5 Remote Teaching Tips for Your Virtual Health Education Classroom

As 2021 begins and the pandemic continues, teachers around the world have returned to their virtual classrooms. Most of us are unsure of how long remote teaching will continue and have little clarity on what the rest of the school year looks like.

Since moving my health education classes online last spring, I have worked to ensure that I do the best I can with what I have, aiming to keep my teaching sustainable — both for me and for my students.

In this article, I’ll be sharing an example of a four-week health education unit on personal health goal setting that I did just before the winter holiday — as well as the strategies that laid the groundwork for the unit.

Along the way, I will include additional examples of how to use these 5 remote teaching tips in your virtual health education classroom.

1. Keep it relevant.

As teachers, we know that engaging and effective health education is about making learning relevant, relatable, and up to date. As we move through the rest of the school year, it is critical to ask ourselves, “What do students need or want right now?”

The timing for my personal health goal-setting unit came after students were sent back to virtual learning after being in school for the first few months of the year. It felt like a little blow to be back online. Figuring out how to take care of themselves at home was relevant to my students’ current circumstances.

We started with a Dimensions of Wellness lesson from Andy Milne. Jessica Matheson made a great online adaptation of the lesson. Next, students set a S.M.A.R.T. goal that they would work toward for the following 30 days. We used the F.I.T.T principle to make a weekly action plan, talked a ton about both time management and stress management, and periodically checked in on our goal.

How to apply this elsewhere:

2. Focus on the skills.

Skills-based health education helps students develop the tools they need to take care of their well-being for years to come. We teach our students skills by modeling and providing guided practice in “real life” scenarios.

In the personal health goal-setting unit, I modeled the skill by setting my own goal to walk a designated number of steps per day. Not only did I share my initial goal with my students, I modeled the progress check-in and reflection process. This provided my students with an example and it ended up keeping me accountable to my own self-care as well.

I had ample opportunity to talk to my students about the health benefits of walking (an exercise we all have access to right now) and being outdoors.

How to apply this elsewhere:

  • Think about what skills are most relevant and “real world” to your current students. 
  • Here are a few examples for interpersonal communication skills practice that can be done online:
    • Implement written or verbal role-play activities.
    • Use digital platforms for class discussion or virtual gallery walks.
    • Have students interview their community members.
    • Have students practice scheduling doctor’s appointments or accessing other health services.
  • Ideas for practicing advocacy skills:
    • Combine with “accessing information” for students to research and advocate for health disparities.
    • Have students present their advocacy campaign or peer teach with PSAs.

3. Keep it simple.

I kept the same general structure for every lesson. This helped streamline the process for me and allowed students to always know what to expect. Not overcomplicating things is something we could all benefit from right now.

My lesson activities incorporated CASEL’s SEL 3 Signature Practices:

  1. Welcoming inclusion activities
  2. Engaging strategies, brain breaks, and transitions
  3. An optimistic closure

Lessons looked like this:

  • Intro check-in activity: I screenshared from my slideshow for the first five minutes of class starting right as students arrive on Zoom. This allowed me to integrate some SEL into lessons by encouraging students to check in with their emotional well-being.
  • Mini-meditation: Using Headspace or Youtube videos, we completed a short, one- to three-minute meditation. We talked about finding time each day to be mindful and to check in with our breathing. I made a Youtube playlist with some of my favorite resources to share with students.
  • Breakout Rooms: I used these at least once per class, often for students to share their response to the check-in questions with one another or for group discussions about lesson content. Heather Giovenco recently tweeted about allowing student choice in breakout rooms, based on what level of independence they wanted during individual work time. I used a tip from Scott Todnem for making one extra room, in order to check in individually with students while others worked in groups.
  • Reflection or check-out activity: This was another chance for SEL self-management integration, as well as a way for me to collect formative data on how students were doing or progressing in their learning. Often this included asking students about their plans for self-care throughout the rest of the day or over the weekend. My focus here was to help students feel empowered to take care of themselves.
  • Lastly, throughout the unit students documented their engagement and work in a “virtual notebook” made from a SlidesMania template. This was the only document the students needed to keep track of; it’s where they set their goal, built their action plan, documented progress towards their goal, reflected, and even self-assessed their work for a summative grade. I used the comments feature, plus “stickers” to deliver feedback to students along the way, which they could refer to when self-assessing at the end of the unit. Students commented that it was helpful to have their work centralized and that it felt well organized and easy to follow.

