The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 022: Empowering Girls in Sports and Physical Education with Janelle Meisenheimer

February 06, 2024 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 022: Empowering Girls in Sports and Physical Education with Janelle Meisenheimer
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever pondered why fewer girls are involved in sports compared to boys? Ever wondered how we can bridge this gap? On this episode of the Minimalist Educator Podcast, we have an answer to these questions and more as we sit down with Janelle Meisenheimer, an experienced sports coach and PE teacher. Janelle pours out her heart about her journey starting with her passion for sports as a young girl, to her revelation about the significant play gap between boys and girls. We dissect the root issues, from lack of facilities to improper language use in sports, that create an unwelcoming environment for girls and women. But, it's not all gloom. We also chat about how we can make sports more appealing and accessible to all girls and women, empowering them to make physical activity a priority.

We then shift gears to a seldom-discussed, yet crucial topic: body literacy and inclusion in education. Menstruation and body changes are natural, but the stigma surrounding them often creates barriers for girls in sports. With Janelle's insightful guidance, we advocate for a paradigm shift in physical education, where body literacy is the norm, not the exception. We brainstorm effective ways that teachers can establish a non-judgmental and understanding classroom environment, helping ease the stress that girls face during puberty.

Finally, we zero in on the pivotal role of educators in redefining physical education. Janelle offers practical advice on fostering student-centered physical education and creating an inclusive environment. We dig into how educators can establish a culture of body literacy and offer girls a say in their PE uniforms. To cap it all, we tackle a subject that's often avoided – menstruation. Janelle courageously shares her personal experiences and walks us through how she's working to break down the stigma around menstruation in sports. So, join us for an episode brimming with compelling insights and pragmatic tips on how we can make sports and physical education more inclusive for every girl and woman out there.

Janelle is currently the Lower School PE Head of Department, Elementary PE and Health teacher, and Soccer Coach at the International School of Brussels. She has also worked at Cap Cana Heritage School in the Dominican Republic and Raha International School in the United Arab Emirates.  Many people before us have worked hard for the space girls and women have in the sports world.  There are more steps to create a safer, inclusive space for many people, and her research in menstruation, injury prevention, participation issues, and more with people who will, do, or did menstruate in sports is part of that pathway forward.  When she doesn't have all of these hats on, she plays different sports, prioritizes social time, and snuggles up with my cat with a good book or show. 

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, a podcast about paring down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the Minimalist Teacher Book, Tammy Musiowsky-Borniman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

On today's episode we talk to Janelle Meisenheimer, who is currently the lower school PE head of department, elementary PE and health teacher and soccer coach at the International School of Brussels. She's also worked at Cape Cana Heritage School in the Dominican Republic and the Raha International School in the United Arab Emirates. Many people before us have worked hard for the space girls and women have in the sports world. There are more steps to create a safer, inclusive space for many people, and her research and menstruation, injury prevention, participation issues and more with people who will do or did menstruate in sport is part of that pathway forward. When Janelle doesn't have all of these hats on, she plays different sports, prioritises social time and snaggles up with her cat with a good book or a show. Hello everyone and welcome to today's episode. We have the wonderful Janelle Meisenheimer joining us today. Hi, janelle, thanks for joining us, thanks for having me. So today we're going to talk all about sport and physical education and I know, janelle, that you're super passionate about girls and females in sport. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got interested in this?

Speaker 4:

Well, first I identify as a woman who plays many sports and so I got into it when I was super young because of just my parents being like kind of like, do whatever you want to do, and my dad is an amazing golfer. So he tried to make me a golfer and I was like there's not enough running in this dad. Why would I want to do this? Because I like to run a lot. And then I got into soccer, basketball, track and field still golf, sometimes with dad to make him happy. But so at a young age it was kind of more about me and just thinking of like me in sports and never really thinking about that's not what girls do. I just thought it was kind of normal for anyone and everyone to do sport. And it was actually the older I got, the more I realized that friends were kind of dropping off and not like joining in on the next season or the more I traveled, with the different jobs I've had, with international schools and just learning more about different cultures and realizing that it is not the norm for girls and women to be involved in many sports or one sport or physical activity consistently. And then the tip of the iceberg of all that was three years ago. I tore my ACL and somebody told me, well, that's six times more likely for girls and women. And I was like that's not fair, why? And there's just a lot that goes into that, like the play gap of girls just not being encouraged to play as much as boys. So then those fundamental movements aren't maybe developed as much. Again, it all depends on how we grow up, because we're all different and the facilities that girls and women are getting may not be as good as the boys and the men. So there's just like uneven grounds, just like little things like that. I know those little things kind of sound crazy, but it adds up and I was just more and more like how is this still continuing? So that's how I got into that deep dive of like participation of girls and women in physical activity.

