AHS News

Kevin Richards

A Few Minutes With Kevin Richards

Kinesiology and Community Health assistant professor Kevin Richards spends a Few Minutes With AHS media relations specialist Vince Lara and speaks about his pedagogy research and the socialization of teachers, primarily in physical education.

Click here to see the full transcript.

VINCE LARA: This is Vince Lara in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois. Today it's been a few minutes with Kevin Richards, Assistant Professor in the Kinesiology and Community Health Department of AHS, to talk about his pedagogy research and the socialization of teachers.

Kevin, what inspires your research? Let me ask it this way. What led you to do what you do?

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah, that's a good question. It's interesting because a big thrust of my research is socialization. So, basically, you're asking me what socialized me into the research that I do. But so I did my undergraduate degree back in Massachusetts in physical education. And I had every intention to go out into schools and to become a K-12 physical education teacher.

But back east, you have to have a master's degree within five years to keep teaching in schools. And so a lot of people did like the night-- the night school thing, and that just wasn't for me. So I decided that I was going to look at graduate programs so I could just knock out that master's degree in one shot, and then focus on teaching after. And that led me out to Purdue University, where I did my master's and built the relationship with my advisor, Tom Templin.

And Tom studied socialization. And he was one of kind of the forefathers of that area of research in physical education. And I just got really passionate about that area of research through talking with him. So, you know, the main thrust of my research through the work that I did on my PhD and then, you know, and the majority of my career since focuses on how we recruit, prepare-- recruit and prepare teacher-- individuals to go into the field of physical education.

And then once they're out in the schools, what are their lives and careers like? Physical education tends to be a marginalized subject in a lot of schools. And so I do a lot of work looking at marginality and how that affects teachers' understanding of themselves and their relationships with others.

VINCE LARA: So, basically, to streamline what you're saying is, you're trying to build the best teacher you can, is that fair to say?

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yes, in a sense. You know, we look to recruit people into our programs who are diverse in terms of things like traditional markers like race and ethnicity. But then also in terms of their background experiences. Physical education's been traditionally a discipline that potential recruits really see to align with coaching.

So those who want to coach extra curricular school sports sometimes come into physical education with these really solid, developed backgrounds in team sport. And they see physical education as kind of a conduit to continue that. But not every kid who is out taking physical education in schools loves sports. So we try to recruit more diverse students.

But then also looking at the methods that we use in our physical education programs to give those students the knowledge and skills that they're going to need in order to become effective practitioners into the future. But, also, you know, we focus a lot on dispositions, because, you know, while they're in our classes, we can hold them accountable. So we can grade them. If they don't do what we tell them to do, you know, we can fail them even.

But the reality is that once our students transition out of our programs out into schools, we lose that control. And so at that point the true marker is, you know, have they internalized these beliefs to the extent that they're going to use them even when we're not watching. And so, we really try to work with students to help them develop ideologies that align with best practice, but are grounded in their own experience, and that they'll follow through on.

VINCE LARA: What are some of the challenges, you know, physical education teachers-- there's some stigma around that, right? So what are some of the challenges of getting kids into the program? And what do you do to try to, you know, defeat some of those stigmas, if you will?

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah, yeah. That's-- it's a really good question. And it's timely, because this has actually been one particular area that I've been focusing on quite a bit in my work right now. But, you know, there are a lot of those negative social stigmas. And some of them, you know, are grounded in fact. You know, unfortunately, there are some physical education teachers, especially at the secondary level, the middle school and high school, who teach using ineffective practices.

The colloquialism in our field is that they roll out the ball. So they just kind of throw a ball out and let the kids play. It's not educational. It's not purposeful. And I think that sometimes people think about physical education and they reflect upon their own past experiences or maybe what their kids are going through in school, and they use that as the marker to evaluate the whole discipline. But, you know, of course, physical education can and should do so much more than that.

And so we really try to work with, you know, on the pre-service teacher side of it, develop teachers that are ready to step out into the world of schools, and teach using effective practices. And then a lot of my work has then also looked at those teachers who are in-service, working out in the schools, and how can we help to improve their work conditions and reshape their ideologies so that they're using best practice. And then you have kind of this streamlined approach in the ideal situation where pre-service teachers are stepping out into schools that are ready to embrace the practices that they've learned.

And then, you know, this is all kind of a cyclical process, because the next generation of teachers are going to come out of those schools, and they're going to see physical education as it's presented to them by their own teachers, and use that as the basis for evaluation to determine whether or not they think physical education is for them. And so if we can get better physical education in the schools, then we'll have better recruits coming into our programs.

VINCE LARA: One segment of your research, I noticed, deals with helping teachers deal with stress.

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah.

VINCE LARA: So what methods do you use to research that?

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah, yeah. So I was initially trained as a qualitative researcher. My advisor, Dr. Templin, was very qualitative. I joke, in that, I don't think he's ever, like, calculated a mean in his career, like it just wasn't his bag. Now I'm exaggerating, he has. But he's very qualitative. So that's how I was originally trained.

