When Teachers are Resistant to Change…

We all have resistance to change. It’s scary and unknown and we are creatures of habit, routine and comfort. The habitual brain is actually part of a survival technique. If we had to truly think through every step of everything we do each day as if it were our first time doing it, we wouldn’t get anything done. If you haven’t read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I strongly suggest you do.

We need not only skills-based health education, but skills-progression health education.

Many best practices or updated lessons don’t get implemented as a result of many reasons:
• Teachers hardly receive the amount of professional development they need to guide new practices, try new things and develop innovative, relevant approaches.
• Teachers do not have the time or energy. Being a teacher is so emotionally and physically exhausting. I wore a pedometer when I taught and averaged 8 miles of steps in a day. That’s the physical exhaustion. The emotional stress of working with over 100 children with 100 different needs is a challenge, both rewarding and leaves you with not much else to give to planning, changing, adapting and innovating.
• Many teachers do not have the support due to a lack of job-alike positions. In many schools, there is one health or physical educator, not a whole team to collaborate with.
• Lack of funding to purchase evidence-based materials/curricula is rare/minimal.
• Systems are in place as a result of textbooks lobbyists that keep evidence-based curricula from even getting on the state adopted/approved lists (don’t get me going on that one!).

These reasons that prevent educators from excelling, innovating, varying their curricula are out of teachers hands in many cases. Although, if you’re the only health teacher at your middle school, the opportunity to engage on social media, watch webinars, listen to podcasts, read books can help with a decrease in isolation.

However, I want to focus on resistance to change. I’m talking about the teacher that teaches the same 10 tobacco prevention lessons for five years in a row without adapting, updating, or determining if the students need it the way it’s always been taught. In the business world, people adapt their approaches to marketing, processes, creating, communicating constantly. They have to, to make a profit. Teachers are held accountable, but it’s not a profit like a business. I mean, the health and education of students is, but even then, I think we can do better.

Teachers that teach health education sometimes give our profession a bad name. And, I hate saying that, because I want to embrace all of them and give them tons of PD and help them teach through the lens of effective practices. However, it’s true. So many teachers are still using old practices and teaching from textbooks (and trust me, I’ve reviewed all the ones ya’ll think are good- they aren’t. They are FULL of un-functional knowledge that students do NOT need to know in order to lead to behavior changes). The amount of content is ridiculous and unimportant. If you want students to drink more water, they do not need to draw their digestive system and color it in. If you want students to learn about the harm of secondhand smoke, they don’t need to know what the chemicals look like under a microscope or even, really, how to spell the chemical names. I’m not going to mention these textbooks by name, but let’s just say, none made the cut when reviewing for a State DOE (un-named) through the lens of comprehensive skill-based health education. Do they incorporate the skill-standards? Yes, many do. But, it typically looks like this at the middle and high school level- 11 pages of content and one skill activity at the end. That is NOT skills-based health education. There is no logical skill progression over the lessons in order. There’s no scope and sequence that tells, you, the teacher, when the skill is introduced, reinforced and mastered. There are rarely rubrics and performance checklists. So, I urge you to ditch the textbook, or encourage your district to not buy it in the future. Save the thousands of dollars and purchase something stronger. Or, develop something on your own.

Textbooks don’t allow you to actually make local data-driven curricular decisions. They are written with assumptions on what your students need to know, when they need to know it and how. I’m not suggesting teachers change everything at once. Maybe take one unit and really look at the skill you want to incorporate and use RMC Health’s Health Skills Models (trust me- these are awesome!) to look at your grade level band to determine what mastery looks like for that skill. Check out the rubrics that accompany that skill. And, build a unit using a progression of the skill (see the Health Skill Model- it outlines it out!) and use content (unit topic) as context for teaching the skill. In fact, I guarantee the skill practice is more important than the content taught.

If you want to see an example of a high school unit with skill progression around analyzing influences- check this out. I wrote this unit (fee/accessible to all!) from the perspective of the unit being about the skill, not the content. So, I understand that may be a leap that’s too far for many of you, and that’s ok. Look at the 5 lessons and the assessment to see how much emphasis is put on the skill. Starting with the assessment (lesson 6) in mind, I developed the lessons to lead up to it. Lesson 1 begins here. There’s a menu at top to view the rest. I’m working on a middle school unit now- so stay tuned. Since I know it’s nice to have examples, here is the scope and sequence I’ve developed for middle school. This shouldn’t be your scope and sequence, since you need to use your own student data to inform when topics and skills should be taught. However, it’s an example.

So- as far as resistance to change... I’m not saying to teach all units through the skills lens versus content. I know as a field, we aren’t there and we don’t know if it actually works. However, I am asking that teachers push themselves to use local, county, state health YRBS data to drive what their students need, and focus on skills-progression. Not only skills-based health education, but skills-progression health education. What are the steps that students have the opportunity to practice multiple times through a planned scaffolding approach? Consider that and see where there might be gaps in your program!