Alumna wins teaching award for P.E. excellence

Middle school teacher Jessica Shawley combines physical activity with teaching

by Rebekah Bresee

Whitworth alumna Jessica Shawley presented a lecture, “Going Above and Beyond with Excellence” emphasizing the importance of combining teaching with physical activity Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Shawley is a physical education teacher at Moscow Middle School in Moscow, Idaho.

Six months ago, Shawley was awarded the 2012 National Teacher of the Year for Middle School Physical Education by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Prior to that, she received the Regional Middle School Teacher award and Idaho Middle School Teacher of the Year award by the same organization.

“These are impressive accomplishments for someone who graduated only nine years ago,” professor of education Betty Williams said.

Shawley’s successes also include receiving the National Board Certification and being the President of the Idaho Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

“The faculty wanted to bring her back as an inspiration for undergraduates who are pursuing the teaching field and to share her exceptional knowledge,” Williams said.

Shawley grew up in a small, rural town where she was actively involved in sports and various activities such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America that promoted healthy, active living.

“I felt the benefit, both physically and socially, of being physically active and I enjoyed it,” Shawley said.

She eventually came to Whitworth and got into the education program, inspired by family members who have jobs in the educational field.

As a National Teacher of the Year, Shawley’s mission is to present ways for teachers to incorporate movement into their lessons in an effort to create a healthier generation of children.

In the past years concerns about health and fitness for children in the United States have accumulated. First Lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her primary cause. She has brought to public attention the fact that childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last three decades.

Children are becoming less active with entertainment generally being more passive. Kids are not getting up and moving.

Schools have been putting more attention on academics and less on activity. Lecturers forget the need to have active participation from their students.

“New academic requirements have resulted in some schools reducing recess and activity breaks in order to add course work,” Williams said.

Through her lectures, Shawley has introduced multiple techniques teachers can use to keep kids moving in class.

One of these techniques is to incorporate “brain breaks.” These are 15 minute breaks that involve some type of movement such as jumping jacks or dancing to a song. This allows the kids to take a small break from their studies to get up and move.

Schools are encouraging P.E. teachers to provide their students with information about a healthy lifestyle. However, P.E. teachers only get so many minutes to implement nutritional information as well as physical activity.

“I am always searching for new ways to improve the program,” Shawley said.

This movement is going to require a lot of time and effort from Shawley. She said the next year will be challenging but the program is important.

“Teaching is a calling. Participation in a profession is essential,” Shawley said.

Sophomore Lauren Nelson attended the lecture Tuesday night.

“I love the passion and motivation Jessica has in her work,” Nelson said.

Nelson is going into elementary education and plans to teach first grade. She plans to minor in coaching and become a swim coach as well.

Like Shawley, family is an inspiration for Nelson’s career choice. Her dad is a high school teacher.

“He gets excited when kids get a concept. His enthusiasm is motivating,” Nelson said. “It is important as a teacher to instill that motivation in kids.”

Shawley said her experience in the Whitworth education program has provided that same motivation that influences her teaching style.

Shawley closed her lecture with a statement inspired by the Whitworth mission: “An education of mind and heart needs a healthy, balanced body.”

Contact Rebekah Bresee at

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