But then I did a postdoc at Purdue with a woman named Chantal Levesque-Bristol. And she was a cognitive psychologist that used primarily quantitative methods. So I kind of got a mix of both, and have really come to appreciate mixed methods and multiple methods working together. A lot of my studies are designed using sequential approaches.

So we might do a large scale survey of teachers, you know, and get hundreds of responses, asking them questions about stress and burnout, and, you know, protective factors like resilience and perceived mattering. And then we'll take a sub sample of people who complete that survey, and then do qualitative interviews with them.

But what I'm really excited about is we're taking all of this information that we've learned over the last few years studying teacher stress, and we're putting it into practice. We got some funding through a small seed grant to develop a professional development program for teachers in local Champaign-Urbana area.

We're calling it the Dream Project. That's developing resilience and enhancing appraisals of mattering. And it's kind of the culmination of the last six years of my career learning about stress and burnout in the relationships among these variables, and how teachers experience their work life, and then putting that to practice to try to do something about it.

VINCE LARA: You also look at social and emotional learning in physical education. Would you elaborate a little bit on that?

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah, yeah. So that's kind of a sub area or a second, maybe not sub area, but it's kind of like a second tree of my research. So I had a colleague when I was going through grad school together-- grad school named Michael Hemphill. And Michael and I-- or Michael was very interested in social and emotional learning using this one particular best practice model called teaching personal and social responsibility.

And so TPSR, as we call it, is a way to teach within a physical activity context that views physical activity as kind of a mediator or a vehicle to get kids talking about personal and social responsibility. So there you have that hook of physical activity that a lot of kids like. It draws them in. And then that opens the door to say, OK, well, yeah, we're going to focus on skill development. We're going to focus on activity. But we're also going to help you learn to be better people.

And so we focus on goals like participation and showing good effort, respecting the rights and feelings of others, self direction, and some goal setting, leadership and helping other people. And then the ultimate goal of all of that is to take lessons learned in the gym and transfer that out into other aspects of your life. So you know, you learn about respect in a physical activity program where you can use that in school.

Before I came to the University of Alabama, I was at-- or excuse me, before I came to the University of Illinois, I was at the University of Alabama. And while I was there, a doctoral student and I, Tori Ivey, we ran a after-school program that focused on social emotional learning through physical activity over the course of three years, and learned a ton about best practices and best ways to do that.

And so then moving up here to Illinois, myself, Naiman Kahn, who's another faculty in KCH, and my wife, Felicia Richards, who's an instructor in our department, have been collaborating to take a summer program that our department's actually offered for like 60 years. It's one of the longest running summer programs, physical activity summer programs in the country. It used to be called Sport Fitness.

And so we took that and made some modifications to the structure, and rolled out a revised version of the model that we're now calling IPAL. So it's Illinois Physical Activity and Life Skills is what we are calling the program now. And that-- that's kind of a framework that we're going to use this summer to roll out a couple of different summer program offerings using physical activity as kind of the hook, but really trying to get at those social emotional learning goals.

VINCE LARA: Is that program one of the reasons why you chose Illinois?

KEVIN RICHARDS: You know, I chose Illinois for a lot of reasons. I really like the people I worked with at Alabama, had great relationships down there. But Kim Graber and Amy Woods who are in pedagogy area with me, they're leading scholars in the field. And Kim was actually on my dissertation committee. So we have this relationship that goes back a ways. And then, you know, Amy and I have collaborated over the years, too.

So those pre-existing relationships are a big part of what drew me here. But then, you know, or at least piqued my interest. But then after having come onto campus and see everything that Illinois has to offer, I mean this is a magical place. I really love it here. And, you know, my wife and I couldn't be happier with the decision we made.

VINCE LARA: Now research obviously is a big part of why you're at Illinois and our institution, obviously. But you know you also have to teach.

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah, yeah.

VINCE LARA: So do you-- is there a particular class that you enjoy more than others?

KEVIN RICHARDS: Yeah, yeah. And people who listen to this might find this a bit surprising. But I love teaching actually. You know, it's a huge part of my identity. I look forward to it. It's not a burden. I love interacting with students. And the way that my teaching appointment is split here is that I teach one physical education majors course, so I still have my connection with the PE majors.

I teach a rotating course for our doctoral students. And then actually my favorite course is-- it's KIN201, Physical Activity Research Methods. And when the course got turned over to me, Neha Gothe and I actually collaborate on it. I teach it fall, she teaches in the spring. And when the course got turned over to us, you know, I think that it was a good idea, but it needed some fleshing out and development. And it's been really fun to do that over the last couple of years with Neha.

And, you know, we've got the course to a position now, where the feedback that we're getting at least, is that the students really enjoy it. We use kind of a lecture lab format. So they-- you know, a large group lecture, where we can kind of talk about these concepts. But then the students break out into lab groups, where they get more kind of intimate contact and attention.

And, you know, I love talking about research. And so sparking that interest in the minds of our undergraduates, I think is a really cool part of our job. And so, I just got an email the other day actually from a student who was able to take something that we talked about in class a few weeks ago, and apply it in her life, reading a research article, and she wrote to me to tell me about that, which I thought was really cool and that really speaks to what I hope students get out of this class.

VINCE LARA: My thanks to Kevin Richards. This has been A Few Minutes.

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