Dr Benjamin Williams is a senior lecturer in health and physical education in Griffith University’s School of Education and Professional Studies. His PhD was in the novel area of outsourcing in health and physical education, which looked at how and why schools were hiring and using external providers to design and deliver HPE and school sport programs in Queensland.
Queensland schools are unique among most other Australian states and territories because of their employment of HPE specialist teachers in both secondary schools and most primary schools. Ben was surprised to learn that so many schools who already employed teachers in this role also outsourced parts of their HPE and sport programs. He was also concerned to learn that schools often saw these outsourced programs as being more highly valued by parents than teaching “the official” HPE curriculum.
“It brings kudos to the [HPE] department. Parents see you as providing opportunities that are really worthwhile, because they don’t see good touch football teaching, or following the QSA [the precursor to the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority] syllabus as necessarily being that exciting.”
Ben is passionate about helping young people develop a positive relationship with their body, with movement, and with the physical cultures of which they are enmeshed on a day-to-day basis. Before studying for his PhD, he was a secondary school health and physical education teacher in Queensland and moving into academia was an important step into working with teachers and students to gain more meaning from their work.
Inspired by the works of thinkers such as Annemarie Mol, John Law, Michel Serres and Tim Ingold, Ben seeks out the fuzzy – “grey areas, the messy and complex space between right and wrong, or good and bad” – in his own work and thinking. He’s fascinated by how HPE teachers “grapple with and negotiate the everyday complexities of their work within and beyond the classroom.”
In addition to his role at Griffith University, he is the president of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation’s Queensland Branch (ACHPER), a position he has held since 2015. His ongoing role and experiences in teacher associations is currently driving his research.
“Teachers and academics invest a lot of time volunteering and working for these organisations, such as attending their events and participating in advocacy work. They sit in their own space (not quite accrediting bodies; not quite industrial bodies like unions) so there hasn’t been a lot of research as to the benefits and rewards for being involved. I am interested in what role these organisations might have in ensuring teachers are supported as well as they can be, to do good work and find meaning in their work. This gets me out of bed at the moment.”
In this project the team are conducting an international collective case study of five national HPE teacher professional associations, like ACHPER, from around the world.
This program is at inception phase and looking at the role these organisations play around the world, their relevance and their meaning to the education profession at a time when membership and funding are on the decline. He is also working on a seeding grant, mapping teacher professional associations across the full gamut of subject areas and career stages in Australia.
“Through this project we’ve identified more than 250 of these organisations operating here at a state or federal level. What functions are they performing? With whom do they work? What challenges are they facing? What successes are they having? Teacher professional associations do some amazing work, particularly in the professional learning space. I’d like to know how we within the university space, might be able to help them do more work and even better work.”
Ben is also working with researchers in the Social Marketing @ Griffith team on the Blurred Minds initiative (whose mission is to change the way young people make decisions around alcohol, vaping, cannabis and other drugs) a project funded by the Queensland Catholic Education Commission. He’s been the Curriculum Consultant for them to help develop the current iteration of the program, ensuring the program both retains its “cool factor” and has strong and clear connections with the Australian Curriculum: HPE.
A key part of his job is to design resources that can help teachers working in a wide range of classrooms with a diverse range of students.
“The challenge is how to handle all those differences and to do so in a way that acknowledges and draws on all the different expertises involved: the expertise of the social market researchers, my expertise in curriculum and assessment, the teachers’ professional expertise and understanding of their contexts, and especially the students’ expertise in what it’s like being a young person today. The data we’ve collected to date from teachers and students in classrooms, through interviews and via the online dashboards has been really encouraging. We seem to be getting something right with that balance.”
To read more of Ben’s work and research please see:
Experts, expertise and health and physical education teaching: A scoping review of conceptualisations
Public health pedagogy and technology as a mode of existence