Tag Archives: teaching

Social justice in teaching and the value of caring

There are many nice things about doing research with other people but one of the best things about being part of a group is the possibility of reflecting on your progress and sharing the responses you have to what participants tell you.

I was doing just this one evening last week, 16th June 2016, as a member of my research group had shared how her students had responded to her telling them about an incident or a turn in her own life and experiences.

We are researching the place of social justice and socio-cultural issues in Physical Education Teacher Education programmes. I am in my share of the data generation phase in universities mainly in the UK at the moment (it’s an international project covering the USA and NZ as well). I replied to my research group to appreciate the story that had been shared and to express what value there is in doing work on social justice: it can be hard but energising – vital maybe. I said that a recent interview participant of mine had said something on these lines recently: we teach social justice because we just have to … it is about fairness in all aspects of life, not just in sport or physical education but because those fields feed into and from all our social worlds. Because we care and want a better world.

We were reflecting at the time on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting in the USA so our thoughts were geared towards how we can respond to these events and the hate that caused them in our teaching and research about social justice. I had also seen the news that day that MP Jo Cox had been attacked and was in hospital.

It’s not just an abstract concept, social justice; we are dealing with real lives and events, not political correctness. The personal stories make all the difference.

After I sent the email, I looked at the news and learnt that Jo Cox had died as a result of her injuries. The email conversation then seemed to mean so much more to me.

There are not always opportunities to tell our students we care nor might we often demonstrate it (emotional labour being something that might be sidelined in neoliberal academic practice) but one of the elements of teaching social justice and socio-cultural issues must be being a socially just and caring teacher. Addressing the ‘isms’ in education (Dodds, 1993) gets more complex all the time: no longer just sexism, racism and ablism but homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia affect teaching and learning in physical education, and then I can’t forget teaching about privilege: class, racial and male privilege, also British citizenship privilege and English speaking privilege seem important now.

I support the things Jo Cox stood for and worked hard for, though I didn’t know of her before 16th June. I am also REMAIN for the EU referendum. I have read so many powerful arguments for remaining over the last few days and cannot articulate it as well, so in brief. We are better as a part of the EU for our environment, our universities, our rights and because being part of something larger – not turning away from others – is important. Being in the EU isn’t just about immigration and refugees, but a lot of the words being expended around the referendum have been about those topics. While anyone’s individual vote to leave might not be xenophobic, that is what the leave campaign has been built on. Leave proposes a Britain that is insular and right wing (also, they aren’t going to spend any saved money on the NHS). I vote remain to say that the type of country I want is one that welcomes, connects, cares and works with other people across difference because this is part of social justice work to me.

Dodds, P. (1993). Removing the ugly ‘isms’ in your gym: Thoughts for teachers on equity. In Evans, J. (ed.) Equality, education and physical education, 28-39. London: Falmer Press


End of term round up, 2015

It’s the end of the 2014-15 academic year, and in the spirit of reflection on successes and opportunities for future years, I here round up my teaching and research goings-on over the last 12 months. (Idea borrowed from Ethan Watrall at Profhacker)


This is the second year that I have delivered the units I look after at Bedfordshire. The introductory unit in sociological and historical developments in sport (Sport and Physical Activity in Society) continues to encourage me to read widely about the sporting world and learn new ways to show how sociology can inform sport, and vice versa. Last year we had a rich range of international sporting events to draw from to help us apply sociological concepts to real-world examples – a winter Olympics and Paralympics, a men’s football World Cup, a Commonwealth Games and Le Tour de France’s trip to England. In 2015, the women’s football World Cup, and the growing concern with FIFA corruption in the early months of the year – that have recently resulted in arrests of many FIFA officials – have captured a lot of our attention. Yet despite me feeling like there’s great connections between the sociology we study and the real world of sport, there are always a few feedback forms that claim not to see any relevance to their degree programme. So a question remaining for next year is how to engage the sociological imagination of all the class.

Other particularly interesting issues for the students appear to have included gender and race equality and discrimination, going by the focus of much of the written work they produced. I have a really diverse range of people taking my unit and always try to find ways to engage them all in understanding and analysing these issues, whether they are from a social group that faces inequalities and discrimination, or whether they are learning about others’ problems for the first time. This is something there’s always room for improvement on, to enable multiple voices to be heard. I also really enjoyed adding in a closer look at commercialisation and globalisation processes throughout sport. Perhaps less successful was my attempt to enthuse students about the sociology of the body – it is my research area after all, and I hoped that a little bit of Bourdieu and Butler would be interesting – I’ll keep working on that one!

In my masters-level research methods class, I encouraged students to delve deeper into a particular aspect of methodology by taking the lead for a class. They usually presented an overview and asked some questions, often setting pre-reading for the others to get up to speed. I was pleased that most students did engage with the reading set by their peers. There were also a lot of videos shown, perhaps to hide the presenter’s nerves, so next year I will try to encourage less reliance on existing resources and more discussion for a fully critical examination of research methods.


I’ve begun two new research projects and seen one reach a sort-of conclusion this year. The new ones first.

Social Justice in Physical Education Teacher Education is an international collaboration (PI: Jennifer Walton-Fisette) aiming to understand the field of teaching social justice and critical pedagogy in PE in higher education to see how pre-service teachers are prepared to (for example) engage with diverse students or inequalities in schools. We have a methodology drafted for a two phase project: firstly with faculty and secondly with students. Phase 1 is ready to pilot over the summer. We are also looking at some grants to pursue.

The Colouring Books project (co-researcher Vladimir Martinez-Bello) was in the early stages in 2014 and this year has developed to see us write up the quantitative side of the research. We examined colouring books explicitly aimed at girls or boys for their equal representation of girl or boy characters, also asking whether they depicted more boys or girls in physical or sedentary activities and in indoor or outdoor settings. This work is under review. We are now starting to follow it up with a qualitative look at how femininities and masculinities are represented in the same colouring books. Ultimately the project seeks to analyse how children encounter representations of physical activity across curricular material, so we will be looking at other types of books too.

The case study in Positive Movement Subcultures, begun in 2013 (co-researchers Rachel Sandford and Eimear Enright), has partially reached a close, as we have seen the successful writing up of the paper that examined how a dance school for adults created a body-positive community. This work is in press. We would be interested in pursuing further case study work with other physical activity communities (movement subcultures) whether in school or community-based for young people or adults. We do strengths-based qualitative research to look at what works in successful movement subcultures – to aim to enhance experiences in that community plus find good practice that might be shared.

As the teaching year winds up, and I also look forward to the arrival of my little one in August, this is a prime time to get some things off my desk or bring projects to a natural place to pause. Predominantly this summer, my attention is on two chapters of an exciting new edition of a textbook – a new writing endeavour for me but one I am really enjoying.

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