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Numb-An Understatement

By: Anita Scheffer

I came across this short film the other day. It was featured in a @huffingtonpost article by Associate Editor, Al Donato, and I thought to myself, “Wow…this 15-year old teen girl was able to sum up what every adolescent has felt, or continues to feel throughout what adults keep referring to as the”new normal.” Is it though? Is any of this normal? I don’t think I can ever bring myself to refer to it as such.

Liv McNeil, a 15-year-old student at Etobicoke School of the Arts in the Toronto area, created her short film called “Numb”, based on her real-life experience of “numbness” related to #remotelearning. And she nailed it. The overwhelming daily routine of checking emails and completing assignments in #GoogleClassroom day in and day out, while in complete isolation in her room, is portrayed perfectly.

“Numb” by Liv McNeil with credit to Al Donato, Associate Editor, HuffPost Canada, June 22, 2020


Throughout #quarantine, we have listened to our students, and for some of us, our own young children and teens, share their feelings about what it’s been like to have their lives brought to a halt. Imagine a 5-year old leaving Kindergarten on a Friday in March, and being told they were not going to be going back to school on Monday because of a #pandemic. A what??

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for parents of little ones to explain what all of it meant. How frightened they must have been hearing the words virus, disease, quarantine, and even death. Not being able to see the teacher they loved and all of their friends. And how about the 7th grader whose Bar Mitzvah was in two weeks and it had to be canceled because everything was shut down. The 16-year old girls (like my own twin daughters and all of their friends) whose Sweet Sixteen parties and plans would be canceled with no chance of rescheduling. Dance recitals, canceled. No proms. Sleepaway camp, done. Vacations canceled. School sports, not even an option, with no clue as to when they will ever resume. Virtual high school graduations or no graduation at all. And finally, the college kids, both those who were counting the moments to move into their dorm for the first time, or the athlete that didn’t get to play their last season before finishing college. There are just too many to mention. All of them equally painful from the perspective of a child who has zero control over the situation. We must recognize this, remember how we feel when we have no control, and help guide them through these very confusing events by listening and offering healthy suggestions for them to manage their emotions. Sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, resentment…just a few of the emotions kids have been experiencing for the last four and a half months. We feel it too. and as adults, many of us don’t know how to handle our own emotions, let alone theirs.

Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Soul crushing daily routine has become the norm during these months of pandemic isolation.” -Al Donato

So what can we do as teachers and parents to help children manage so much disappointment and uncertainty while preparing for a very different school year that is only weeks away? For one thing, as parents, we need to remain positive (Ha!) and watch what we say when our children are around. It’s very easy to become heightened and start complaining about a school district, teachers, our beliefs regarding COVID, a particular group of people… Just spend a few moments reading through your local Moms’ Group on Facebook, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s not easy to remain calm, and they are watching and listening to our words, body language, facial expressions, etc.

Photo Credit: ICT LEARN: Education That Inspires

As far as we teachers are concerned, this is going to be a very novel experience for ALL of us; one that we will remember for a lifetime. We scratched the surface of what it was like to teach remotely in the spring, and it was daunting for everyone involved in the process. Some will be #remote-teaching from the get-go. Others will be face-to-face. The rest will be using some type of hybrid model. It is of the utmost importance that we practice #self-care so we can be there to support our students in any way possible.

Many health educators have had their classes completely removed from the school day. Allow yourself to grieve, because this is indeed, a loss. Those of us that are fortunate enough to still have a schedule will find ourselves beginning the school year with very different looking “ice-breakers.” Many of our students are going to be coming back to school, no matter what type of plan their district has in place, having experienced some form of #trauma. This can’t be ignored. Some have lost grandparents or have parents that are jobless as a direct result of #COVID. Ours is the class that will allow students to use their voices and share what the last few months have been like for them. We will feel like therapists, and that’s OK. Kids need to feel safe and comfortable, and we all know that the most important thing for us to do is form trusting relationships with our students right away, while keeping them (and us) healthy.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Our curriculum focus should be on #SEL or social and emotional learning and #selfmanagement with the use of skills-based health activities. #SBHE. The CASEL Guide to School-wide SEL (@casel.org) is an excellent resource for promoting SEL as part of a young person’s development. I love their definition and description of the program and the resources are endless and free.

“A systemic, school-wide approach to SEL intentionally cultivates a caring, participatory, and #equitable learning environment and evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional, and academic growth. This approach requires a coordinated strategy across classrooms, schools, homes, and communities.”

