International Athletic Directors “State of the Industry” Survey 2023

International Athletic Directors “State of the Industry” Survey 2023
Nick DeForest, American International School Vienna


The job of an Athletic Director (AD) or Head of Sport can be extremely demanding with long hours, extensive list of duties and a constant flow of events to organize or people to supervise. In the United States there is a massive turnover rate each year of people who just do not want the headaches any more. Internationally it seems that there is more stability in the position and more competition when jobs do open up. That security could be because compared to our U.S. colleagues there are: less legal issues, no sold out stadiums to deal with and very few parents pushing to get their children to the next level. However, if the results of the International AD “State of the Industry” survey are any indication, it may be that international ADs are starting to look for greener pastures. This year, the third version of the survey and it keeps true to form with a continued “top concern” of ADs around the world being “increased workload.’” How many years will the people, doing the job, keep having more work to do before they say enough? When asked what they would purchase if costs were not a factor, a top response this year was “more staff members.”

The 2023 survey asked some specific questions about how things have been coming out of the pandemic. As you might assume, the majority of responses said last year was more challenging than ever. I want to start out this survey report by highlighting the feeling that for years ADs workload has been increasing. They have not been getting more help and that is now coming on the backs of the most challenging years in their careers. One anonymous AD in Asia could not wait for summer to come, expectations in this new job that I took have been absolutely outrageous and beyond anything that’s adequate. Very burned out after the first year and not sure where to find motivation for the second year.” While another anonymous AD in Europe has already had enough, The workload is incredible. ADs put in an extra month of hours compared to our teaching, and sometimes, admin colleagues and I have come to the end of my candle. I have been burning it at both ends for over a decade and need some time to re-evaluate and re-energize. I may or may not be back in the future. I’m curious how many of us are at the same or a similar point?”


State of the Industry



If you have not heard about this survey before, I started it in 2019 as a way to bring our community together and to see what was on the minds of International School Athletic Directors from various school sizes and geographical locations. I analyzed the results of the “State of the Industry” survey which was completed by ADs all around the world. Two years later I asked the same questions again and got some very similar answers but with some COVID-slanted responses. In the spring and summer of 2023 it was time again to go back and see what if anything had changed. This year 93 people filled in the survey, which was almost the same as in 2021. The majority of the responses are from ADs in Europe (40), Latin America (24) and Asia (23). African and Middle Eastern ADs also took part but with less than 10 responses each. For the previous survey articles please click here for 2021 and here for 2019.


Same Story, Different Year


“Increased workload” is not the only thing that has remained the same in the three surveys, as some of the other questions have yielded the same results each time. When contacted by parents, ADs say that the number one reason why is again complaints about “communication they say they didn’t receive or couldn’t find.” When asked about what types of things ADs are “not concerned about’ the top two answers remain “job security” and “pressure to win.” Eighty percent of ADs are not concerned at all about their job. That percentage is of course high but still lower than the pre COVID results. One thing to note about the survey in general is that the answers are almost always similar regardless of which region in the world the participants are in. However, there are one or two questions that stand out as being geographically different.

This year “pressure to win” was one of those questions with 50% of Latin American responses indicating they were concerned about that in relation to the response of European ADs where only 19% were concerned. The other standout this year was the question about vendors and getting supplies to your location with 70% of ADs in the Middle East and Africa being concerned where only 30% of other areas were concerned. One would assume that getting supplies to the Middle East and Africa is not as easy as Europe and Asia but why is there such a big difference about winning in Latin America? The survey responses do not tell us but it could be their proximity to the United States or more probable is the fact that many international schools in Latin America have a higher percentage of local students compared to other regions.



Money and Time


Two of my favorite questions of the survey ask ADs to look to the future with unlimited money and then unlimited time and tell me what they see. I love them because it really can show you what ADs believe their programs are lacking to be able to really make a difference. Athletics are so often an afterthought in the international world but hopefully with initiatives like this survey other people in our schools start to take notice and listen. Topping the list, as always, for what ADs would purchase if they could, would be better, bigger or improved facilities. Unfortunately, for many that is just a pipe dream so as in the past I will put that answer aside and move on. Next second highest responses in the past two surveys were that ADs wanted more money in order to pay coaches more and also offer them some professional development.


Those two reasons were topped this year, as ADs wanted more money, so they could hire more staff to help with the increasing demands of the program. Some ADs mentioned going from a part time to a full time AD position while others mentioned an Assistant AD or even just part time office staff. One AD in Asia, who wants to remain unknown, would love some more help and writes, I am at a school of over 700 and I am running everything myself. No assistant, no assistant AD, and no stipends for coaches. All coaches are volunteers so I am trying to do whatever I can to help, so I do not lose them. I plan all trips, logistics, teach a class, and even have to referee at times”. With a top concern of the job being “increased workload” is this a cry for help before more of us need to “re-evaluate and re-energize”?


Full time or assistant AD positions could absolutely help schools realize what their ADs would do if they had “more time,” which is my second favorite question. Again topping the list for three years in a row is “more time spent with coaches and athletes.” Many ADs want to develop leadership training programs or athletic councils while others want to just be able to sit and talk with their coaches. Some new answers that popped up this time around by a number of people are wishes to improve or create apps, social media accounts or websites that will help get information to parents “that they say they didn’t receive or couldn’t find.”


Top Concerns



The “increased workload and expectations” that I have talked about already was actually the second rated response this year followed by finding qualified coaches in third. Both of those responses have been top concerns since this survey has started; however, the number one concern this year is brand new. The “rising costs of trips” rocketed to the top of the list with 47 “very concerned” and 41 “concerned” responses out of the 91 total responses. Coming out of COVID the cost of travel has risen tremendously however, travel costs are not the only reason trip costs are going up. The switch from home stays to hotel stays for many conferences has already caused many schools to scale back their trips or look for more local options.


Home stays versus hotel stays has been a constant debate for schools and conferences for years with passionate discussions and arguments supporting both sides. People on each side of the discussion often think their way is both safer and easier but COVID has seemed to tip the scales for anyone close to the midline. The first episode of Global Take was even dedicated to this topic which you can watch by clicking here. Most do say that hotel stays bring more security for our students but with a higher cost to parents; however, there have been conferences around the world that have used hotels for years. David Johnson from the American International School Riyadh biggest concern is trip costs; The prices of these trips concern me and I am not sure how long we will be able to sustain sending kids to play in different countries.  Although, not many yet, we have had a bit of parent concern and pushback about the cost of international trips.  It is a difficult balancing act of attending things and passing on things due to increased costs.”


Those new to hotels have often been sending extra chaperones to help with supervision issues and to also give coaches a bit of a break who have been working all day. Daan van Bunge from The International School of The Hague says that, the safeguarding of our students is high on the agenda for our senior leadership and they have decided against home stays. The financial pressure on the parents has increased and it is more likely that they will start to say no to participating in trips.”



