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Creativity-Portal.com Creative Careers in the Arts Series
2010 Creative Careers Interviews : Michele Batz Interview

Creative Careers in the Arts Interview

Phys. Ed & Fitness Author Michele Batz

By Chris Dunmire

Michele BatzMichele Batz is one of the most enthusiastic fitness experts I know. I met Michele in 2004 after she wrote her first book What's Holding You Back? A Woman's Beginning Guide to Fitness — an exercise journal with motivating back-to-the-basics workout advice for women. Michele's expertise and enthusiasm resonated with me on many levels (personal and professional) and we've been friends ever since.

Michele truly inspires me with her passion for learning, teaching, and motivating others towards a higher level of fitness. She's a certified Instructor and Personal Trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and National Fitness Professional Training Association (NDEITA); a Yogafit Instructor; a K-5 Physical Education teacher; a columnist for the News-Sun Fitness Corner; a writer for eDiets, eFitness, and iparenting.com; and a Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition.

In addition, Michele shares her own teaching lesson plans for the Creativity in Motion series on Creativity Portal, an engaging repository for teachers and parents with activities and games for kids designed around play, movement, and creativity.

As we hear more about the decline of cultivating creativity in schools these days, we can easily forget about the teachers who go out of their way to make a creative difference in their student's lives. Michele is definitely one of these teachers and recently gave me an opportunity to ask her some questions about her work and philosophy on life.

Q: Michele, tell me a little bit about your background and what led you down the path to pursuing a career as a physical education teacher.

A: Right out of college, my first teaching assignment was in Reedsville, Wisconsin, and a great experience. And I always knew that I would become a teacher, especially since both my parents, and my grandmother on my Mom's side taught. A teaching family! I stayed in Wisconsin for 5 years teaching P.E. for grades 7-12 — loved coaching at the varsity level for volleyball and track — we grew a program and it's still growing today.

My hometown was always calling me back, and since I worked at the Zion Park District in the summer to supplement that big teacher's income in those early days, the Aquatics Director position opened up, I applied, accepted the job and stayed there for 15 years, working with Parks and Recreation. I was still teaching: swimming lessons, aerobics in the off-season, teaching lifeguards, Little Athletes, Girls on the Run Program. Great experience there, too, BUT I was always working!

Then one day, as I dropped off my son at a sitter's house at 7 a.m. in the morning on a summer day, the Good Lord stepped in and He directed me to go back into teaching. I found a local job that day, teaching P.E. — sent in my resume and teaching certificate, interviewed on Monday, and received the job that night. Yes, a Godsend. Been there now for 9 years teaching at Kenneth Murphy Elementary grades K-5.

I was surrounded by caring, striving teachers, which sparked the idea of going back to school to receive a Master's in Holistic Nutrition. I felt that would enhance my teaching with P.E., and that lead to getting my Ph.D., which lead to my principal telling me, "Get your Master's in Education....you're a leader." So, I went back and worked to get that, too. Always learning...it inspires me to do my best to give back to my students, teachers, and community.

Q: We understand the importance and benefits of facilitating creative expression in children. What about creative physical expression through body muscle movement via exercise, training, and athletics? Are these the same?

A: We love using our imaginations and bodies in physical education class. We allow our students to experiment with body movement by setting a fitness station called Imagination Station — where there are no props or pieces of equipment. They must use their bodies in that space through movement or dance.

If you are an athlete, this type of movement allows you to become fully aware how your body works, how it moves, how it reacts. Plus it's fun to see what you can make your body do. Now as far as training goes, you can add this theory to help break up the workout a little bit, to give your body a rest from the daily training. I love to workout, pound the pavement, and lift weights, but don't forget about flexibility and strength.

Q: How do the kids initially react to the Imagination Station? I'm curious to hear some examples of what some kids did due to its unstructured nature...

A: My older students (4th/5th grade) were a little shy at first, but when I went over and showed them what they can do, they drove right in. We have students doing break-dancing and cartwheels now. The younger students took to it right away — they don't care how they look to anyone.