Another resource I have been spending time adding to my repertoire is EVERFI @EVERFIK12, a site that offers free digital lessons that focus on #compassion, #character, and overall #mental-wellness and #self-management. There is something available for every grade level. Check out this page and the video that describes the program here: Mental Wellness Basics

There are so many more amazing options out there and I have found Twitter to be so valuable this summer with regard to connecting and collaborating with like-minded professionals #PLN as we plan for the new school year. Let’s keep Liv’s short film in mind when planning our workloads, as well as our students’, and let’s strive to work together as professionals so no one experiences what it feels like to be “numb.”

Be well and stay healthy!

The Dimensions of Health and a New Twist on the Wellness Wheel

By: Anita Scheffer

Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

If you’re a teacher, then I’m sure you will agree that you have no idea where the last two months have gone because of how busy you’ve been. Honestly though, I feel as if we were just in the month of March, transitioning over to full remote teaching and learning. We spent the summer on all things professional development, packing up classrooms, and preparing for whatever situation we were going to be heading into. I worked so hard over the summer, as many teachers did, to create exciting virtual lessons in the event we were fully virtual again. I even attended the @AMLE Virtual Summer Camp.

The district I teach in went back face-to-face with several classes of students who opted to learn virtually, so I am teaching multiple different ways this year. While emptying my classroom during the summer, I had a moment where I felt very sad and overwhelmed for all of us in education, especially the students. This was going to be a year we would never forget. Here we are, almost two full months into the school year, and while our experiences might be different, one thing is for certain; remaining positive and teaching children as best as we can, is our top priority, no matter what the circumstances. And I have to say, I kinda like my cart now.

I always begin the year with icebreakers and introductory activities, immediately followed by Dimensions of Health and the Wellness Wheel. For years, I taught the Health Triangle which is what I learned way back when I was a student at Hunter College in New York City. Don’t get me wrong, I love using the Health Triangle for a quick introduction to the three main components of health, but once I was introduced to the Eight Dimensions, I had such an appreciation for the many aspects of health that are important for our students to recognize and remember.

The Health Triangle is made of up three sides, each representing an important side of our health that we want to be balanced. They are of equal importance and influence one another in both positive and negative ways. The Dimensions of Health/Wellness Wheel is in the shape of a circle, and includes eight different aspects of health, all of which interact together to determine our quality of life or well-being.

A few years ago, when I was revamping my sixth grade health curriculum, I was looking for and creating lessons that were skills and project-based. I stumbled across Janelle Kay’s Project School Wellness curriculum and was instantly excited to incorporate her lessons into my teaching. The Wellness Wheel activity is available for free on her website. How cool is that? The goal is to help students to understand that “health is multidimensional” and that “everything is connected.” Through this activity, we want them to learn that it is important to “thrive instead of merely just surviving.” Some may say that this is a lesson for older children, but I feel that it is imperative to teach higher order thinking and get kids to have a positive growth mindset as early as possible.

Photo Courtesy of Janelle Kay

Initially, I had my students fill out the wheel on printed handouts. I had them take a look at what they do well in each particular area, as well as what they needed to improve upon in order to have healthy futures. One semester, I decided to have them use the handout as a draft and then turn it into an art project. I have so many students who love to draw, so they were all over this suggestion. The students who either didn’t like to, or couldn’t draw, asked if they could create their wheels on the computer. One student asked if the wheel had to be round, and I asked what shape she would rather it be, and she said, “how about a flower or a heart?” So I told her to have at it, and a new take on the Wellness Wheel was born. Every year I look forward to this project and the artistic creations my students come up with. They are setting goals and making positive life changes, while at the same time, having fun.

Another amazing activity that can be used to teach the Dimensions of Health is Andrew Milne’s @carmelhealth Dimensions of Wellness card game which can be found on his #slowchathealth blog. “Students deal out cards that represent the 10 dimensions of wellness and decide whether that card would indicate a more or less healthy student.” This game can be used with middle and high school students, however, you would need to use your own discretion with the younger children when it comes to the cards dealing with sexuality.

Photo Courtesy of Andrew Milne

The cards are pre-made and ready for printing and laminating. I made several sets so students could be separated into groups. Now that we are in the midst of COVID, unfortunately, we won’t be sharing anything in the classroom, but there is no reason why we can’t use these virtually with the help of @GoogleSlides, @peardeck or @nearpod with our face-to-face students. I love that these cards provide students with ready-made situations to think about and discuss.

