By Diana Andrews | June 27, 2017
PREP Program Manager, Garfield County PREP
I thought the really hard work had already been done. Three years ago, when I became the PREP Program Manager for Garfield County, Colorado, my predecessor had already gotten so many things accomplished.
She endured contentious parent meetings and appointments with reluctant school administrators and staff. She attended town halls and delivered board presentations. She succeeded in convincing two of our three school districts to adopt the National Health Education Standards, which mandate that comprehensive health be taught in the schools.
As impressive as her achievements were, however, it turns out that may have been the easy part!
The hardest part may be getting new staff trained. In our setting, we only need a few teachers trained now and then, here and there. We’re missing the critical mass that makes group trainings feasible.
Teacher retention in our rural, high cost-of–living environment is a constant challenge. We’ve got one district centralized with health teachers who only teach health. We’ve got another district that is decentralized, and no health teachers who only teach health. And did I mention that one district is on a four-day school week, while the other has early release on Wednesday? Their calendars don’t match for anything, other than the fact that they both get weekends off.
Needless to say, scheduling a Training of Facilitators (TOF) that works equally well for both districts is a monumental and on-going challenge. Coordinating these districts to allow their teachers the time out of classroom that is required is an extraordinarily difficult process.
We’ve found that it’s helpful to follow some basic principles to keep a teen pregnancy prevention program running through the revolving door of new teaching staff. Here are Garfield County PREP’s ABC’s for keeping teachers trained during times of turnover.
Adjust the time in the training classroom. We have created a two-day agenda with the mindset that teachers don’t need to be taught how to teach. They also don’t need to be taught how to manage a classroom, although we do bring in current information about classroom management from a trauma-informed perspective.
We focus most of our instruction on the nuances of teaching sexual health, and how this compares with other topics. We talk about the importance of fidelity. We work on making adaptations that protect the integrity of the core elements while tailoring the messages to our students.
We also address the importance of remaining value neutral and practice skills that help in this effort. Teach-backs are included as a pathway to discussing the core elements, demonstrating what “value-neutral” sounds like, and using best practices to answer anonymous questions.
Block scheduling can be one of your best assets. Luckily, both our districts do have block scheduling in common. One day they offer Lesson 1 in our curriculum to a group of students. Our PREP team leads this lesson with the teacher observing.
The same lesson is taught the very next day, but to a different group of students. On the second day, the classroom teacher teaches the lesson. A trained PREP facilitator observes and provides immediate coaching in the form of written and verbal feedback. Teachers can ask questions right then or through email or phone calls later. This has turned out to be an effective way to model the lessons and provide feedback to newly trained teachers.
Sometimes block scheduling isn’t an option. In that situation, here are some other B’s we like.
Bridge the gap in teachers’ learning curve. Be willing to model the lessons. New teachers should see the lessons modeled at least once, and more often if possible. This allows the teacher to observe the content and its pacing. It also allows them to become more comfortable using medically accurate terminology and phrasing to educate, while connecting that language clearly to the youths’ use of slang terms. These are also opportunities to point out strategies for remaining value-neutral and emphasize the importance of vocabulary in creating an inclusive, safe environment for all students.
Continued support and Communication are essential. Teachers understand that evaluation of programs is a requirement of our funding. We always remind them that we are not there only to collect the data. We also want to answer questions, enhance their teaching with additional supplies and resource materials, and provide continuous technical assistance. In Garfield County, we have set up networking opportunities through monthly Friday Afternoon Clubs. Newsletters or Facebook Groups can be useful avenues to offer additional FYI’s or webinar opportunities. These strategies can also help foster a feeling of community that sexual health educators often lack from their peers.
We extend our ABC’s to include D and E: Remain Diligent but Empathetic. Teaching sexual health is not a main priority for many of our teachers—or their administrators, for that matter. Everyone agrees it’s important, and they all have many other issues to juggle in any given day.
Standards and mandates at district, state and federal levels consume every educational process and decision. Teachers may be tasked with teaching up to four grade levels every day, requiring a fast-paced switching of content, activities and materials. Besides the core curriculum (which does not include sexual health), they have to attend to classroom management, students who need extra attention, homework, parents, professional development, extra-curricular demands and so much more!
Perhaps the hardest part of keeping trained teachers in the school is remembering that it’s not about you. It’s not about the data. It’s not about the curriculum. It’s about the basic elements needed to create an environment where administrators feel vindicated, teachers feel supported and appreciated, parents feel heard, and students feel safe in their ability to seek knowledge from trusted adults. It’s about genuine, honest, helpful relationships that allow everyone to flourish.
Diana Andrews is the PREP Program Manager for Garfield County in Colorado. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.