Previously on the blog, I’ve shared my predictions for the hottest topics for health teachers to address during the year ahead. These predictions reflected my lens, biases, and interests and reflected the community within which I teach. Wanting to update this popular post and wanting the content to feature more voices other than just mine, I reached out to respected educators across the country to see what topics will be a focus of theirs this year.
This time, the blog post reads less like MY top ten hits and more like a soundtrack of the health hits across the nation.
Now THAT’S what I call health!
A while ago a colleague of mine (and former student) shared with me that his university was offering a course on happiness. It was during that hallway conversation that I decided happiness was immediately going to be discussed in health that semester. I wanted my students to grow up happy and healthy, however until recently I never really dove into what happiness was. I continue to do research and improve this lesson. However, it must include things like the daily D.O.S.E., comparison/over thinking and even the happiness project.
Success with this lesson led me to ask my students what they secretly struggled with and wanted to learn more about. Their responses gave me what I was looking for to put life back into my health curriculum. I have set out to discover all there is to know about cheap dopamine, anxiety, toxic positivity, self-care, negotiation skills, procrastination, bias and how to detect it, failure/different ways to find success, perfectionism, and inclusion to name a few. These are already added to a full curriculum of interpersonal communication, healthy relationships, etc. Research and reading have become my passion. Do I have it all figured out yet? Not even close. I truly believe health skills are priceless but quality content is equally important and is ever changing based on student needs.
This year, I will be focusing on shifting the conversation in health education from its traditional focus on avoiding risky behaviors to factors that support well-being. Health education has long been defined by the topics we teach, many of which are rooted in a goal of giving students the knowledge to avoid behaviors that contribute to leading causes of death of young people. However, this means our work is being defined by an emphasis on factors that contribute to illness, what about all the factors that contribute to well-being? What if we shifted to a salutogenic approach (Antonovsky, 1996)? To one in which we asked how we help young people move toward “greater health” and well-being rather than limiting ourselves to avoiding risky behaviors? I think this opens a whole new possibility for our work; one that is engaging, inclusive, holistic and focused on collective health and well-being. I’m excited for the work ahead!
Two major areas of focus are still at the top of my list: skills-based health and mental health. I have fully made the switch from teaching content units (topics) to building each unit around each of the NHES. It took me a few years to figure out the order in which I wanted to approach each skill unit, but I was open to trying new things and was open with my students about the journey. I shared that I wouldn’t do it perfectly, but I was working hard to figure out the most effective ways for them to develop the skills to “live their best life,” no matter what kind of life they want for themselves. I explained how the NHES prepare them to face whatever health challenges they might encounter.
Sometimes the units felt too forced, or it was hard to provide enough realistic examples. Sometimes I would ask students to vote or share opinions about my alignment of skill units and content. I frequently searched Twitter & collaborated with HealthEd friends to find better strategies. Next semester I would make a change, and I worked it out.
Not only do my students GET it, but they also express their appreciation for the personalization of the curriculum to their needs. And when I post on social media or talk to parents about what we are doing in class (hello, Advocacy!), there is great agreement that this is better than traditional Health Ed.
Maybe the hardest challenge was fitting mental health functional information into a skills-based unit. That’s where Erika’s Lighthouse came in. Viewing their amazing free curriculum resources inspired me to write objectives for NHES 7 that were specific to caring for one’s mental health. If you haven’t checked out ELH yet, you really should. Whether you need just one video or a whole unit, you will find their resources to be clear, authentic, and simple to follow. The best part is you can adapt however it works best for your students. So I use parts of the grades 5-9 Depression Education lessons within my unit on NHES 7. There is WAY more available, but that’s what works best for me in the limited time I have with my students.
I honestly feel the best I ever have about my teaching. I guess year 23 was the charm!
Connection over content is so important for teachers to build relationships with their students. My belief is if the connection is there, then teaching and learning the content will be a breeze. This has been my philosophy since being online due to the pandemic. Mark Friedrich is the one who inspired me to change my teaching style. I do understand as a teacher I will not connect with all my students. Having said that, I also know I am reaching some students who may even be desperate for that connection, and that is why I do what I do.
The Social Dilemma
“Is privilege ever not a bad thing?” a student recently asked me in class. I had to pause and rethink my learning target after teaching a lesson including bias, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and privilege. In a nation divided socially amidst sinking into a mental health crisis it seems pertinent to teach students how to work out their differences now more than ever. How can you communicate and resolve conflict if you can’t empathize or take another’s perspective? Without these abilities the almighty oxytocin produced from social engagement will be a lost commodity leaving one stuck in a lonely puddle of mental health mud. So I gave them another perspective or rather a challenge. How can you use the privilege you have to help create access for those underserved? I introduced them to Chris Nikic, whom I learned about last year at SHAPE NOLA. We watched Chris’s story and analyzed where we saw the previously mentioned terms. Then we identified where we have privilege and wrote “I can” statements. We wrote “I am (my privilege) and I can (create access/advocate for).” Join me at SHAPE Seattle for this session where we will explore lesson ideas and activities to break down defensive barriers surrounding these topics.
How Do We Talk to Teens About Porn?
Being a health teacher means keeping up with the times – being aware of the cultural influences affecting our young people and helping them navigate through them. And right now, it’s hard to ignore the cultural influence of pornography.
