Episode 98 – Connection Before Content with Mark Collard

In this episode of The PE Geek podcast we speak with Mark Collard from Playmeo.com. He is the founder and director of playmeo, a small professional development company which specialises in helping program leaders all over the world design and deliver remarkably fun programs that make a difference in the lives and performance of their groups. A recurring theme throughout the episode is the power of teachers creating authentic connections with their students before moving onto any content.

Links & resources mentioned in this episode;

  1. Playmeo.com
  2. Follow Mark on Twitter

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here



[00:00:28] Jarrod Robinson: How’s everyone and welcome to episode number 98 of the PE Geek podcast and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. And I’m joined today by none other than Mark Collard. Welcome to the show.

[00:00:39] Mark Collard: Hey thanks Jarrod, it’s great to be here.

[00:00:42] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, it’s a real pleasure to have you here. Now, I was sitting down before the episode and I was sort of reminiscing and think when was the first time I ever heard of you or saw your name and immediately remembered planning a lesson in my university rounds of all times and it was using the No Props book that you authored I think in 1996 or so, is that right?

[00:01:07] Mark Collard: The original? The little blue and white monograph?

[00:01:10] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah. Well, I remember I, we had access to the No Props book and I was sitting there and I was completely a lesson that utilized some of the games and activities that you had inside of that book and – and I directly remember that book having a massive impact on the engagement of the students that I taught that lesson for. So, what do you do, is it just writing books and how have you turned this into something that’s had massive impact with me and teachers everywhere?

[00:01:40] Mark Collard: Yeah. It’s interesting even my parents struggle to describe to their friends what it is that their son does. And I think of my own son, he’s five years of age who sees Daddy around the house a great deal wondering what does he do. So, look I describe myself as an experiential trainer. I am an author and I spend a lot of time speaking on the keynote circuits and so forth around the world. But in practice, I work as a trainer, someone who is working professionally to develop the skills and facilitation skills, program skills of educators all over the world, they’re often teachers but they’re sometimes camp leaders, corporate trainers, youth workers. But, more than 50% of the people I’m working with are working within the school systems.

[00:02:27] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah. I mean and obviously the work that you’ve done has had a direct impact into my own classroom experience and therefore flown into other avenues as well but I mean you mention facilitation and, you know, games and activities to help people who facilitate what is that, what is facilitation for people that maybe, you know, haven’t really heard that term.

[00:02:49] Mark Collard: Yeah, and it is a, it is a term that’s probably interchangeable with other – other words but I see it as the ability to guide a group towards a particular outcome.

[00:03:00] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome.

[00:03:01] Mark Collard: It’s not just necessarily a conversation more often the work that I’m doing is experiential so people are fully utilizing their head, their heart and their bodies in their work. So, it could look from the outside like a series of activities or team building activities even, you know, simple ice breakers, but it’s providing a context for these human beings to connect with one another so that the content that I’m going to deliver is far more powerful and far more rewarding. So, that’s the facilitation, that’s my goal is to facilitate that process because most groups when you just throw them together, think of a group of class kids, you know, first day year seven or whatever, they don’t have the requisite skills to be able to manage those relationships and so as a teacher it’s one of the key goals is to build those relationships among the students. And that requires a bit of investment of time and energy, but it pays huge dividends as the year continues throughout the curriculum.

[00:03:59] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so I mean the big cornerstone of facilitation and in the context that you work with is a lot of games and activities that drive those outcomes and so on with the students and being mindful about what the game and activity is and what is the result is that you, you know, you’re seeking for. Why would a Phys ed teacher want to pursue investing time at the start of the year or the unit or the class in the pursuit of things that they might deem as being outside of the curriculum area.