Speaker 3:

So just hearing that, because obviously you're very athletic and I would not consider myself to be athletic on team sports. Anyway, I love running, that's a solo thing, or I can like Christine and I used to run together and we made that a big priority as part of like our lives as educators right, because you need outlets and things like that. So I think sometimes women in sports whether it's professional or leisurely, maybe isn't a focus, right, until we realize, oh, I need to like have a healthy lifestyle, so I'm going to build this in. But why is it super important then that we maybe have more emphasis and more priority for girls to be in sports? And I know that could be like a really huge discussion, obviously, but like what is it?

Speaker 4:

That's actually my capstone for my master's. Oh cool Is going into a lot of that. Yeah well, I'll keep talking about the. You know, like a lot of the time sports needs to be reframed for girls with puberty, like it's not matching them with puberty and with their self-consciousness, with their bodies or their period starting, or the language around sport isn't as inviting as it could be. You know, sports, man-ship, man-to-man defense it's only talking about world events of like sports. A lot of the time it's only about men, like the men's World Cup. I live in Europe and Belgium right now and it's like when the men's World Cup was happening, everyone was going on and on about it, even me, because I love soccer. I don't, you know, I love the women's and the men's. And then guess what the women's tournament is this summer? Is anyone talking about it? You know so, even like that kind of stuff, it's not inviting. So if it's not inviting and it's not talked about and it's not represented, then why would someone make it a priority? Because it doesn't seem like they're invited into that space anyways. And there's so many things that we can do to invite not just girls, a lot more people into the sports world space.

Speaker 3:

You know that makes sense and I think it does feel very still right, very kind of exclusive for people who identify as men or have that kind of strength, who are stronger or just you know, like I don't know a lot of female athletes, which is crazy. You know I know a lot of famous male ones, but I don't really know any female ones, and there just doesn't seem to be that same kind of attention or priority for females in sports.

Speaker 4:

Oh, sorry, I was just going to say a couple years ago, at the school I work at, elementary school has passion learning, and one of the kids was I don't remember because this was like two or three years ago, but I remember I don't remember why he was having it, but I remember one of the questions was like a couple of the questions actually was like list your favorite athlete or list and, and he gave the choices of all the athletes, so it was like multiple choice stuff and it was like 10 athletes and they were all men. And so then it was like on the bottom, like other, and I listed like 10 women and I was like I hope this is okay and I'm not like traumatizing this kid. But then also, at the same time, I was like no, like they need to know that they're. You know it's. I'm trying to even change my language a little bit, like if I hear kids or coworkers or friends, anybody, talking about any kind of sport, I'm like oh, cool men's or women, and that's just a subtle, like small, inclusive way to do it. Yeah, sure, 99% of the time it's going to be men, but it gets people thinking like, oh yeah, in the Premier League, chelsea does have a women's team too, and they're crushing it right now, you know so. Yeah, it just makes it more inviting, yeah right, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

I mean that 100% gels with my personal experience growing up. Like I loved all different sports team, one's individual, and then, like something happened in my teenage years and it was just like none of this is for me anymore and just kind of dropped off. And then as an adult it's been like, yeah, trying to find your way back in somehow. So yeah, I can completely identify with what you're saying there. So obviously, like there's so much we can be doing to accommodate for girls in sports and encourage girls with sports and model girls in sports. But if you could point out a couple of main priorities there that you could choose, if you were commander of the world, what would you suggest would be some good ways for us to go about this?

Speaker 4:

Yeah, we've already talked a couple with like language and just like discussions, of those little things like you know oh cool, what term you're talking about men's or women's or whatever. And then I would also go into increased knowledge and education in body literacy for the girls. Like, just normalize that once a month they're going to be having a period and they could be in a lot of pain or discomfort with PE or with sports, and just normalize it, create a space where it's safe and have compassion for them and not just the suck it up attitude or the sit out attitude. I feel like those are like the two options that we get suck it up or sit out and it's like what happened to that spectrum of compassion and just being understanding and talking to them about their body so they learn more about it, because a lot of the times you know, let's say it's a middle school girl or high school girl they've only been on the period for a couple years they don't know what's going on. I'm an adult and I'm still learning what's going on, you know. So they're scared, they're self conscious, they don't know what's going on. Even if it's just a little bit of pain and they can keep moving with it, they don't understand what that pain means yet so they haven't, like, tested it out yet. Or there are girls who really do hurt that bad and there's something more going on and they need to go to the doctor. But because people are giving them the sit out or suck it up attitude, they don't know that they're not having a normal period to go to the doctor and get that checked out. So I think that could be huge is just normalizing body literacy around these students who are meant, who will menstruate or are menstruating. Another thing could be have the girls name their barriers of why they're not finding joy, or just joy is such a big one with physical activity like having joy in it. You know if they're naming their barriers or why they're not participating or why they're not finding enjoyment, and they understand the inequities like in it as well. Because they're naming it, they know their movement journey and therefore can hopefully build onto it and create a movement journey Instead of just being like I don't really know what's going on, so I'm not going to do it. I don't know why it doesn't bring me joy, so I'm not going to do it. Or I don't know why, I'm not comfortable, I'm just not going to do it because I'm uncomfortable, Instead of naming it and then trying to problem solve that. There are a couple of big ones. I think that could help in PE classes or in after school programs or in sports sports teams as well?

