A good friend and colleague of mine, Audra, is a middle school health and PE teacher in Frankfort, Kentucky. Recently, Audra was visiting me in Louisville for a late Sunday lunch and we got on the topic of health education and lack of professional development (PD) opportunities for her district. It's not that her administration doesn't support health and PE. It's that there aren't dollars to provide strong PD in both areas. And, with more PD days cut over the years, not much time. And, when that happens… you have educators not implementing best practices, but rather doing what they've 'always done'. And, that isn't what is best for education and learning. A lot has changed in health education even in the past ten years.
Elkhorn Middle School, Audra's school is an Alliance for a Healthier Generation school. And Audra is the health education champion in her district. Advocating for the subjects of health and PE and working on coordinated school health, a broader school health approach that focuses not only on health and PE curriculum, but policy, staff health promotion, food service, school counseling, environment and more! When Audra mentioned that she had a meeting with her Superintendent, Chrissy Jones that upcoming Thursday morning, I was impressed. I know the district isn't tiny and was thrilled to hear that Chrissy is supportive of school health and meets with Audra regularly When I heard that, my mind kicked into gear.
Recently, I've been doing a lot of research on what makes a school health program sustainable. I've been reading research articles, interviewing evaluators and implementors at the school, district, state and national level. You know what keeps coming up in the research? A superintendent that believes there is a link between health and learning and supports building comprehensive school health environments within a district. There are other factors that support sustainability… having district and school-wide wellness councils, strengthening policies, addressing staff health, building partnerships, etc. But, it keeps coming back to that leadership support. And, the educational leader doesn't have to be intensely involved. But, they do have to support the work. They may push back and have to make strategic decisions based on timing and capacity, but overall, they are a believer that healthy kids learn better.
So, yes, I thought about all of this as Audra was sitting there talking. I just moved to Kentucky. Work is picking up. Can I donate two days to provide strong PD to all their health teachers? Why not? Why not offer? So, I did. And within a few days, I heard directly from Chrissy. And now, we have a 2-day Using Health Education Standards and Assessment in the Classroom training being offered in July! My expectation is that all the secondary teachers teaching health education (whether they are a health specialist, or science teacher teaching health) are expected to attend the full two days. And, one teacher representative from each of the elementary schools. Systems change takes time. I hope to build their skills in the health education content standards, give them opportunities to score student work using rubrics, develop strong, innovative, fun performance assessments and write a health education unit, maybe even integrated with another subject area. They will leave with so much knowledge and skill gain. I hope to model over 25 teaching strategies and over 50% of what I model and what they learn is applicable in any subject area in school.
I can't offer tons of free PD training to everyone all the time. However, in a district that has a leader that supports the belief that when students are healthy they will achieve at higher rates, and contacts me directly… I'm there! Kudos to Audra for her continued advocacy and support of health education and coordinated school health. And thanks to Chrissy for her leadership. I'm thrilled for the opportunity!