[00:04:31] Mark Collard: Yeah, and look I think from a school administrator point of view looking at a PE teacher playing games and not necessarily ticking any PE boxes would have a similar concern. For me, the – the lesson that I’m teaching through the workshops and also all the curriculum I’m designing is about using fun as the magnet to engage my students. Every teacher you work with, every follower of your podcast would say that student engagement is one of their biggest issues. If I could just engage my students the rest of it would be easy. And so, I’m using fun, which is really hard to stand away from, it’s contagious and it’s difficult to look cool when everyone else is having a great time and you’re just standing off to the side. So, I’m using that through the media of these games and activities to engage my students. And before they know it, they’ve stepped outside their comfort zone to be doing something that at first glance they perhaps would have not entertained. And so that drives straight to the heart of the curriculum because if I can just engage my students, invite them to give something a go whether it’s PE or any curriculum then more likely they’re going to actually learn something from that experience. And that’s why it’s so easy and I just so many case studies around the world of school administrators allowing more and more time to be invested in this, what I’m calling connection before content, early in the period, let’s say the school term because it pays bigger dividends further down the track not only with engagement and the participation of the students but importantly managing, let’s call it anti-social behaviors or difficult behaviors later on. The more time you spend up front the less you have to do that later on.

[00:06:16] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah and these, these tools and these games can be the proxy to help bring out that connection before you even start moving into the content. And I’ve interviewed Dr. Dean Dudley last year and he spoke at Connected PE also and he laid out this really good case for how you can advocate for your PE program. And often PE teachers advocate using one of the weaker arguments in the rolodex of arguments that you can use and that is that we get kids physically active and being physically active translates into benefits. But if you actually look at the data and the research there’s a greater argument to be had for getting people to interact socially and create connections and the benefits that it have actually outweigh the physically activity benefits.

[00:07:12] Mark Collard: Oh, absolutely.

[00:07:12] Jarrod Robinson: So, we often say that the real reason we’re getting them to do Phys ed is to be moving and be active and so on but that has about a 20% impact on student populations. But the greater impact is on some of the other areas that Phys ed is uniquely tailored to being able to provide and that’s social interaction and that’s getting kids connecting and so on as you mentioned. So, I firmly believe that it’s well and truly in our best interest to be looking and understanding at how these sort of situations play out. So, a teacher who typically comes to your resources and so on, what might they be looking to do? Like what sort of games and activities and sort of umbrella picture could they be able to roll out with you?

[00:08:03] Mark Collard: There’s probably two or three key search terms that people are using or is the connection to driving traffic to our resources. One of them is “team-building” or “problem-solving” the ability to build those social connections of working better together. So, and that again comes under the heading of wanting to build those relationships. But, they’re often looking for those sort of simple exercises, sometimes without props often with very few or low props. I’ll call it the icebreaker, I don’t particularly like that term but something that they might use to start their session or a little brain break, a couple minute energizers. Just hundreds of those throughout our resources that people are frequently using most of which do not need any equipment. So, you can just pull them out of your back pocket at a moment’s notice.

[00:08:54] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah.

[00:08:54] Mark Collard: The other one is related to trust particularly if you’re involving the whole body as a lot of PE does. There is elements of physical, mental, and emotional trust in a game, we all understand the stronger that platform is if you’re using it experiences to develop trust the more likely your students are going to grow and develop and learn.

[00:09:16] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I absolutely agree. And these games and activities have a massive role to play in our PE Geek Workshops which many of our listeners have attended and been part of or heard of. And the reason we use them is because of that idea of connection before content. Using them at the start of the day to sort of break down those barriers that usually come with people coming together. And also as a proxy to refresh people throughout different stages of the session. And also, as a way of shining a light on some of the things that we’re doing. So, there’s so many different avenues that they can take.

[00:09:59] Mark Collard: Yup, and to be fair Jarrod it does all of those things as I’m being instructed, because I’m not a PE teacher, I’m not a qualified educator sitting in a, you know, state secondary college or something. It, these experiences are also ticking a lot of the curriculum framework boxes for physical education.

[00:10:19] Mark Collard: Absolutely yeah.

[00:10:19] Mark Collard: And that I’m getting that feedback from the teachers going Mark, this was great I just had to adapt this and I could tick these three boxes in motor skills. It’s like fantastic.

[00:10:28] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, no there is–

[00:10:29] Mark Collard: So, as long as they’re running around having fun.

