If you ask me, health is the most important class a student will ever take. I don’t hesitate to tell this to my students, their families and anyone else who will listen. My goal is always for my students to learn about themselves and gain the skills to live a happy, healthy and safe life in our bizarre, unhealthy and often unsafe world. The importance of health class and the skills learned within it are in sharp focus now more than ever as we all do our part to “flatten the curve.”
So how do we teach a health class and the skills associated with living a healthy life when our students come from all different backgrounds and experiences? I have the privilege of teaching in a very diverse high school. My students come from an entire county and beyond to participate in the International Baccalaureate curriculum. It’s a wonderful consortium program that allows students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a rigorous college-prep program the chance to participate and flourish. I have students in class who are homeless, sleeping on couches at friends’ homes, relying on the breakfast and lunch that school provides to students who drive $100,000 cars, have summer homes on the lake and winter homes in the mountains. Socio-economic status isn’t the only measure of diversity though. The school has students of many different races, cultures, religions and gender orientations.
It can be overwhelming to think about the voices you will have in class and the minds turning to you for advice, compassion and resources. Therefore, we must teach from a social justice lens with an open mind and the willingness to be a life-long learner. It’s important that when we are telling students to eat healthy to remember not all students have a choice in the food they eat. They eat what they are given because that may be the only food they get for that day (or longer). It’s important that when we talk about going outside and getting physical activity that we remember it’s not safe for all students to go outside their homes to get the mail, let alone exercise. When we discuss going to a doctor for health check-ups, it’s important to highlight where our students can go for free check-ups in the community because not all students have insurance or family to take them to appointments. When we ask all students to participate in a field trip, to wear certain clothes for the day during spirit week or to play the human knot game for team-building purposes, we teachers must remember, not all students have the money to go on field trips, or a variety of clothes to choose from for spirit day. We must remember that our students won’t all feel comfortable holding hands with their classmates and touching each other for the human knot. Students may have past trauma in addition to religious and personal boundaries that they value and it can be harmful to require these activities.
These ideas are a lot to unpack. They take time to implement and can be overwhelming. If you are struggling with where to start, I recommend we consider how you use student names and pronouns. Are we asking students what name they would like to be called? Why not have students introduce themselves to the class by saying the name they want to be called, letting everyone hear it together. Or, have students fill out a survey asking what they want to be called; not all students are ready to announce a new name to their whole class and would prefer to start slowly, with just you. Is the sharing of pronouns offered? Is it a requirement to share one’s pronouns? I recommend it always be an option and never required. It’s important that we know what pronouns students want while also keeping in mind that not all students are ready to share their pronouns or feel they are in a safe space to do so.
As you continue to make your teaching, leading and classroom more inclusive for all, keep in mind that it’s a process. These changes don’t happen overnight and you will make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Learn from mistakes and work to do better next time. Some of these changes may seem small to you but I promise, they go a long way toward creating a safe and supportive learning environment for ALL your students.
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