For years I have stated that my definition of Health Literacy is: accessing, understanding & applying health knowledge to make yourself, your family & your community healthier. And yet that final part of the definition, the advocating for the health of others, has always been something that I felt that my teaching has lacked. That, and the success of my goal setting project led me to create a 8/9 week advocacy project that I ran alongside my regular curriculum.

NHES standard 8 states that students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health.

I took the performance indicators and conducted a pre-test asking students their experience of advocating for a cause, their use of social-norms, their experience of collaborating with other to improve community health and their use of adapting messages and techniques to target a specific audience. Student responses allowed me to plot their prior knowledge & experience on a rubric.

In order to identify potential health topics for my students to choose, I went to my schools YRBS data. I’m a big proponent of using YRBS data and use it as a ‘hook’ to get students engaged in health class.  The ability to provide students with accurate data reflecting the behavior of their peers allows me to focus their attention and my teaching. From our data we identified areas in which our school population ‘performed badly’ and students were encouraged to choose the topic with which they most identified and write a reflection justifying their choice. The topics were:

  • Relationship Safety.
  • Bullying.
  • The link between depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • The link between stress levels and depression.
  • The perception of substance use versus actual substance use.
  • Binge Drinking.

Students initially worked individually and their first assignment was to interview their peers on their perception of the health problem among our student community. The correct figure was revealed and a discussion ensued. These discussions were to allow my students to ‘take the temperature’ of the school and see how the student body perceived the topic.

The following week, inspired by an American Heart Association initiative I created a pyramid of actions for students to complete. 10 points were needed to complete the week’s assignment and could be scored in any way the students wished. They could perform 10 simple tasks for a point each, or, as proved to be popular, score more points with more significant actions.

Advocacy score

Students impressed me with their creativity. The posters that were created were outstanding. One student created a Tumblr site for other students to comment upon, another created a Twitter account advocating for her cause. One of my favorite advocacy posters was this one. It’s eye-catching, contains relevant statistics and yet remains positive and non-judgemental.

photo (5-30-55 PM) (1)

Following an additional week of advocating alone students came together in ‘super-groups’ to pool their strength and ideas. Again, inspired by something that I had seen at a conference, I asked the students to utilize an old button-making machine that we have at school . Working together they created an image to convert into a button. Each group member was given a button….and then the coolest thing happened. Students started trading buttons, or asking to buy copies of other groups buttons. One teacher even witnessed one of my students being stopped by other students to ask about her button and a great advocacy conversation ensued in the middle of the hallway. One student gave hers to her Mom who wore it at the hospital in which she worked and was asked throughout the day the meaning of the button.

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The final advocacy act was for the supergroups to create audio recordings that could be used in a podcast, or broadcast 0n our school radio station. The recordings for each topic were collated across my three classes and turned into three separate podcast, all of which can be heard on my Soundcloud page. However, here’s one for you to listen to. These podcasts can be added into the iBook that I wrote to share the project materials and also can be played to next semesters students in advance of the project so that they can start week 1 with a good level of knowledge, and questions. Here’s a link to a PDF copy of my iBook.

The project was a great success. In my post-test, students showed great growth. Some will be happy to have finished the project, and some will be eager to utilize their advocacy skills in the future. I’ll finish with a quote from one of my students.

 I feel like this experience has been a successful advocacy! We’ve created things that others can use to educate those even beyond our reach. This project has allowed us to make an impact in a big way without really ever having to leave the classroom. Every great movement starts with one idea, that spreads through the ranks until it becomes everyone’s movement.

This weeks #slowchathealth questions look very similar to those that were asked by Greg Curran in last weeks #DivergEd Twitter chat, an individual and a hashtag worth following! Greg’s website is a great resource for educational innovation and social justice and includes links to his thought-provoking podcasts – a great listen!

Q1 What are the real world, day to day health issues that adversely impact your students’ lives? #slowchathealth

Q2 In what ways do you allow your students to advocate for their health and that of the community? #slowchathealth

Q3 What do you do when students’ ideas for change conflict with adult beliefs or values? #slowchathealth

Q4 How does your students opportunity to advocate compare to that of your own high school experience? #slowchathealth

Q5 Who do you follow on Twitter that you would consider a valuable advocate? #slowchathealth

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