In 2021 COVID took over the survey with top concerns and ADs wondering if they were going to have normal athletic seasons or if they were going to have seasons at all. One of the questions last time was “what is something new that you have done and that you will continue to do in non-COVID years?” so of course this year I had to check back in and see if those things have actually continued. It has only been two years since then and with schools in Asia only coming back to competition mid year so I was not sure what kind of responses I would receive. However, my assumptions were confirmed that online meetings for many have remained. Pre-season parent meetings came out on top of all the different types with conference meetings, coach meetings and individual trip meetings also being mentioned. Personally, the pre-season parent meetings have been a fantastic addition to our program for the types of parents we have. We have had parents join from hotel rooms on business trips, in their cars on the way home and families join while they are finishing up their dinner. Wherever they are in the world they are using the opportunity to get some information and ask questions when physically coming into schools would not have been as convenient or even possible.


The second question about COVID and the last question of the survey asked ADs to compare last school year (as a post COVID year) to normal years. The resounding response was that last year was more challenging or even as one AD writes “crazy and way more challenging.” The reasons for those responses were split into two distinct reasons. Will Vreugdenhil of the Korea International School articulates the first reason very well.   “We are having to train or retrain students, parents, coaches, hosts, employees what the exact expectations are. We can’t say ‘Remember last year’… it was too long ago.”

It is the rebuilding of cultures that is so time consuming especially for people who were at their schools before COVID. What does it mean to represent your school on an athletic team and how does one do that? There are also schools that have seen more new requests than ever before, as people are trying to make up for missed opportunities. Adding new trips, events or even teams is the second main reason last year was so challenging to our responders. However, not just because they are new but because it seems that more faculty members want to spend their time doing more things for themselves. Erlend Badham from the International School of Belgrade reflected that the year was “challenging as we are putting on more activities and events than ever and parents still expect more, but we have less willingness from faculty to commit.” A similar response came from Anthony Hennelly from the International School of Prague who feels like they “had to further encourage adults to support the programme more so than previous years.” However, challenging and busy are not always bad things for an AD as Will Moncrief from the Frankfurt International School writes that the year wasVery busy, lots of participation…but a GOOD busy. Feels great to be back and then some!”


My Hope


When I was first thinking about organizing this survey back in 2018, I asked  some colleagues what they thought about the idea. One of them asked me right away why I thought it was important and what I thought would come out of it. My answer was simple at first: to bring the international athletic director community together. I also wanted to show each other how similar we are regardless of how big our schools are and where they are in the world. Looking back I think that goal has been accomplished, of course also in part by the pandemic, the Globetrottin’ ADs podcast, the online conferences, and my book ‘International Education Leadership: A Global Playbook”. Now after the third round, I want something more to come from this “State of the Industry” survey and all of the time the ADs put into their responses.

For years now ADs have been concerned about the increasing amount of work that their school demands of them and in many cases the AD, that is doing more and more work is also doing it alone or even after a long day of teaching classes. This year has been the first year that ADs have written about quitting the profession or wondered how much longer they can do it. It was also the first time that many ADs wrote about hiring more staff to help with the increased demands. Sure there are hundreds of applicants for every AD job that opens up but when the position becomes a revolving door it is only the students that suffer. My hope now is that with the results of this survey there will be more understanding of the position and that it will also help ADs around the world speak to their administration about their increased workload, their lack of staffing and show them that it is not just them.

Dave Horner who has been an AD in four international schools believes that many human resource and administration team members are not aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into our jobs. It is often overlooked”. ADs, share this survey with your administrators, share it with your colleagues and continue to talk and compare your jobs to your colleagues. If not world wide, then at least schools in individual conferences can band together for the betterment of all of your student athletes and entire school communities. I also hope that with this survey analysis, teachers and administrators will get a better understanding of what the job could be, if it is adequately staffed and supported. A full time athletic director with a staff behind them can do many amazing things at a school that it is a shame to not use an athletic program to the best of our abilities. Athletic Director or Head of Sport is a vocation and filled with servant leaders like Dave Johnson who I would like to give the last word too. “I find myself just running around trying to complete the next task on the list and not enjoying the students and watching their growth during the seasons..  so that is the biggest thing I would love to do.  Simply have the time to work with our student-athletes more in practice and enjoy watching them play.”  


Nick DeForest is the Assistant Director of the Events Office at AIS Vienna, Austria. He is the founder of the Globetrottin’ ADs and author of ‘A Global Playbook’ which can be found on Amazon. Originally from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, Nick has been in Austria since 2000 and is passionate about connecting international school Athletic Directors, Coaches, Teachers and Students from around the world.

To connect with Nick and learn more please visit and follow him on Twitter @Nick_GTADs

Rethinking Recess: 7 Steps to Foster Engagement and Inclusion

Rethinking Recess: 7 Steps to Foster Engagement and Inclusion

Jody Matey
Teacher | Leader | Innovator

Recess is an area which can unintentionally be neglected by schools as teachers and administrators understandably prioritize setting up their indoor environments at the start of the year. While both research and feedback from educators tell us that it is an incredibly valuable learning space for children, recess is also potentially tricky for students who have social, sensory, or physical challenges. As we settle into a new term, many of the effects of the pandemic linger. I invite you to consider the following 7 ideas to reflect if your school has designed a positive and inclusive recess experience, or how you can shift your practices to better do so.


Do you have established co-constructed agreements with teachers and families, and are they clear and transparent? If not, then set aside time as a staff to unpack what recess explicitly looks like at your school. As recess is a natural space where children have repeated opportunities to build greater awareness of their own bodies and test their physical limits, what are the shared understandings of the adults who support and supervise the playground?

Can recess time be reduced as a punishment or used to make up class work? According to one survey conducted by Wakefield Research of elementary school teachers in the US, 86 percent have at one time decreased or taken away recess time as punishment for behavior. Recent surveys conducted with student teachers and new teachers in extreme poverty schools (2011- 2014) found that taking away recess was widely used for punishment.

Are children free to experience the benefits of roughhousing or risky play? How are both defined in the context of your school? Are students confidently able to differentiate between a risk and a hazard?

Can the children play outside in all weather? Weather is often communicated using “good” or “bad,” terms; however, it is important to use neutral and descriptive language when describing the elements. Saying “It is rainy outside today; wear your rain jacket” is a factual statement versus a subjective comment such as, “It is terrible outside.” Many children love to play in the rain and snow! Wearing suitable outerwear not only provides protection from inclement weather, but also allows for additional opportunities to practice adaptive skills and experience rich sensory play.




At a previous school where I worked, each class would visit the playground on the first day and subsequently hear a lengthy list of adult-generated rules. The children would be passively and politely sitting as their eyes excitedly darted around the space taking in all the options. They could barely contain themselves before being dismissed to explore. Teachers often include the children’s voices when creating classroom agreements, but how regularly are they included when planning recess? Why not ask the children for their thoughts? How do they want to feel and act when playing during recess? Post the children’s agreements outside so they are visible to anyone playing on or visiting the playground.