Speaker 3:

No for sure, because, as you're talking to, like you mentioned, like body literacy, which is like a phrase term that I have not heard before, and I think it's important that, not just for PE teachers to be able to kind of help support students in that journey and understanding their bodies, but classroom teachers have to do that too, and sometimes it's hard to find space in your day to address those things as well, and we think of those as kind of like social, emotional learning needs and that kind of thing. It's also like a physical, it's one of the basic needs that we have to meet, like are you getting food, like those kinds of things, but also like are you well physically? And so how do we then kind of open up a little bit of space for classroom teachers even to jump in with, like you know, like movement in classrooms or like kind of building that in? So I know that kind of veers a little bit, a little squirrely from what you're just talking about, but it still layers in.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, and I think it's super important to recognize that girls' bodies and their mindsets are some of the biggest barriers to participation and performance during puberty. But that's not just with PE, that could also be in their other classrooms as well, because think about that hierarchy of needs for a human. If they're stressed, like I don't know when my period's coming next, because it's irregular, because they've only had it for a year or two, so they're really stressed about that, because maybe their last period it bled through their genes and somebody saw they're going to be focusing on that instead of like what they should be learning that day. So you're right, it's not just coaches, pe teachers after school and just with movement. It's with everyone, with that body literacy and creating that space of first, like talking about things like periods with everyone and not just the girls. Like we need allies, right, people are menstruating. You need allies and you need the world understanding about it. 50% of the population is of people who will menstruate, are menstruating or did menstruate. So why is it not normal? Why is everyone not talking about it? Sometimes it feels like it's just me. No, I'm just kidding Me too, and you know. And talking about like, for example, if I'm a grade six teacher, or even like a grade eight math teacher. You're creating your classroom norms at the beginning of the year and you're doing your team building activities or you're, you know, getting to know everyone and doing some awesome like connection activities and you're building your classroom norms. Why would one of your classroom norms not be something about like and you know there's I have period products here if you need them, or the office has them, and I know that a lot of you are going through a lot of changes. I don't know, I'm just I'm literally making this up right now, but that that's an easy way to like. I like that, yeah, and you're talking to everyone about it. And if you're calm, collective and cool about it, then everyone else. Yeah, you might get some giggles, but they'll be thinking about like wow, miss Chenelle was like really chill when she brought that up. You know like she wasn't like awkward and she normalized it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you just gave me some massive flashbacks to now of high school PE. I was lucky enough to go to a school that had a pool and so we would do swimming every year, once a year, but we had a school uniform, bathing suit, which did not have support or anything, and then we used to do, you know, like we'd swim a couple of laps and then get out and run around the pool or skip around the pool or do you jumping jacks and the mortification for the girls of wearing this school provided bathing suit, while running and jumping in a in a bathing suit, like it's, yeah, horror memory for me and, yeah, just traumatizing for sure yeah.

Speaker 4:

And it's all rooted in the history of PE, like PE was created for military, like getting boys and men ready for military and war. So a lot of that is rooted in a lot of movement and thinking of uniforms, of just like. Like a uniform for a boy, like, oh, here's your t-shirt and shorts, like go, kind of thing. Yeah, yes, you know, they have during puberty, they have, you know, things to worry about as well, but, like with girls, it's period, it's, oh my god, like now I have boobs. What do I and no one's told me about sports bras like and I don't know what kind of sports bra to get, you know things like that and that's something to have. Like thinking about effective strategies of like creating that space and like supporting girls is let them have a say in the uniform. If you have a sports uniform or a PE uniform or the swimsuit for your school, whatever- we're not the ones wearing it. Why are we deciding what the kids are wearing? Let them have a say. Give them if you want them with a couple of choices, that's fine. But the kids can like vote on the choices and you compromise and you meet in the middle, I guess.

Speaker 3:

I don't get it. Yeah, for sure, it's one of those decisions that, as educators, we shouldn't have to make, right? So we already make tons of decisions every day. Why don't we let them decide what's appropriate to wear? Or we can decide the appropriateness, right, but here's your couple of choices within that. Yeah, it doesn't have to be so prescribed coming from you know teachers.

