PESS goes Stateside. Claire Walsh

At the end of the autumn semester, a contingent from the PESS department in UL travelled to the United States to present at the SHAPE America PETE/HETE conference. SHAPE (Society of Health and Physical Educators) is America’s largest membership organisation of health and physical education professionals. This conference is held every three years and is aimed specifically for PETE (Physical Education Teacher Education) faculty who are involved in higher education teacher education (HETE). Its remit is to showcase the exemplary research and practical applications for the preparation and continuing development of health and physical education teachers. The conference was held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Missy Parker, Daniel Tindall, Jessica Mangione, Cathal Óg O Sullivan and I travelled to the USA to share our experiences as physical educators teaching in Ireland.

Our presentation, ‘Policy Change in Practice: Lessons Learned from a Small Country’ outlined the recent curriculum changes in physical education in Ireland and their subsequent impact on various stakeholders. We spoke about the differences between the Irish and American education systems. We then explained the different curriculum (i) Leaving Certificate Physical Education (LCPE), (ii) Senior Cycle Physical Education (SCPE), (iii) Junior Cycle Short Course and (iv) Wellbeing and how these changes are affecting PETE programmes, professional development providers and physical education teachers. Telling the story through these different perspectives, whilst brief, gave the audience a well-rounded glimpse at the subject of physical education currently in Ireland. We had many questions from the floor which included queries about the Irish education system in general and then more specific questions about the individual curriculum. One common thread from the feedback was that these changes, although challenging, are exciting, engaging and innovative.

From a personal perspective, I learned a lot from this experience, not only about physical education in the USA. It was my first time to present at an international conference and thankfully everyone did understand my accent! The colleagues with whom I travelled are extremely well-known in the field and are seasoned conference goers. They mentored me in the etiquette of an event such as this and introduced me to many people who are as passionate about physical education as we are in UL. It was a very busy few days, but when the conference finished, we rented a car and took a day trip outside of the city into the Wasatch mountain range. I had never been to this part of America before and the experience of the vastness of the Utah wilderness was humbling.

SLC_Mountains_Claire Walsh
Figure 1 Wasatch Mountain Range

Often attributed to the Roman Stoic Seneca is the following idea on travel: ‘Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind’. On my return to UL, I was indeed feeling excited and motivated. The conference attracts over 400 PETE faculty from all over America and the response from conference attendees about our innovative approaches was gratifying. We might be a small country but we are a great country and to be abroad, presenting about our physical education curriculum developments and receiving such positive feedback was testament to this.

Claire Walsh joined the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences in 2016 Claire is undertaking doctorate work in the area of wellbeing and physical education whilst working as Applied Studies Coordinator in the department.  You can contact Claire via email at  Claire is currently involved with the NCCA in the Senior Cycle Physical Education (SCPE) pilot project.    Claire Walsh


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