What Exactly is 50 Million Strong by 2029?

By Steve C. Jefferies posted 04-01-2016 13:56


For much of the past year as SHAPE America president, I've written extensively about 50 Million Strong by 2029. Since announcing 50 Million Strong to great fanfare at last year’s national convention, SHAPE America board members and staff have made every effort to explain exactly what it is at state conferences, on Exchange, in news releases and social media, and elsewhere. Collectively, we've traveled thousands of miles, devoted hundreds of hours, and spoken countless times in an effort to mobilize the physical education and health education professions to support what is in reality a revolutionary change in what we do. 

Clearly however, communicating exactly what this change means to others is not easy. In puzzling over the challenge, I was reminded of the party game in which guests try to guess a song title. You remember? Someone tries to tap out a well-known tune on a table. Despite "hearing" the tune clearly in one's head it's often impossible to get others to recognize it.

50 Million Strong by 2029 is somewhat similar. Those of us on the SHAPE America board have talked about it so much that it's become almost second nature. Speaking to each other we know exactly what we mean and it's easy to assume that others do too. Not true. So today, I want to give it another try and if the tune’s still unclear or if you have questions or concerns, I invite you to express them in the comments section below.

50 Million Strong by 2029 is not a program. We understand that today's health and physical educators are swamped by program and product choices, and the mind-boggling multitude of options keeps accelerating. Teaching is hard enough and it's easy to become overwhelmed. The stress of being asked to implement something new, often without much in the way of support — either release time or financial incentives — can fast become disheartening.

So what excites me about 50 Million Strong by 2029 is that at its core it is an effort to simplify all of our jobs. Let’s admit, for far too long health and physical educators have tried to do too much. While it may be true that the things we do can improve reading, writing, and arithmetic, develop social skills and much more, none of these are our major purpose — our reason for being.

The main reason many of us chose to become health and physical educators was because we were convinced living physically active lives and making healthy choices was important. It's the way most of us grew up. It's what we wanted for our own children and the children we taught. It's what we believed would prepare them for happy and productive lives. It was that simple.

But along the way things got complicated. Instead of trying to prepare young people with the skills, knowledge and commitment to be active and healthy, we took on other things. Some of course were forced upon us. And we gave in. But in honesty what's been the result? Today's youth are no longer very active, too many are making unhealthy lifestyle choices, and the health and physical education professions are not widely respected

50 Million Strong by 2029 aims to return us to our roots: focusing on getting our students active and healthy. But what's different is the expectation that within 14 years we can demonstrate success. We all know there is a difference between teaching and learning. Between teaching reading or math and being able to read or calculate. It's similar to dieting and losing weight. You can do one without the other. Committing to 50 Million Strong by 2029 radically changes things. It accepts that results matter. Doing isn’t enough.

And so, in short, that's what 50 Million Strong by 2029 is — it's a commitment. And the way it works is this. 50 Million Strong by 2029 is the "lens" through which all of us must look when we make decisions about our teaching and our professional work. Whether you are a SHAPE America board member or staff member, a district or state executive director or leader, a school district program supervisor, a department head, or — and most importantly — a teacher who interacts daily with America's youth, everything we do must advance the success of 50 Million Strong by 2029. If what we are doing isn't helping America's youth commit to being more physically active and making healthy lifestyle choices, we are diminishing the likelihood of 50 Million Strong by 2029 succeeding.

But what's exciting is the incredible potential of America's health and physical educators to succeed both in transforming the lives of America's youth and in mobilizing public support for what they do. There's close to a quarter of a million of us in America's 100,000 public schools, regularly interacting with young people for the most significant developmental years of their lives. Never before has there been so much interest in children’s health. Everyone knows that healthy kids do better. Committing to 50 Million Strong by 2029 is a lifeline for SHAPE America and the professions we represent to the future. Please join us.




