NIU’s online TPSR conference expected to welcome new practitioners, scholars

Paul Wright
Paul Wright

NIU’s PALS (Physical Activity and Life Skills) Group will host the first all-virtual conference for the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Alliance this summer.

Scheduled for July 22 and 23, the event brings together an international group of teachers, coaches and scholars who practice Don Hellison’s model of Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) to promote positive youth development and social change through physical activity.

Participants will join in live, interactive sessions and have access to asynchronous presentations and links to other websites that show how TPSR adapted to COVID-19 and addressed issues of social justice, equity and mental health.

For Paul Wright, the undertaking is already a tremendous success.

Attendance at the traditional in-person gatherings is usually limited to 30 or 35 members of the TPSR community of practice, Wright says. Following “save the date” emails in the late spring, however, more than 200 people quickly responded with interest.

“The coolest thing to me is that they represent easily, at this point, two dozen different countries,” says Wright, EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and an NIU Presidential Engagement Professor, “and the majority at this point are teachers and youth workers.”

Call it an unexpected benefit of COVID-19.

Wright takes a selfie with new friends from Sri Lanka.
Wright takes a selfie with new friends from Sri Lanka.

“What has nagged us forever is that so many of the people out there – teachers and youth workers – who use this model, or would like to be using this model, don’t have the resources that professors do to go to conferences,” Wright says. “We’ve often said that we need to figure out a way to make this more inclusive and more accessible to reach more people.”

He knows those in-the-game practitioners are hungry for good and tested programs and strategies.

“Many people, when they read about TPSR, get the book, or hear somebody talking about it, it piques their interest and they really get motivated,” he says, “but if nobody else at their school uses this, or knows about anything about it, they tend to be in isolation. They don’t have any community to connect with, to bat ideas around with, to see what other people are doing.”

Offered free and via Zoom, the conference will focus on many programs under the PALS umbrella: Wright is executive director of the group, which includes associate directors Jim Ressler, Jenn Jacobs, Steve Howell, Zach Wahl-Alexander, Shaine Henert and Karisa Kuipers.

Keynote speakers include Kaya Cattouse, national sports coordinator at the National Sports Council in Belize City and a longtime collaborator with Wright and Jacobs.

Kaya Cattouse (left) and Jenn Jacobs (second from left).

Cattouse recently was elected to the Belize City Council on a platform of using sport for development, Wright says, and provides the perfect voice for the conference.

“We try to avoid those canned academic talks. We want people talking about working with kids, running programs, practical issues, as well as social justice,” Wright says. “Kaya is a real advocate for youth development and equality for women in sport, and she’s now taking on an important leadership role.”

Participants also will find ample opportunity for dialogue and debriefing, where the newcomers will fulfill Wright’s goal of networking – and learn that TPSR often develops organically rather than step by step and requires flexibility.

“I hope they’ll get some more insight of the flavor of how to do this, and that they feel like they have a connection now to some resources they can go to and follow up with,” he says, “and some validation that they’re not alone. They might not have somebody in the office next door to them, or anywhere else in their district, but they’re not alone.”

Only three pairs of feet were allowed in the hoops during this roung of “Let’s Get Together.”
P.E. Leadership Summit

And, he adds, the tools they gain to turn their ideas into programs will pay the greatest dividends to people who never have heard of TPSR.

“For so many of the kids we work with these programs – the underserved communities and the marginalized communities – with the struggles they’re facing, we can’t intervene and change those factors, but we can help them develop life skills, to be resilient, to be successful,” Wright says.

“Nothing works the same for every kid, but generally, TPSR does create a more positive and a student-centered learning environment,” he adds. “Kids do start to see the relevance of this – of giving them more responsibility – and start to realize that some of these skills, like leadership and goal-setting and effort, can help in other parts of their lives.”

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