I'm working with Dove on implementing a free resource/curriculum for Middle School teachers in the US. It's all about body confidence. More on that curriculum/program later. What I want to share is a story about how this contract allowed me to observe a teacher and how that experience really resonated with me.
I have 14 pilot teachers in 12 states around the United States teaching this program to inform me on how to update it for the US market. One is D'Artagnan Coots (pronounced Dar-tan-yon). I met him a couple of years ago as a member of the KY Health and PE Cadre, a teacher leader in health and PE and always advocating, using social media and pushing our field forward. It's one thing to be an exceptional teacher to those that perceive you, based on your actions outside the classroom. It's another to actually be an exceptional teacher in the classroom with students.
I arrived at Ashland Middle School in Ashland Kentucky at 8:15am, about an hour from where I live. The minute I walk into a school, the memories of teaching come back to me. The chaos in the main office, the morning announcements, the Pledge, the lockers, the laughter in the halls. I miss it. I especially miss the awkwardness of 11-14 year olds. Growing in so many ways, naive, yet outwardly and uncomfortably demonstrating their role in the world. I'm in Coach Coots' health classroom to observe his 6th graders participate in Session 1 of Confident Me!. The National Health Education Standards (NHES) are up on the wall, along with a vintage nutrition flip chart in the corner of the room, that he still uses during that unit.
His first class is a dreamy size- about 18 students that file in and are ready to go. They are on task, funny and deeply respectful of a student walking in late with a messy classroom binder. As that tardy student walks in, two other male students jump up to help him re-organize the papers sticking out in all directions. My heart warms, as middle school kids can be so mean and ruthless, yet most have huge hearts. He allows the students to finish up a quick assignment from the week prior, one that obviously includes accessing information (NHES #3), as he has their district food service director's contact information up. What middle school student knows their district food service director? Not many, but an important knowledge expectation if students want to advocate for their meals! Or invite that person to their School Health Advisory Council (SHAC)!
His classroom has a smart board and iPad to help guide his lesson. An extravagance not all health teachers in this country have. The Confident Me! ppt designed by Dove Self Esteem Project is up and ready to go. Coach Coots reminds students of the group agreements (classroom rules) that they established as a class community. "RESPECT", he says, "that is the most important one. We are going to talk about responsible/sensitive things in this class- they are shaping your health." You can tell the students respect him, and love his class. This lesson is on appearance ideals. Where students talk about the messages they get from society, media, family and friends about how they should look. Coach Coots reminds them to use proper terms, no slang when talking about body ideals. The kids giggle a little when he says, "for example, don't put boobs on the paper, write breasts, please." With that giggling, he is serious, yet sensitive and mentions, "We'll get to a puberty unit and learn more than." The class seems intrigued and yet no biggie on him saying the word 'breasts'. Normalizing sexual health- you go Coots! He mentions that this lesson is about analyzing influences (NHES #2). He points to NHES #2 poster on his wall. Bringing in the content standards to allow students what they should know and be able to demonstrate is a best practice in health education.
As students work through the lesson and discuss ideals, he talks about how trying to achieve those ideals can harmfully impact your social, emotional, physical, and even fiscal health. The kids are engaged, working together, laughing and listening. It's an environment that is safe and welcoming. Halfway through the class, Coach Coots turns off the lights, as one student jumps up to turn on the disco lighting, and another yells the exercise movement and/or dance move we are to participate in for the next 2 minutes. The kids know the drill. It's Coots' way of getting students up, moving around and integrating physical activating in the middle of a 45 minute period. His academic room has, in 3 seconds become a dance floor... one that students are jumping around in and enjoying. In this moment, I kick off my shoes and participate, doing jumping jacks in my dress. And I look around the room and miss teaching immensely.
Thank you Coach Coots, for inviting me into your middle school health education classroom. You truly deserve recognition in demonstrating the best practices of being an exceptional health educator. You are passionate about what you do, and it shows!