If repeated infractions occur, then reconnect as a class or grade level to discuss it together. Rather than a “don’t do this or that” authoritarian approach, consider sharing your observations with the children and seek their solutions. “I noticed that several children were climbing on the big swing at once. How can we solve this to keep it safe for everyone?” Yes, this takes time, but by empowering your students with frequent opportunities to solve their problems, the recess agreements will hold more authenticity and meaning to them.




Do you have a first aid kit outside? Plasters for scrapes or cuts, to repair a child’s physical injuries? Then what are your steps to repair hurt feelings and support their social-emotional growth? You may see many children rushing to recess to engage in vigorous play, but if a child is struggling, they may first need or benefit from SEL strategies or visuals to better access the space. You may notice a child who regularly moves around the periphery of the playground and is unsure how to engage with the equipment or their peers. Or another who repeatedly engages in conflicts with their peers. Recess can be a stressful and overwhelming space for many children, and some may demonstrate “sensory overload.”

Healthy sensory integration refers to the appropriate processing, integration, and organization of sensory information from the body and the environment. If children need guidance recognizing or regulating their emotions, then perhaps accessible and clear visual recess interventions can help to ease their discomfort. You may want to collaborate with your school counselor to implement interventions that echo your school agreements. These can include diverse and inclusive books, social stories, or sensory fidgets in a designated ‘calm corner’ area. Your physical education teacher can also provide guidance to navigate competition and teamwork and may include games for recess as part of class instruction. Consistency between the indoor and outdoor spaces can help alleviate miscommunication between children, staff, and families.




As a well-intentioned PE teacher, I have been guilty of viewing recess equipment as a space that only includes a variety of balls, jump ropes, and hula hoops. After several years of running outdoor programming with loose parts, I began to think about how they can be purposely integrated into a playground setting. Loose parts are open-ended materials that can be moved, adapted, redesigned, or constructed without a set of rules or instructions. Studies conducted with children up to the age of 12 have indicated that the ability to manipulate one’s own environment encourages not only creativity but the development of problem-solving abilities and improved social interactions between children.

Loose parts can provide fresh opportunities for agency, problem solving, and gross motor development. Although traditionally associated with those younger, in my experience older children can thrive when given the time and space to do so. You may consider dedicating one day a week or one recess to integrating loose parts and observing the results. A simple provocation of adding one loose part to a designated area can stimulate a new type of play. Ask the children what kinds of materials they would like or ask them to draw or paint pictures of their ideas and designs. Fortunately, loose parts can also be inexpensive and you might find success in reaching out to local businesses and/or families for gently used items. Lastly, if loose parts are not an option for your playground, then invite the children to use existing equipment in non-traditional, imaginative, and safe ways.



Why not take inspiration from the Montessori Method of toy rotation and change up the outdoor play options available to children on a regular basis? The frequency of rotation may vary for your population, but a good rule of thumb is to be observant of behavioral patterns in a particular area. Is there too much growing conflict on the football pitch? Perhaps temporarily switch out the soccer balls for a parachute, soft mats, or tennis balls. This move can stimulate creativity and excitement. Think of your storage options: How can you avoid cluttered, disorganized or broken equipment? Are there low shelves or labeled weatherproof bins in child-accessible areas? If using loose parts, these can look messy to a casual observer. Determine what your school’s agreements for either leaving out or cleaning up materials from one recess to the next.



You may often notice positive changes in students’ behavior upon their return to the classroom after recess. When children are given ample space to climb, jump, swing, spin, or run, this can have a substantial impact on their focus, attention, and self-regulation. The Journal of Pediatrics published a ground-breaking study of 11,000 third graders, comparing those who had little or no daily recess with those who had more than 15 minutes of recess per day. The findings show that children who have more recess time behave better in the classroom and are likely to learn more. (Barros, 2009) Often children repeatedly gravitate to a particular type of sensory play during recess.

Swinging, for example, provides vestibular input, which is defined as the sensation of any change in position, direction, or movement of the head. Commonly used by occupational therapists, it provides calming, organizing, and regulating signals to the nervous system. Often just 15 minutes of vestibular input can have a 1–2-hour positive effect on the body and brain. Proprioception or “heavy work” is also a tool to support the nervous system. These activities involve the muscles pushing, pulling, or lifting of weighted materials. A child seeking proprioceptive input might be prone to do so in ways that are not always safe, such as crashing into peers or jumping from inappropriate heights. However, what may be interpreted as poor behavior by adults may simply be a child seeking sensory feedback. Does your outdoor space provide a range of sensory opportunities for children that are both stimulating and calming? Are there areas where children can be barefoot or enjoy tactile input like sand or water? Are there quiet spaces where children can retreat from visual and auditory stimuli?



Beyond recess, do your students regularly have access to unstructured play time? The average length of recess worldwide is 25 minutes, but the reality is that it can often take more time than this for children to connect with their peers and settle into their play. Studies done by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center show that since the 1970s, children in the United States have lost about 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent decrease in play and a 50 percent decrease in unstructured outdoor activities. During the pandemic, children around the world spent 20% less time taking part in physical activity, according to a recent JAMA pediatrics study. Are there opportunities for unstructured play for your class during the school day? When I started adding occasional unstructured play into my physical education classes, I noticed the children gravitate to what they needed to self-regulate. It equally highlighted their areas of strength and growth, and gave me further evidence of their interpersonal skills. Some classes would demonstrate more creativity and stamina, while others would struggle with collaboration and communication. This allowed me to adjust and differentiate my lesson content to address their specific social-emotional, cognitive, and physical needs.

Developmental psychologist and author of ‘Free to Learn,’ Dr. Peter Gray writes extensively about how child-led, self-directed play can be a powerful antidote to the anxiety and depression that many children experienced during the pandemic. Unfortunately, opportunities for play are often affected by school size, location, region, minority enrollment, and eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch. On average, children attending private schools have 30 minutes more recess a week than children attending public school. Countries such as Finland, Turkey, Japan, and the Republic of Korea reportedly provide 10-to-15-minute breaks every hour and have between 6 and 8 breaks in a school day. Other countries, such as Sweden, England and Wales, Switzerland, Australia, and the Netherlands, offer longer but less frequent periods. Unfortunately, as of publication date, there is little comparative international data on recess.

In closing, consider the intentionality of how you design recess at your school. Does it provide an appropriate amount of stimulation and challenges for children? Can it meet their social-emotional, physical, and cognitive needs? Are they actively engaged, safe, responsible, and kind? As schools move to implement programming that is responsive to the pandemic’s losses, consider what changes can be made to foster a more authentic and rewarding recess experience for all children.



Jody Matey is an experienced international physical educator and passionate advocate for inclusive, meaningful movement for children. Social-emotional literacy and sensory integration are at the heart of her work. She earned her Master’s Degree in Adapted Physical Education from the University of Virginia and is a Primary PE teacher at the Frankfurt International School in Germany.