04-22-2016 00:20

Chris, thanks for taking the time to read my blog and pose questions. I'll respond to some. First, I'm surprised that the reason for choosing "50 Million" wasn't clear to whoever you asked in Seattle because the figure had certainly been discussed among the Board of Directors. I'm guessing that by now it is clear to all that "50 million" approximates the number of students attending America's public schools. There may well be more but we felt the number was a good way for us to indicate that we were concerned about ALL students. Second, I felt you actually addressed your question, "How does the commitment help me? It doesn't etc..." when you acknowledged there is a huge difference between trying to do something and actually succeeding. Absolutely, many, perhaps most PHE teachers want to get their students to live physically active and healthy lives. Problem is that few are actually succeeding are they? Societal data suggests otherwise. It is for THIS very reason that committing to 50MS is a HUGE change for teachers. It means that offering programs and even teaching with enthusiasm and skill doesn't account for much if it doesn't result in preparing students with the skills, knowledge, desire and motivation to lead physically active and healthy lives. In most careers in life trying just isn't good enough. Now, you are absolutely right that we need to have measures in place for both teachers and for SHAPE America to gauge progress nationally. Information about these was shared at the 50MS Workshop at the convention. We will be following up on these more publicly soon. As you can imagine it's not something to publicize until we think we have it right. We are fortunate in having people like Mario Reyna in Texas, Jayne Greenberg in Florida, Lori Dunn in Washington, Melanie Lynch in Pennsylvania, and many teachers nationwide who aren't waiting but pursuing ways to get the students they serve genuinely committed to being more physically active and healthy. What's interesting is that this was WHY the physical education profession was created. In a sense it's not really anything new at all. But far too many PHE teachers have lost their bearing and are trying to do too many things in impossible circumstances. Getting them and the new teachers graduating today to commit to 50MS is as you also note a major cultural shift. Thanks for contributing to the conversation and yes, SHAPE America will be continuing to clarify and market 50MS to the nation's PHE teachers. We recognize this as a huge challenge but one that is essential for the PHE professions to thrive.

04-15-2016 09:17

Also... SHAPE has posted a 50 Million Strong video on You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITRcmOG-qHY This was posted on 4/13 and I'm not sure where it falls in the timeline of this conversation.

04-14-2016 12:19

Teachers are generally people who like to please. In their jobs they want to know that they are doing a good job. Today, it's hard to know a ton with out data to support it, and data (or lack of data) is the challenge I've had with 50 Million Strong.
First, the question that gets asked a lot is , "Why 50 million?" That was the first question I asked and I asked it to a member of the Board of Directors right after Seattle. They were unsure how to explain where the 50 million figure came from; and I understand it was a new thing and they are in a volunteer position and did not want to confuse me.
Second, If I what to make this commitment what am I doing? Well the blog lays that out pretty clearly but personally, I feel as though I was committed to getting students active and looking at wellness policies and how they effect the whole community. How does this "commitment" help me? The answer is, it really doesn't if I had the components in place. Should this be the motivating factor for a community to become more active, consider recreation facilities, increase PE and PA time etc... FANTASTIC! Most of those changes though are strategies to address a specific problem.
If I participate in 50 Million Strong, and if I use that slogan in school, community or state information I am then following it up with a program or a product (or curriculum). The feedback I am giving relates to the program or curriculum. How will I measure if my kids are part of the 50 million? How will progress be reported through 2029? What happens in 2030?
I so agree that there is a huge difference between trying to do and actually succeeding. What is success in 50 million strong (health and active people I imagine) and how will we know? What we are talking about here is a cultural shift and culture change is the hardest change to create. SHAPE has come extremely far in its advocacy efforts and in creating partnerships but an initiative 2 years in that is still confusing to a large number of its professional and dedicated members needs to be reflected on.
I have the 50 million strong logo as my Facebook picture because I think it is important we support the work of our national groups. At the same time, the disconnect here is real and with 13 years to go we can still improve 50 Million Strong.