Speaker 4:

Because there's one report I read. It's from women in sports. It's a great organization. In the UK they said like up to 40% of girls are avoiding exercise when they're on their periods and that's just. And that's because of, like, lack of knowledge or self confidence or scared nervous, those feelings. So how can we tackle those barriers? And these are some of those options to tackle it.

Speaker 3:

So thinking about then, like there's a lot to there's actually like just talking through this, there's a lot more to it than I even thought, Like I always think about use of language, but then like you're talking about the body, literacy and like how we can, you know it's all tied around our education of it, A lot of comfort level with teachers finding the space in our day to like address things. But we know that we're dealing with people right, so we have to put people first, because that's why we're here. But if we think about like because that is quite a bit for teachers to think about so if we think about like principles of minimalism, how can we kind of generally apply that within physical education to kind of promote a more focused and meaningful learning experience for students?

Speaker 4:

Like you said, we're dealing with people. So then, what comes first? Their needs. And if their needs are part of the culture and it's a part of the school's culture, so it's not just one PE teacher like here's period products and let's all talk about it a little bit, and it's like the whole school talking about not even just this, other things that make people feel included and things like that, if it's a part of the culture and the norms, isn't that minimalism? Because you don't have to keep bringing it up and creating it over and over again, because it's just there, absolutely. That's my thought.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, for sure.

Speaker 4:

And just prioritizing on what helps our students feel seen. And if they're feeling seen and they're feeling more comfortable, they're going to join in on that community and then they're going to be feeling better. There's going to be less discipline issues, if that's what people think it is this girl sitting out and not doing anything, yeah, because she's freaking scared that she's going to have like blood all over her shorts. That's not a discipline issue, you know like so, yeah, just adjusting, like to be student centered and making it about them, like you said, like we're dealing with people.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and as you were saying, Tammy, it's in there amongst those basic survival needs. Like are you fed? Do you have shelter? Is your body okay? Like, are you well? Yep, Like, how do we expect all of the other academic learning to occur or socialization to occur if they're not well within their body? Absolutely for sure.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, and girls, like girls, aren't born under confident, not right. They're being held back by gender stereotyping. So it's not about fixing the girls, it's about fixing the system that the girls are in. Yep.

Speaker 3:

Yes, my drop moments I love it Perfect, I love it.

Speaker 2:

I mean, I could talk to you about so much more stuff, janelle. I know you're very passionate about education and females in sport as well, so we could keep chatting, but what we do like to ask of our guests before we let them go is our pare down pointer. So we like to. It can be. It doesn't have to be physical education related or sports related. It can be something that you use for yourself in your life, but just some sort of tip for people about how you can prioritize or be efficient. Tip, a motto or strategy, anything like that.

Speaker 4:

I think the last couple of years because I've been this is my 10th year teaching but 12th year, like in education I think the last couple of years I really focus on less is more. I mean by that, for example sorry, it is PE examples but you know, sometimes doing the same activity a couple more times, but it's with a new partner and the kids. I talk about it with them because it's about like getting to know the people around you better and you know we call it anyone, anyone, anyone and just like partnering up with anyone. And so sometimes, because I used to think I have to do this, I do all of this, I have to like do this lesson and then this build up and then this reflection and then this yes, I still need to do all that, but why can't I have it be like part one on Monday and part two on Wednesday and draw that out a little bit and we're just breathing a little bit more and enjoying each other's company more. So sometimes that like less is more. That has. That has been great and I feel like I've gotten to know my students a little bit better because of things like the do the activity a couple more times, but with a new partner, having the kids think of something to do and not having me think of it all the time, so that's been a big help the last couple years.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. We doesn't always have to be us deciding and directing everything all the time. The kids are very capable of helping out with that stuff, for sure.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, I tell them all the time like this isn't my classroom, it's our classroom. So I'm not going to be making all the decisions, I'm not going to be the one talking all the time. You know like we're going to plan together, we'll compromise together. There will be some things that are not negotiable, but there's going to be a lot that's negotiable, and I think that that's just taking a weight off as well, because then it does really feel like it's our classroom and then it's like not all on me, because when I was first starting teaching, that's how it felt.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely Well. Thank you so much, janelle. Is there anything else? Tami wanted to ask before we let our wonderful guests go.

Speaker 3:

Well, I kind of don't want to let her go because I keep talking, but no, it was a really great conversation and just had me thinking about a lot of other things, so thanks for being with us today, janelle.

Speaker 4:

Thanks for having me and letting me talk about periods. Oh God, Yay.

Speaker 2:

Thanks, Janelle. Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services. Forward-thinking educator support. Find out more at PlanZPLServicescom.

Speaker 1:

PlanZPLScom.

Empowering Girls in Sports
Body Literacy and Inclusion in Education
Promoting Student-Centered Physical Education
Discussion on Menstruation and Education Support