“To me, movement is a critical component of developing the whole child. I have been fortunate to spend the last 25 years creating positive and joyful learning experiences for children. Working alongside families and other educators has provided me the opportunity to foster my passion and purpose.

My teaching is both creative & child-centered while nurturing agency, inquiry and reflection. I strive to cultivate an environment that is respectful of differences in skill, gender, race and culture while being responsive to the changing needs of children. Both personally and professionally, I am someone who continues to reflect, adapt, change and grow. If you would like to know more about how to best support your child’s physical literacy, please reach out!”



Ayres, A. J., & Robbins, J. (2005). Sensory integration and the child: Understanding hidden sensory challenges. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

Baines, E.,Blatchford, P & Golding, K., (2020). Recess, Breaktimes, and Supervision. In S. Hupp & J. Jewel (Series Eds) & P.K. Smith (Volume Ed). The Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development Part 1 (Child): (Volume 6 – Community). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Clay, Rebecca A. The Serious Business of Play. American Psychological Association.  May 11, 2020.

Changes in Child and Adolescent Physical Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatric. 2022 Jul 11: e222313. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.2313. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35816330; PMCID: PMC9274449

A Collaboration between Nature Play South Australia and the Department for Education (2018). The Power of Loose Parts Play.

Gray, P. (January 2011). The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents. American Journal of Play.

Jarrett, Olga S. (2019). A Research-Based Case for Recess: Position Paper

2018 Survey on Recess. Voice of Play. Harrisburg, PA. 2018.

Sando, O.J., Kleppe, R. & Sandseter, E.B.H.  (2021). Risky Play and Children’s Well-Being, Involvement and Physical Activity. Child Ind Res 14, 1435–1451


Whole-School Physical Activity Programmes: A Culture of Well-Being

Dr. Aaron Beighle
Physical Educator, Professor, Author
University of Kentucky


School-based physical activity programmes offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being. Much has been written about the importance of a wellness in schools, including its role in addressing physical, mental, emotional, and environmental health (WHO & UNESCO, 2021). Similarly, the evidence continues to mount regarding the impact of whole-school physical activity programmes on physical, mental, emotional and social health of the entire school community including students, faculty, parents, and stakeholders (Brusseau, Fairclough, and Lubans, 2020). It follows that whole-school physical activity programmes offer an ideal foundation to develop or solidify well-being in schools.


To best understand how physical activity serves as the foundation for well-being, it is important to quickly review the benefits of physical activity. The physical benefits of regular physical activity are well documented and established (USDHHS, 2018). These benefits include decreased chance of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and increased life expectancy. Physical activity can also provide social benefits such as personal growth, social integration, social change, leadership development, and empathy. The emotional benefits are less known but equally well documented. These include decreased anxiety, decreased depression, and lower levels of stress. In recent years, the cognitive benefits such as executive function, memory, focus, and problem solving.


Further, physical activity behaviours and experiences by nature offer endless authentic opportunities for conceptual learning. These concepts include relationship building, creativity, systems, and connections. For example, an afterschool adventure programmes offers an excellent opportunity to expose students to ecological systems while engaging in physical activity. Physical education lessons offer ample opportunities to address Social Emotional Learning. A simple task like finding a partner offers the chance to teach social awareness, respect, and empathy for others. Opportunities for teaching other concepts such as equity, diversity, inclusiveness, challenge, responsibility, and social skills present themselves regularly during physical activity. For all of these reasons it follows that “School-based physical activity programmess offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being”.


Imagine the following scenario. It’s 7 am at The Berwin School. In the auxiliary gymnasium several faculty are engaged in an early morning beginners yoga class. Across the school, a group of students and faculty are learning traditional South American dances during a before-school multicultural activities programmes. The traditional school day starts with teachers greeting students and then leading groups in a five-minute “warm-up” for the day including stretching and movement in classrooms. During class time all students are afforded the opportunity to self-select breaks, including physical activity breaks, when they feel they are needed. Students learn to identify their personal signs of losing concentration or increased fidgetiness early in the year. Also, during the day some teachers use physical activity to teach concepts as needed. Recess is offered PreK-12. This is a time students select their own activities and often faculty engage with the students.


Early in the year, the physical education curriculum exposes students to the various activities possible during recess. This includes student governed “leagues” for non-traditional activities. Also at recess, a local company allows employees to serve as mentors and recess supervisors for students. Following the school-day the school is bustling with afterschool programmes including an adventure education/environmental education session for faculty and students lead by a local recreation organisation and an internal youth sports league for middle school students who do not wish to engage in competitive athletics.


Later in the evening, a year 3 literacy night is held with stations throughout the school. In the gymnasium, students guide their parents through that week’s physical education stations. Each station has instructional signs specifically designed in collaboration between the physical educators and the year 3 teachers to ensure alignment with classroom content related to literacy. Simultaneously, the high school basketball teams have their season opener in the high school gymnasium. And at 8 pm another physically active day at The Berwin School comes to a close. As this quick example demonstrates, the possibilities are truly endless with so many offerings to meet the needs of the entire community.


Globally, the role of schools in promoting physical activity and well-being are beginning to be recognised. Programmes in Bulgaria (BG Be Active), Ireland (Active School Flag), and the USA (CSPAP), to name a few, are working to develop this culture in schools. While the exact components of these programmes differ, in general these programs seek to provide a multi-faceted systematic approach to promoting physical activity. Components include physical education, school-day physical activity, out of school physical activity, staff involvement, and family/community engagement (CDC, 2019). Clearly these components are not new; however, a whole-school approach to physical activity is new in that it works to take these components from silos to a system designed to promote physical activity and whole-school well-being. While beyond the scope of this post to discuss the volumes of work associated with the components of whole-school approaches, below offers brief overviews of the components.


Physical Education: Physical education guides students on a journey of making physical activity an meaningful part of their lives (Pangrazi and Beighle, 2020). This includes learning psychomotor skills and strategies as traditionally thought of as physical education. But also, students learn about themselves. They learn what activities they enjoy, why they enjoy those activities, and how they can use activity to contribute to well-being. In addition, every lesson in physical education offers authentic learning experiences related to Social Emotional Learning, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice to name a few.


During School Physical Activity:  Recess is the portion of the day in which students select the activities they engage in usually on a playground, field or gymnasium. However, recess also offers an excellent opportunity for students to apply other concepts such as justice and empathy while engaged in activity. Classroom-based activity involves either engaging in physical activities designed to teach content through movement or providing physical activity breaks as a means of allow students to refocus. As mentioned in the above scenario this can be teacher lead or student selected and can take place in the classroom or in sensory rooms/hallways.


Out of School activity: As the name suggests this includes any activity outside of the school day. They key here is that the school is the central “hub” of the movement experiences. Examples includes after-school enrichment programmes, youth sports, clubs, leagues, and interscholastic sports.


Staff Engagement: Staff burn-out and well-being is central to whole-school well-being efforts. Thus providing staff what they want to improve well-being is essential. This approach also fosters staff engagement and increases sustainability. This can include staff classes, activity sessions, social events, or simple RAKE (Random Act of Kindness for Educators) throughout the year.


