Implications for Physical Education
Physical education teachers are under-studied in concussion research literature and rarely identified in legislation as a key stakeholder group. However, the issue of concussion carries many implications for this group.
Competitive sport is an environment in which the risk of concussion is higher than in other forms of activity, but the same is true of physical education.1 Across grade levels, the more physically active students are, the higher their potential risk of concussion. Students can fall, collide with each other, be hit with thrown objects or crash into fixed objects (e.g., a goal post). Such risks are inherent in being active. However, by managing behavior, rules and facilities effectively, physical education teachers can minimize such risks.
Although few state concussion laws specify roles and responsibilities for physical education teachers, PE teachers can play a key role in student concussion prevention and management. For example, concussion education guidelines that are in place for coaches are also appropriate for physical education teachers. Whether they coach or not, all physical education teachers at all grade levels should have at least a minimal understanding and awareness of concussion to ensure a healthy and safe learning environment for their students.
Concussion Detection and Management
Physical education teachers must also be prepared to recognize incidents, signs and symptoms that might indicate a concussion. Whether in the gymnasium, on a playing field, or in another environment, a PE teacher could be the responsible adult who must decide to pull a student from activity and send him or her to be assessed and, possibly, treated.
It is also important for physical education teachers to remain aware of and involved in concussion-management planning.2 Even if a student’s concussion occurs outside of physical education class, the PE teacher must be alerted whenever a return-to-play progression has been put in place for a student.
For example, if a student is in the early stages of a progression and has not yet been cleared for intense physical activity in the student’s sport, the physical education teacher must know that so that he or she does not subject the student to activities and exercises that are inappropriate or unsafe.
JOIN THE TEAM
While few states specify that physical education teachers should serve on multi-disciplinary concussion-management teams, it is in everyone’s best interest that they do. While some PE teachers might already be included as part of their coaching role, those who aren’t should make the case to their administrators and/or local concussion task force leaders.
For an example of a proactive approach to including physical education teachers in concussion-management plans, read the New York State Department of Education’s Concussion Management in the School Setting guidance document.
1Potteiger, A. J. & Wright, P. M. (2016). What you should know about your school’s concussion policy. Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, 29, 48-51.
2Roetert, E. P. & Richardson, C. (2014). What every educator should know about concussions. Principal Leadership, March, 18-20.