Tag: Paul Wright

Belizean Youth Sport Coalition takes next step as project wraps

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

Just look at the numbers.

Three years. Twenty-seven organizations. One hundred and twenty-one coaches, teachers and youth workers trained – 13 of them traveling to the United States for that preparation, partly delivered by three NIU students. Fifteen hundred youth enrolled in summer programs. Three thousand youth in school programs.

Paul Wright could go on about the Belizean Youth Sport Coalition (BYSC) project, which began in 2013 and officially wrapped up this September, but the data speaks for itself.

“I have been amazed and so grateful to the people who have contributed to making this project a success,” says Wright, a professor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It’s been about collaboration and teamwork, and the talent, commitment and complementary skills of the U.S. team was matched by our Belizean partners.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited program, the BYSC aimed to promote youth development and social change through sport.



Paul Wright spends sabbatical studying physical ed in Europe

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

For Paul Wright, the greater purpose of physical education is the social and emotional lessons it provides to children.

And, the professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education is happy to discover, he’s not the only one who thinks that way.

Wright is currently on a research sabbatical in Scotland, where he’s examining the approach to physical education there. He is working with several Scottish schools to observe how such learning objectives are interpreted, promoted by teachers and experienced by students.

His time in Scotland also has included presentations to physical education research and professional organizations.

“On this issue of promoting social and emotional learning through physical education, Scotland has a lot in common with the U.S. In their national curriculum, social and emotional learning outcomes are part of physical education,” Wright says.

“However, in practice, teachers have very different interpretations of what that means,” he adds. “Most of the teachers I see are very competent and doing many things right. However, their approach to teaching personal and social skills is less coordinated and less intentional than their approach to teaching psychomotor skills, fitness, etc.”

Based at the University of Edinburgh, where he is a visiting scholar in the Moray House School of Education, Wright also has met with collaborators in other European countries such as Finland, Greece and Spain.

NIU colleagues also are helping to expand the scope of the research project, including schools in New Zealand, as they conduct a cross-cultural analysis.

phys-ed“Much of what I am in seeing in Scotland matches what I have seen in the U.S.,” Wright says. “By the end of this year, with a large international sample, I think we can share findings that will bring a lot of attention to this topic in the physical education research community.”

Part of that will deal with educational policy and curriculum at a broader level.

To that end, he and his collaborators are uncovering a wealth of best practices that already are proving successful and “developing a good sense of what support is needed for teachers to turn this corner.”

“We are seeing that ill-defined learning objectives are less likely to be implemented in practice, especially when they are not accompanied by professional development, accountability or follow-through,” he says. “This is an educational policy issue that many countries and states need to be aware of.”

Scotland shows potential to build on its great foundation for promoting social and emotional learning through physical education, he says, but that job will require a more coherent framework, consistent pedagogical strategies and a more intentional approach.

phys-ed-soccer“Like in the United States, there are opportunities built into physical education to explicitly teach personal and social skills. These are teachable moments that many teachers aren’t capitalizing on,” he says. “Physical education is an ideal setting to teach transferable life skills like cooperation and teamwork, but I think it’s falling short of its full potential at present.”

Coming months will keep him involved; he’s already debriefing with teachers in Scotland to assess their interest in moving forward with real-world applications of what he and his collaborators are learning.

Primary cohort Shirley Gray, who is helping Wright to develop this community of practice and action research, will facilitate its activities. Wright does plan to stay in touch through virtual meetings and occasional return visits.

Eventually, he and his colleagues plan to share their findings with policy makers as well as educational researchers and teachers.

“By taking this grassroots approach in each of the nations in this study, we hope to have a positive impact that goes beyond the traditional academic presentations and publications,” Wright says. “Social and emotional competencies are life skills that can help students in the present and in their future.”



Gold medals are not the only reason to get youth involved in sport

Written by Paul Wright, Lane/Zimmerman Endowed Professor

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil have given us the opportunity to marvel at the heights of human potential. We have been able to watch amazing displays of athleticism and skill from the most elite competitors on the planet. As inspiring as these athletes and their performances are, they represent an extremely small fraction of the number of people involved in sport around the world.

The vast majority of youth who get involved in sport will never compete for Olympic gold. In fact, many will never compete outside of their surrounding community. So what other reasons are there for youth to become involved in sport? The benefits are too numerous to mention, but include physical fitness, motor skill development, positive social interaction, mental toughness, communication skills, and confidence.

Dr. Paul Wright and his colleagues in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) are interested in ways that youth sport programs can be intentionally designed to promote positive youth development and social change. In particular, how can sport be used to teach life skills (such as leadership and goal setting) that youth can use in other areas of their lives? Research shows sport programs that have this sort of focus help youth to reach their potential in life and to develop a greater sense of social responsibility.

