authentic conversations that are as meaningful as possible.
  • I’ve mentally preparing by attending various district and national webinars and meetings as well as setting up PD and work plans. This year I have more of a list of what works and what doesn’t, great ideas to try, and filtering with bringing it back to basics and relationships, knowing that I will have to pivot.
  • Emotionally, I am connecting with my family, friends, and support system to make sure I am staying positive. I believe that good communication is important, and emotionally I am giving myself more grace than I ever have before.

Q2: What type of guidance have you received from your administrators regarding planning for the implementation of a quality HPE program/curriculum?

  • In higher ed at the University of MN Duluth, we are operating strictly under the guidance from our University of MN president and the hierarchy that follows. We are being sensitive to our cooperating teachers’ feelings and needs and are planning for alternate partnerships.
  • It’s a good idea to avoid moderate to vigorous physical activity in first few weeks, and focus on SHAPE America National Standards 3, 4 and 5. Other examples include the reevaluation and implementation of things like red dots on the floor, checking for HVAC/recycled air, sanitation, contact tracing, loss of gym/space, confidentiality of students, etc.
  • One of the messages I received from the administrators regarding fall semester instruction is that instructors are expected to provide more opportunities for connection between the student and instructor. We hope this will help create a supportive relationship between the instructor and student and to alleviate concerns students may have.
  • The guidance received is to focus on standards but also relationships. A big thing also is things are changing everyday so to wait for more guidance.

Q3: What tips do you have for planning for teaching HPE this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

  • “Everyone is a first-year teacher this year.” No one is going through this alone. Collaborate with the community as much as possible. Practice self-care. Everyone is doing the best they can.
  • Ask students, “What do you need to stay engaged in class this semester/year?” Find out what our students need right now; focus on mental health and how we can make them as physically literate as possible.
  • I believe health educators should be the role models of healthy lifestyles to their students. I will utilize any opportunities (e.g., announcements, virtual teaching) to disseminate messages that promote personal health and healthy lifestyles. I will also make sure that I take advantage of existing relevant resources (for example from the SHAPE America website) that can be modified to use in teaching HPE.
  • Keep it simple, be reflective, pivot A LOT, collaborate constantly, be open for change yet keep as much routine as possible. Make and emphasize relationships and fun.

Q4: How will you intend to address SEL in HPE this fall?

  • There’s never been a better or more important time to prioritize health. moves. minds. I also plan to promote a variety of ways for students to practice self-care, mindfulness, and exploration of new and safe physical activities of their CHOICE.
  • During the pandemic, the uncertainty and social isolation may have produced greater anxiety/depression for every individual. Being able to take care of students’ emotional needs is particularly critical.
  • My intent is to integrate an activity (e.g., journaling, meditation, mind-body practice, listening to a song) that promotes social and emotional learning at the beginning, during, or at the end of each virtual class meeting in hopes of relieving students’ tension caused by all changes.
  • Intentional routines, simple activities, family connection, icebreakers, positive comments and supports, personal connections, engaging activities, modeling behaviors, showing up!

Q5: What is one adaptation to your curriculum or with individual students you intend to try to implement this fall?

  • The focus on trying to meet all standards isn’t the same. We need to do what we can, follow the guidance from @SHAPEAmerica and other leaders in our field. After gathering feedback from students, I plan to try things like virtual classroom development, extended partnerships, virtual guests, and max collaboration.
  • Online or virtual learning are more limited environments compared to face-to-face learning, so I intend to offer various times and ways for students to reach me.
  • I will check in with them regularly to ensure student accountability and student voices can be heard as well.
  • An adaptation will be involving the family and parents more than I ever have and doing more pre-teaching and sending visuals home.   

Q6: What suggestions do you have for advocating for HPE during this time?

  • There has never been a more crucial time to advocate about the importance of our work in #healthed and #physed. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of exercise, getting outdoors and in nature, eating well, and overall mental and physical health.
  • Your voice matters. We need to share stories, student testimonials, etc. with administrators/stakeholders to continue advocacy efforts at all levels. NOW is the time to gather more data, send messages/social media tags with local members of Congress, and share the importance of our work, be it ever changing.
  • The objectives of HPE such as self-regulation, social awareness, responsible decision making and healthy lifestyle practices (e.g., regular exercise, balanced diet, adequate rest and managing our stress) all play a critical role in personal health.
  • Although living a healthy lifestyle is not a cure for contracting COVID-19, it makes us more resilient during the pandemic.
  • We need examples of success and what it can look like. We need to push as many celebrations as possible. The more the students are happy and engaged the more the families will engage — and they will be our best advocates.

Q7: What is one resource you would recommend to all HPE teachers to help them prepare for teaching during COVID-19?

  • A very important resource I would recommend to all HPE teachers is within themselves — that is finding their ways to experience inner peace and enjoy life during this pandemic. It can be reading your favorite book, gardening, playing an instrument, or practicing mindful breathing.
  • For me it has been sharing ideas on the Facebook social media pages. I literally typed “adapted” and liked every page, as well as “physical education” and have been getting great ideas from a wide variety of resources there.

Thank you to everyone who joined and participated! Thank you to everyone who shared their resources and tips. Let’s keep the conversation going! Join us for more chats and stay connected on Twitter.

Additional Resources

Jim Hambel

Jim Hambel is a grateful elementary physical education teacher in New York City. He has a teaching license in PE as well as general education and special education for grades 1-6. In 2021, Jim received the Dr. Doris R. Corbett Johnson Leaders for Our Future Award from SHAPE America. He is a member of the Professional Bowlers Association and the U.S. Bowling Hall of Fame. He can be reached at