One Scottsdale School District physical education instructor has gone the extra mile to connect individually with his students in order to influence their lives for the better.
Now, he is being recognized on the state and national level for his efforts.
Anasazi Elementary School teacher Kyle Bragg was named the 2018 Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year by Arizona Health and Physical Education, an organization that provides continuing education and advocacy for educators in Arizona.
In reflecting on receiving the award, Bragg credited his approach to education, which he characterizes as highly personal.
“I know what they do and what they can’t do; what they need help with and what they do outside of school,” Bragg said. “So that gets their relationship built, and once I get to know them, they’re more likely to trust me.”
He said he takes pains to develop personal relationships with his students so that he knows their interests and can tailor his classes to engage them rather than relying on cookie-cutter lesson plan year in and year out.
“Just kind of understanding that if you can include their interests, they will be way more engaged,” Bragg said. “So I find out through the conversations that we have individually and as a class what they’re interested in and then if I can incorporate it, still meeting the standards, I will.”
In the past, he had invited former Phoenix Suns player Steven Hunter and a professional martial artist to interact with his students.
“I found out that the kids are really interested in martial arts, but we didn’t teach it yet, so I brought in this guy to help motivate the kids because they wanted it,” he said.
That extra effort exemplifies why Bragg became a teacher. He said physical education plays a role in a complete education.
“Teaching the whole child and how the kid is going to be successful (is not) just (about) test scores but because they can communicate, problem solve, life skills – I embed a lot of that in my class.”
That sentiment – and his mother’s example – drove Bragg to enter the educational field.
He said his mother was an educator at Illinois State University – the same university he would attend – and that he saw the impact she had on young people. He said he knew by the time he was in junior high that he wanted to be a teacher.
“The best way to do that for was through physical education,” said Bragg, who played golf collegiately at ISU.
Since graduating, Bragg has continued his education and earned National Board Certification.
In his class, Bragg makes an effort to show students the practical, real-world skills they are learning in his class, such as eye-hand coordination, confidence and the ability to communicate and problem solve effectively.
Bragg has also shown an ability to incorporate new technologies in the classroom to help his students improve and efficiently use the 45 minutes he has with them every period.
For instance, at the start of class he will show videos of individuals – often dressed like a popular superhero such as Spiderman – performing an athletic motion or movement the kids will learn that day. The video engages the kids immediately when class starts and sets a foundation for the lesson.
“They come in right away. I don’t explain anything. I have it written on the board and then they just get started and follow along,” Bragg said. “So I’ve been trained to where you maximize that 45 minutes.”
He also incorporates tools such as Plickers and Bam Video Delay.
Plickers is an app-based assessment tool that allows teachers to quickly quiz students on a variety of topics. The students’ answers are sent directly to the teacher, who can then assess their understanding of a given topic.
Bam is a video delay app that Bragg uses on an iPad to help students perfect their form when learning different athletic movements and activities like jumping rope. The students can watch themselves on the iPad in real time and learn how to improve their form.
“They love seeing themselves and no matter what the skill is, it will help them since they can explain what they’re working on without me telling them – it’s more ownership for them,” he said.
Bragg also uses GIFs, the short animated images popular on social media, to encourage his kids to remain engaged in class. He will create GIFs of students who excel during a given lesson and display them for the class to demonstrate proper form or technique.
Bragg also sends videos of activities home to engage parents.
Many of the ideas Bragg has implemented in his class have come from an unlikely source: Twitter.
The website, often known for more negative fare, is also a gathering place for many of the top P.E. teachers across the country, many of whom post videos and other information about the lessons they are working on with their students.
Though still early in his career, Bragg has begun sharing his own lessons as well.
He will have the opportunity to share his lessons on a large stage this summer when he gives the presentation “Being Teachable: Making Good Teachers Great” this summer at the 2019 National Physical Education & School Sport Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.
The presentation will focus on methods to connect with students on a personal basis and time management techniques Bragg uses to maximize the time he has with the kids.