Family/Community Involvement: In many schools the families are the community. In other schools, local businesses and organizations are also involved. Regardless, this is an essential component of a well-rounded culture of well-being, particularly as it relates to physical activity. Family nights, family classes, open gyms, and open playground dates are just a few ways to incorporate families and communities in these well-being efforts.


School-based physical activity programmes offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being. The possibilities for using physical activity as a tool for promoting well-being for everyone in a school community are endless. The beauty of this approach is that it can be tailored to the needs of each specific school, its students, its faculty, its families, and its community in their efforts to promote well-being for all.



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U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (2018) 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Authors. Washington, DC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Increasing physical education and physical activity: A framework for schools. Authors. Atlanta.

Pangrazi, R. & Beighle, A. (2020). Dynamic physical education for elementary school children (19e). Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.





Dr. Aaron Beighle is an internationally recognised scholar of physical education and school-based physical activity promotion at the University of Kentucky. Beighle regularly collaborates with schools and organizations interested in physical education as well as youth physical activity promotion. He has written more than 100 research-based and practical articles as well as six books, most notably Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children. Aaron recently contributed to make the widely used lessons plans for this book available via Dr. Beighle presents internationally on strategies for maximising the impact of physical education and other school-based physical activity promotion efforts.

Integrating core values to improve team culture and character


Luther Rauk
Middle School PE Teacher and coach, The American International School of Muscat


After attending the Way of Champions Coaching Conference in Denver, CO in the summer of 2019, The swim coach, Cori Lee, at The American International School of Muscat, Oman decided to implement a strategy she learned about Core Values with her swim team.


While at the conference, Jerry Lynch spoke for several sessions about the importance of identifying team core values to help intentionally develop character on sports teams.  He gave the coaches an opportunity to reflect on 20 core values he thinks are important.  Each coach whittled that list down to 10 after the first day.  Then in the next session, coaches spent time choosing the four most important values to them as it relates to the role of a coach and leader of a group of student athletes.  Lynch then gave a framework of how to implement this with their teams and get their athletes’ input on what was important to them.  Here is our swim team’s story.



At the first team meeting of the season, Coach Cori Lee introduced the 10 core values she thinks were important for her team’s success this year.  Then in age group divisions, they spent 20 minutes deciding which one of the values most resonated with them.  The dialogue was intriguing because each group had to come to a consensus on just one core value to share with the rest of the team.  It was also interesting to see what different age groups valued most.  Though most groups had overlapping core values on their top three lists,  none of the age groups had the same core value as their top choice. When this was all said and done, Coach Lee combined the team’s values with her own to land on six core values the team would focus on this season.


At daily swim practices, Coach Lee wove each of these values into her talks and conversations with the team.  Each week one core value was chosen as a focus for the team. At the beginning of the week, Coach Lee would lead a brief dialogue around how the value applies individually, as a team and specifically to swimming. Later in the week, the HS swimmers shared a quote they selected that connects with that week’s value and how they live the core value as a swimmer. Team captains led the way and also shared personal stories from their own training to illustrate the value and importance of living the team’s values.


Coach Lee also created posters to hang on the pool deck and locker rooms throughout the season.  Core values were also embedded into each of her email communications highlighting specific examples of ways the team was living out their core values.


One striking example came from a long time member of the team (and captain) who thought the idea of a Love Box would help the team to create strong bonds between them.  She made a simple box where swimmers could drop a note into about a fellow teammate.  Each week the kids would open the box and team captains would share aloud or deliver the messages.  Imagine the feelings of the students when a positive and caring message was read about them.  Think about the impact on those swimmers who wrote the notes, knowing they made someone else on their team feel special.


Coach Lee was able to use these core values when having a conversation with a group of swimmers who were having some social distractions on the team. They were able to revisit the values each of them agreed to and compare that with the behaviours they were exhibiting in the middle of the season. This was a very powerful tool to help them talk through and make changes to their behaviours and improve the relationships between them.


During the end of season SAISA swim meet held at The Lincoln School, Kathmandu, Nepal, Coach Lee displayed the Core Values in all of the team areas as well as on spirit bag tags for each swimmer.  This helped the athletes to focus on things they could control throughout the swim meet and work to do their best at each event.  Through the hard work of the swimmers and coaches, the team was honoured to take the first place team trophy and many members swam personal bests at the meet.


Here are a few responses from the swimmers when asked about their team’s core values.


How did the core values shape you as a teammate?

  • It showed me things I should focus on to help contribute to the team. When we came up with it I knew it would be really impactful.
  • As a teammate it made me more excited and motivated to train as hard as I could because everyone else lived by these core values.
  • They helped me to remember what was important and why I was doing it.  It also taught me to show love and commitment towards my teammates and coaches.
  • It brought out the “togetherness” and joy for the sport. It made me both a better swimmer and a better teammate altogether.


How did the core values play a role in your swim training and your performance levels at the SAISA meet?

  • It made me feel so much joy. 100 percent joy. Because not only did the perseverance and competitive part help but it felt like I was part of a family and that was what made me swim my hardest and try to win the title for my family.
  • Personally, some of the team core values that we focused on were already strongly implemented within my swimming and day to day life like Competitive, Integrity, Commitment, and Perseverance. However, with the values of Love and Joyfulness, it was a reminder for me to also be able in swimming (especially at conferences) to take a step back and remember why I am swimming and who I get to swim with. I thought that each of our core values was significant in helping each swimmer do their best in the pool and be the best teammate.
  • I was able to realize that it wasn’t about winning, it was about persevering, being committed, having integrity, being competitive, showing love and being joyful. This helped me to be less nervous because I knew that people would be proud of me whether I won or lost.
  • Exclusively performance-wise, I don’t think they made me drop time, but they helped me experience SAISA in a much more positive way. I wasn’t only focused on winning a dropping time anymore, but on being there for my teammates, supporting them. This positive mindset helped me be less anxious about competing and satisfying my own expectations, which, now that I think about it, could have made me more relaxed and perform better.


What will you remember most about the work you did with your swim team core values that year?

  • I’d say the aspect in which we all fully dedicated and put the core values to heart. We all persevered “when the going got tough”, we all were very committed to the sport and team, we all maintained integrity when or when not we were supervised, we were very competitive and loved that aspect to swimming, we loved the sport, each other, and became a family through it all, and finally, we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the time we had together and enjoyed working and getting through things together. Swimming brought us close and I will never forget the family that originated from such a simple sport — swimming.
  • That year really solidified some of the realisations I’d been having about swimming for a long time. Over the years I realised that competing and performing well was not the most important part of swimming. Although it crushed my childhood hopes of taking the sport to a higher level, I realised that the most valuable experience was not winning or dropping time, but rather the connection that we had as a team. Nearly all of my closest friends I’ve met directly or indirectly through swimming, and I will always be grateful to Coach Lee for offering this new perspective on the sport, which places more emphasis on things like joy, compassion, and love, instead of competitiveness.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.



