Fit to Learn

In March 2020, education across the globe changed almost in an instant. The COVID-19 virus created a pandemic, leaving schools to hastily convert traditional education models into online delivery models. Together administrators, teachers, parents, and students logged on to the digital world of education.

Stakeholders are now faced with alternative methods of teaching and learning. This change poses challenges to administrators of setting an online curriculum that provides a well-rounded education for students. School leaders have the task of guiding stakeholders into uncharted waters, but they don’t have to lead alone. Administrators should take a collaborative approach with teachers to develop and implement quality educational experiences for students—including physical education (PE).

Physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic has been important because the physiological benefits of being active are well known to improve overall body fitness and indirectly strengthen the immune system. Physical activity has been shown to help people with stress and anxiety cope better in these times of social distancing and self-isolation due to COVID-19. PE teachers who traditionally fill this role in schools should continue to do so as we look to alternate teaching formats.

A number of different scenarios have occurred: Some schools resumed with social distancing and strict hygiene protocols, schools resumed with PE based in the classroom or outside settings, and some schools resumed with online instruction. These scenarios have created a very different look for physical education, but this does not mean that schools should simply remove PE from the school day. PE teachers need to work with their administrators and classroom teachers collaboratively on how to perform their duties in an environment that will allow students to participate in PE while maintaining safety guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Options for PE in Schools With Social Distancing

Physical educators will have to adapt standards-based lessons to the changing landscape of physical education to provide a safe learning environment for their students. The CDC recommends that schools increase the amount of fresh air in the building. Teaching lessons outside is ideal so students can learn in an open-air setting. The challenge is keeping students at a distance and not sharing equipment. For these situations, PE teachers could think creatively about teaching skills-based lessons that will allow students to perform skills and activities in a self-space with their own equipment. For example, create a large grid by laying heavy-duty tape on the floor with multiple 6-by-6-foot squares that each student would occupy. If using equipment, the PE teacher would be responsible for sanitizing equipment at the end of the class and preparing for other classes. As with any teacher, the PE teacher would need to design and conduct routine protocols to introduce and prepare students about what to do to ensure a safe learning environment. Check out Move United Sports (www.moveunitedsport.org/covid-19-member-resources) for a list of resources on playing sports safely.

Activities in the gym should be done individually. Focus on personal fitness, single ball skills, or creative dance/line dances such as the “Cha-Cha Slide” that can be done in personal spaces. Resources such as SHAPE America, OPEN [Online Physical Education Network] PE, PE Central, or Dynamic PE ASAP offer lesson ideas for PE teachers. Additionally, consider teaching cognitive and affective concepts that students can continue to learn in PE, such as developing an understanding of the benefits of health-related fitness concepts, developing a personalized workout plan, or learning about common strategies and tactics in a variety of sports/games.

A third option is teaching physical activities in the classroom. PE teachers can lead students in the class in physical fitness activities to increase cardiovascular health, muscular endurance, and strength, as well as mindfulness activities and breathing exercises.

Options for Online Instruction

While not the ideal way to teach PE, the use of online technology to meet students’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic has been prevalent. If schools integrate hybrid/flipped/online instruction for PE, teachers will need to incorporate multiple forms of technology to reach students. Over the past few months, platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, and Flipgrid have been used to conduct physical education on a global level. For more ideas for using technology in PE, check some of the resources at Chromebooks for Health and Physical Education (www.cbhpe.org). Administrators must find ways to support their PE teachers with technology that can support and enhance physical education content.

Creating PE for Students With IEPs

One of the biggest concerns when the pandemic first happened was meeting the needs of students with IEPs—shifting the focus of having direct student-teacher supervision to students and their caregivers. For students with a disability, this shift takes extra time but should be encouraged and designed for students to participate in class activities. Teachers should look to utilize the support of the online platforms they are using. For example, YouTube automatically transcribes and provides closed captioning in their videos. These videos can be embedded into Google Classroom documents. Microsoft Office Lens allows the translation of documents into different languages and saves them into PDF format.

PE teachers should know what the IEP goals are for each of their students and try to make appropriate accommodations. For example, teachers may want to provide a modified version of what they are teaching, just as they would in the PE classroom. The difference might be that the teacher would have to provide more description or perhaps a separate video for whomever is assisting the student. Teachers who utilize worksheets should design them so the entire family can participate—such as a scavenger hunt. Pictures should be included as well as words. The use of technology such as Flipgrid allows students to demonstrate skills and explain the skill without having to write out what they are trying to do. Move United Sports—a nonprofit organization devoted promoting parasports among youth and adults with physical disabilities—has adapted physical activity fitness classes that you can use with your students (www.moveunitedsport.org/adaptathome). Teachers should maintain some of the routines that students are familiar with in the traditional PE setting. If possible, continue these routines with students and share them with the caregivers.

Importance of Social and Emotional Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a significant amount of stress on families. Parents are stressed about working from home and schooling children from home. Students are stressed because they are isolated from their friends. The CDC recommends regular exercise as a way to help alleviate stress and to bolster the immune system. Using online platforms such as Google Classroom, PE teachers also developed online shared resources such as worksheets and calendars. These included scavenger hunts, fitness bingo, and family fitness activities designed to help the whole family be more active together.

Resources and Professional Development

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, teachers have been using social media such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to communicate with professionals around the world who host chats about ways to build and maintain connections with students during distance learning. Some PE teachers have created their own YouTube channels, where they lead students in physical education activities. Although the pandemic has changed the face of physical education, PE teachers from all parts of the world have come together to provide quality health and wellness opportunities—emotional and physical—for students to engage in at home.


James Barry, EdD, teaches and supervises students in health and physical education teacher education programs. Ingrid Johnson, PhD, consults with many school districts and helps teach and supervise students in health and physical education teacher education programs.