Successful collaborations between academics and practitioners produced useful insights


Joacim Andersson
Department of Sport Sciences, Malmö University


Ann MacPhail & Hal A. Lawson (eds.)
School Physical Education and Teacher Education: Collaborative Redesign for the Twenty-First Century
200 pages, paperback
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2020 (Routledge Studies in Physical Education and Youth Sport)
ISBN 978-1-032-23876-0

The anthology School Physical Education and Teacher Education edited by Ann MacPhail and Hal A. Lawson delivers very close to what the subtitle promises: Collaborative redesign for the twenty-first century. It includes 16 chapters – each dealing with a ‘grand challenge’ – and gather prominent, established, and emerging scholars within the field as well as practitioners who work in everyday school settings. Thus, the “roster” of this team is truly international and interdisciplinary, and despite many of the chapters pursuing similar design to deal with the ‘grand challenges’, important switches in perspectives are made which result in a heterogenic and inspiring product rather than an eclectic collection of papers. Indeed, as Doune Macdonald writes in the foreword, “this book is not pessimistic nor weighed down with theoretical obfuscation” (p. x).

MacPhail and Lawson highlight “a significant gap between recommended practice and policies and what happens in the day-to-day realities of schools” (p. 9) and therefore argue that “we need to stop working in isolation and work with, and learn from, each other, while remaining mindful of systematic differences visible nationally and internationally” (p. 9). Against this background, the first chapter identifies a collection of ‘grand challenges’ presented as the result of a joint and extensive work between all the co-authors. The following chapters, although dealing with different perspectives, contents and collaborative set up, are built around a similar design where chapter authors propose collective action strategies in response to each grand challenge. It goes beyond the purpose of this review to present brief summaries of every chapter. However, taken together the chapters represent a collection of hopeful collaborative redesigns and project targeted at consolidating physical education as an academic discipline as well as a high valued practical profession. It is hard to pinpoint clear results in these chapters that physical education research would benefit from. Each chapter’s collaborative actions, and the methods, examples and processes the reader is guided through, appear as a more significant result than the academic knowledge the book may produce. In this case it is more of an inspirational text well suited to spark future cross-culture and cross-discipline projects. As such, it is also something more than just another handbook.

All chapters deliver on this and anyone who seeks to embark on a similar journey would benefit from reading this anthology.

If I am to point out a main message it would be that each state, institution and school must situate physical education norms, skills, and knowledge, create local structures of empowerment, and engage their own imagination of future physical education. Through such processes, it will be a great help to have access to detailed descriptions of other cases of collaborative actions where scholars and teachers respond to grand challenges and work together in redesigning education. All chapters deliver on this and anyone who seeks to embark on a similar journey would benefit from reading this anthology. As we are reminded in chapter 15, “[r]eaders should take stock of this cluster of assumptions. Assess their validity and evaluate their practical relevance during turbulent time” (p.167). In this context my main critique is that because chapters are many, as are ‘grand challenges’, and ‘sub challenges’ more than many, the book risk losing its reader too soon without a proper reader guidance or a more thematized index. It requires readers already well familiar with the field, and sometimes the subcategories and bullet points add up to an overly pluralistic and long list rather than summing up crucial experiences of the collaborative action strategies. Hence, to find inspiration, direction, and guidance among the chapters one must browse through the book from beginning to end, several times. Here my suggestion would be to start with chapter 15. Besides delivering thoughtful observations of a particular case it also points out very useful conclusions of other chapters. Several other chapters illustrate an ambiguity about the school subject and research discipline Physical Education, for example, how to navigate between motor learning skills and deliberative learning perspectives, as well as between physical activity, new technology, and salutogenic approaches to health. Furthermore, a clear theme throughout the book is that physical education teachers and educators identify themselves with an underdog position, both academically and in everyday school settings.

