Why I Embrace a More Inclusive and Empathetic Teaching Style in Physical Education

As American society and schools experience growing diversity and interconnectedness, our responsibilities as teachers must embrace pedagogical approaches that nurture and celebrate diversity, inclusion, and empathy.

I am a physical education teacher in New York City who is committed to embracing a more inclusive and empathetic teaching style in physical education. I consider myself to be an anti-racist teacher — and by embracing this approach, I aim to co-create inclusive learning environments in physical education.

Reflection and Self-Evaluation

Being an anti-racist educator requires continuous learning, self-reflection, and advocacy. As a lifelong learner, I am perpetually learning about myself as a human being. I spend countless hours in critical self-evaluation to identify and examine my biases, assumptions, and prejudices. I am a cisgender, heterosexual, Afro-Latino male in my mid-30s — an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was raised in a working-class environment in New York City from the age of 8.

I am a proud alum of the New York public school system who was nourished and supported by the amazing efforts from teachers, coaches, professors, and community members who guided me. As a child, I was privileged and fortunate to have attended elementary school and middle school in one of New York City’s most diverse districts.

My third-grade PE teacher, an African American male, introduced me to literature beyond the PE curriculum, which made an indelible impression on my psyche, self-esteem, and confidence as a recently arrived Afro-Latino student in the United States.

Throughout my student-athlete career, from grade school to graduate school, I had the privilege of being in integrated environments. In these settings, I interacted with peers, teachers, staff, and community members from diverse racial backgrounds, various social economic classes, different genders, abilities, and cultures.

I have come to the anti-racist disposition that I embody because of the amazing human beings throughout my life who have directly and indirectly nurtured my growth through the power of their presence, empathy, insights, words, actions, and deeds. Teaching the next generation is a way of paying forward what has been fostered inside of me.

I often and publicly acknowledge to my students and colleagues that I have many areas in life where I am still learning and growing. I do not have all the answers, but my eagerness to continue filling the “vessel of knowledge” has led me to engage in extensive professional development opportunities to continuously deepen my knowledge and understanding.

Physical Literacy and Human Rights

Margaret Whitehead’s work on physical literacy has been deeply impactful in my journey toward a broader and deeper understanding of empathy and my role as a physical education teacher in co-creating environments where students are supported and encouraged to develop their physical literacy in a way that is meaningful to their individual lives.

This conception of physical literacy has reinvigorated my propensity for human movement, physical activity, social justice, empathy, anti-racist work, and the celebration of diversity for fellow human beings on their physical literacy journey.

It is also inspiring to know that there is a global movement to support the development of quality physical education, physical activity, and sport for all human beings, as proposed by UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport. (2015).

Collaboration With Families and Communities

Throughout my 15 years as physical education teacher, I have actively sought input from parents and guardians, students, and colleagues alike, recognizing the valuable insights they bring to the educational process. In this way, there is shared responsibility in addressing inequities and other systemic barriers.

Making connections with key stakeholders in the school community has allowed me to become an integral part of the school community. From this position, influence and change are possible, as I am “at the table.”

I have been fortunate throughout my educational career both as a student-athlete and as a teacher-coach to learn and work in environments that welcomed and supported my stances about physical education being an academic subject and my propensity for social justice.

Building a More Equitable World

By embracing a more empathetic, inclusive, and anti-racist teaching style in physical education, teachers can empower their students to challenge injustice, promote equity, and foster inclusive communities.

The impact of this approach extends beyond the gymnasium, transforming society by nurturing generations of empathetic, socially conscious individuals committed to dismantling systemic racism and building a more equitable world.

This blog post is adapted from an article originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of SHAPE America’s Momentum magazine.

Additional Resources

Ronny Rodriguez

Ronny Rodriguez is an elementary physical education teacher at Dos Puentes Elementary School in New York City. He wholeheartedly believes that his very existence serves as inspiration to those who want to live a life invigorated by the vitality that the loving joy of movement, physical activity, and sports can foster in every human being.