Becoming a Master PDHPE Teacher: Deliberate Practice

deliberate practice pdhpe professional development teaching Feb 13, 2024

If you spend 10,000 hours in a given domain will it make you a master in this domain? The 10,000-hour rule is a concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers." Today people tend to accept this as a general rule. If we spend 10,000 hours teaching we will master it, or if we spend 10,000 hours playing football we will become very skilled in the sport. However, research has shown us this is not entirely true. What you do with your 10,000 hours makes a big difference to whether you master the skill or subject matter. Enter deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is a concept that was popularized by psychologist Anders Ericsson and involves a systematic and purposeful approach to skill improvement. The basic principles of deliberate practice include:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Focused practice
  3. Immediate and specific feedback
  4. Repetition and reflection
  5. Going outside your comfort zone
  6. Continuous refinement
  7. Expert guidance
  8. Structured and systematic approach
  9. Time commitment
  10. Adaptability
  11. Monitoring progress
  12. Patience and persistence

Let's apply these to our role as PDHPE teachers and see if we can identify the pathway to excellence. 

1. Setting Clear Goals

Deliberate practice begins with setting clear and specific goals. For a PDHPE teacher, this might involve targeting areas such as improving student engagement during physical activities, refining learning activities in the classroom, improving classroom management, or enhancing assessment strategies. Let's say the goal is to improve student engagement during physical activities. The teacher can set a goal like, "Increase student participation rates in physical education lessons by 20% over the next two months." This then helps us to identify the data to focus on and helps us to work towards achieving the goal. That is, it helps us to work on a single aspect which will help us improve what we are doing.

2. Focused Practice

With the goal in mind, you can focus on specific aspects of teaching that contribute to student engagement. For example, you might concentrate on incorporating more interactive and collaborative activities, implementing effective warm-up routines, or introducing gamification elements into lessons to make them more enjoyable. You will start to do research, read books and find strategies you can use to help you achieve your goal. You then try them out and see what results you get as you implement what you learn.

3. Immediate and Specific Feedback

To receive immediate and specific feedback, you could invite a colleague or mentor to observe your lessons. This observer can provide constructive feedback on aspects such as instructional clarity, pacing, and student engagement. The key here is that the feedback you receive focuses on the goal you are trying to achieve.  Additionally, you can use self-assessment tools, like video recordings of lessons, to reflect on your performance. I would even encourage you to get the students involved. Let them know what you are trying to improve and get them to provide you with feedback throughout or at the end of lessons. They will love the opportunity to give your feedback just as you give to them.

4. Repetition with Reflection

Repetition is a key element of deliberate practice, but it should not be mindless. After each lesson, you should reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. If a particular activity didn't engage students as expected, the teacher can modify it for the next class based on their reflections. Key to this is to not just try something you learned once. You want to try it out a few times and adjust how you use it as you go. Don't presume that because it didn't work the first time the research must be wrong. It is more likely that you are new to using the approach and need to refine how you use and apply it. Small iterations to the process can lead to great changes in your teaching.

5. Outside Your Comfort Zone

To push beyond your comfort zone, you need to be trying out new strategies and tactics with your teaching. We might see or read something for example that might work, but that makes us cringe. Something that we are not comfortable with or find a bit scary. For some teachers it is using a new form of technology they are not used to and they worry it will not work, or that they might look like a newbie when they are meant to be the expert in the room. However, we need to, as teachers, model this for our students. We cannot expect them to push beyond their comfort zones if we never do. For example, incorporating an unconventional sport or activity can add a new dimension to the lesson. This might challenge you and your students as you explore this new activity. You might get things wrong and have to adapt on the fly during the lesson, but moving beyond where you are comfortable is the only way to continue to improve as a teacher.

6. Continuous Refinement

Feedback is valuable only if it leads to continuous improvement. Our role as we teach is to continue to make adjustments based on our own reflections and the feedback provided by observers and students. If an observer suggests incorporating more peer-assessment activities, then we should try and integrate this feedback into subsequent lessons. The aim is to adapt our teaching methods based on ongoing feedback, ensuring a constant cycle of improvement.

7. Expert Guidance

Seeking expert guidance is crucial in deliberate practice. It is always a good idea to add new people to your professional learning networks. Whether the expert be an author you enjoy reading, podcasts you listen to or a coworker, learning from them and implementing their advice is a key aspect to improvement the craft of teaching. PDHPE teachers can collaborate with more experienced educators, attend workshops, or participate in online Facebook groups. Learning from the expertise of others provides valuable insights and accelerates the improvement process.

8. Structured and Systematic

Deliberate practice involves breaking down skills into manageable components. You are not expected to work on improving every aspect of teaching each lesson. This would be a mamoth task and cause many teachers anxiety levels to rise knowing the size of such a task. Instead, we break things down, focus on small aspects and build into greater and greater improvements in our skills. For example, a teacher might focus on establishing clear classroom routines and expectations before moving onto testing new strategies for managing student outbursts of poor behaviour. We want to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

9. Time Commitment

While deliberate practice requires time commitment, it doesn't have to take up much time. We can optimize our time by planning lessons with deliberate practice in mind, ensuring that each component serves the specific goal of improvement. We can ask the observer to just leave us notes, ask them to co-teach with us, or simply ask for a brief 5-minute chat during your next break. Not everything has to take hours at a time.

10. Adaptability

One thing that is clear with deliberate practice is that the person seeking to improve must be adaptable. We must be willing to adapt our practice methods based on our readings, workshops, courses, feedback, observations and changing circumstances. We adjust our strategies to address specific weaknesses and challenges, but mostly we need to be willing to adapt to meet our goals and to adjust our goals as we improve.

11. Monitoring progress

It is always important to know when you have achieved a goal or made some strides towards it. This is where monitoring your progress becomes crucial. It will help you to stay motivated to improve as well as tell you what you need to work on next. We can monitor our progress through the use of data such as student results, time on task, or just using student feedback indicating how they rate us in a specific area we are improving. Regardless of how you do it, you will want to make sure you are monitoring valid aspects in relation to your goals.

12. Patience and Persistence

Improvement through deliberate practice is a gradual process. We must approach it with patience and persistence, especially when we have setbacks as we try something new. Celebrate small victories, acknowledge progress, and remain committed to the long-term goal of becoming a master teacher.

Applying deliberate practice techniques to PDHPE teaching involves a strategic and purposeful approach to skill development. By setting clear goals, focusing on specific aspects, seeking feedback, and continuously refining our practice, we can elevate our teaching skills and create a more engaging and impactful learning environment for our students. Deliberate practice is the key to unlocking our full potential as PDHPE teachers and ensuring a brighter future for our students.

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