Return to Headlines

My SPS Story: Danielle O'Neil, PE teacher at Sherwood Elementary

Nov. 16, 2022

Danielle O'Neil

“I began my journey in physical education at Watkins Elementary in 2018. For three years prior to that, I was a FACS teacher at the middle and high school level. Watkins was my first teaching job with elementary-aged students and at a Title I school. To be honest, it was a hard transition for me.

My first year, I was trying to understand my students and create a positive learning environment in my classroom. I wanted to teach my students how to love being active and give them tools to be healthy, but some days it was chaos, and my mental health suffered. 

I was looking for other jobs and near quitting before the year was over. But to be honest, I’m not much of a quitter, and I knew I would always regret it if I did. I worked so hard to finally get into my PE position and knew I had to give it at least another year after that first one. Brad Brummel, the district’s PE coordinator, (I call him my saving grace) gave me great advice on ideas to try for lessons and classroom management. He had me shadow other PE teachers in schools similar to mine. He taught me how to build relationships with my students and my peers, and to understand that those connections take time. I put my trust in my fellow SPS PE teachers. We have an amazing group, and I know I couldn’t do this job without them. I had a passion for teaching physical activity and wellness, but what I didn’t know was that I had a bigger passion for teaching in a Title I school.

I held onto my high expectations, and I took a mindset of a clean slate with my students every day. I greeted them with a smile and gave them the love and consistency they wanted. Year after year, it got better, and I was able to finally teach quality lessons in an atmosphere I strived for from the beginning. But my students haven’t changed that much -- I did.

I’ve been a PE teacher now for four years. This summer, I found out I was named Elementary Teacher of the Year by MOSHAPE, the Missouri Society of Health and Physical Educators. It was such an honor because my peers recognized my passion for this profession and my goal every day: every student belongs in my gym. I educate students on how to keep their body and mind healthy by eating the right foods and finding physical activity that they enjoy. I’m not just rolling a ball out or teaching a sport, I’m leading quality physical education instruction that helps students become well-rounded individuals. 

In addition to health and wellness, I strive to teach my students kindness and understanding with each other. Sportsmanship is huge in my gym, and my students know how they treat each other matters. How I treat them matters. How we see ourselves, in our gym, makes a difference, and I’m proud of them for doing their best -- and I’m proud of myself for choosing to stay in teaching, even when it was so hard.

Now, I bring future PE professionals into my classroom in order to help prepare them for the future. I help with SPS PE curriculum. I’m active on Twitter, sharing my lessons, classroom management tips and other PE tidbits that educators around the world can use. I present to PE teachers at our annual state convention. I’m a resource for others, which was hard for me to find early in my career. I’m leading the way for teachers who are struggling like I was, because our students deserve us to keep trying, keep leading and keep teaching.”

- Danielle O’Neil, PE teacher at Sherwood Elementary School

Share your SPS story to be featured this school year. Email