A Philosophy of Health: A Health Educator’s Approach To Teaching
by Andrew Milne
For this guest post, I’ve asked Andrew Milne to share his teaching philosophy. Andy is the 2017 SHAPE America National Health Teacher of the Year, the man behind #slowchathealth, and the founder of sendateacher.com, a fundraising website whose mission is to help physical and health educators attend the SHAPE America National Convention. Andy has contributing so many amazing ideas and so much enthusiasm within the online #physed community and I could not be more excited about having him guest blog for ThePhysicalEducator.com. Also, if you would prefer to listen to this post, Andy recording a reading of it which was uploaded to Jorge Rodriguez‘ “Global #PhysEd Voxcast“. Check out the embedded recording below! Without further ado, here is Andy’s post:
When I reflect upon my 21 years of teaching, I can see that my philosophy of education has moved away from being teacher-centered, and is now most definitely student-centered. I think that comes from having more confidence in my ability as a teacher, and also teaching in a way that is less ‘what I learned in college’ and more ‘what I feel is best for my students’. Here are some of the related beliefs that influence how I plan my lessons, deliver my material, work together with my students, and assess my students.
Have a Central Question
What is the one question that is central to everything that you do in health class? Once you have identified that, you need to ensure that everything that you do in class attends to that central question. You know your students and your community better than I do, and so your question will probably be different than mine, but here is mine – “How can I live the most healthy life possible?”.
This question allows me to frame my instruction and helps to justify everything that I do in class. If a student asks you “Why are we studying this?” your answer should not be – “Because it’s on the test”, or “Because we have to”. My answer will be “Because it will allow you to live the most healthy life possible”.
Bridge The Gap
You can not be happy with your health message staying within the four walls of the classroom. You must teach with the intention that it will travel out into the community. I have always told my students that my time with them is very brief (one semester) and in that time I have to equip them with the skills and knowledge that they need to lead the most healthy life possible. They then have to become my disciples and spread the message of health to their families so that they too can be as healthy as possible. After that they must encourage families to come together to create healthier communities. Finally, they must look out for those in their communities who aren’t as healthy as they could be and advocate alongside those people for better health. I tell my students that they will one day be decision makers, hirers and firers, policy writers, budget holders etc and that they should feel empowered to make the world a better place.
Teaching health is a huge privilege…and responsibility, and as such you must teach with more than your student community in mind. You and your students can have an impact within the school community, the local community, and beyond.
Teach With Legacy in Mind
It can be frustrating that we teach amazing students for a short period of time before they move on to bigger things. I teach with the view that each class must leave something behind that I can save and share. In this era of measuring teacher quality and student achievement we become better teachers when we can prove how we enhance the learning experience for our students. By recording and showcasing their growth, sharing it with administrators, the community and other teachers we can be confident in our ability to provide effective teaching and learning that benefits all students in our program.
I frequently alter my PBL projects and my summative assessments so that the end product is a different, shareable artifact. Classes have left behind iMovies, podcasts, essays, posters and collated lists of crowd-sourced teen-specific health resources.
If I keep examples of outstanding work and share it with future students, the best I’ve ever seen becomes the only thing the new students have seen. This great work actually becomes their baseline as they strive to better the example that I have shared with them, which in turn increases the quality of future work.
Play the Long Game
While you might only get to spend a short time with your students, you have to see the bigger picture and appreciate that your job is not to cover content, work through the associated packet and award a grade. It’s so much more than that. Our students are not the finished article, and as such they are expected to make mistakes and learn from them after reflection.
I have a quote from a student of mine that I refer to often. He said “In health, it’s not just about getting an A in the class, it’s about getting an A in life”. That quote is printed on coffee mugs that I have, and is on display in my classroom (an example of the legacy philosophy).
If you care about your students, and wish the best for them in the long term then you MUST make that, admittedly difficult, move away from a content-led curriculum and towards a skills-based led curriculum. Today’s health teachers, thanks in part to the support given to us by SHAPE America, should be concerned with equipping students with the skills needed to lead them on their journey towards health literacy, to lead them on their journey…to live the most healthy life possible. The drug of choice will change, but the skills of refusal, advocating for others, researching valid and reliable sources of information and goal setting etc will remain constant.
Today’s health teachers need to play the role of the coach, providing their athletes with practice opportunities to develop competence and confidence in using their skills when the game is on the line. If you need help planning opportunities for your students to learn, practice and reflect upon health skills there are a wealth of resources on the SHAPE America website.
See Life Through A Health Lens
A passionate teacher will see life through the lens of their subject. When some see a bus full of people, a social studies teacher sees Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks and what was achieved by her actions. When some people see plants and flowers by the side of the road, a biology teacher will see the battle between native and non-native species.
I see everything through the lens of a health teacher. I see food commercials and wonder why that food is being advertised to a specific audience at a specific time. I see promotional health resources in the community and ask whether they are accessible to all, or are the images in the materials representative of the greater community. I see classroom spaces that are cramped with small desks and immediately think of the difficulties regarding movement in a learning space and the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
When you see life through the lens of your subject you immediately see ways in which you can bring your teaching to life with every day, community specific examples.
You should want your students to see life through that same lens and this can be encouraged by asking them to bring in magazine articles, suggest You Tube clips, or share examples from their life. Our students operate in a different space than us as teachers. They watch different shows, they read different magazines and by asking them to share health-related experiences you allow their curiosity to flourish and open their eyes to all that is good, and bad, when it comes to their health and that of others around them.
Don’t in any way think that this list is prescriptive, and know that these beliefs of mine represent where I am right now in terms of my physical location and also my length of service as a health teacher.
September 24, 2019
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