The initiative of this anthology, getting academics and practitioners to work together in small groups to try to respond to physical education grand challenges, seems to have been very favorable in all the local contexts it has been applied. The chapters report interesting processes and identify and elaborate on overlapping objectives and working areas. A main argument for this ambitious project is that “academics increasingly detached themselves from classrooms, and teachers responsible for the instructional core in classrooms have never access to the power of scholarship and policy” (chap 12). However, several of the chapters convincingly shows us that researchers and schoolteachers tend to share the same experiences and challenges connected to physical education. They fight for the same status, care for the same values, and protect the same pedagogical cornerstones, although from slightly different vantage points. I find this the most important result and the great promise of this book, maybe even more important than the identified ‘grand challenges’ that the chapters address.

Finally, as a fellow academic and practitioner within the field it is a very pleasing thought that during the work with this anthology, the co-authors have created 12-15 local projects in which academics and schoolteachers gathered in a joint effort to develop education and give children a promising future. I guess very few academic books can claim to beat that.

Copyright © Joacim Andersson 2022

Table of Content


      1. Grand Challenges as Catalysts for the Collaborative Redesign of Physical Education, Teacher Education, and Research and Development
        Ann MacPhail and Hal A. Lawson
      2. The Aims and Outcomes Challenge: Preparing Physical Education Teacher Educators and Teachers for 21st Century Redesign Imperatives and Accountability Requirements
        Lisette Burrows, Mary O’Sullivan, Ger Halbert and Emily Scott
      3. The Standards-based Curricular Reform Challenge: Shared Responsibility through Networking
        Deborah Tannehill, Peter Iserbyt and Lori S. Dunn
      4. The Alignment and Coherence Challenge: Developing University-School Partnerships for the Simultaneous Improvement and Redesign of School Programmes and Teacher Education
        Jo Harris, Marc Cloes and Kerry Wilson
      5. The Innovation Challenge: Maintaining Programme Standards and Developing Cohesion While Developing and Testing Alternative Designs in New Kinds of Schools
        Phillip Ward, Melissa Parker and Diane Barnes
      6. The Interdisciplinary Challenge: Preparing Teacher Educators and Teachers to Span Knowledge, Organisational and International Boundaries
        Louise McCuaig, Timothy Carroll, Susanna Geidne and Yoshinori Okade
      7. The Professional Socialisation Challenge: Teacher Education for a Preferable Future for Physical Education
        Andrew R. Richards, Cassandra Iannucci, Eileen McEvoy and Angela Simonton
      8. Cultural Competence Challenge: Readying Schools and University Programmes for Student, Teacher, and Faculty Diversity
        Kim Oliver, Carla N. Luguetti, Jackie Beth Shilcutt, Raquel Aranda, Savannah Castillo, Oscar Nuñez Enriquez and Traci Prieto
      9. The Digital Age Challenge: Preparing Physical and Health Educators to Understand and Support ‘Online’ Youth
        Kathleen M. Armour, Victoria A. Goodyear and Rachel Sandford
      10. The PE School Curriculum Challenge: The Shared Construction, Implementation and Enactment of School Physical Education Curriculum
        Rachael Whittle and Ann MacPhail
      11. The Research and Development Challenge: Better Aligning Teachers’ and Teacher Educators’ Needs, Priorities and Demands
        Tim Fletcher, Alex Beckey, Håkan Larsson and Ann MacPhail
      12. The Evidence-based Decision-making Challenge: Developing Research-supported, Data-informed, Structures and Strategies in Schools and Teacher Education Programmes
        Peter Hastie and Andy Vasily
      13. The Professional Development Challenge: Achieving Desirable Outcomes for Students, Teachers, and Teacher Educators
        Hal A. Lawson, David Kirk and Ann MacPhail
      14. The Public Policy Challenge: Preparing and Supporting Teacher Educators and Teachers as Change Agents and Policy Entrepreneurs
        Jenna R. Lorusso, Suzanne Hargreaves, Andrew Morgan and Hal A. Lawson
      15. Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn During Turbulent Times
        Hal A. Lawson
      16. Developing Commitments and Capacity to Learn With, and From, Each Other
        Ann MacPhail
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