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2017 University News

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Fran Cleland: Motivating 50 Million K-12 Students

If you dance like no one's watching, Fran Cleland may jump up to join you.

"Dance is an important part of physical education across grade levels because it provides a vehicle for self-expression," explains the professor and assistant chair of WCU's Kinesiology Department. "It also offers an opportunity for taking an idea and translating it into movement, which promotes critical thinking and problem solving. Creating dances also promotes collaboration among students."

Her leadership, teaching, and research on implementing critical thinking in K-12 physical education, her advocacy for health and physical education in schools, and her professional involvement are being rewarded. In March, Cleland became president of SHAPE America: the Society of Health and Physical Educators at the organization's national convention in Boston. She was also selected to deliver the Margaret Paulding Lecture there, which she titled "Women Daring to Dance," examining "the creative risks these pioneers in modern dance took, how these women made dance accessible to all, and the pedagogy they employed."

With 14,000+ members, SHAPE America is the nation's largest organization in the field of health and physical education. Its current "call to action" is known as 50 Million Strong to align with the approximately 50 million students in the U.S. school system, Cleland explains. Through effective health and physical education instruction, its members are committed to empowering students to be physically active and make healthy lifestyle choices. SHAPE America is the "go to" organization for programs, products and services including but not limited to webinars, conferences, journals, lesson plan and assessment resources, online courses, and workshops — all designed to help K-12 health and physical education teachers provide cutting-edge instruction. As president, Cleland will move that initiative forward formally, although she has been doing so professionally over the course of her 42-year career.

In fact, SHAPE America recognized Cleland's contributions to the field with its Honor Award in 2006 and most recently the 2016 Margie R. Hanson Elementary Physical Education Distinguished Service Award. "I have won a lot of awards but this one meant the most because I personally knew Margie," she reflects. "I was happy to be recognized for something I have been passionate about and dedicated to for so many years."

Cleland served on the SHAPE America board of directors from 2012–2015, and is also past president of both the former National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, which honored her with the 2010 Elmer B. Cottrell award. She has been inducted into the North American Society of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport & Dance Professionals.

She is lead author on the textbook Developmental Physical Education for All Children – Theory into Practice (2017, 5th ed.), including the first online editions of instructor and student study guides. Released last fall, this edition took six years to complete and she's hoping that the educators and students who use it get her message: "We are all destined to move."