Luther Rauk is currently a Middle School PE Teacher and coach at The American International School of Muscat, Oman.  Originally from Minnesota, USA, Luther has also lived and taught in Thailand and Bahrain.  Luther spent four years as the Athletic Director at TAISM where he developed a passion for learning how best to help coaches do their important work with kids.  A desire to make real connections with students again led him to return to the PE classroom in 2018.  To connect with Luther please follow him on Facebook, twitter@lutherrauk or email him at

Don’t panic, pandemic PE

Mo Hourani & Luther Rauk


Don’t panic, pandemic PE


Luther Rauk, from the American International School of Muscat and Mo Hourani, from the American Community School Beirut, have started regular online meetings for Physical Education teachers from around the world to connect, share, and collaborate on best practices in a physical education classroom in the midst of a pandemic. The sessions are titled lightheartedly, ‘Don’t Panic, Pandemic PE’

The pandemic has posed numerous challenges for both students and PE teachers, but one silver lining is a new opportunity for PE teachers to connect and collaborate online. Last March as schools closed their doors, teachers around the world were scrambling to figure out the best ways to reach their students and many felt as if they were novice teachers all over again. In those frantic and uncertain times, Don’t Panic, Pandemic PE was born.

Don’t Panic Pandemic PE is a grassroots endeavor created out of collegial support and common passions. Luther and Mo, one in Oman and the other in Lebanon, reached out to each other to inquire about how each was facing the obstacles of teaching physical education online or in a hybrid learning environment. They soon realized that others could add to and benefit from these types of professional conversations.

Many PE teachers have been attending webinars, taking online courses, listening to podcasts, and reading books and articles in an effort to improve their teaching practice. When teachers find something great, they want to share it with anyone that will listen. Don’t Panic, Pandemic PE creates a platform for teachers from around the globe to network through regularly scheduled Zoom meetings, regardless of their current instruction mode (online, hybrid or traditional model).



The purpose of these round table discussions is simple really, to create a safe place for PE teachers to share what has worked or not worked for them and their students. Participants offer up strategies to maintain or improve student learning and make recommendations of people to follow on social media, podcasts to listen to, and videos to watch. Perhaps the most important goals of this group are to build connections, encourage, support, and inspire each other.

In the dedicated discussions about online learning in PE, the difficulties that came up in the discussions about operating online physical education classes can be summarized into (1) the monotony of the classes within their limited environmental conditions. Most teachers referred to the educational content the online platforms such as zoom, google meets and the limits that they allow. most of these platforms didn’t adequately convey the value of physical education. (2) Teachers were going through trial-and-error methods applied from resources generated through connections as the Don’t Panic PE Pandemic one. The trial and error is mixed with a lack of expertise in operating online physical education classes. (3) very limited curriculum guidelines that can drive the online physical education settings and allow for teachers to move the students’ learning through the limitations. (4) how to keep students engaged in regular physical activity to improve their physical fitness and mental health while they are navigating the lockdowns.

When the round table discussions targeted hybrid and in-person learning, the main recurring themes were maintaining the highest levels of safety and sharing the established physical distancing protocols, while providing the best opportunities for students to engage with the other students directly and often. Teachers shared many games, strategies, and activities that can be done in a physically distanced setting. Teacher participants have also discussed allowing for optimal student participation and providing the best opportunities for engagement while students transition between online learning and in-person learning in the hybrid classroom, it was common that teachers made a selection of a number of crucial and optimal learning outcomes that can be taught given the reduced contact time hybrid learning provides.

The weekly Tuesday evening sessions are impactful, as they benefit the attendees, their students, and their school communities. PE teachers gain knowledge about new trends in education; implementation strategies for best practices, increase their confidence, improve online efficiency and share innovative approaches. The topics vary week to week from how to do specific lessons with consideration for COVID mitigation guidelines to managing stress and the social-emotional needs of students in a physically disconnected world.

We have a plan decided for April 2021 to be announced at the end of March. Please join these sessions via the zoom link here or connect with Luther or Mo





Mo Hourani is currently the Head of Physical Education and Athletic Director at American Community School Beirut, Lebanon. Mo played Basketball in Beirut, before moving internationally. Mo has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and currently working on EdD in Educational Administration. Mo has also lived in the UAE, Syria, and Jordan prior to recently moving back to Beirut. Mo has a passion for further promoting holistic education, and elevating students’ wellbeing through activities and sports. Mo can be reached at Twitter @HOURANIedu or



Luther Rauk is currently a Middle School PE Teacher and coach at The American International School of Muscat, Oman.  Originally from Minnesota, USA, Luther has also lived and taught in Thailand and Bahrain.  Luther spent four years as the Athletic Director at TAISM where he developed a passion for learning how best to help coaches do their important work with kids.  A desire to make real connections with students again led him to return to the PE classroom in 2018.  To connect with Luther please follow him on Facebook or email him at

Globetrottin’ ADs Student Athlete Leadership Conference

Nick DeForest, Assistant Director, Events Office
American International School Vienna

Globetrottin’ ADs Student Athlete Leadership Conference 2021


Background and Information

The pandemic has been tough but one silver lining to come out of it is top-notch and easily accessible professional development.. People from all walks of life and all professions are finding ways to improve through webinars, online courses, podcasts, and chats. Like never before, international teachers top the list of those that are finding ways to connect with colleagues around the world.

Even before the pandemic, Matt Fleming (AIS Budapest) and I realized that Athletic Directors and Coaches from International Schools were in need of ways to connect regardless of country, conference, or continent. From this, the  Globetrottin’ ADs podcast was born. When we were sent home to our computers in 2020,  our podcast and online resource library evolved into online conferences which successfully attracted more than one thousand participants.

As we moved into the 2020-2021 school year, we wanted to put more out there for ADs and Coaches but realized that one important stakeholder to our development was missing – the student athletes who we serve. With this came the idea of the online Student-Athlete Leadership Conference.


Fast forward to February 12th, 2021 and almost 500 high school students were online live and engaged in presentations given by other high school students from around the world. Over 100 international schools registered for the conference to either join in live or watch the recordings at a later time. Fifteen of those schools had students lead sessions about topics such as competition anxiety, promoting equality, motivation, and the importance of sports. Bookending the student sessions were two amazing keynote speakers; Sebastien Bellin and Greg Dale. Sebastien Bellin, a professional athlete, terrorist attack survivor, and international school student, kicked off the conference talking about his four pillars of life. Later on, the world-renowned sports psychologist from Duke University, Greg Dale, finished the day talking about how to be a leader that others want to follow.



The students involved in the conference, either as participants or presenters, came together as a global community of international school students. They conquered fears, they asked questions, they learned new things, they met new people and realized that they are not alone throughout this pandemic. Fabrizio Vergara, a senior from Escola Americana Do Rio De Janeiro realized “that there are many other student-athletes who are going through the same experiences” as he. Fabrizio loved the conference and said it really motivated him. Eduardo Bentes Rengifo, a schoolmate of Fabrizio, thought “it was a great chance to know what the rest of the world thinks” and “how people approached things differently”.


