Thousands of Summit County students and graduates might remember these words from their physical education class in elementary school:
“If you stop listening, you stop learning, and when you stop learning, you stop.”
That was a maxim often repeated by PE teacher Jim Dossett, who retired this June after 27 years teaching in Summit.
He worked at five of the district’s six elementary schools, splitting time between two schools for years and teaching at Dillon Valley Elementary more than anywhere else.
“He was so much more than just a PE teacher,” said Dianna Hulbert, principal at Silverthorne Elementary, where Dossett taught for the last eight years. She said he always talked to his young students about healthy eating, staying active and not smoking.
“He’s an institution,” she said, and a “great, great role model for the kids.”
Dossett, 59, grew up in a small town in Nebraska. He was teaching when he met another teacher named Luanne who became his wife. Together, they moved to the town of Last Chance, in eastern Colorado, where they worked for six years at a tiny rural school. Dossett was principal, athletic director and coach for three sports.
He was always drawn to PE.
“I’m a kinesthetic learner. I didn’t do very well in classes where I had to sit for long periods of time,” he said. “The brain’s not designed to do that.”
Dossett’s passion for helping students improve academically and socially through movement stems from his love of brain science.
“He constantly stays up on things,” said Scott Liebler, an early childhood movement specialist who has known Dossett for about 30 years. “If anything new came out in the field, he read about it, he researched it.”
Sometimes in PE classes Dossett would incorporate his Learning Readiness Lab, a series of fun activities for students that tested skills like balance, coordination and eye tracking.
“The brain is only the body it’s connected to,” he said. “If we can solidify that or enhance that, that’s going to help what’s going on in the classroom.”
Throughout his career, Dossett saw more kids coming to school with physical delays. They’re not as spatially aware, he said. They don’t run, jump and ride their bikes as much at home, he said, and that movement is important for brain development.
He worried about the kids who use their thumbs for pressing buttons instead of climbing. The ones who play with small screens instead of crayons or scissors.
His colleagues in the classroom have seen more academic and behavioral issues too, he said. “Movement can take care of a lot of that.”
Patty Edson, a retired Summit kindergarten teacher who worked with Dossett for at least 20 years, said “If Jim Dossett ruled the world we wouldn’t need any TCAP testing.”
“A good teacher can assess a child just by hearing them read” or interacting with them in other ways, she said. “He is the master of that.”
After one or two PE sessions with her students, Dossett could point out which ones were already reading, which ones were almost there and which ones would struggle, Edson said.
“He was right, always right,” she said, and he would change PE activities so that “it was supporting everything I was doing in the classroom.”
He cared about the children and loved helping other teachers, she said.
“You knew you had a partner to work with,” Edson said. “We had fun doing it together.”
As a PE teacher, he encouraged his students to take ownership of their health, be their own personal trainers and understand the importance of sleep.
Liebler remembered walking into Dossett’s classroom once about four years ago. All the students were running around, he said, except for one boy who was sleeping like a bear.
“Is he sick?” Liebler asked Dossett.
“No, he’s just tired,” Dossett explained. The boy didn’t get much sleep at night, so he was letting him rest.
“Right on, Jim,” Liebler told him. “That’s being a human being.”
Liebler said teachers might not be allowed to do that now, but Dossett “was doing exactly what was right for the kid.”
Standardized testing frustrated Dossett, and he said communicating with parents was a challenge.
But “never, ever was he negative about the kids,” Liebler said. He was “probably one of the best PE teachers on the planet.”
Liebler described Dossett as full of passion and energy.
“For a white guy from Nebraska, he’s got a lot of mojo,” he said. “A lot of people mistake that for ADD and being hyper, but it’s really a natural basic charisma that shows he’s enthusiastic and cares about what he’s doing.”
Dossett would start the school year off with a team building exercise. Usually that meant giving the kids a disaster scenario that involved working together, sharing equipment and improvising.
He also loved to teach his students game strategy. He had them design their own games and then teach them to each other. And he always asked students, “Why are we doing this?” because he said they would try harder once they understood the purpose of a drill.
“I want lifelong healthy movers and thinkers. That’s what I want for my kids, for all my kids,” he said.
Though he may be done teaching at school, Dossett said he wants to return to another form of teaching: coaching.
He coached both his children when they were in school, and his wife Luanne said he was conscious about equal playing time for all the kids.
Dossett said he used a hands-off approach when coaching games that made some parents assume he wasn’t engaged or didn’t know anything.
“Believe me, I get frustrated,” he said, if his team isn’t doing well, but he doesn’t yell at the players during games. “I don’t think that works, especially with little kids.”
He said he’d rather talk to his players during half-time, time outs or practice, instead of trying to interrupt them during a game while their brains rapid-fire with decisions.
One story he likes to tell comes from coaching his son’s basketball team. His son Kylor, now 27, passed to a friend and teammate, a boy with cerebral palsy who didn’t normally catch the ball.
This time, the boy caught it, pivoted without traveling and shot.
The ball didn’t come close to the basket, but Dossett remembered turning to his wife and saying, “I just saw the best play in basketball I’ve ever seen. I’m done.”
“It’s kinda sad that he’s retiring because he really loves what he does,” said his wife Luanne. “I can’t imagine him not doing those kinds of things.”
But for the Dossett family, an era of teaching is closing right as a new generation begins.
His 24-year-old daughter, Sharayah, who recently earned her master’s in urban education, will start her first year as a teacher in Tennessee in the fall.