How to apply this elsewhere:

  • Encourage social interaction and group work when possible. Breakout rooms in Google Meet and Zoom have slightly different features, so it helps to get comfortable with the platform you are using specifically.
  • Look for ways to streamline. Do better, not more … when it comes to your planning and what you are asking students to navigate.
  • Consider using a digital journal or portfolio for students to write and respond to prompts, or to document their work in one location.

4. Organize and prioritize.

Back in the spring when schools were first moving online, there was a whirlwind of platforms offering free services, people recommending programs, and even PD sessions on how to use tools during virtual learning. Even as someone who loves integrating technology into my teaching … it felt overwhelming.

I decided to focus on the tools that felt the easiest for me to navigate and the most effective for the time they took to set up. For me this includes:

  • Canva for all my slideshow presentations. To me it is the most user-friendly way to make visual supports for lessons. Students have commented on the quality of my slideshows, including shout-outs from specific students with learning needs that benefit from visual supports. I also prefer presenting Canva slideshows directly from the platform.
  • Google Suite for Educators for so many things! All my planning and assessment tasks are Google Docs or Slides, and I use Google Forms for surveying or collecting anonymous feedback from students. Jamboard can act like a virtual whiteboard or a way for students to collaborate in breakout rooms. Everything lives in Google Drive folders, keeping me organized throughout.
  • Mentimeter for anonymous reflections, crowdsourcing, or brainstorming. I share a link and code with the students during class for them to access it simultaneously.
  • Flipgrid for students to record and submit videos. So far, I have used this the least because I find it time consuming to provide feedback to students on this platform. However, it is a great way for students to give virtual peer feedback.

How to apply this elsewhere:

  • Do your best to not overcomplicate things with technology.
  • Recently, I read Victoria Thompson’s slogan “find your five.” I love the idea of focusing on five go-to tech tools or apps that you can utilize with comfort.  
  • Pick the tools that work best with your school or district’s learning management system — and work best with how you are teaching (synchronous, asynchronous, hybrid, etc.).
  • If you are learning new tech tools, take it slow and be kind to yourself.

5. Look through a social and emotional learning (SEL) lens.

This was a big takeaway for me from an Institute for Social Emotional Learning (IFSEL) workshop I attended last year: Meeting my students’ social and emotional learning needs means looking at everything I do through an SEL lens.

For me, this means finding ways to connect with students, to encourage their self-awareness and self-management, and to build overall emotional intelligence, while giving them feedback and support throughout.

How to apply this:

One last note on integrating SEL

Do it along with your students.

During the goal-setting unit, I reflected on the SEL check-in questions on my own. I modeled practicing gratitude to students. I turned my camera off and meditated with my students. I stayed accountable to the S.M.A.R.T. goal I modeled to my students, which helped my well-being as well.

Integrate SEL into your virtual health education classroom to support your well-being, as well as that of your students. Take time each day to check in with yourself, practice gratitude and kindness, reach out to people in your PLN, and remember that even on days when you question whether you are doing the right thing, you are doing the best you can with what you’ve got.

Additional Resources

Emily Zien

Emily is a health and PE teacher currently based in Milan, Italy. Her goal is to be remembered by students as someone who helped them feel empowered to take care of their health and well-being. Emily has a master’s degree in Education and a Google Educator Level 2 certification. You can follow her on Twitter @Ms_Zien.