Pupils should be taught to…use running, jumping, throwing and catching in isolation and in combination….compare their performances with previous ones and demonstrate improvement to achieve their personal best.
This year, we have tried hard to make this work for the children we want to succeed. By devising a structure that enabled all children to keep working on this throughout the term up to and including sports days, Helena and Sarah, the amazing PE leaders at Christ the Sower, have achieved something we thought really would be very hard at the start of the year – to enable every single child to race or jump or throw against their previous best and beat it, all within the space of 90 minutes! In addition, each child was able to take part in four different events, and in the jumping and throwing, try numerous times, if they wanted, to improve on previous attempts. The result was a glorious celebration of children out-performing themselves and having the motivation to go faster or further, even if competing against children who were faster than they were. Probably 60-70% of children beat personal bests this afternoon in the Upper Learning Phase sports day, and a similar proportion (if not more) in yesterday’s event for the Middle Learning Phase.
It has been something of beauty to see, and parents have been both supportive and appreciative of the efforts made by all staff, who have swung behind Sarah and Helena’s vision and made it a reality. Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon has been that children and parents have both cottoned on to the fact that because children are competing against themselves (and thus by definition, the person copming last could gain more points for their team than the person coming first), everybody should be cheered to the finish line, and the cheering cannot stop until all have completed. Children waiting to throw a javelin would often shout encouragements to a batch of flagging 200m runners while waiting. Everyone, it seemed, was happy to encourage one another. Nobody has really articulated this for children. It just seems to have flowed from the concept of the day. There will be winners, but that will reflect progress made with the talent you have, not necessarily a reflection of the talent itself.
Thus it is all of a piece with Jesus’ expectations of how we live our lives – taking what we have and building on it, not being content to be clever or fast or naturally empathetic. It has strong echoes of Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets and is a highly positive model for the future. Beyond that, it is a form of cooperative enterprise that undermines the independent learning ethic that leads to a competitive spirit, and reinforces the cooperative, inter-dependent ethic that draws forth both appreciation and affection for each other’s efforts towards a common goal. Which team won will depend on some analysis to be done of the personal best times and distances. But which children won is already blazingly obvious to everyone.