Trailblazers – A Contemporary Look
Virgilio, Adelphi University, NY
definition a trailblazer is simply a "leader or pioneer in
a particular field." If you've studied the history of physical
education you'll be familiar with many of our original trailblazers.
These professionals, who broke away from the European influences
and created the American system of Physical Education included
W.G. Anderson, J.B. Nash, Edward Hitchcock, Clark Hetherington,
Luther H. Gulick and the authors of "The New Physical Education,"
Thomas Wood and Rosiland Cassidy. This book reshaped Physical
Education in 1927 and changed the profession from a medical
orientation to a comprehensive, educational approach. These
first Physical Education trailblazers pursued different paths
and redirected the field to help meet the ever-changing societal
demands of their time in history.
Interestingly, during the evolution of a trailblazer's work
these individuals are often criticized, overlooked, or ridiculed
for their different perspectives or theories. A real trailblazer,
however, possesses a special sense of conviction and purpose
and the ability to persevere even when others have doubted
their passion for change and innovation.
Over the past fifty years, six professionals have made unique
contributions to the field of Physical Education. They've
offered us educational alternatives, curriculum models, and
impacted legislation to help shape our profession. Many other
leaders, scholars and activists followed and helped add to
and perpetuate our profession - but these six professionals
seem to stand out as trailblazers, helping to carve out a
new direction for a New Physical Education. Many younger professionals
may not be aware of their impact on our field or how they
paved the way for the future. So, read more about the contemporary
trailblazers of Physical Education.
Julian U. Stein
by many experts as the father of Adapted Physical Education
in the United States, Dr. Stein is a retired professor from
George Mason University. For over 15 years he was the Executive
Director for the Unit on Programs for the Handicapped for
AAHPERD. His profound leadership lead to many changes in Washington
D.C. and helped establish the foundation of how we all perceive
children with challenges in Physical Education and Sport.
For many years experts felt that mentally challenged children
were too weak to participate in sports such as basketball,
softball, and volleyball. Stein changed that misconception
by teaming up with the Kennedy Foundation and AAHPERD to help
establish guidelines and books for physical education programs.
In the mid 1960s, Stein edited the newsletter Challenge and
published numerous papers and books with the help of the AAHPERD-Kennedy
Program. His pioneering work in the 1960s provided children
with opportunities to participate in recreation, sports, fitness
and physical education. In the early-mid 1970s when the “inclusion
movement” and new legislation was passed in Washington,
Stein’s work was implemented and adapted Physical Education
established a strong foothold in the curriculum.
Muska Mosston (1925-1994)
Mosston viewed teaching Physical Education as more than merely
skill drills, games and fitness routines. His passion was
to observe children moving - identify their strengths and
weaknesses, and then create a spectrum of developmental opportunities
to help them discover themselves and enhance learning. He
developed The Spectrum of Teaching Styles. These teaching
styles were created to help teachers match teaching styles
with a student's learning needs, creating a series of decisions
as the student moved through the developmental channels. The
Spectrum offered physical educators alternatives of teaching
along a continuum from command or direct styles of teaching
to discovery approaches - giving more decision-making and
freedom to the student.
This was an unpopular approach in the 1960s, since Physical
Education at that time was built around control, structure,
and very direct teaching strategies. In the early stages there
was little research to support Mosston's theories. Although
the Spectrum was initially met with resistance, years later physical
educators began embracing the opportunities it provided. Furthermore,
the Spectrum helped to begin the debate about student learning
and the methods used in physical education to accomplish desired
learning outcomes. His book Teaching Physical Education (written
with Sara Ashworth) is still used in many teacher education
programs throughout the world.