Q: Tell me about the Student Leadership program you helped initiate at Kenneth Murphy Elementary.

A: We at Kenneth Murphy Elementary wanted to bring our students up to another level. Our school community has been building momentum for the past seven years and we've seen a drastic change in our student's capability to lead.

In our physical education classes, we asked a few students to join other classes to see if this "idea" would work (the idea was to show them how to help other students by encouraging them, leading them, and being good role models).

After a few discussions, we decided to start a Student Leadership Program in our building by having our teaching staff nominate students in their classroom that demonstrate good leadership skills (cooperation in the classroom, leading by example by having their work done on time, showing others respect, encouraging others to do their best).

At the end of a week, nominations come into the physical education department and students are chosen to assist in an afternoon physical education class with me to demonstrate their leadership abilities.

Our younger students love seeing the older students show them how to dribble a basketball, cup stack, or just how fast they can run around the gym. Our student leaders love showing their talents to others, and our younger students are responding.

Steve R. Covey, author of The Leader in Me has been our guiding light in achieving this program at Kenneth Murphy. We plan to keep building on this theme and to help our students become leaders of tomorrow.

Q: What a great experience, Michele. Have you seen creative qualities in teachers and students tie in with this leadership program?

A: Yes, students are using their imaginations to come up with their own activity stations. They had a literacy night and one 5th grade class did the stations with super ideas using grammar. It was awesome to see.

Q: What advice can you share with parents for nurturing creativity and further supporting leadership qualities in their children outside of school?

A: If parents see that creative side, start bringing into the home all sorts of things to create with! For example, Play Doh, clay, crayons, paper, anything that will get the child to think and explore his/her creative side. That is what I loved about my parents (both were P.E. teachers), they let my brother and I have fun — we used all sorts of things to help us create a world that just belonged to us. Let them express themselves and just stand back — let them fly!

Q: Tell me about your philosophy on life.

A: My philosophy is have strong faith in your beliefs, whatever, that is to the individual person. Step out and do it afraid — otherwise you will never know what you can achieve. Stay positive, even when you are surrounded by negative people.

As I am getting older, I stay away from people who love to have drama in their lives because they are energy-draining and I need all the energy that I can get!

Q: How important is "down time" to you?

A: Oh my, down time is extremely important. It is a time to recharge my batteries, do a little thinking, if not at all, and this in turn gives me energy for the next day with a positive attitude.

Q: What inspires you?

A: What inspires me is any human story that has conquered. They rise up out of the ashes and make something out of themselves. When that happens, they inspire people that are around them to be better people. Another inspiration for me is seeing someone accomplish a goal no matter if it's in the arts, sports, etc... When you set out to achieve a goal, extraordinary things can happen along the way and usually does. It's fun to watch and gets my mind going with, "Hey, what can I do next?"

Q: What's on the horizon for you professionally?

A: Professionally — to write more about my teachings in physical education. I think I can offer other professionals a new twist to physical education, to get kids to move and have fun, and learn while doing the activity. We can have such an impact on kids lives and I think some teachers forget that big picture.

I just completed my Masters in Administration and am studying to become certified by taking the required exams for my state, but I would really enjoy presenting to fellow teachers to show them how fun it can be to teach. And spending time with my family is EXTREMELY important to me that keeps me balanced and they keep my feet on the ground. Sometimes I can get carried away on my dreams and my husband keeps me grounded!

Q: How about personally?

A: Training for 5 and 10K races, I just love to run and even at 51, I am not done. The past couple of years, I had to deal with knee surgery,-but I am fully recovered and ready to hit it head on.

Q: Any final words of wisdom?

A: Final words are — keep striving to do your best everyday, count your blessings and even when you had a bad day...hey, you got through it, you learned from it, and that in itself is gaining wisdom in life. •

Michele BatzConnect with Michele Batz
Michele Batz, PhD, has a masters in Administrative Education and has been an educator for 30 years at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. Read Michele's Creativity in Motion series on Creativity Portal, and visit her blog at mbatz.blogspot.com.

© 2010 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

Updated 1/8/14