Distance-learning physical education taught surprising lessons

A year of distance-learning PE taught school leaders and teachers valuable lessons, according to a new report from The L.A. Trust, LAUSD and UCLA. 


Physical education was even more critical to students’ physical and emotional engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report funded by the L.A. Dodgers Foundation and published in the Journal of School Health. 

The report — Teachers’ and School Leaders’ Perspective on Distance Learning Physical Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic — was a collaboration between UCLA, The Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health and Los Angeles Unified. It was written by Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz, board member of The L.A. Trust and associate professor, David Geffen School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics at UCLA; Jocelyn Vilchez, Physical Education K-12 Specialist, Los Angeles Unified Division of Instruction; Maryjane Puffer, executive director of The L.A. Trust; and John Kruse, director of physical education at LAUSD.  

Dudovitz said, “Many of the lessons learned during distance learning will enhance physical education moving forward, including a deeper focus on educational standards, emphasizing the integration of physical education into students’ daily lives, use of technology to enhance learning, and the importance of social-emotional learning as a core component of physical education.”   

Maryjane Puffer of The L.A. Trust said, “This report recognizes the creativity and hard work our students and physical education teachers put in during the pandemic. We know that PE is good for students — we must devote more time and invest more resources to this, especially in our under-served schools.” 

Speaking to experts 

Using purposive and snowball sampling, the authors conducted semi-structured interviews with 19 physical education teachers and school health experts across 21 California school districts on best practices for physical education via distance learning.  

Four major themes emerged, the report stated: Participants felt high-quality physical education via distance learning was both critical and possible; strategies for creating a successful distance learning environment included personalization, creativity and inclusiveness; and resources necessary for success included professional development, administrative support and equipment.  

“I was surprised that overwhelmingly, our participants felt that high-quality physical education was possible during distance learning, and (by) the real enthusiasm for creativity and new learning approaches the pandemic motivated,” Dudovitz said. But “many participants also described the unequal access to physical fitness many low-income students faced and the high need for social-emotional support. They also described feeling the physical education was often under-valued, relative to core academic subjects,” she added. 

The report’s bottom line: “Participants identified effective strategies, challenges, and recommendations for the future; felt optimistic about their ability to provide quality physical education via distance learning given the necessary supports; and perceived that they played a critical role in supporting student health during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 


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