Moving Beyond the Silos

This week’s #slowchathealth blog comes from health educator Eric Conrad.

While I was browsing a past blog post here at slowchathealth, I was introduced to the ASCD Whole Child Podcast. Two episodes of particular interest addressed the topic of working together to improve learning and health collaboratively within the education and public health domain. It is well understood that health and academic achievement are interrelated and can result in lasting consequences well into adulthood. Healthy students are better learners and factors such as hunger, illness, and risky behavior can lead to poor school performance. Regardless of the ability of teachers to teach, or educational accountability systems in place, if students are not motivated or unable to learn due to adverse health, their educational progress will be severely limited it. School health is one of the most appropriate and powerful means available to improve student performance. This setting can provide the support needed to facilitate the adoption of health-enhancing behaviors and assure that educational gains achieved by students can be maximized. However, these programs must coordinate and modernize as part of educational reform in order to improve education, health and social outcomes. Addressing both health behavior and academic achievement in a coordinated system would have reciprocal and synergistic effects on our nation’s school-aged youth that will be beneficial for the entire population.

At the conclusion of the ASCD Podcast, @SeanTSlade mentioned “our children don’t grow up and live in a siloed world, they live in a whole world, an integrated world, so we shouldn’t be trying to raise our children in siloed systems.” As health educators, we can have a positive impact on health behaviors, which is why learning strategies such as skills-based health education (The Essentials of Teaching Health Education) is critical. Additionally, participating in the Healthchat and book discussion on Voxer can further develop pedagogical methods to improve student understanding and application of healthy behaviors. Unfortunately, an excellent health education course does not ensure a healthy individual. Reciprocal influences affect health outside of interpersonal or individual control. Because the health problems facing students are dynamic, a single health message delivered by one teacher during the year may not be sufficslide_45ient to promote the adoption or maintenance of health-enhancing behaviors. Reinforcement delivered by several teachers, school staff, peers, and families can be more influential. The Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community (WSCC) Model is such a coordinated approach that aims to leverage the collective capacity of schools, health agencies, parents, and communities in order to more effectively support student health and academic achievement. Each of the blue school component domains within the model may have a largely diminished capacity within their own silo, yet through alignment, integration, and collaboration the school environment can become a place that promotes a culture of health. While some collaboration components may be stronger than others, it is necessary to strive for continual improvement. 

wscc-model-lg

Recently, @HealthierGen released the 2016 Healthy Schools Award Winners. The Healthy Schools Program award schools who demonstrate implementation of specific best practices in each of the following domains that address school health:

  • Health Education
  • Physical Education and Physical Activity Programs
  • School Health and Safety Policies
  • Nutrition Services
  • Health Promotion for Staff
  • Family and Community Involvement

Health education is but one component of a healthy school environment, yet content within a quality health education course incorporates these areas. Similar to National Health Education Standards conveyed to students, health educators should be analyzing the influences or components of the school environment, and advocating for change that will improve student health. Becoming an advocate for students beyond the silo of the classroom serves to lead by example through modeling the standard or behavior.

Community Health is Personal Health

It is neither reasonable nor realistic to expect that, on their own, schools can close the gaps in education or eliminate health disparities among the nation’s youth. Collaboration within schools that move beyond the silos of individual classrooms and teachers can improve student health behaviors and outcomes, but school environment itself can also be considered siloed. While a whole school can serve as a hub, it is placed within a larger community context and is a focal reflection of that community. Leveraging community capacity in terms of input, resources, and collaboration can further support students through a reciprocal relationship. As mentioned earlier, oftentimes the environment can be a more impactful determinant of health than intrapersonal characteristics which may necessitate an increased emphasis on community health. Facilitating a culture of health within a community can serve to directly impact the health of students through initiatives that seek to change norms and policy, ultimately resulting in improved personal health. This relationship is reciprocal as schools can serve to promote civic responsibility to boost community strengths which in turn enhance the potential of the school to impact student health.

The framework of the WSCC encourages school development of partnerships including family community groups, organizations, and local businesses in order to share resources, volunteer to support student learning, development, and health-related activities. SHAPE America recently released part 1 in a series addressing Family Fitness Activities in which teachers of the year Betty Ann Fish and Margaret Hornbeck discuss the necessity of developing content that integrates the whole community, including parents, and its positive impact. ASCD also provides Ideas for Implementation highlighting diverse approaches within various fields as expressed from the viewpoint of the key stakeholders who integrated each approach.

Ultimately, the work that we do as health educators should link students to content within the larger context of the world in which they live. Breaking out of the silos and beyond the four walls of the classroom enhances the work we do through transdisciplinary approaches that leverages the strength of each stakeholder at the table. Together, we are stronger than we are alone.

Here are this weeks #slowchathealth questions. Feel free to answer them daily in turn, or all at once. 

  1. Which school component of the WSCC model do you frequently collaborate with?
  2. Which component of the WSCC model could you better utilize to promote student health?
  3. How do you engage parents/families in health education?
  4. What opportunities can you provide to link students to the community?
  5. What organizations/agencies do you currently collaborate with?
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