Health Education During a School or Community Crisis

After teaching health education for more than 20 years, I have spent the past couple of months reliving what it’s like to be a first-year educator. We’re in an educational crisis!

Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, many health educators are teaching virtually while others are using a hybrid model. Some may have started the school year late and others might be back in the classroom taking new precautions and dealing with physical distancing restrictions.

Whatever the case may be, we are all working to make changes to our lessons — or even fully overhauling our health education curriculum to fit the needs of our students. The SHAPE America Twitter Chat Task Force was excited to tackle this important issue: Responding to a School or Community Crisis.

On our recent #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat, we were very fortunate to have three amazing panelists from the SHAPE America Health Education Council: Shonna Snyder, Charlie Rizzuto and Melanie Lynch.

Here are some of the great ideas, tips and health education resources that were shared by our panelists and chat participants:

Q1: How can educators build & maintain relationships with students in health education during a time of crisis? During remote learning?

  • “Get to know you” games and activities are always great, but I think at the start what everyone needs is transparency. We can serve as stabilizing forces for our students most effectively if we are open, honest, and understand “Maslow, then Blooms.”
  • Every second that we can be face-to-face or on a Zoom call with our students is gold. One word: relationships. The curriculum can be taught in a flipped manner. When with kids … build relationships!
  • Showing interest in your students’ lives goes a long way with them. Use @Padlet to let them tell you about themselves and then you’ll have something to talk about. Have them tell you their favorites: colors, teams, foods, etc.
  • I use Calendly to set up individual meetings with students. It also allows you to set virtual “office hours” where students can sign up to meet with you via Zoom.
5 Minute Chats With Students. Source: CASEL

Q2: What health-related skills do you think are the most important to work on with your students during a time of crisis?

  • I do not know if I can say that one is more important than any other at any time, especially during a crisis, but I do know that we spent a lot of time on National Health Education Standards 7, 4 and 8 when we went remote last year.
  • NHES #4 — Communication, sub-skill: expressing empathy, care and concern. People have been through a lot. Students and families are hurting. This skill has profound power. Role play or scenario usage is a great way to have students practice expressing empathy, care and concern for someone else.
  • NHES #3 — Accessing valid health information, products and services. With all the “fake news” and false information on the Internet, social media and TV, students must utilize this skill constantly to protect their health and their family’s health.
  • Self-management, decision making/goal setting, and accessing valid resources are at the top for standards. Also, teaching the concepts of empathy, listening skills, and making it safe for students to ask for help.

Q3: What are some strategies you find effective in delivering quality health education to your students during a time of crisis?

  • One effective strategy was creating tasks with characters. Some students struggled with the new normal. Assignments that were too personal served as a source for more anxiety. Using characters allows student to explore topics on a less personal, more manageable level. The characters also allowed for all students to see all people in the material that was going home. It’s important for students to see themselves in their school community, but it’s also (maybe more) important for ALL students to see ALL people.
  • Do not be afraid to set the curriculum aside for the day. A common mistake schools make in a tragedy/crisis is to underestimate the initial and long-term impact. Then, offer emotional assistance immediately. The faster this is offered, the better the adjustment.
  • Include the topic of the crisis in all content and skills taught. Students need #COVID19 knowledge at this moment. It directly impacts their dimensions of wellness. ALL skills can be related to it in some way and many of the content areas can as well.
  • I have found that having everything centrally located for students is helpful. To help with this, virtual classrooms have been my students’ favorite along with a bulleted list of what is expected. Helps ease anxiety.
  • I have used Loom to record some of my lessons (including an Open House message to parents). I make these available via my LMS for students who might have missed class or for students who need to re-watch lessons.
  • I have been using the @peardeck tool for everything #voice #choice #feedback #assessments.
  • Keeping #SEL as the lens I look through. Last spring, I was happy I had already been using a daily gratitude practice with my students (“Write three things you are grateful for” as a “do now” intro activity).

Q4: In the time of school and/or community crisis, how might you approach sensitive content areas such as sex education, suicide, disease, and ATOD?

  • The approach to sensitive content has to start with the first day of school and the culture that you create. It’s not just how we as teachers handle sensitive content that makes students feel comfortable, but how their peers interact.
  • When delivering those lessons, no matter the skill being taught, focus on things like support and community. Each of those topics has areas where people can/need to be supported. When we teach support, the sentiment is transferable.
  • Facts & Routines. Both give students the opportunity to learn about a topic that is age and developmentally appropriate for them. They may also be directly impacted by the sensitive content that is being covered at that moment and need some guidance.
  • Know and follow your school/district’s curriculum and policies. Keep administration and parents informed prior to teaching. Keep a record of daily lesson plans and questions asked. Be in tune to the meaning behind the question. Use high quality, pre-approved material.
  • It takes a village. Start with a quality curriculum such as Be Real, Be Ready by @mrhealthteacher and adapt it for your students and circumstances. Bring in your administrators and communicate with the parents. Give materials to parents first for preview.
  • Weekly overview video displaying topics and skills covered on your home LMS dashboard. Give content warnings and trigger warnings.  
  • Communicate home to families, make resources available, provide opportunities for students to share how they feel about the sensitive content, make sure it is still relevant, and be as confident in your delivery as possible.

Q5: What tips do you have for handling students who are in crisis or who have recently had traumatic experiences and are returning to school?