Since the conference, there has been a flood of thank you emails and a sharing of experiences like those from Rio De Janeiro. Most of the students feel energized and empowered by the voices and experiences of the presenters, and what they will do with that energy will remain to be seen. However, the work put into this event has the possibility to benefit these students tremendously in a number of ways for years to come. It’s common to hear someone say that as long as I get one nugget of information out of a workshop or presentation then it is worthwhile, however, how often does that one piece of information or idea really change the way to live or even see the world? The students involved may not remember the one or more pieces of information they picked up in each conference session, but the overall aspects of the conference do have the potential to remain with them for the long term. The three long-term effects that I see are; global connections, connections across subject areas, and becoming content creators.


Global Connections

Depending on the country and part of the world that you are in, the next like-minded international school might be a flight away. Thankfully social media is connecting the world like never before, but it’s rare for students to see into the minds of other students like them and really hear about the issues that concern them. This event helped students connect and learn about each other regardless of continent, country, or regional conference. It is a global connection like this that may help students formulate ideas for CAS projects or independent (extended?) essays. It may help them ease into transitions to other secondary schools and even open their eyes to the fact that their problems are the same ones many other international school students are struggling with. All of this being done in a relaxed setting where the participants are all there voluntarily and nothing dependent on grades.


Connections Across Subject Areas 

It has been scientifically demonstrated time after time that physical exercise is related to higher academic performance and that competing athletically is an outstanding way to teach the skills most needed in the real world. However, athletics are still not viewed as something that is academic. One of the goals of this conference was to embed the topic of athletics and athletic leadership into that academic realm. Presenters performed countless hours of research for their presentations and many of them related their experience in athletics to different subject areas such as units taught in math, science, economics. Physical education class is, of course, directly related to most of the workshop sessions and many of the schools involved are using the recordings in their PE classes. If so many of our students love athletics, then teachers may just want to incorporate more athletic examples into the classroom. University degrees related to athletics have only grown in recent years with more universities offering coaching, sports management, sports marketing, and athletic administration degrees. This might just be the spark one of our students needs to help them find their career path.


Content Creators 

For the few students who were presenters, the conference will have a more lasting effect because they became content creators. Students are all content creators in some way as they work on projects and make presentations in their classes. Some take it to the next level by presenting to their whole grade or school but not many make something that is shared outside of their school communities, let alone with people around the world.


Becoming someone who creates content for others takes even more preparation and attention to detail. For high school students to have the opportunity to do that not only makes them more prepared for the real world but also makes them become better consumers of content. Knowing the hard work that goes into a finished presentation gives them a better appreciation for the things that they consume.  Perhaps students may even gain a better appreciation for their teachers and coaches.


As Lexi Roberts, a junior at the American International School Vienna, worked through her presentation, she realized it was more important to add personal experience into it so that (she) could really relate to the audience.



This conference not only provided a unique opportunity for students to talk about their athletic passions and relate them to school and life, but, most importantly, it gave their voices a place to be heard by their peers, their parents, their teachers, and their coaches.

Now that this conference is known by students, teachers, and schools, the hope is that in 2021 more schools will embrace it, promote it, and learn from it.



What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.





Nick DeForest is currently the Assistant Director of the Events Office at AIS Vienna, Austria, and host of the Globetrottin’ ADs Podcast. Originally from Ontario, Canada, Nick has been in Austria since 2000 and is passionate about connecting international school Athletic Directors, Coaches, Teachers, and Students from around the world.

To connect with Nick and learn more please visit and/or follow him on Twitter @Nick_AISVienna

Leadership in Athletics

Andrew Koene, Physical Education Head of Faculty
British School of Bucharest

Leadership in Athletics


When thinking about sports and leaders one thinks about the captain or coach of a team. But the real leader is usually behind the scenes watching their efforts unfold during each game, season and year; the athletic director. Athletic directors hire/mentor coaches, develop the athletic program vision, assess the development of the program, and organize the day-to-day operations. Every decision the athletic director makes falls back on them at the end of the year whether it was a positive or negative outcome. Thus, an athletic director must be a leader able to adapt and balance many aspects that influence the entire school.


An athletic director is a dynamic, shifting, and the evolving role of constant decision-making. Based on my experience many athletic directors should reconsider their approach towards leading. Many view the athletic program as a way for them to make a name for themselves by focusing on only winning. They also do not develop a vision or direction for their program. This approach is so detrimental to our field as it only teaches that winning is the reason why our student-athletes should participate in competitive sports. An athletic program should revolve around building lifelong characteristic traits we want to see from our student-athletes and winning should be a by-product of a well-led athletic program.


So, what style of leadership should an athletic director adopt? There are several types of leadership styles: transformational, participatory, value-based, situational and servant leadership. The issue I have seen too many times is the adoption of a one-size-fits-all leadership approach. This narrow-minded approach does not allow athletic directors to adapt to the situation. The most effective leadership style that I have implemented and believe athletic directors should become more aware of is situational leadership.


A situational leader considers the situation, adapts to the abilities of others, and leads based on those factors. By reflecting and adapting to these factors, athletic directors will have an influence on their school, program, and colleagues. The situational leadership model was developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey. It is a framework for leaders to match their abilities to the needs of the situation. Situational leadership is broken down into four components:


  • Directing – This is where leaders tell individuals what to do and how to do it.
  • Coaching – This is where leaders see individuals who have some skills but are not fully proficient. The focus is on helping the individual to improve their skills.
  • Supporting – This is where leaders see individuals who are not fully committed to the end goal and need support to reach that goal.
  • Delegating – This is where leaders only monitor and reaffirm the decisions taken by individuals.


As a situational leader, one must determine what must be accomplished (vision) and review the ability and readiness of the team they are leading. Then you decide which component of situational leadership to apply for the individual/situation you are leading.


Leading should be about guiding and adapting to the abilities of your situation or team to make sure everyone is working towards a shared common goal. Thus, an athletic director must make decisions based on these circumstances and the current situation. Once one can understand, recognize and adapt to these factors your ability to influence and lead will be impactful.


In the end, successful leadership means flexible leadership. Whether you are an athletic director or business executive, you must work hard to understand the people you are leading and the vision of the organization. Situational leadership has allowed me to be more mindful of each situation, individual, and school. As I have reflected on many approaches as an athletic director, situational leadership has rewarded me with more successful experiences than any other approach.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.





Andrew Koene is the Physical Education Head of Faculty at the British School of Bucharest. He is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where he received his degree in Exercise Sports Science – Physical Education and School of Health Education. He also has his Master’s in International Education, as well as Educational Leadership, from Framingham State University. He is an experienced international educator and leader who enjoys the opportunity to positively impact an entire school community. Through his previous roles as an Athletic Director and Physical Education Head of Department, he has used his leadership skills to further develop teachers, student-athletes, coaches, athletic programs, and school strategic plans.

