It’s that time of year where we reflect on how the past school year has been for us and our students. We consider the sessions that we saw at conferences and other professional development, the books that we read and the podcasts that we listened to. The subject of health is so dynamic and some subjects become hot enough to appear in magazines and on TV, which brings to mind the rationale behind #1 on our list. Topics come and go, but the skills that our students require to help them make healthful decisions will remain constant.
I reached out to my PLN on Twitter last week and asked teachers what they felt were the hot topics of the moment. Some suggestions definitely reflected the geography of the respondent but many topics received multiple nominations, and so with that said, here is a Top 10 list of the Hot Topics in Health that you might want to keep an eye on as you start to prepare for the next school year ahead. Don’t agree with some of these? Tweet your comments and use the hashtag #slowchathealth
10 Sex, STI’s, Pregnancy. Kicking off our list at number 10 is an old favorite, a topic which has been in the Top 10 since the dawn of time. A contentious topic that can be taught freely in some states, and less so in others. Look out for news regarding President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal which eliminates a $10 million-a-year grant program for abstinence-only education run by the Department of Health and Human Services and includes a proposed $4 million increase for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, helping communities implement evidence-informed and innovative strategies to support the sexual health of our nation’s youth. Other factors keeping this topic on our list include pregnancy rates continuing to fall across all racial and ethnic groups (nice discussion to have in class), and reported cases of three nationally notifiable STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – increasing for the first time since 2006. The increased use of PrEP among those infected with HIV is also something to monitor over the year ahead.
9 Nutrition, food deserts, food inequity, obesity. A favorite topic among students, and one topic that can be taken back home to the family and hopefully instigate some changes in behavior. With 6.5 million children in the US living in a food desert and a greater awareness of the role that race and place have on your access to many necessities, including good nutrition, look for this topic to be incorporated in more social justice projects.
8 Self efficacy / Advocacy. I recently blogged about Self-Efficacy and said the following:
Increase self-efficacy and students will believe that they can set and achieve their goals. Increase self-efficacy and students will speak up when they see disparity and successfully advocate for others. Developing that positive mindset is crucial within a health classroom and should be addressed early and often during the school year.
As 21st Century health teachers we must continually strive to develop student voice and allow them to have greater choice in what they do and how they communicate. Watch out – if you give students a voice I promise you they will use it! Expect to see this topic rise in next year’s Hot Topic Top 10 list.
7 Digital Citizenship, technology addiction, sexting and local laws, social media. We’ve reached that point where we can no longer resist technology and it should be as much a part of your classroom as it is a part of your students lives. The effective use of technology to encourage students to analyze, to research, to communicate and advocate is an awesome way in which to model appropriate technology use. Look out for more articles talking about technology addiction and keep an eye on the way in which sexting is dealt with as laws finally catch up with technology and cases are dealt with individually, differentiating between ‘experimental’ sexting vs ‘malicious’ sexting. This topic is expected to remain on our Top 10 list for the foreseeable future.
6 Drugs – Opioids, marijuana legalization, drug addiction, E-cigarettes. This is a topic that many parents hope that we are talking about comprehensively in our classroom, and a perfect example of why teaching health skills is crucial. The drug of choice will change over time but the skills needed to resist the temptation of drugs will ALWAYS be needed – interpersonal communication skills, decision-making skills, refusal skills, health goal-setting…..the list goes on. With opioid addiction and overdoses reaching epidemic levels over the past decade look for FDA intervention and PSA’s such as this one from Massachusetts (currently facing an opioid crisis). Consider how your students could research the effects of drugs, role-play refusal strategies regularly, and educate their peers about healthful behaviors. Consider discussing California’s recent change in smoking age and look for similar law changes regarding the use of e-smoking devices.
5 Mental Health – Depression, suicide and suicide prevention. Use of YRBS data will continually show you that the number of teens attempting to take their own lives remains at a constant and it remains the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by homicide and accidents. My school has started QPR training among the faculty, encouraging teachers to Question, Persuade and Refer. Does your school have a model in place, and do your students know where to go to within the school building, and the local community if they or someone they know needs help? When choosing health concerns about which to advocate within the school community this topic is always a popular option.
4 Mental Health – Stress, anxiety, mindfulness, happiness. Regular, rigorous high stakes testing, college applications, relationships with friends and family and extra-curricular activities all continue to act as stressors for our students. Teaching students healthy coping strategies and adding those skills to their toolbox is crucial as this is another great example in which our material transcends all areas of our students lives. Mindfulness has remained as a buzzword in the media (along with resilience and grit) and looks like it’s here to stay. Now when students ask for a ‘relaxation day’ we can offer them mindfulness activities, research appropriate relaxation apps (I love Headspace and Smiling Mind) or reach out to someone in the building to offer yoga or meditation. No longer is a ‘relaxation day’ an opportunity for teachers to turn off the lights and let students sleep (oh, you know that still goes on, right?).
3 LGBTQ Rights / Gender Identity. Another one of those topics that has the potential to confuse parents in that I very much doubt it was discussed when they were students. And look how far we’ve come with this topic. Transgender restroom access is such a hot topic even my mom called me to discuss it. Gay marriage rights have changed significantly in the 7 years in which I have taught health. This topic is still relatively new in the health curriculum and there is no doubt that our students are growing up in a more tolerant society than we knew as teens. Look for an increase in great teaching material from providers such as ETR, GLSEN and Answer as well as continued improved rights for LGBTQ students. Hopefully your school has an advocacy group for these students and their allies within your building.
2 Consent, relationship violence, campus safety. A relative newcomer to our Top 10 list but one that is here to stay. Kudos to California for making sexual consent lessons mandatory and to the many student advocates across the country for speaking up regarding campus safety. 98% of my students will go on to college and I am thankful that that experience will be safer for all of them. Check out consent materials from a recent #slowchathealth blog post.
1 Skills-Based Health education, curriculum and assessments. A topic so hot you’ll need oven gloves to hold on to it. You’ve read the blog post, you’ve read the awesome book The Essentials of Teaching Health Education by Dr. Sarah Benes and Dr. Holly Alperin and now you’re thinking wondering what to do next. The emphasis on skills and skill development should allow us as health teachers to teach the skills, develop the skills, give students multiple opportunities to practice the skills before assessing the skills. Teaching content alone allows students to know, but in terms of making decisions we are aware that knowing isn’t sufficient to encourage people to do. Our aim as health educators is not only to allow students to do but to do it well in unfamiliar situations. Topics 10 through to 2 on our list can all be used as the material through which health skills can be developed. As I wrote earlier, our list will fluctuate and health concerns will change over time, but health skills will remain constant through the lives of our students. This topic is expected to top our Top 10 for the next few years.
Just outside the Top 10 and possibly on the list next year? Human trafficking, the increased value of sleep, sitting becoming the new smoking, social justice, and environmental health.
Don’t agree with some of these? Tweet your comments and use the hashtag #slowchathealth