Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility in Physical Education (Part Two)

There’s no doubt that personal and social responsibility is a pillar of successful learning in physical education and the TPSR model is proven to help support the development of personally and socially responsible behaviours in a variety of settings (e.g. summer camps, after-school programs, and physical education).

However, students’ commitment to TPSR-based programs seems to be affected by different factors. These include the personal characteristics of the program leaders, the features of the program itself, and the teaching strategies that are implemented in the program.

The TARE (Tool for Assessing Responsibility-Based Education) instrument was designed to assess the implementation of teaching strategies that support students’ development of personally and socially responsible behaviours. The tool achieves this through an observation system that focuses on three key section: observable teaching strategies, personal and social responsibility themes, and student responsibility. During its development, the content of the tool was validated by a panel of experts (including the develop of the TPSR model itself, Don Hellison).

TARE’s first section – observable teaching strategies – involves nine unique strategies that represent a variety of teacher behaviours that promote or foster personal and social responsibility.

These nine teaching strategies include:

  • Modelling respect
  • Setting expectations
  • Opportunities for success
  • Fostering social interactions
  • Assigning tasks
  • Leadership
  • Giving choices and voices
  • Role in assessment
  • Transfer

Let’s take a deeper look at each one of those strategies and see what they can look like in a physical education context.

👀 Modelling Respect

Respect is a a pillar of positive teacher-student relationships and is fundamental to personal and social responsibility. It’s no coincidence that respect is the focus of the first level of responsibility in the TPSR model.

Respect is expressed through a variety of ways, including attention, deference, acknowledgment, valuing, and behaviour. In other words, to express respect towards others, we can do so by acknowledging them, giving them our attention, and letting them know – through our words and our actions – that we value them as individuals.

Knowing this, it makes sense that modelling respect is one of the nine identified teaching strategies that can support and foster personal and social responsibility.

It’s important to remember that our students are always learning from us, both inside and outside of the gym. Being mindful of the level of respect that we display through our actions – both big and small – can help set an example that our students can follow.

The easiest way to break this all down is with the mantra “I see you, I care about you, and I value who you are.” Keeping that mantra in mind can help you ensure that you are modelling respect throughout the day.

Remember that you do not need to be perfect: we’re human and everybody slips sometimes. When you catch yourself having an imperfect moment, use it as an opportunity to demonstrate to your students how to bounce back from it with grace and respect.

✅ Setting Expectations

If we want to help our students meet expectations for their behaviour in class, then we need to communicate those expectations in language that is clear and accessible to our learners.

Expectations should be communicated early on in the lesson and referred to throughout. Don’t be afraid of catching your students doing good! If you see examples of students meeting behaviour expectations, highlight that behaviour to reinforce it. This can be done publicly or in a side conversation with the student in question. When doing so, just be sure to be specific in the language that you use with the student (e.g. “I really appreciate how you put the equipment back before moving on to your next station! That helps the next people who come through and helps make our class the kind of place we all want to learn in!”)

Visuals can help you communicate expectations in your teaching. Find the What/Why/How Graphics, Whole-Body Listening Poster, and Character Shields in the Shop!

Expectations can be communicated orally, but don’t be afraid to reinforce them via visuals in your classroom (e.g. the Whole-Body Listening Poster). Having your expectations made visble in this way makes it easier for both your students and yourself to refer to them throughout the lesson.

Finally, one of the best ways to set expectations for behaviour is to co-construct these expectations with your students. Doing so support student autonomy and gives them a sense of ownership over their classroom environment. One of the best approaches that I have seen in this regard is the “Classroom Charter” that is part of the RULER set of social and emotional learning tools.

🎉 Opportunities for Success

Why would students chose to responsibly engage in classroom activities that they do not believe that they can experience success in? Why would they meet the expectations of a teacher who they do not believe wants to see them all succeed?

Lesson activities should be designed in such a way that success is within every student’s grasp. That doesn’t mean setting the bar to the lowest height possible! Instead, it means that we need to take into account the individual differences of our students and ensure that we have thought of which modifications and/or adaptations we can bring to our activities in order to accomodate those differences.

When students believe that they can succeed (and are supported by a teacher who believes the same), they are more likely to stay on-task, demonstrate resilience, and act in responsible ways.

🤝 Fostering Social Interactions

Social interaction play a key role in meaningful physical education experiences. Students who feel connected to a community of learners will be more likely to engage in positive academic behaviour.

Here are two ways that you can support social interaction in your lessons:

Focus on developing students’ social skills. Just like any other skill, students can develop social skills through intentional instruction and practice. Infusing your lessons with social and emotional learning can help your students develop the social awareness and relationship skills required for positive social interactions.

Focus on helping your students develop conflict resolution, effective communication, and perspective-taking to provide them with the foundation they need to thrive in social settings.