04-13-2016 19:28

Jay, thanks very much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my blog. You raise a lot of great observations, suggestions, and questions. I will attempt to respond to some of them below but will start with two observations that I have shared with others. First, "50 Million Strong by 2029" is really a shortened expression of what most physical educators and health educators would truly like to achieve: Getting all of their students committed to being regularly physically active and making healthy lifestyle choices. Second, 50 Million Strong is a commitment still in development. In other words, while I am confident in explaining WHY SHAPE America has made this commitment, and WHAT 50 Million Strong is and is not - it is a "commitment, not a program or product - HOW to succeed remains the challenge ahead of us. Neither I nor SHAPE America would ever suggest we have the answers. We certainly have ideas but our hope is that others will join this change movement and help lead the way. As an example, I encourage you to watch Mario Reyna's recently created 50 MS video and his work in the McAllen (TX) school district that I referenced in my response to Lynn in this blog.
I imagine there will be many questions for quite some time among our teaching colleagues as to what exactly “50 Million Strong by 2029” is. As you perhaps know I have written about 50 MS from all sorts of different angles for the past year on Exchange, in Momentum, and as editorials for www.pelinks4u.org . Of course not everybody has read them! I understand the lack of understanding and confusion that remains among many members.
Although the intent of 50 MS is consistent with what many of us have been trying to do for many years, I do view the commitment as revolutionary. There is a huge difference between trying to do things and actually succeeding in doing them. What 50 MS is encouraging is for all of us to recognize that if we want to increase support and respect for our profession we have to provide evidence that we are actually achieving something. Knowing that we are going to be judged on results rather than “trying” completely changes things. It means that we have to be more thoughtful in selecting content and in the way we teach. 50 MS anticipates that ALL students will experience success. Faced with the challenge of getting EVERY one of the students in our classes regularly physically active and healthy is going to require teachers to think about not just what is happening within their classes but also outside. 50 MS will change the way in which teachers approach their jobs. They will have to think about the whole school environment and ways in which to impact the choices that students make regarding physical activity and health when students are not in class. And, as you note HOW to do this is something that we will want to follow and learn from. It seems inevitable that some practices are more successful than others. Clearly, we will want to learn what works and what does not work.
Again, thanks for raising important issues. It’s through engaging in this type of dialogue that we can work out how best to succeed.

04-13-2016 18:26

Lynn, currently SHAPE America does not have a video of the "50 Million Strong by 2029" commitment. I'm sure it will be forthcoming. If you have not seen Mario Reyna's 50 Million Strong video that he created for the McAllen (TX) School District I would highly recommend it. It is part of the celebration the district had at it's recent meeting and contains much more to illustrate how teachers everywhere can champion 50 Million Strong. Here is the link:
The McAllen school board spent over 15 (minutes 7-25) honoring Mario and physical education. His 50MS video is part of the presentation.
( it make take some patience and fiddling to get the video running but is well worth it)

04-12-2016 07:29

Hi Steve,
Is there a video of the 50 Million Strong initiative?

04-06-2016 16:37

50 Million Strong by 2029 – response to Steve Jefferies 06 April 2016
Jay Cameron
50 Million Strong by 2029 makes me think of President Kennedy’s quote – “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Kennedy wanted to shift and change American mindsets and actions – this seems the same for SHAPE America and 50 million strong by 2029. I don’t believe that President Kennedy had only one way that Americans were to achieve this idea. I have always interpreted to quote to have a certain infectious nature whereby if one tries to live or model it others will follow. The tricky part is determining how impactful and lasting each slogan may be and what the acceptable or preferred responses are from either citizens or SHAPE members.
Steve Jefferies tireless and noble efforts to clarify 50 Million Strong are still, for my understanding, murky. It certainly is not a simple task and the amorphous nature of the slogan and it’s underpinnings makes it harder for many in physical education and health. When I first heard about the 50 million strong by 2029 in Seattle I asked colleagues; “Why 50 million?”, “How strong?” and “What happens in 2029?” The result was shrugs, sometimes accompanied by upraised palms and rolling eyes. It may be difficult for some of us, during this age of data driven accountability in education, to see past the numbers in SHAPE’s slogan.
50 Million is presented as a revolutionary change in physical and health education but the degree to which that revolution impacts schools and teachers will certainly vary. There are many outstanding physical and health educators teaching and assessing standards-based programs with the intent of maximizing the likelihood of lifetime physical literacy. I’ll bet there are many of those committed teachers that are SHAPE America members, but then there also are the other “teachers” – how exactly are we reaching or encouraging their commitment? How equal is the rate of commitment when there are vast differences nationwide in funding, time and accountability for physical education and health. Will 50 Million facilitate a more level playing field for students’ learning or will it perpetuate the rich becoming richer?
While Dr. Jefferies points out that 50 million strong is not a specific program it seems that a wide variety of programs could be useful in helping teachers meet the 2029 deadline. Perhaps 50 Million Strong facilitates Mosston’s divergent discovery approach for teachers to use their best judgement and knowledge of their students to implement programs that foster physical literacy. Any teacher that is working toward teaching physical literacy and assessing how students are doing along that path is certainly following the 50 Million theme, right? Wouldn’t SHAPE America want to know if certain programs were more likely to lead students to physical literacy, wouldn’t we want to know which ones don’t.
So ask for a commitment, be prepared for a wide range of acceptable responses, perhaps ask teachers to state how they are working toward 50 Million Strong – and keep up the great work.