In this article, injury prevention expert and former physical education teacher, Dr. Laura Miele-Pascoe describes the role of teachers and administrators in preventing and managing student injuries in physical education.
Dr. Pascoe and other experts from Robson Forensic are frequently retained to investigate incidents of injury and abuse that occur in schools, child care, and other forms of youth programming.
Investigating Physical Education Injuries
According to a study released by the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, more than 60,000 U.S. students are hurt each year during gym class activities.1 A physical education teacher is expected to supervise children engaged in a multitude of exercise movements and activities in a large and open physical environment. This requires good planning, best practices, and proper supervision.
Planning for injury prevention, student safety, and emergency response is necessary for properly running a physical education class. This article addresses best practices in the form of a safe physical environment, administrative/teacher responsibilities, and emergency preparedness.
Providing a safe physical environment and organizing activities in a manner that promotes safety and injury prevention is critical to physical education. The concept of a safe vs. unsafe physical environment can be described through two different scenarios:
- Scenario A. Due to inclement weather all PE classes are required to relocate to the gym and the space is crowded. The teachers on duty break the students into a circuit to utilize gym space properly, creating enough space for exercises to be executed while maintaining an environment where the teachers are able to walk around the groups and supervise the students using visibility and proximity.
- Scenario B. Same as scenario A, however the teachers decide to separate the gymnasium by activity, having a group of students play basketball on one end of the court and another group play wiffle ball on the opposite end. A basketball player runs for a loose ball just as a runner in the wiffle ball game heads to third base and they collide; one suffers a head injury the other breaks his wrist.
These two scenarios demonstrate the importance of organizing a physical environment to provide separation of activities and adequate channels for supervision. Scenario A arranged the student activity in a manner that was amenable to teacher supervision and provided activities in which students could be properly spaced, generally creating a safe environment for physical activity. Scenario B failed to provide a safe environment for the students. By arranging student activities in a manner that invited collision hazards, the teachers increased the likelihood for student injury.
Student safety must be a primary concern for teachers and administrators in the physical education environment. As a result of large class sizes, dynamic activities, equipment usage, outdoor fields, and students of all sizes and physical abilities integrated in the same physical space, these classes inherently require a higher concern for safety than other educational environments.
Teachers are the first line of defense in providing a safe educational environment and must consider a number of factors that may contribute to student injury or harm. A routine walk through before the children enter the area should be conducted to identify and correct or eliminate any hazards in the facility/grounds. This simple process is frequently the best prevention for slip hazards, clutter that may contribute to trip injuries, or any other issues that require attention. Teachers must also consider elements specific to their environment that may be conducive to assaults, abuse, or dangerous horseplay; examples of such areas may include locker rooms, retractable bleachers, and other secluded areas. All of these issues need to be managed within the context of the students, and it is important for teachers to adjust their classroom management in a way that accounts for special needs students and other behavioral concerns.
- Lessons must be planned and coordinated for the allotted space
- All areas need to be inspected for hazards
- Equipment needs to be appropriate for the activity and routinely inspected
- All grounds need to be assessed before activities begin and monitored for safety and security
Teachers and administrators collaboratively are responsible for putting supervisorial methods in place that create a safe environment for children. These responsibilities include matching students by age, size, and skill-levels for physical activities; developing curriculum and activities that consider proper skill progression for the entire group; and designing activities that are safe and appropriate within the available fields and facilities.
Emergency Action Plan
When an injury does occur to a child during the physical education class, creating an emergency action plan in advance can be critical to the outcome. It is imperative to have an emergency team in place to respond. School administrators and teachers should have roles assigned and established communication plans. Practice drills should be performed on a quarterly basis to ensure everyone understands their roles and will be able to respond in the event of an emergency.
Robson Forensic Inc. can assist with determining if schools, teachers, and students acted in a reasonable manner when injury occurred. It is critical that Physical Education teachers know the best safe practices to implement when teaching their classes. Student safety is promoted with proper guidance, instruction, and supervision.
Education & Youth Supervision Investigations
Our education and supervision experts are coaches, teachers, chaperones, lifeguards, trainers and rehabilitation professionals who speak to the standards of care for organizing youth activities and programming. Experts in facilities, sports, recreation and supervision evaluate the safety of sports facilities, schools, playgrounds, camps, child care centers, and correctional/custodial facilities to identify the various contributing causes to a specific incident.
To determine the best expert to assist on your case, please submit an inquiry through our website, or contact the author of this article.
Sport Coaching & Injury Prevention Expert
Dr. Laura Miele-Pascoe is an expert in fitness, sport, and recreation with specific expertise in physical education, sport psychology, personal training, fitness facilities management/operations, and injury prevention. She is an accomplished athlete as well as an experienced trainer, coach and teacher. Dr. Miele holds a Doctorate in Sport Psychology, a Master’s in Education, and an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and Physical Education. She was a middle school and high school Physical Education teacher from 1997 to 2006, and then returned to education from 2011 to 2014 after managing the Sport Injury Prevention Program for a Children’s Medical Center.