To learn more about how you can help your students develop their social skills in physical education, check out the following blog posts:

Teaching Through An Emotional Lens

Using RULER As A Framework For Intentional Social and Emotional Learning

Use pedagogical models. Evidence suggests that certain pedagogical models support social interaction in physical education. 

For example, Cooperative Learning (including Jigsaw Learning) improves students’ cooperation, teamwork and social relations. The Sport Education model positively affects student engagement through features such as small teams and peer teaching. Finally, Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility focuses on helping students develop conflict resolution, inclusiveness, and cooperation skills in physical activity settings.

No matter how you choose to approach it, making your physical education lessons a place where positive social interactions can flourish is a powerful way to make P.E. meaningful to your students.

📋 Assigning Tasks

Assigning responsibilities to students is a simple way to help them feel that they are valued, contributing members of your classroom community. It’s a simple way to promote responsible behaviour while also providing some relief to the teacher!

There are a few different ways that you can approach assigning tasks in your classroom:

Learn more about the Classroom Job Board.

Assigning Individual Tasks

Job boards are a common strategy for promoting responsibility in classrooms. I believe that they can also be implemented in such a way that aligns to several teaching strategies that support TPSR.

For example, the Classroom Job Board system that I designed takes the idea of a simple job board (assigning individual tasks) and bakes in opportunities for fostering social development, building leadership skills, and identifying opportunities for transfer.

You can learn more about this system and how it ties these various teaching strategies together in the blog post I wrote on the topic.

Download the free Power Squads Template.

Assigning Group Tasks

If you’re like me, you probably have organized your classes into squads. From making teams to managing station rotations, I use squads for all kinds of things to help organize my lessons in an efficient way.

If you already have squads set up in your lessons, take advantage of this setup by assigning roles to entire squads. For example, you can assign the Red Squad as the Equipment Experts for the day. Maybe you can have the Blue Squad lead the instant activity. However you decide to go about this, assigning tasks to pre-existing groups within your lessons is and efficient way to go about baking this TPSR strategy into your teaching.

🧭 Leadership

Fostering leadership involves more than just telling a student, “you’re in charge now.”

Just like any other skills, leaderships skills need to be taught, scaffolded, and supported by learning situations in which students are capable of experiencing success.

Download the Student Leadership Trait Posters

Helping students develop their leadership abilities all starts with a clear understanding of what leadership is. Based on what I have learned through my experiences in character education, social and emotional learning, and – obviously – teaching personal and social responsibility, I’ve adopted the following the following eight traits to guide my students’ understanding of leadership:

  • Leaders care deeply.
  • Leaders communicate effectively.
  • Leaders pay attention.
  • Leaders stay focused.
  • Leaders show strength.
  • Leaders empower others.
  • Leaders inspire trust.
  • Leaders keep learning.

For each of these traits, I determined three student “look-fors” to help learners better understand what the different traits can look like when put into practice. These look-fors are highlighted on each of my Leadership Trait Posters.

Similar to how I’ve used the Emotional Lens Tools, the Leadership Trait Poster can be used to add an educational lens to various activities and/or experiences in physical education. Pedagogical methods that pair well with this approach include Jigsaw Learning and Sport Education.

The goal is to provide students with opportunities to explore, reflect on, make sense of, and implement the leadership traits as they progresively develop their capacity as leaders.

Learning comes from doing: we cannot expect our students to develop as leaders if we do not allow them to practice being leaders.

📣 Giving Choices & Voices

Autonomy is one of the three basic psychological needs identified by self-determination theory that supports intrinsic motivation.

People want to feel that they are in the driver’s seat of their own experience. They want to know that they are in control of setting their own goals and working towards them.

By providing our students with opportunities to exercise their ability to choose and have their voices heard, we help create an environment that supports their autonomy and develop personal and social responsibility.

This teaching practice can take shape in several different ways, and I’ve written more on it in my blog post on unpacking student motivation. However you decide to approach it, just remember to ask yourself “how can I empower my students to take responsibility for their experiences?”

💯 Role In Assessment

Assessment is not meant to be something that “happens to” students.

Instead, assessment is a process that happens in partnership with teachers and students that is meant to inform stakeholders on the learner’s progress towards their educational goals and help them determine which next actions can help close the gap between where the learner is and where they want to be.

Knowing this, it makes sense that students should play an active role in the assessment practices that occur in their lessons.

Assessment can take on multiple forms within any given lesson, many of which can put students at the heart of the experience and help them take responsibility for their own learning and that of their peers.

Obviously, peer assessment comes to mind. Having students play an active role in helping each other reach their goals is a wonderful way of promoting personal and social responsibility. That said, effective peer assessment doesn’t just happen. To help students become competent and confident when assessing their peers’ progress, a little support can go a long way.