A good way to learn more about the topic is by reading Common Sense Media’s big new “Teens and Pornography” report. The report confirms that the majority of teens have watched online porn — and some have seen it by age 10 or younger.
It’s accompanied by this ready-to-share infographic with some of the most striking findings, and by a two tip sheet for families:
- What to Do If Your Young Child Sees Pornography: Tips to promote healthy communication and development with elementary school-age kids
- Talking with Teens and Preteens About Pornography: Tips and scripts to promote healthy communication and development
Both feature advice from Boston University’s Dr. Emily Rothman, who has a great online training for teachers called “The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students”
This will also be a hot topic at the Shape America convention in Seattle this April.
I’ll be giving a talk called “P-O-R-N: How Can Schools Teach About It?,” where I’ll be sharing some sample lesson plans from 3Rs: Rights, Respect, Responsibility and Be Real. Be Ready. One of the convention’s keynote speakers, Justine Ang Fonte, may talk about her experiences addressing the topic in the classroom as well.
I’m glad to see more public conversation on this topic, and I think we are ready for it. I agree with the conclusion Common Sense Media comes to in its report:
“We need to consider conversations with teens about pornography the same way we think of conversations about sex, social media, drug and alcohol use, and more. It’s time for us to talk about pornography. ”
Not yet a ‘trend’ so to speak. More like a manifestation for all of us to redefine, reimagine, and reframe how we view and teach “health and wellness”.
It is time to bid farewell to wellness messages that tell us “something is wrong with you”. We were not born broken, in need of fixing. We were all born uniquely as individuals, deserving of care, love, and access to resources that support our ability to live full lives.
No longer can we promote the idea that certain body types or sizes are permissible, while others are demonized. Or that certain foods, exercises, cultures, or identities are “good” while others are “bad”.
Instead, this is a call to action to:
Reclaim words like “diet”
- from restriction & weight loss
- to nourishment & connection with what we eat & where it comes from.
Reimagining things like “fitness”
- from forcing our bodies to perform based on external metrics of success.
- to learning what it feels like to live & breath in our own unique bodies.
Reframing topics like “mental health”
- from being something that we achieve through the right combination of self-care & stress management.
- to honoring that our mental health is fluid and will fluctuate depending on the current context of our lives.
Here’s to reclaiming, reimagining, and reframing how we build an existence of self-acceptance and self-love. And here’s to cultivating a practice that allows us to care for ourselves throughout the course of our lives.
- American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal – by Kerri Kelly
- Who is Wellness For? – by Fariha Róisín
- Decolonizing Wellness – by Dalia Kinsey
- Maintenance Phase podcast
Here are some guiding questions I will ask myself in advance of planning for an NHES Interpersonal Communication unit in a culturally responsive way.
Which lens do I view how I think of communication through?
How did I learn that?
How might that cause me to be biased in how I treat my students?
How might my own lens/views differ from what my students are taught is good communication through their own lenses/culture/values?
How can I assess every student in a way that honors their individual and/collective culture’s norms around communication?
One of the most popular challenges #healthed teachers have commented on in my #QuestionOfTheDay Twitter feed, has been about nutrition education. This is an area of growth for me as well. We as educators must be mindful in the approach as to not focus on weight management or to categorize food as “good” or “bad” which can leave students with a feeling of fear or confusion. The focus of nutrition education should be on how food provides us with energy, therefore it’s important to eat enough, and it should also be enjoyable. Emphasis should not be placed on food logs or calorie counting, BMI calculations, categorizing food as “good” or “bad”, or diet culture; we do not want to leave students in fear of what they are eating (or are not eating). Ultimately, nutrition education should prioritize creating a supportive and inclusive environment that fosters positive attitudes towards health, wellness, and self-care through a holistic approach.
- Cait O’Connor. Cait is an English teacher from Westchester county, New York. She is a fantastic follow as she shares books, articles, and her experiences.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat and “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon. Both titles work to dismantle the anti-fat bias and spark conversations and thinking about fat justice and fat acceptance..
It was really difficult to narrow down one current health trend or topic that will be big in 2023. My students have really shown in interest and passion for quite a few topics over the last year. Mental health, nutrition, vaping, and the environment are just a few of the common topics that have been brought up by students. However, because of their interest and passion for these topics, I’m going with advocacy for my top health trend for 2023. Students today seem not only to be interested in these topics but are passionate about change. Providing the opportunity to develop the skill of advocacy in the health classroom will students develop their voices to be positive influences in our schools and communities.
Health education continues to be as dynamic now as it ever was. Teaching in a post-pandemic world has highlighted the need for quality health education for all. The latest YRBS Data Summary and Trends Report from the CDC listed three actions to address the issues effecting adolescent health and well-being with one of those being the provision of health education that is grounded in science, medically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and culturally and LGBTQ+ inclusive. They called for schools to teach students the much needed skills necessary to understand their mental and physical health and make thoughtful health decisions. We can do this by ensuring that teachers are fully trained, given the professional development that they, and their community need, and with the full support of parents, community partners and service providers.
Thank you to the educators who shared their thoughts in this blog post. Thank you to you for reading it, and thank you to those health educators who strive to serve their community to the best of their ability.