Keeping Students Active with Dance

Melanie G. Levenberg, M.Ed.
Physical Education Consultant | Chief PLAY Officer at PL3Y International Inc


Keeping Students ACTIVE with DANCE

Dance can be a fun and engaging way to get students active in your Physical Education class.

For many educators, teaching dance is intimidating – there’s a part of us that makes us feel like we’re supposed to have the ‘perfect’ hip hop technique or remember complicated choreography routines in order to be a ‘good’ dance teacher. Sound familiar?

As a PE teacher with no dance training, I was one of those teachers who was intimidated by the thought of teaching dance to my students.  As I read through pages and pages of Right Foot/Left Foot choreography notes for folk and country line dances, I felt overwhelmed by the need to remember all the small details, while feeling deep down that this content wasn’t going to be relevant to my students.

I wasn’t sure exactly what ‘dance’ outcomes were supposed to look like in my classes, but my mind kept flashing images of intricate hip hop routines, larger than life stage leaps and five-thousand-person flash mobs.

When I looked at my PE curriculum documents, however, I did not find outcomes linked to students mastering the “chassé” or the ‘pliés” or even a hint about teaching students how to do that epic head spin move from that YouTube video. Instead, reading the expectations and outcomes reminded me of my responsibility to create opportunities for students to have positive experiences with a range of physical activities, including dance, as they develop competencies and confidence to engage in lifelong active living.

I strongly believe that dance plays an important part of a balanced PE curriculum: dance allows students to experience cultures from around the world, work in groups with others to achieve different types of ‘challenge’ (e.g. creating a dance) and to learn about body movement while being motivated by the power of music!

Most importantly for me – it allows students to develop all aspects of physical literacy: fundamental movement skills, positive social interactions, critical and creative thinking, and the ability to confidently express themselves using their body.


Accepting the challenge of teaching a fun and engaging dance unit head on, I looked to one of my favourite PE teaching models for inspiration: Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU).  I asked myself: “If a modified games approach could be used to teach students about different games and sports, why couldn’t a modified dance approach be used to teach students how to bust a move?”

And so, Teaching Dance for Understanding (TDfU) ( was born.  TDfU mirrors TGfU in the way it brings a more playful approach to learning dance. The model begins by developing positive mindsets and allowing students to learn foundational dance moves. Once students have experienced success with movement and rhythm, they are better prepared and motivated to learn and refine their skills. The momentum continues as students confidently participate in creative dance activities, and work with others to build and present dance routines.

The lessons within my dance unit followed 6 simple phases:

Dance as a Playful Experience

The goal of this first phase is to develop positive Attitudes towards dance, by modifying some of the more intimidating elements (ie. ‘rules’ of dance.) In order to create a playful setting, the use of right foot/left foot cueing, complex choreography, and the concept of standing in lines to watch (and copy) the teacher are eliminated. The role of the teacher is to actively lead students through a variety of songs, where they learn simple movement patterns and experience success with dance.

Click here to watch an example of a playful dance experience. 

Dance Appreciation

In order to give students a broader understanding of dance, lessons in this phase are designed to allow students to explore the Elements of Dance, the historical Background and cultural meanings of different dance genres, and different types of locomotor and non-locomotor movements. Students are encouraged to share prior knowledge and express personal interests and personal connections to dance, to guide their learning.

Developing Connections.



The purpose of this phase is to foster Connections and ensure that students are prepared to apply their thoughts and ideas during creative movement activities in the next phase (Phase 4). Through listening, self-reflection and large group movement activities, students learn to connect to music rhythms and styles, to themselves (thoughts, ideas, opinions, goals), to others, and to prior learning.

Click to watch a fun activity you can do with your students to develop rhythm, teamwork, and group connection.

Creative Exploration

Traditionally used in the first lessons of dance units, Creative Exploration is shifted to Phase 4 in the TDfU model, as it requires students to apply multiple types of understandings and skills in order to confidently express themselves through movement. Building on the A-B-Cs (Attitude – Background – Connection) of the first three phases of TDfU, students explore various ways of expressing their thoughts, opinions, and ideas using the rhythms and styles of different genres of music. In these lessons, teachers are encouraged to provide keywords and ideas from the Elements of Dance to spark creative movements (e.g. different energies: ‘melt’, ‘pop’, ‘burst’ etc.).

Skill Refinement

In this phase, students work in groups to create a sequence of movements that demonstrate their understanding of the curriculum expectations/outcomes that are being assessed (which will vary by district/state/country).  Students practice and repeat their dance, receive feedback from their peers and review videos of themselves performing the dance in order to refine the technique and group coordination needed to perform a synchronized group dance.

Dance Performance

As a culminating activity, students perform their dance routine as a group, using the Elements of Dance to communicate messages, thoughts and stories. In this phase, students apply strategies to learn and remember choreography. Cross-curricular learning opportunities include the incorporation of coordinated costumes or the integration of multi-media to enhance the artistic component of the presentations.

Click here to watch a co-created Dance Performance.

Overall, the success of this approach has been echoed by fellow educators throughout the world: from Australia to Canada, Korea to Ireland, teachers are seeing how a play-based approach to implementing dance in PE fuels motivation and maximizes participation.


10 Tips on Using the TDfU Model in your PE Program

1-    Start with the goal of making dance fun, engaging, and ‘do-able’ by students.

2-    Flex the “rules” of dance to maximize student success; let students move around the space and don’t worry about right foot or left foot.

3-    Keep the students MOVING as they are learning to dance; avoid the stand-and-watch syndrome.

4-    Play MUSIC while students are learning the dance moves and sequences! (Always teach on the beat)

5-    Make sure you address the A(ttitude)-B(ackground)-C(onnection)s before you ask students to do creative dance.

6-    Teach dance routines; learning and remembering sequences is an important part of learning how to dance

7-    Keep things simple with repetitive and predictable sequences that match the music sections.

8-    Integrate technology as part of the feedback process; students love watching themselves perform their dance routines to identify where they can improve.

9-    Offer opportunities for artistic elements and multi-media integration into final dance performances.

10-  Integrate Core Competencies/Living Skills throughout the dance unit. Remember, it’s not about how well a student can perform the detailed techniques of the dance moves, but rather how the dance creation experience allows them to learn about themselves, work with others and demonstrate their understanding of key concepts from your PE curriculum.




Teaching Dance for Understanding
How Dance Develops Physical Literacy

Reconceptualizing Dance in Physical Education: Teaching Dance for Understanding (JOHPERD 2020)



What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Melanie G. Levenberg, M.Ed. is a Physical Education Consultant and the Chief PLAY Officer at PL3Y International Inc – an international training and certification company that provides professional development workshops, pre-choreographed resources, and in-school residencies on DANCEPL3Y (  – the world’s leading physical literacy and dance program.

Get access to free video resources at and check out

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