Health Education Blog Post Series Part 1: Health Education Needs a New Identity

The entire K-12 content area or discipline of health education needs a new identity. My generation and older remembers health ed as the class where you learned to Just Say No, or that having sex means you'll have blisters on your genitalia. We remember reading Chapter 11 on smoking cigarettes and answering 5 questions at the end of the chapter to assess our knowledge that smoking is bad.

Unfortunately, health education has continued to be branded in peoples' minds as drug ed and sex ed. Those embarrassing activities or conversations that felt uncomfortable and forced. And sadly, due to a lack of professional development and support to people teaching health, how health was taught 30 years ago is still happening today. 

If the goal of K-12 school health education is health literacy, the ability for students to use, analyze, interpret, access, advocate for resources, information and products that are health-enhancing, we still have a long way to go. Many of the textbooks, activities and instructional methods used are about teaching content and it's time we leave those practices behind.

Fortunately, over the years, we have more adolescent brain research to understand how the tween/teen brain makes decisions (or fails to). Teenagers behave in irrational and sometimes harmful ways and we question why. Science proves that many times, it's because making decisions and solving problems isn't thought out like the fully mature adult brain. Brains continue to mature through young adulthood, in fact, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later.

An article on the Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry shares that based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to:
-act on impulse
-misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
-get into accidents of all kinds
-get involved in fights
-engage in dangerous or risky behavior

Adolescents are less likely to:
-think before they act
-pause to consider the consequences of their actions
-change their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors

Some health teachers aren't aware of the research, nor are organizations, content specialists and non-profits that are writing content for health education. This is not to point blame, but rather, due to the lack of knowledge and professional development support. Much of the curriculum out there is still based on assuming youth can make great decisions every time if they just read about the risks and dangers.

Health education has gone through quite a paradigm shift. Teachers are just catching up.

Health education has gone through quite a paradigm shift. Teachers are just catching up. Understanding the adolescent brain is one piece of research that has been helpful, but another shift is skills-based instruction, learning, demonstrating and assessment. We've started to ask better questions...

  • Does answering 5 questions correctly at the end of a tobacco unit mean that the student will have excellent refusal skills when offered a cigarette?
  • Do students need to know the names of the germs in order to effectively wash their hands?
  • Do students need to memorize the 206 bones of the body in order to fit a helmet properly, wear elbow/knee pads and wear a seatbelt consistently and correctly 100% of the time while riding in a vehicle?

Having the skill to memorize and recite Martin Luther King's exact words doesn't mean you understand the Civil Rights Movement. The answer is NO! to all of these questions above. If our goal is health literacy, every lesson, activity, demonstration, video, assessment should lead to healthy behavior outcomes (HBOs). And, if it doesn't- let it go! (You can find a list of HBOs in the HECAT, in the boxes on the front page of each module.

So, as we started to focus on skills in the classroom, we have also started to question what content is important? Benes and Alperin define functional information as information that is useable, applicable, and relevant. It is not arbitrary, traditional, or extensive. Functional information is the context in which the skills will be taught and the base for students’ developing functional knowledge. (Benes & Alperin, 2016)

I know, many of you are saying, I do skills-based. But, then I hear... it's important for a middle school student to know the body systems. To an extent, yes. But students aren't all going into pre-med in high school. In order to keep your heart healthy, you don't need to be able to diagram it, but rather, what behaviors help keep it healthy? And, how do you set some goals around those behaviors? What do students really need to know and demonstrate in order to lead to a healthy behavior outcome? Not much, actually. They need to practice skills, and be able to master those skills. 

RMC Health's Health Skills Models define what mastery looks like for each of the skill standards by grade level band. For example, for Advocacy, high school students should: 
• Students are able to identify a health-enhancing behavior using peer and societal norms.
• Students are able to demonstrate how they can influence and support others into making positive health choices.
• Students are able to work cooperatively with a group, analyze and solve various barriers they may encounter
• Students are able to adapt the health message to a specific audience.
• Students are able to reflect on the process and make adjustments as needed.

State Departments of Education are shifting to creating State Content Standards that are more focused on the skills and what mastery looks like for the skills and less on content, leaving that to local decision making. And, I agree with that. I think districts should spend the time reviewing any local data they can get their hands on and using student behavior data to drive/inform their local scope and sequences. Write down the concerning data points and determine which HECAT HBOs will address the concerning points. Which skill and knowledge expectations from the HECAT modules will address those student risk behaviors? Limit the number of units you teach. In fact, I suggest calling units the skills, not the content areas. 

I believe instead of teaching mental/emotional health promotion in September, you teach accessing information with 2-3 content areas as context to the skill. And, you move on to another skill... maybe goal setting and you teach 2-3 content areas for context. The district scope and sequence process is guided by those initial concerning data points.

If we go this way, truly, it means we need to re-brand our discipline. Our education leaders still think of drug ed and sex ed. Many do not understand that the skills in health education are life skills (analyzing influences, accessing information, interpersonal communication, goal setting, decision making, self management and advocacy). At multiple events, I have heard from businesses and employers that they expect the people they hire to have communication skills, decision making skills, negotiation skills... that is HEALTH EDUCATION! But, nobody recognizes it, because we still have health educators that aren't here yet. They aren't teaching skills-based, so our field continues to be stereotyped that it's the same it was 30 years ago. 

