Exciting Things Happening in Health Education
So, another one’s down in the books. The SHAPE (Society of Health and Physical Educators) National Convention is just winding down in Seattle, and as is usually the case after big conferences like this, I’m left with some great ideas to take back to my classroom.
What’s even more exciting about this year, though, is that I’m leaving with a new sense of hope about the future of health education. Health, for a subject that every one of our students will need when they grow up, has traditionally gotten very little love in the American education system.
During budget cuts, it’s usually one of the first subjects to go, at times being turned into an online course, shortened down to just one quarter, or given to already overwhelmed PE teachers to take on.
Quite honestly, the last two conventions I attended left me feeling a little deflated. Sure, there were a few very passionate people to connect with and learn from, but the fact is, it felt like there just weren’t a lot of health teachers out there.
But this year, I felt a shift. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but I like to focus on the positive, so here a few I saw happening this week that gave me much to be excited about.
1. A focus on skills-based health education
Our National Health Education Standards are skill-based. This means that only first one is about content, and the other seven are skills students will need to make healthy choices for the rest of their lives. Skills such as decision making, interpersonal communication, and goal-setting, just to name a few. However, the traditional health class model had teachers breaking their units down by content—tobacco, alcohol and drugs, mental health—rather than by skill. When you teach to the skills, you’re still able to deliver the content, but you’re also equipping students to handle whatever else might come at them.
This is key in health ed, because we don’t know what’s coming next. Ten years ago, we never would have known that sexting would be a major issue of concern for our students. If they have the skills to make appropriate decisions, they can handle what's coming at them. In a session led by the very passionate Dr. Sarah Benes from Boston University, I heard some exciting conversations happening from teachers wanting to make the shift, and understanding that—although it is a big task—the benefits to the students are immense.
2. The Appropriate Practices in Health Education document
Last year at the convention, I had the honor of sitting down with some of the most experienced and passionate health educators in the country to work on a document that would not only serve as a guide for health educators, but for administrators, professors, and college students training for the profession.
This task force, led by Dr. Sarah Benes, sat down and discussed what were the key skills and practices needed for a health educator to be effective. Over the course of the last year, Sarah and the rest of the team have gone through countless drafts and emails until the document was finally ready. Just before the convention, it was published by SHAPE America and made available to all members. During the convention, Sarah Benes, along with Mary Connelly—who literally wrote the book on Skills Based Health Education—and Shonna Snyder from Gardner Webb University, led a session to introduce the document and explain how it could be used to support any school or program. There were some great conversations going on in there as well, about skills-based health ed, the need for more contact hours, and the desire to separate health from PE and make it it’s own stand-alone subject. This document can be used to support all of these big changes.
3. A positive approach to prevention
Back in the day, health used to be a scary class full of worksheets and warnings. It’s shifting now, as we realize that the best way to encourage behavior change is by maintaining a positive environment. This year, it felt like not only were there more health sessions available than ever before, but that many were shifting to this method of delivery, and were far more heavily attended. We had sessions available on mindfulness, active learning, and even one about “The Happiness of Health.” So much to be excited about, including the increased number of health teachers wanting to connect with each other to bring our subject up to where it needs to be. To connect and collaborate with some other teachers in the field who are teaching to the skills, creating a positive environment, and advocating for our profession, hop on Twitter and follow the #HealthEd hash tag.
We’ve still got a long ways to go, but this time, I feel like we’re truly on our way.