Charles "Chuck" Corbin
"Chuck" Corbin is Professor Emeritus in the Department of
Exercise and Wellness at Arizona State University. He has
been recognized as the "father" of the Concepts approach to
fitness education. His beginning work focused on exercise
science, but by the late 1960s he saw the need for a college-level
book related to the concepts of fitness. The notion was that
students needed to understand the principles of exercise if
they were going to engage in a lifelong commitment of physical
Corbin's book, Fitness for Life became the most
widely used college text for basic fitness instruction by
the mid1970s and remains a top seller today. Corbin felt that
high school physical educators should also incorporate fitness
concepts into their curriculums. He proposes a combination
of both classroom and gymnasium based activity sessions. The
activity sessions (at times serving as labs) were closely
linked to the classroom content. Later, his model would include
goal-setting, stress management, self-assessment strategies
and how to be an informed consumer of fitness related products
and developmentally appropriate exercises.
Corbin expanded the Fitness for Life model to include curriculum
resources for teachers to use in high schools, middle schools,
and now elementary schools. In the mid 1960s when it was commonplace
for physical educators to merely have students run, perform
pull-ups, sit-ups, and lift weights, Corbin felt that students
not only needed to learn what they were doing-but why. He
created a system for translating sophisticated exercise science
language into understandable fitness concepts that students
could use to help them develop a lifetime of physical activity
and healthy lifestyles.
Corbin is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including
the Gulick Award, the highest honor bestowed by AAHPERD. His
trailblazing efforts changed the way fitness has been taught
in colleges and public schools throughout the nation.
Siedentop is a professor emeritus of Sport and Exercise Science
at the Ohio State University. He also served as Senior Associate
Dean and Interim Dean of OSU’s College of Education.
Siedentop is a prolific author of many books, papers, and
research studies. He has also received numerous awards including
the International Olympic Committee President’s Prize.
In the late 1970s - 1980s, Siedentop developed an observation
system that reported the amount of time on task in which children
were engaged in physical activity during a typical physical
education class. The Academic Learning Time – Physical
Education (ALT-PE) system was widely researched and brought
new light to critical questions concerning class management
and pedagogical choices when teaching Physical Education.
A vast amount of research using this instrument has helped
add to the content knowledge of pedagogy in Physical Education.
Daryl Siedentop is best known however, as the "father" of
Sport Education. This well-known model was created in the
early 1990s as a way to help students learn and enjoy various
sports and related activities in a quality Physical Education
program. Within this model, sport, dance, and fitness activities
are organized into seasons where balanced teams compete, and
students are given various roles and responsibilities such
as referees, coach, manager, publicist, statistician, and
others. The model has been very successful over the last 20
years since it incorporates a number of personal and social
skills as well as a strong knowledge component, allowing students
to assume responsibility for their own sport involvement.
Although Sport Education has been successfully used at all
grade levels, it has been credited with reviving a failing
secondary Physical Education curriculum which was previously
based on team and individual sports, athletic performance,
and competition as the central focus.
Siedentop's book on Sport
Education quickly became a best seller, helping teachers
to reinvent their physical education curriculum, as well as
motivating students to learn and better appreciate sport.
The Sport Education model has had a profound impact on the
Physical Education curriculum and continues to be used throughout
Hellison is considered the "father" of humanistic Physical
Education. For many years he served as a Professor at Portland
State and the University of Illinois - Chicago. Hellison has
received the International Olympic Committee's President Prize
and the Gulick Award (AAHPERD's highest honor). In the late
1960s into the 1970s humanistic education became a popular
theme throughout all subject matter in schools. During this
movement, the focus on students' personal and social skills
became as important, if not more important than a student's
Responding to this trend, Hellison developed the Teaching
for Personal and Social Responsibility model (TPSR) designed
to help at-risk students better cope with the complexities
of life. His model was centered on promoting self-control,
responsibility, and creating a sense of self in students through
physical education and sport related activities.
In the 1970s Hellison's theories and views were often challenged
by researchers at conferences because they appeared to lack
scientific evidence. Hellison persevered and expanded his
model to include levels of responsibility, along with practical
applications that physical educators could use in the gymnasium.