I want to re-brand our field. This is the first of many health education posts in this series. Upcoming topics include:

  • What does a skills-based unit really look like?
  • How do we re-brand our field?
  • How does the ACES research support health education?
  • How our legislators creating bills to teach content isn't helping the field.
  • How to begin shifting our schools to CSHEIs-  Comprehensive School Health Education Initiatives
     

Next week... SHAPE America, in Boston!

Next week, 5500+ health educators, physical educators, dance educators will be coming together for SHAPE America's annual convention, held in Boston this year. It's not only SHAPE's biggest annual event, but it's March Madness & St Patrick's Day. Let the craziness begin. 5500+ fellow educators creating, learning, facilitating, presenting, sharing, networking and advocating for the whole child. 

The Cairn Guidance team will be there in full force... we will be exhibiting for the Dove Self Esteem Project, booth #519, so come see us for free give aways! We are also thrilled to be sponsoring the General Session on Wednesday morning-

“Creating a Kinder and Braver World”
Maya Enista Smith will discuss Born This Way Foundation’s (founded by Lady Gaga) commitment to supporting the wellness of young people, and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world.  Working together with SHAPE America members, the foundation wants to see a world of people whose decisions and conversations are driven by kindness, acceptance and compassion.

We are presenting the following sessions:
Tuesday, 8am-noon - Systems Changing; Systems Changing simulation: In an engaging skill-building team session, participants will be confronted with realistic decisions and experiences, be compelled to consider new ways of looking at their goals and their work, be challenged to review what they consider legitimate indicators of success, try proven methods for making system-wide changes in their school setting related to their health education, physical education or school health initiative/program, distill their experience into action-oriented learnings and have fun! 
Wednesday, 3:30-5:30pm - Facilitating Role Plays in the Health Education Classroom: Role Playing is an effective skills-based learning strategy in the health education classroom, as it aligns to most of the National Health Education Standards. This session will guide participants through a variety of activities to increase their comfort and confidence facilitating role plays as well as give ideas on how to overcome challenges. Scoring rubrics will be shared aligned to role plays if using as an assessment tool in the classroom.
Thursday, 3-4:15pm - Enhancing Assessment in Health Education: an update and history of the Health Education Assessment Project and how SHAPE America is updating/revising and supporting this resource for teachers.

We have some other commitments- we are sponsoring the health education track and will be doing a 20 minute Dove Self Esteem Demo on Wednesday from 2-2:20 in the Exhibit Hall.

Can't wait to connect with colleagues, friends, cadre members, clients and partners in Boston! 

 

 

 

When Authentic Learning Doesn't Align to Assessment

A few weeks ago, I worked with a large school district on the east coast. They loved my activities on the health education, my pitch on the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model and how as health teachers they play a role in a bigger health system. They loved my effective practices in health education activity and the energizers I was incorporating in. I had them enthused! Motivated! 

Read More

KAHPERD 2015

Congratulations to my home state’s health and PE professional association for record numbers at their annual conference! The Kentucky Association for Health, PE, Recreation and Dance kicked off with a PGES (Professional Growth Effectiveness System) workshop facilitated by Jamie Sparks and me. Over 75 participants attended the workshop to learn more about teaching enduring skills and assessment within health and PE classrooms. 

Read More

Health Education Student Growth Goals- we got it!

Those of you teaching in Kentucky have heard PGES, Program Review, Student Growth Goals multiple times in different settings. Even if you are obsessed with student achievement & assessment (like I am), the terms may make you groan, roll your eyes or have a stomach ache. It is not because you don't believe in clear criteria for accountability for yourself or your students. 

Read More

Using Health Education Standards & Assessment in the Classroom

I'm incredibly excited to be facilitating this Standards and Assessment training in western Kentucky next week for about 10 health teachers. In fact, two are grade level teachers from the elementary level! It's the first time I've offered this workshop in about 4 years and it's been completely overhauled. 

Read More

RMC Health Board Meeting and Healthy School Leadership Retreat

It has been a fantastic week in Vail, Colorado! I feel incredibly fortunate to be on the Board of Directors of RMC Health, a non-profit that serves those working to improve the mental, physical, social and emotional health of children and youth. We had a great Board meeting that included both a business meeting and some strategic planning for the future. 

Read More

If Only Everyday Could be a Standardized Test Day...

Yup. I said it. Actually, I heard it from colleague Jamie Sparks while he was speaking at an event. What he went on to say was that it appears the only time a school or district actually cares about how much sleep a child gets or what they eat for breakfast is on those dreaded statewide standardized testing days. 

Years ago, teaching 7th grade, memories of healthier breakfast options during that April week of test taking come to mind. Somebody on my middle school staff read something about peppermint helping with focus. Little baggies of peppermints showed up in our teacher mailboxes immediately to pass out to students as they filled in little bubbles with a No. 2 pencil. Never mind the other 179 days of the year when authentic learning and performance-based assessment was occurring. 

What's the end goal of education? That is really the question. I'd say authentic learning with application to the world around us. I'd say demonstration of skills that provide a logical progression of knowledge gain related to all content areas. I'd say social skills and activities that will prepare students for the workforce.

What is the message the education system sends to students, teachers and parents one week of the year but resonates broadly? That message says, "We don't value learning. We value a number." And, it doesn't come from local pressures, might I add. It comes from the top, US Department of Education