Teaching Personal and Social Capability through primary Physical Education 


By Caroline Brooks, Vice-President
ACHPER Queensland

“Australia’s children are growing up in the Age of Anxiety” according to an article in a February edition of QWeekend (Courier-Mail, 26 Feb,2022). The recent pandemic, lockdowns and 24/7 social media have contributed to many children feeling depressed and anxious about their future. There have been calls for an increase in mental health professionals to work in schools and while this would be of assistance it is unlikely to occur soon. Can primary PE specialist teachers assist students in managing anxiety or is their role only the provision of movement experiences?

 In the Australian Curriculum the General Capability; Personal and Social Capability is concerned with students understanding themselves and developing skills in managing relationships. 

There are four interrelated elements that form the key ideas; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social management.  All these key ideas can be investigated through participation in physical education classes but often it is assumed that this investigation occurs through osmosis rather than explicit teaching. There is a wealth of information on this capability in the Australian Curriculum for teachers to use to build optimism and resilience in students.

It is imperative to have a safe environment to explore and develop these capabilities. Investing time in establishing ground rules and routines helps create a safe environment. Ground rules should be decided in consultation with students (even those at Prep level) so that students have ownership of the rules.

The Personal and Social Capability learning continuum in the ACARA website  provides a table of sub-elements and year levels so that teachers can identify appropriate behaviours and learnings for their students in each element.

Teachers can select a sub-element appropriate for the year level for explicit teaching using movement as a medium. For example; make a choice to participate in a class activity (Prep level, Self-management element). As teachers of Physical Education we want all students to participate but we can give them choices in activities and equipment and choices in working individually, with a partner or as a member of a group. The student could select a locomotor skill to move from a to b (these could be written on cards with an illustration) and could chose a piece of equipment to transport from a to b. In teaching this sub-element explicitly, use can be made of the ground rules (if there is a ground rule on participation) and students can be questioned as to why they made certain choices. The learning underpinning this is about autonomy but it is necessary for this to be simplified for the early years age group to: I can make choices about how I move.

For an older age group such as Year 6 students the sub-element of the Social Management element; identify factors that influence decision making and consider the usefulness of these in making their own decisions can be explored through games and sport strategies and challenge activities such as orienteering. Again, questioning is vital to support the learning. As PE teachers we are always concerned with time constraints so questioning can be expedited by having students share responses with a partner or a group. 

 PE teachers should not feel they must explicitly teach all sub-elements. They can spend time observing classes and select the most appropriate sub-element for their situation.  I would encourage all PE teachers to have a conversation with the classroom teachers about focusing on a sub-element so that learning can be reinforced. Publishing the sub-element in your program and sharing the program with Administration, other staff and parents would assist in making connections about how Personal and Social Capabilities are demonstrated in different environments.

There is a wealth of resources online: Don Hellison’s Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility provides a system where students progress through steps which provide “a way of life” rather than a narrow goal-oriented approach. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) resources can assist with teaching managing emotions and empathy. One framework of SEL is Zones of Regulation which uses colours and emojis to assist students in identifying and managing emotions and is appropriate for early years students.

ACHPER QLD acknowledges that primary PE specialist teachers have multiple responsibilities for both Physical Education, Health and extra-curricular activities. If teachers would like more information about this topic ACHPER QLD would be happy to support this and would also like to hear about individual and/or school’s experiences in teaching Personal and social capabilities.