Download the free “What Great Coaches Do” Poster

One of the ways that I’ve approach this in my teaching is by helping students unpack effective peer coaching. The “What Great Coaches Do” poster can help with this as it breaks effective “coaching” into five clear indicators, provides details on each of those indicators, and also highlights both examples and non-examples of what each of the indicators can look like in action.

By taking the time to break effective “coaching” down with your students and helping them recognize how they can effectively support their classmates, we set our students up for success when it comes to adopting responsible behaviours.

Another way of supporting our students as they take responsibility for each others’ learning through peer assessment is by using protocols.

Think of a protocal as a procedure that you can teach your students to help them successfully complete a task in class. Although the strict format it provides might seem uncomfortable at first, protocols help students internalize behaviours so that they become more natural down the line.

Two peer assessment protocols that I’ve had success with are Mini-Coaching and TAG.

Mini-coaching is a peer assessment protocol in which students are placed into groups of three. Within each group, students will get to experience three distinct roles: coaches, athletes, and players.

The coach’s role is to help the athlete improve their play by providing feedback on their performance. Prior to the start of the round, the athlete and the coach meet to discuss the athlete’s goal for their learning. During the round, the coach will observe the athlete’s performance and take notes (sometimes using a tool such as the one I’ve shared in my Chasing and Fleeing Games unit). At the end of the round, the athlete and the coach meet again to have a quick discussion based on what the coach observed. As for the players, their role is simply to help create a context in which athletes can apply their learning by playing the game.

In between each round, members of each group rotate the roles that they are playing so that every student gets to experience being an athlete, a coach, and a player throughout the lesson.

You can learn more about my Mini-Coaching peer assessment system in the blog post that I wrote on the topic.

Download the free TAG Poster.

TAG is another peer assessment protocol and one that focuses on structuring the conversations that take place between student assessees and assessors.

TAG is an acronym that stands for:

  • Tell: Tell your partner something they did well.
  • Ask: Help your partner reflect on their work or performance by asking them a thoughtful question.
  • Give: Give your partner one suggestion (just one) on how they might be able to improve their work or performance.

This protocol is great for when you are first introducing peer assessment or for those classes that are currently struggling with their personal and social responsibility. Again, it may seem awkward at first (especially if introducing it to older students). That said, the goal is for students to internalize the process so that they eventually come to understand the importance of highlighting their peers’ successes, working in partnership with the person they are assessing, and paying enough attention to be able to provide actionable feedback to a classmate.

However you decide to approach assessment in your lessons, remember that it should live as a partnership between you and the students you assess. Whenever possible, consider how you can keep students actively involved in determining their progress and next steps. When needed, use tools, systems, and protocols that will empower them to take responsibility for that progress.

🚀 Transfer

Teaching for transfer is one of the core themes of the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model. That being said, transfer doesn’t just happen.

To explain what I mean, let me share one of my greatest pet peeves when it comes to physical education:

Over the years, I’ve been exposed to hundreds of games and activities that can be used as part of a PE lesson. On many occasions, the people sharing the game will go on to say that the activity teaches XYZ. In this case, XYZ could be anything from cooperation, communication skills, fitness development, teamwork, etc.

That being said, in most of those situations there is no link between the game’s design or delivery and the outcomes the person claims it reaches. I call this “collateral learning”, which is a fancy way of saying that they’re crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

Learning outcomes need to be clear and explicitly stated. If they remain implicit, who knows when/if they will ever be met!

This also applies to transfer. Unless we help students make the links between the experiences they live in physical education class and those they live outside of it, how can we be sure that they will make those connections when the time comes?

To achieve this transfer of learning, we need to be willing to dedicate time, energy, and attention to practices that promote it. This can look like classroom discussions, small-group conversation, personal reflection, or any other practice that makes the implicit explicit.

It’s only by doing this kind of work that we can successfully frontload our students’ experiences and help them recognize opportunities outside of class in which they can apply what they have learned.

In other words, let’s do less finger crossing and more connection making!


These nine teaching strategies can help you bring the TPSR model to life in your teaching. That said, don’t feel the need to include every single one of them into every single lesson. Instead, use your knowledge of these strategies to reflect on your current teaching practices and identify opportunities for growth that you would like to pursue. Chances are that you are already using a few of these strategies very effectively in your teaching, so don’t let the number of strategies that I’ve shared here overwhelm you.

That’s it for part two of this three-part blog post series on the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model! In my next post, we will take a look at how you can structure individual lessons so as to maximize the impact that your teaching is having on your students’ development of their personal and social responsibility.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end here, how about we end with a little fun?

If there was a strategy that I shared here that caused a lightbulb moment for you, hit me up on Twitter to share how you see yourself implementing/adapting that strategy in your teaching. Anyone who does so by April 1st 2022 will be automatically entered into a draw for a TSPR resource giveway! I can’t wait to see what you’ve gained from this post!

Thanks for reading! Happy Teaching!

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