[00:10:31] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, now there’s this underlying core element to that these games and activities have and anyone can plug and play them into any curriculum standards that they might like. And particularly there’s this huge push in Phys ed to be addressing these cooperative skills and these team building skills and, you know, it’s Australia’s been very progressive and that’s always been a very big part of the curriculums, but the rest of the planet they’re start to either adopt it or it’s now becoming a bit more common. And we’re starting to see this huge resurgence with people calling cooperative learning in Phys ed. And when I look at these activities that people are running and doing and advocating for guess what they are and guess where they sort of started. They started way back in that early days and where I sort of look to with your resource. And now it’s sort of starting in some places to get the attention that it deserves and rightly so.

[00:11:27] Mark Collard: Yeah, and that’s what kept me so busy, particularly outside of Australia, I’ve spent probably three months of my life in the last couple of years in China all alone. The educational system there is rapidly engaging with this new curriculum, particularly the experiential curriculum where you’re teaching kids not only success in school, skills in that area, but also success in life skills. And these activities are brilliant for that because as we said they engage the kids, they’re fun. But they also develop communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking skills.

[00:12:05] Jarrod Robinson: Absolutely. So, you’ve built the online games databases playmeo.com. And I’m guessing that obviously in the years gone by you had your books and resources as physical things and you still have those now.

[00:12:19] Mark Collard: Yup.

[00:12:20] Jarrod Robinson: What was the reasoning turning it into a website where you could target different languages and so on.

[00:12:26] Mark Collard: You know I’d love to think that this was always the idea twenty years ago, Jarrod. It wasn’t. I got that and really believed that you had to turn up at a training program or a training workshop I was delivering to get the content. That just seemed to make sense to me. And then realized that even in [00:12:44] (unclear) Melbourne was my market, there was no way I could get to every school teacher or camp leader, corporate training just in Melbourne. And of course, it’s a world market now. So, I thought okay start writing books. And so that was over 20 years ago, starting writing books, that was a way of me turning up without me having to turn up. That was still really limiting and not leveraging the internet. And so, the short story is I started a blog. When my third book, Count Me In, came out the next question that people were asking was when your next book coming out. It’s like man, if you just knew how much effort there was in writing a book. So, I started blogging. I just used the platform of a blog, this is over seven or eight years ago now. And every time I came across a new idea or a video that just seemed really cool I would share it and within the space of a year or two 30,000 people a month were visiting this site, and it were all completely free but it was a blog. It was even hard for me to find something that I knew was buried in there somewhere but couldn’t find. And then so five and a half years ago I decided to create a database, actually taking these variety of experiences that are experiential but are fun, help develop all these skills, so that people could find them. But importantly, be able to see what they look like which is something that a book couldn’t do. But I could do without me turning up. So, hundreds and hundreds of video tutorials of real groups, kids and adults that I’m working with that have agreed to, yup, happy to have someone video what this looks like with all the variations because I’m sure most of your listeners and followers would go oh I’ve seen that before, well here’s three different ways of doing it. They’re always looking for something new. And then leadership tips, you know, the step by step instructions you can download it all. So, it was really just five, five and a half years ago decided that this was the thing. And the irony was that I wanted this so that I could start of to peg back my travel, spending so much time out of the country. Five years ago, our son arrived on the scene so I was now a father for the first time in my life. And it was like you know what, wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time at home. And the irony is because more people are now seeing me online, I’m busier than ever. And so, the database is a powerful way for me to be able to share and like what drives this in terms of my passion is my mentor Karl Rohnke who was the founder or an organization called Project Adventure where I did my initial training 30 years ago. He always had said to me, “Mark a good idea does not care who it belongs to.” And that what’s drives the database. It’s like here are hundreds and hundreds of ideas that just work so well, particularly in your context Jarrod, in physical education knock yourself. So, we’re really committed to a lot of that being shared.

[00:15:31] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, for sure. And I mean they found a big place into my classroom practice and the workshops. And to be honest this is how it sort of happened, you and I got on a call a couple years ago and we sketched out same games and activities that fit with the theme and then we actually presented a session together at ACHPER which was a lot of fun. But, I’m sitting here thinking about how I’ve used Playmeo myself in my own teaching and it looks very similar to how a person might discover it if they went to playmeo.com. You get to the home screen and essentially, you’re asked a question on who you are, so I’m a school teacher and I want to do whatever that might be, so develop team skills. And you hit find actives and then what, you’re presented with a series of activities that are relevant to that particular search that you’ve created.