The TPSR model was also well tested and studies began to show
By the early 1990s, urban schools throughout the world were
using the TPSR model in their physical education programs
to cope with major social issues such as vandalism, teen pregnancy,
drug use, and escalating dropout rates. Teachers throughout
the world are now using the model to infuse social values,
cooperation, and responsibility in their classes throughout
the school year in combination with skills, fitness, and healthy
For over 40 years, Don Hellison has been committed to developing
a model focused on teaching life skills and values through
physical activity. Hellison truly epitomizes the spirit, energy,
and conviction of a trailblazer. Today, his work continues
to have a significant impact on the field of Physical Education.
Graham was a Professor on the faculty at Pennsylvania State
University, and earlier at Virginia Tech for 17 years. In
2007, Graham was inducted into the NASPE Hall of Fame. Graham
is best known for his work in the development of the Skill
Themes Model focused on teaching elementary school aged children.
Strongly influenced by the work of Rudolph Laban, and American
physical educator Kate Barrett, Graham has helped to reform
the way elementary physical education is taught in schools
in the US and around the world. The skill themes approach
became a foundation for many elementary physical education
curriculums. The model centered on locomotor, non-manipulative,
and manipulative motor skills. Within the process of acquiring
motor skills, children learned how to integrate movement concepts
such as space, direction, levels, and extensions into different
movement forms. The notion was that these fundamental movement
skills were necessary building blocks for more advanced skills
as children transitioned into middle school. Also, Graham
formalized a process for teaching skills to students by
developing four generic levels of skill proficiency (pre-control,
control, utilization, and proficiency). He is also best noted
for his work with NASPE as a co-author of the Developmentally
Appropriate Practices document.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s when it was popular to
base elementary level physical education instruction on a
"games curriculum" – Graham led the charge
for a developmental movement approach and designed a curriculum
of movement concepts and movement themes that to date has
stood the test of time and is used today worldwide. In 1996,
Graham spearheaded the first educational website for physical
education in the United States – PE Central. The site
has received numerous awards and is widely used today.
George Graham is the author of numerous books and papers,
however, his text Children Moving is widely used in university
teacher education programs for preparing elementary physical
So, where will the next generation of trailblazers come from?
What kinds of innovations will we see in technology, new curriculum
models, and legislative changes for healthier children? Will
the changes occur within the U.S.or will the trailblazers
come from other countries? In any event, the future of our
profession will rely on the creativity, passion and convictions
of professionals with the courage to meet societal demands
in the name of healthy children. Trailblazers are unique.
They are educational contrarians with a purpose and vision
to make changes because "change was needed."Their
leadership will be marked in history and their impact on the
physical development of children will be realized for many
Corbin, C.B. , Welk, G., Corbin, W., & Welk, K. (2011).
Concepts of physical fitness. New York, NY: McGraw
Graham, G., Holt-Hale, S., & Parker, M. (2010). Children
moving (9thed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Hellison, D. (2011). Teaching personal and social responsibility
through physical activity (3rded.). Champaign, IL: Human
Mosston, M. & Ashworth, S. (2002). Teaching physical
education (5thed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.
Siedentop, D., Hastie, P., & VanDerMars, H. (2011). Complete
guide to sport education (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human
Biography: Stephen J. Virgilio, Ph.D. is a Professor and
Director of Graduate Studies in Physical Education at Adelphi
University in Garden City, New York. He served as co-principal
investigator of a multi-million dollar NIH grant, co-authoring
the nationally known Heart Smart Program and the SuperKids-SuperFit
comprehensive physical activity intervention. He has published
four books including, Fitness Education for Children –
A Team Approach 2nd ed. (2012) translated into four different
languages. Dr. Virgilio has published 75 manuscripts in the
area of children’s health and physical activity. He
has conducted more than 150 presentations and workshops, including
several keynote addresses. Dr.Virgilio is the co-author of
the Active Start Guidelines and has served on the
editorial board of Teaching Elementary Physical Education,
JOPERD, and Strategies.
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