Inspiring Teacher: Bradford Strand, NDSU professor of health, nutrition and exercise

Inspiring Teacher: Bradford Strand, NDSU professor of health, nutrition and exercise


Brad Strand is educator who believes in the full potential of each of his students. He is a nationally recognized authority on physical education curriculum and sports-related research, and his mission is to share that knowledge with NDSU students.

Housed in the College of Human Development and Education, Strand teaches an undergraduate Methods of Coaching class for health and physical education majors and Sport Sociology for sport management majors. At the graduate level, he teaches courses on leadership, ethics and sport skill analysis. He also offers a professional development  book study for K-12 teachers and coaches.

What experiential learning opportunities do you provide your students?

I have been teaching for 40 years, and have used many different techniques and activities over that time. Early in my career, I used something I called “product development through process learning,” where students were engaged in lots of teaching experiences with peers and in local schools. Throughout the semester, we moved through the process of learning how to teach and the students developed a well thought out project such as a K-12 curriculum plan. More recently, I have been experimenting with the flipped classroom.

Our master’s degree program is offered completely online. My colleagues, Joe Deutsch and Jenny Linker, and I have created experiential and applied activities for our students in all of our master’s courses. Every assignment is specific to the topic being discussed, but every student has the opportunity to complete the assignment in a way that best serves his or her needs. One of our guiding principles for the program is to provide students with autonomy in completing the assignments.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Many years ago, I saw a painting titled “La Clairvoyance,” by surrealist René Magritte. The 1936 painting is of an artist who paints a picture of a bird, while he is looking at an egg placed on a table. The artist’s subject is an egg, but this isn’t what appears on the canvas. He sees beyond what the egg is to what the egg will become. To me, this painting captures the heart of teaching.

It is easy to look out at a classroom of students and simply see eggs. I try to see each student as more than that; I want to see what they can become. Seeing people through eyeglasses of potential means looking beyond the actual to the potential in someone’s life.

All of us need people to believe in us. The heart of a teacher sees not who a student is, but what a student can become.

How did you decide to pursue your profession?

It was never a conscious decision, but rather a progress of my interests since I was six years old. The only thing I ever considered doing was teaching and coaching. As I finished college, I couldn’t wait to become a coach. In fact, I started coaching little kids as soon as I finished high school. For five years, I taught and coached in a K-12 setting.

During that time, I discovered that I enjoyed teaching in a classroom more than I did coaching on a field or court. I know I was impacting the students and athletes I worked with, but I wanted to have a bigger influence. I thought that if I could become a college professor I would then be in a position of influencing the next generation of teachers and coaches and my “tree of influence” would get bigger. After doing that for about a decade, I sought an even bigger influence. I became a department head who could influence professors who influenced the college students who would influence the K-12 students. I spent 12 years as a department chair.

After completing my tenure as department head, I was elected president of SHAPE America, the national association for physical educators. In that role I was given the opportunity to speak all across the United States and help reshape SHAPE America. That was a three-year commitment.

After that, my colleagues and I developed the Leadership in Physical Education and Sport master’s degree program. When initially started, we capped the program at 18 students. The program has grown steadily and in the coming year, we are expanding the cap to 32.

I know I made the right career choice as I have loved teaching every day for the past 40 years.

What is your favorite film or book featuring a teacher?

This is a very tough question in that I watch lots of movies and read on average at least three books per month. Twenty years ago, I read a book titled “Savage Inequalities” by Jonathon Kozol that really impacted how I view education. Most of my favorite movies are sport focused and based on real life events. I usually focus on the featured coach and study how they excel as teachers. One of my recent favorites is “When the Game Stands Tall,” a movie about coach Bob Ladouceur, whose team, De La Salle High School in California, won 151 consecutive games.

Who is a teacher who inspired you as a student and why?

When I was in second grade I had a teacher who I really loved and who made going to school fun. Unbeknownst to me until many years later, she had told my parents that I walked into class each morning like a little professor – she obviously saw something in me at an early age.

There were many other teachers and coaches throughout my education who inspired me and taught me so much. One of my favorites was in my doctoral studies, John Gustafson. He was the department head during my time of studies and also served as my adviser. During my time as a national president, I was able to honor him with a Presidential Award. He was a humble man and taught his students how to treat others in a truly humanistic fashion.

What do you like best about teaching?

My doctorate is in curriculum and instruction, and I love creating curricula and lesson planning. After all these years, I still love learning and talking about teaching and new pedagogies, especially online pedagogy. I really enjoy the creative thinking that goes into preparing lessons every semester.

The other “best thing” is developing relationships with students, and watching them grow and change during their time at NDSU.

Strand joined the NDSU faculty in 1996. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Mayville State University, master’s degree in education with an emphasis in physical education at NDSU and his doctorate in curriculum and instruction in physical education from the University of New Mexico.