[00:16:22] Mark Collard: Yeah now there’s several search indexes that people can use. But it’s taking what are several hundred, I think we’re approaching 350 activities now and then whittling it down, filtering it down to a particular purpose that you might enter into that space. And there’s tons of stuff that’s free, there’s clearly a premium model involved here. But for those folks that just want to test it out you’d have days and days of content before you’d ever have to look at something that was premium.

[00:16:48] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so I’ve, like I’ve put in my search there, I said I’m a school teacher, I want to develop team skills and I’ve come up with, you know, quite a collection of games there, obviously empowered teams, lumberjack stack, mono tag, Get 20, I mean there’s heaps of them. I think you’ve actually, for that one search is 137 activities. So, it’s a lot of time that you could dedicate to building team skills which I absolutely tick boxes in this curriculum that we all teach. So, I’m a big fan, big advocate for the work that you’re doing at playmeo.com. And you’ve prepared a little special coupon that for PE Geek listeners. Do you mind just telling people how they can access that?

[00:17:33] Mark Collard: Yeah, so if find that there’s some value Jarrod in any of the free resources on there’s free downloads and audiobooks and eBooks and of course there’s all the activities with all the free videos. If that makes sense then the coupon which’ll give you 30% off any of the annual subscriptions is PEGeek, six characters P-E-G-E-E-K, PeGeek, use that at the checkout page and it’ll automatically deduct 30% off the subscription price.

[00:18:05] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome, thank you again for sharing that. One last question before we go, is there any mistakes that people tend to make when they facilitate? I mean there’s a common array of things that people do wrong or that they should avoid or, is there something that comes to mind more so than others in that space?

[00:18:24] Mark Collard: Yeah, look the first one, the first thing that came to mind and I see it all the time, I wrote about in the, my recent book with Serious Fun it was the top of the seven mistakes that teachers were making and that was not breaking the ice. Again, I want to use that cliché term but effectively asking their group too much too soon, I frequently hear the lament oh that won’t work with my group. I’ve worked with so many different types of groups all around the world, and if you applied a really powerful sequential framework to the experiences that you’re delivering then it’s really unusual for any experience not to work with a particular group. You might just take longer with certain groups than others. So, for me, you know, actually preparing your group, emotionally, physically and mentally for an experience is one of the key mistakes and it’s one of the reasons why things don’t work.

[00:19:16] Jarrod Robinson: And that, I mean that has a direct connection with people trying to teach certain things to groups too soon and saying well this isn’t going to work. So, I think that has a lot of play in so many different areas that teachers are involved in. But you could stack these games and activities together to bring out the outcomes over a period of time, that’s the idea isn’t it.

[00:19:37] Jarrod Robinson: Absolutely and we embed that almost a prescriptive model within many of the activities suggesting hey you might like this activity but here it is sitting inside a 30-minute lesson plan or a two-hour lesson plan. So, it gives you a few ideas of oh love the activity but here’s something you do before it to prepare them for it and here’s some things to do after it as well.

[00:19:59] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah, I love it. Big fan. Head over to playmeo.com and sign up for your free trial and I definitely recommend going in there and getting the premium account because you’ll be the best facilitator that you could possibly image. And it just, what I always found that whenever I had a swag of games that I was going to be playing I was more excited about the lesson as well, do you find that too?

[00:20:25] Mark Collard: Oh, absolutely. And that’s the feedback I get from the teachers and school systems I’m working with is they say “Yeah, I get that it’s talking all these other boxes Mark but I’m actually enjoying this.” Like, I’ve been a teacher for twenty years or whatever, it’s like I’m actually refreshed. It’s like oh halleluiah, fantastic. I mean it’s great when it does that as well because that gives you more reason for being in front of your group.

[00:20:48] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome, love it. Thank you again for stopping by and I’m going to look forward to speaking with you soon.

[00:20:52] Mark Collard: Fantastic Jarrod, all the best.

[00:20:54] Jarrod Robinson: See you.


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