In addition to supporting youth programs locally (including Chicago), Dr. Wright and his colleagues are involved at the international level with youth sport research and program development. For example, in early August, Dr. Wright was in Finland working with collaborators to design a training program for coaches who run after-school sport programs. In June, Drs. Steve Howell, Jenn Jacobs, and Jim Ressler, were in Belize consulting on a three-year project the KNPE team has been operating with funding from the US Department of State. This project has involved training coaches and administrators from over 20 youth sport programs and the formation of the Belizean Youth Sport Coalition (BYSC). Also this summer, Dr. Wright was featured in the British Council’s online magazine, Voices. The British Council supports sport for development programming around the globe and invited Dr. Wright to contribute a piece discussing the importance of social and emotional learning, highlighting ways it can be fostered through sport.

The collaborations noted above and related activities are organized under the Physical Activity and Life Skills (PALS) Group that Dr. Wright and his colleagues operate through the KNPE department. Through research, outreach and academic programming, the PALS Group is committed to bridging the gap between theory and practice to make sure youth sport programs live up to their potential in terms of supporting the positive, healthy development of youth and their communities. While this aspect of youth sport does not receive the same level of media attention as the Olympics, the impact it can have on individuals and communities around the globe is felt every day.



Collaborating on Outdoor Education

Professors at meeting

Did you know NIU is home to one of the premier outdoor education facilities in the country, the Lorado Taft Field Campus? In addition to this amazing resource, NIU’s College of Education has faculty expertise and an extensive network of partners working in the areas of outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Recently NIU’s Physical Activity and Life Skills (PALS) Group, led by the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, hosted a meeting on outdoor education and adventure-based learning. The meeting provided an opportunity to get several area expert collaborators together, including international experts and a local community partner. The PALS Group, represented by KNPE faculty (Drs. Steve Howell, Jenn Jacobs, Jim Ressler, Zach Wahl-Alexander and Paul Wright), is committed to promoting healthy development and teaching life skills to youth through physical activity. Our faculty were joined by three honored guests to discuss current projects and potential collaborations related to outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Dr. Xia Wen, Director of Theory, Teaching, and Research for the Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China. Dr. Xia Wen is a visiting scholar from China spending a year at NIU collaborating with Dr. Jim Ressler of the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department. During his time here, Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen will be developing course material for an Outward Bound class, which is one of the most popular courses for students to take at Yunnan University. Dr. Xia Wen’s expertise is in water safety education and he is currently working on a manuscript for an English journal about training classroom teachers to lead water safety programs.

Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, an organization that seeks to assist youth in overcoming challenges and becoming healthy adults through adventure-based counseling. Adventure Works serves youth ages 6-18 years old, providing individual, family, and group counseling services. The organization is the first non-profit community-based outdoor adventure education center in the US. Adventure Works programs are led by licensed therapists and include prevention programs for disengaged and impoverished youth in the DeKalb area, as well as mental health intervention programs for students struggling with mental health issues. The PALS Group has organized fundraisers in recent years to support Adventure Works and Dr. Ressler is a member of their advisory board.

Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor in the Health, Outdoor, Physical Education (HOPE) program at University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. Thirty years ago, Dr. Forsberg obtained his masters in NIU’s outdoor education program and served as a graduate assistant for the Lorado Taft field campus program. He now teaches several outdoor education classes for physical education (PE) majors at the University of Regina. The classes involve several intense outdoor experiences such as the course “Utilization of the Winter Environment” which includes spending five days in Canada’s Moose Mountains during the cold winter season. Dr. Forsberg described, “This is where the magic happens,” referring to students coming together and understanding the impact that outdoor education can have on learning. He also teaches a course in which students design their own outdoor adventure curriculum and he tells students, “Now that you’ve gone through these experiences, you have a responsibility for future generations. Your purpose is to give back through this special outdoor experience.”

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China
Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County
Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

According to Dr. Wright, Director of the PALS Group, “Outdoor education and adventure-based learning are not new topics for the PALS Group. In fact, the Physical Education Teacher Education program in KNPE is one of the only academic programs at NIU that has outdoor education experiences at the Laredo Taft Field Campus built into their curriculum. The same can be said for our Adventure-based learning course. Our faculty have expertise in these areas and a long history of introducing them to NIU students. Now the PALS Group is interested in strengthening our work in these areas by connecting them with our service and research agendas.” In addition to the ongoing curriculum development project underway between Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen, potential action items that came out of this meeting include: supporting an oral history/archival project on the history of outdoor education at the Lorado Taft Field Campus, studying the socialization experiences of teacher education candidates in their outdoor education course, and providing professional development experiences for Adventure Works’ staff in the outdoor environment.

The PALS Group was pleased to host this group of experts and further its mission of promoting healthy development and teaching life skills through physical activity.