By John Henry Ledwith | March 21, 2017
Senior Sales Manager, ETR
Are you rested? Did you have breakfast? How many glasses of water did you drink today?
These three markers of healthy behavior—sleep, nutrition, hydration—are on my mind at the moment. One of my young adult sons is pursuing a career in the commercial film industry. It’s exciting work, but it can also be demanding. He just completed a job that required him to be awake and on task for over 24 hours.
I spoke with him after the wrap this morning. He was hitting rush hour traffic and struggling mightily to stay awake. He’d done well on the shoot. He scored points in the field. And he’d spent an entire day and a long night at this shoot virtually living on caffeine.
I told him I was proud of his accomplishments. Then I told him to go home, turn off his phone and get some sleep.
Sleep, water, food. These three elements are basic to human sustainability. When we take them in good measure, they help us pay attention to school and work. They lift and sustain our creativity. They keep our brains happy and healthy.
But children, teens and adults alike skimp on all three. I could do better. My son could do better. Chances are your students could do better, too.
How can we support healthy practices among students in these three areas—and, by extension, other areas essential for better health? (1) We can learn more about the science behind student health risks and practices. (2) We can use what we learn and know as we conceptualize how we teach about health. (3) We can lead the way by teaching effectively.
Three of my friends and colleagues offer great examples of these steps.
A good night’s sleep doesn’t just help people feel rested. According to my friend, sleep specialist Dr. Erin Cassidy-Eagle, how we sleep directly affects mechanisms in the brain. In this fascinating post, she highlights some of the particular issues facing adolescents who don’t get enough sleep. “The challenges adolescents face at baseline, simply through the normal process of human development,” she explains, “are in many cases exactly those exacerbated by poor sleep.” She’s talking about adolescent emotions, impulses, risks, sexual dynamics, alcohol and other drug use, depression, anxiety and more.
Sleep is important to all of us. It is vital for adolescents.
Hilda Quiroz has spent a lot of time on the front lines of health education, especially teaching elementary students. She’s one of the authors of HealthSmart, ETR’s comprehensive school health program.
When Hilda worked with the team that first developed HealthSmart, she talked a lot about water. Lessons on drinking plenty of water showed up in the earliest grades. Students are encouraged to set a goal, get support from family and friends, and report back to the class on how they’re doing.
Why the big focus on something most kids are probably already doing reasonably well? It’s a perfect model for building healthy practices in other areas. Water is easy to access, it’s essentially free, and it doesn’t take any special skill to drink a few cups a day. Setting goals about water gets kids to start practicing healthy choices (drinking water) over less healthy ones (drinking soda). They can achieve success early on, and at the same time build a basic value for healthy behaviors.
Dr. Susan Telljohann is one of my heroes in the health education field . Here’s a strategy she’s used in early morning classes where maybe five of 35 students have eaten breakfast.
First, she helps the class learn about the benefits of breakfast. Then she works with them to brainstorm easy breakfast strategies. She surveys them regularly about whether they’ve had breakfast. By the end of the term, 25 or 30 students have usually become regular breakfast eaters. (She tells that story in this must-read post about the 15 Characteristics of Health Education.)
Of course, our own actions also influence those we seek to teach. How do you take care of yourself in these three areas? What do your students see in your own behaviors?
I’m keeping myself hydrated while I pursue step challenges with friends (and I’ve got that Fitbit cranking!). I’m making an effort to turn off my technology an hour before bedtime. And recently, my lucky colleagues helped me finish up many boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, so I suspect all of our diets have improved. (Editor’s note: John Henry purchased 17 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies from the daughter of an ETR staffer. He taught that Scout a few of the finer points of salesmanship in the process.)
What are some of the things you’ve done with students to build better, healthier behaviors around sleep, water, nutrition and other essential health practices? How do you measure their changes and your success in teaching?
I’d love to hear about what’s working for you.
John Henry Ledwith is ETR’s Senior Sales Manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s walked 13,147 steps in the past 24 hours and would love to hear comments on this post.