  • Understand (and expect) that students are going to need latitude! Create and follow routines to help alleviate anxiety. Use restorative practices regularly.
  • Read as much as you can on trauma-informed teaching and how to run trauma-informed classrooms.
  • DO listen, have a plan, follow routines, set limits, but talk openly and frankly about the crisis. DON’T act as if nothing has happened, tell students it’s time to “move on,” expect students to get things done in a timely manner, or suggest they have grieved long enough.
  • Know warning signs for suicide and trauma. Know your school’s responsibilities and resources. Encourage students to confide in you. Refer students immediately. Escort them/connect them personally to a specific member of the Crisis Team. Advocate for the students if necessary.
  • If you start with only relationship building, the emphasis will be on the students and not the curriculum. This buys time to get to know your students and their circumstances and build a safe environment. This also gives students a slow start with no real responsibility.
  • Give students resources. I am making sure they have access to food, housing, health care and mental health care, etc. I have given them the application for school meals, food banks, etc. Have office hours for check-ins with students if they need it!
  • We are doing a virtual field trip to our school website exploring ACCESS: Services on campus.
  • Have learners understand the routine of the course and stick to it. Build a presence in the course that allows for learners to express opinions, emotions and respect each other. Here is a good article.

Q6: How do you intend to handle the topic of death and dying this year?

  • With love.
  • “Grieving students do not need for you to become an instant counselor. They do need for you to be there for them by letting them talk about their fears, concerns, and feelings. They need to feel safe and not judged by peers or supervisors.” —Ed Grassel
  • Allow students time to process by writing condolence letters/cards to friends and family. Producing #art that depicts grief and loss. Journaling. Creating a “safe space” where they can go. Organizing a memorial activity. Have a guest speaker who is an expert.
  • The American Psychological Association advises teachers that it is okay to acknowledge with students that bad things happen. At the same time, teachers can reassure their students that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents and teachers.
  • We will study grief and will have everyday check-ins at the start and end of the class if students want to chat with me.

Q7: How can members across the school community work together in times of crisis to ensure students continue to learn in #HealthEd?

  • As teachers, we need to understand that our administrators have not stopped since last March, and neither have we. We need to be compassionate and understanding, but also know how to advocate for our discipline.
  • Making strong connections between the current situations our students are facing and the skills/content that we teach in health will go a long way in helping to ensure that health education is not reduced.
  • Put students first and have patience with and compassion for one another!
  • Join your school’s #Crisis Team. Understand Psychological First Aid & #PTSD. Know about sadness.
  • This goes back to #WSCC. The whole child is what you’re educating and working together on building that community of learning is important.
  • Collaborate with your colleagues in your school/district on a regularly scheduled basis. Have a planned “Dilemma of the Week” time for sharing concerns and solutions. Learn from those in #healthed and in other subjects. Use local data/feedback to make decisions.
  • Make sure students have resources for basic needs. Create relationships first, then instruction. Give students tech and low-tech options. Take things slow. Model and give explicit instructions. Make videos on “how-to.” Tailor things back and focus on less.
  • I think we all need to share our “what works and what flops” materials online. When people just show a picture of what they have done but don’t give a link, teachers can’t take advantage of that resource.
  • Be patient. Remember that behaviors are symptoms of what is happening emotionally. We are all in this together. Be kind to others … and to yourself!
  • I have shared as much as I can on Health Teacher Central on Facebook to help those teachers who need it or new to the profession.

Q8: What strategies do you have for supporting teacher health (you and your colleagues) during a time of crisis?

  • Know you are not going to be perfect! You are going to make mistakes and you are going to have to be ok with that. Obviously work to fix them, but you are learning on the fly. Also, don’t forget what you teach your students! Practice what you preach!
  • Sometimes I feel like we have gotten distracted by the optics of what we’re doing, becoming graphic designers at times. At the same time, we need to be energized by our creativity right now. Fuel yourself, find balance, teach, and try to have fun.
  • Mental health checks with each other are needed. What’s working and what isn’t? What are you struggling with? Share resources, etc. #InThisTogether has so many meanings.
  • Things that you must do: have #health teacher staff meetings and check-ins regularly; monitor your own mental health; know when you need to reach out for help; schedule time off and take it; avoid stressful news and information before bedtime. #SLEEP is important.
  • Breaks, breathing, creating boundaries around work, grading, responding to emails, texts, projects. Checking in with your friends. Doing something you enjoy and getting away from the computer.
  • I send out a weekly wellness “playlist” to my entire school community. It includes workout videos I film for them, mindfulness, and mental health resources. This is built into students’ time during the day. I get lots of thank you emails from colleagues.
  • Begin tracking your time on planning, teaching, assessment. Also track time spent on self-care: physical (eating, exercise, sleep), mental (de-stressing, leisure activities), and the other DOWellness. If there is an imbalance, you MUST change it before burnout.
  • I believe it is very helpful to keep a consistent schedule. I schedule my workout at 4 p.m. every day and plan everything else around that. Eating healthy and working out during the day helps me sleep better at night. Triple threat works every time.

You can read the complete transcript of this Twitter chat here.

Additional Resources

Chad Dauphin

Chad Dauphin is a health educator at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, where he served as associate athletic director from 2006-2017. He has presented at several state and national conferences on the topics of health education and athletics and served on the SHAPE America Health Education Council. Chad is currently chair of the #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat task force. He can be reached at