Category Archives: Health Education

Learning in many stories.

The single story creates stereotypes.
And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue,
but that they are incomplete.

—Chimamanda Adichie, Storyteller

Learning in vulnerability.

Stories are data with a soul.

—Brené Brown, Researcher-Storyteller

Teaching is Modeling.

As educators, we will hold a position of power and influence in our classrooms; the ways we (inter)act, live, and move in our world will become a model for our students of how to do the same. This is an amazing and dangerous responsibility, and a source of incredible power that should not be taken lightly. We must be self-reflective, self-analytical, self-critical; only then can we start to determine if we are truly using our power to build healthy students, classrooms, schools, communities. We must also be willing to reform, and in some cases completely transform, our modes of being; otherwise, this project of self is not even worth taking on in the first place. We must always work with the mindset that we are incomplete, imperfect, and improvable.
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In regards to health education, we can model healthy living in many forms. We can showcase conditions of healthy relationships, dialogue, eating habits, problem solving, behaviors, choices. The way we nourish our bodies and minds, and the nourishments we send back into our environment (in the form of words, actions, reactions, mindsets), will have the potential to radically shape and shift these systems of nourishment for our students as well. We become a source nourishment for them; we also teach them how to nourish themselves, and others.
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Keeping a food/activity journal has been a great strategy for elevating habits in my eating and fitness that have otherwise gone unrecognized (at least to myself). By collecting detailed data about all of the physical nourishment that enters my body, patterns of unhealthy consumption can no longer remain unconscious. I thought I ate more vegetables; I thought I hiked more frequently; I thought I consumed enough protein and calcium. My journal uncovered these myths. By setting goals towards better health, I therefore consciously acknowledge emerging barriers to my own health and become accountable to the project of re-imagining my choices, habits, actions. The journal made me (at least temporarily) an active participant in my decision-making around my overall consumption of food and participation in physical activity, as opposed to the passive navigator of everyday food and fitness decisions that I was before. Can this active involvement and awareness be sustained without maintaining the focused energy required of a food/activity journal?
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While a food/activity journal is useful for identifying our own individual (un)healthy habits, and can be used as an interdisciplinary tool for our students to do the same, this alone will not create healthy classrooms. How can we expand this idea of the food/activity journal to record and reflect on other forms of nourishment that we put into our bodies and minds? To collect detailed data in our classrooms regarding our teaching practice, education processes, student engagements, learning experiences? The food/activity journal is like an in-depth research project of the energy inputs/outputs of our individual bodies. If we were to translate this model into an in-depth research project of the energy inputs/outputs of our collective classroom/community bodies, what would our data look/feel like?

Teaching is Inducing Wonderment.

In health education, it is common to frame content in terms of what not to do. Don’t do drugs, don’t have (unsafe) sex, don’t eat harmful foods; this negative position permeates in much of the critical dialogue we must have with our students. There is a growing body of evidence for the benefits of searching for competencies in young learners; finding the positive and capitalizing on strengths rather than continually labeling the negative and focusing on failures. Can we follow this logic with health education? Would we be more successful if we were to focus on the positive, amazing qualities of our bodies, selves, and communities rather than the negative, scary consequences of our (potential) behaviors, actions and choices? If we can cultivate a respect and awe for these individual and collective bodies, can we prevent the same traumas and struggles we aim to prevent with the negative “don’t ____” framework?

Teaching is Navigating Boundaries.

If we want to incorporate controversial topics into health education, especially in regards to sexual health, there are many boundaries we will have to navigate and negotiate. These may be political boundaries; what does our school, district, state allow us to discuss? These may be social boundaries; what are parents, students, we ourselves comfortable with (or properly trained in) discussing? These may be cultural boundaries; what are the sources of information and influence that either facilitate or inhibit healthy knowledge production? These may be ethical boundaries; what are we as educators morally accountable and responsible to teaching our students?
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What do we do when these boundaries contradict each other? What if our core values, our sense of moral responsibility to our students, conflicts with limitations from parents or our school district? These boundaries are not necessarily static; how can we as educators work to re-negotiate some of these boundaries in our effort towards providing our students the knowledge they need to be safe, healthy members of our society? Should our methods be creatively subversive within our own classrooms, or should we strive to be transparent, professional, and rational in arguing for wider spread re-negotiation of these boundaries? How do we know if/when we are prepared (enough) to do this?