No matter how you decide to teach the components of health, always keep in mind that we want to walk away from that lesson knowing that our students were able to think for themselves, set goals for the future, and in this case, have fun while learning how.

Differentiating Between “Real” and “Fake” News in the Media

-Anita Scheffer-

Back in March, when we educators were dealing with the peak of COVID-19, quarantine, and our “new normal” of teaching remotely, Andrew Milne, a fellow health educator and member of my #HealthEd #pln tweeted about a “microblog” he was going to be featuring on his blog, #slowchathealth. I was already a loyal follower, so I decided to send him a message telling him I was very interested in participating. This was going to be my first-ever article/blog post, so I was beyond excited about being a guest blogger on his site. If ever there was a time to take a closer look at our students and their ability to differentiate between “real” and “fake” news, this was it!

We are in the midst of constant dissemination of information from thousands of sources as we face one of the most unprecedented and unbelievably stressful times in our lives with COVID-19. What can we do as health educators to ensure that kids can examine sources, spot fake news, and protect themselves from lies and unnecessary fears? A favorite site of mine called Webwise.ie has a great short video that explains what fake news is as an introduction to the topic. For starters, it is suggested that we refer to ”fake news” as “false information”, because the term “fake news” is all too often associated with politics. 

Explained: What is Fake news? | Social Media and Filter Bubbles

Why is it a problem?  

False information poses a threat to young minds because there is a steady flow of misleading stories influencing every aspect of their lives. The sheer volume and content they are exposed to daily via social media, the government, politicians, and the general public can be both overwhelming and confusing. This is true no matter what type of information they are privy to, as viewing valid information can be just as daunting. 

Whether it is through Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube or any other media outlet, 95% of children who own Smartphones (www.neatoday.org, 2013) are exposed to information their young minds are too emotionally immature to handle. The World Economic Forum refers to this alarming spread of misinformation as “digital wildfires” in our “hyper-connected” world. (www.weforum.org, 2013) The idea behind feed-scrolling on these sites is that repetition will lead to belief. The end result of some of these beliefs can lead to high levels of anxiety. About one-third of teens surveyed by the CDC said they felt persistent sadness or hopelessness. Social media, says John Richter, director of Public Policy at the Mental Health Association, is exacerbating this trend. It can be polarizing as we see with political discourse and anxiety-inducing as we’ve been seeing with media coverage of the current pandemic.

What can we do?

It’s up to us to teach our students to take the time to seek out what is true in a virtual world that is often filled with lies and misinformation. In order to do so, we must provide them with the resources so they may recognize conspiracy sites as well as people with little to no experience claiming to be health experts. I’d like to consider us health experts who can help them in this area. I’ve been teaching middle school students how to spot fak information, analyze propaganda, and practice media literacy for thirty years. Ultimately, I know we all want social media to be constructive, and for our students to be able to make informed decisions using the correct platforms. They also need to know when to give their brains a break. 

The following sites/lessons have proved to be beneficial when teaching these concepts to my middle school students. 

How to Teach Your Students About Fake News – Lesson Plan

Don’t Get Tricked By Fake News! – Teacher-Created Lesson Plan

Fake News — What’s the Big Deal?

PBS Learning Media Fake News Collection

Evaluating Sources in a Post-Truth World

In Conclusion

Now is as good a time as any to remind young people that we are living in a world that is inundated with information that is targeting their impressionable brains, and that this information is often both false and damaging to their overall well-being. As adults, we must also be vigilant to root out this misinformation in both our private and professional lives.

It’s always good to know your “Why”, so here’s mine…

#kidsdeservehealthed #healthedheroes #mywhy #teachingiscontagious #HealthEd #HPEatHome

I don’t want to sound cliche and say that I teach because I love kids, but from a very early age, I really knew that I did! It started with nursing school and an internship in pediatric oncology. I just couldn’t do it because I came home crying every day after watching a child undergo chemotherapy or die. So I decided that instead of being around sick children, I wanted to be around healthy ones. And I was going to be the one who helped keep them healthy. I changed my major, landed my first position as a middle school health educator right out of college, and I never looked back. That was 30 years ago. 

Kids are so impressionable in middle school, and they need people like us to help them advocate for themselves and make decisions based on their own values and beliefs. I teach them how to do that, and that is beyond rewarding and satisfying. I can be myself with my students. We understand each other. They love and respect me and that does wonders for my mental health! I love to inspire them and watch them grow and change throughout the school year, and to know that I had something to do with that because of what I teach, is humbling, and I wouldn’t change a thing.