Teaching is Constructing Mindsets.

The view that children adopt for themselves can have a profound effect on their self-concept for the rest of their lives. This can be seen through the effects of labeling theory or stereotype threat, in which perceptions of inability actually produce lower levels of achievement, and perceptions of ability in turn produce higher levels of achievement. In this same line of logic, learned helplessness refers to the cultivation of a perception that one cannot succeed—that their capacities and capabilities are innately lower than their peers—and therefore these students are less likely to perform to their best ability. How can we as educators avoid teaching helplessness to our students? How do we create mindsets—self concepts—that empower rather than inhibit quality learning?
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In the standardized, high-stakes testing world of contemporary public education in the United States, we run an incredible risk of producing fixed mindsets. This occurs when one’s view of self is static; one has a distinct set of capabilities and capacities, and this set of tools remains the same for one’s entire lifetime. Creating standardized measurements and thresholds of success and intelligence can have a major part in producing this mindset, which can lead to a fear of challenge and a devaluing of effort. This ultimately inhibits a students’ power to fully engage in the process of learning.
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On the other hand, there is a different type of mindset that we can cultivate for our students: a growth mindset. This occurs when one’s view of self is more fluid, based on the belief that one’s set of capabilities and capacities can be changed and cultivated with effort. Research has shown that individuals with a growth mindset are more willing to see value in challenging oneself and place higher importance on effort. If we want to develop a health education pedagogy with the goal of providing the opportunity for our students to develop as the most healthy learners they can be, we must strive to build growth mindsets—to foster a genuine hope for continual positive development and improvement.

Teaching is Being Resourceful.

There are a multitude of resources available to teachers. In terms of health education, there are various companies and organizations that will provide educators with useful tools, materials, and even funding. These resources do not just show up in the classroom; they require schools and teachers to actively seek them out. This means that in order to take advantage of the amazing resources available to us, we will have to be knowledgeable in regards to where resources are and how to get them. We will also be responsible for sharing this knowledge with colleagues to make sure that these opportunities are not wasted for other classrooms and learners.

Teaching is Integrating.

In the contemporary climate of public education, designing a health education curriculum often requires a creative integration of fitness and science education into other subject and content areas. It may seem like there is no time for health education amidst rising standards, fixed curriculum, mandated content. However, we can teach important health lessons through the books we choose to read, the way we organize our classroom community, integrating active movement into our activities, writing stories or poems that relate to health and fitness or which require physical movement. Health education does not have to require more time or a redistribution of our use of time; health education requires us to be more conscious and calculated in how we use that time towards positive health goals.

Teaching is Fostering Resiliency.

As teachers, we will be Mandated Reporters of child abuse and neglect. We will be in a position of using professional judgement to identify cases of abuse and neglect, spanning the spectrum of physical, emotional, sexual, and beyond. Unfortunately, these traumas will be an all too present reality for many of the students in our schools.

Along with being a Mandated Reporter, I believe we should also see our role as being a Resiliency Mentor. We are ideally positioned to promote resiliency in our classrooms. We can demonstrate positive coping skills, provide opportunities for outlets through writing and art, build our students’ self-confidence and self-worth, cultivate community to ensure a healthy social support system for all students, be a nurturing and compassionate secondary caregiver and trusted adult. Signs of abuse and neglect are symptoms of a social trauma and violence. Some may also be indicators that we are not doing all that we can as educators to foster resiliency among our young learners. Resiliency is not only a coping mechanism for the abused and neglected; it is a preventative mechanism for everybody and everyone.

Teaching is doing.

How do you cultivate learning without doing? How can you create a learning experience without active experimentation, exploration, examination?

Some people can learn passively; our current education system is generally catered to this style of learning. What about our students who learn better actively? Our current education system all too often overlooks the capacities of these children, identifying their failures as learners rather than the failures of our systems to provide and allow for authentic learning experiences.

Even still, the process of learning is never passive. It is always active. Something within and between us is transitioned, translated, transformed. Learning always involves setting things into motion; learning is transmotion. Learning produces new forms of knowledge, challenges and changes our current forms of knowledge, leads to future developments of knowledge. Learning is fluid, active, adaptive, alive. No rigid system can limit this perpetual motion.