I was fortunate enough to do a guest lecture for an additional qualification course for Ontario Health and Physical Education teachers, ranging from the primary to the secondary division, last week. One of the workshop participants asked me a really important question:
"Should we be asking parents/guardians for permission to have their child take part in my sexual health unit - whether it is through an email or a permission form?"
Every school has different policies and routines when it comes to preparing both students and their families for the sexual health unit. Regardless, I think it is important to look at this question from a different perspective.
I understand that teachers want to make sure that parents are well informed about what their child is learning in school, especially when it comes to subjects as sensitive as sexual health education. But let me frame this predicament in a different way: would you, as a teacher, send a permission form home before starting a new Math unit? Or a new Language unit? Would you email parents and guardians to ask for permission to teach the ecosystem in Science?
Some may argue that comparing Math, Language or Science to Health (or Human Development and Sexual Health specifically) is like comparing apples to oranges, but I beg to differ. The Ministry of Education spends a lot of resources to develop the most relevant and current curricula for students in Ontario. A lot of time, effort and thought was put into developing the Human Development and Sexual Health strand. As teachers, we have an obligation to follow the curricula.Therefore, we do not have to ask for permission to teach the content we have been provided by the Ministry.
Having said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong sharing ahead of time what your unit will look like. Many experienced and expert teachers I have spoken with tend to do the same thing every year - about two weeks prior to commencing the sexual health unit, they will send an email home outlining the topics that will be covered over the course of the unit, and at the end encourage parents/guardians to email back with any questions or comments they may have. Also, suggest parents/guardians to bring up these topics at home ahead of time to start the conversation about sexual health before it happens in the classroom. That way students, the teacher, and parents/guardians are all on the same page, and hopefully students will be coming to class more prepared ahead of time and ready to learn.
What you need to know about changes to Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curriculum, including Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education).
The Ontario Ministry of Education released a comprehensive review of the 2015 Sexual Health Education curriculum from Grades 1 to 12. They broke down the specific expectations and described the overall themes and topics covered in each grade.
What is in the Health and Physical Education curriculum? Active Living
Educating children with accurate and current information, skills and strategies to help them navigate a digital world can help keep them safe and healthy.
The Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education) component of the Health and Physical Education curriculum guides teachers to plan what they teach with the goal of establishing a foundation of mutual respect and understanding for diverse perspectives in the classroom. It will not replace the role of parents in educating their children about sexual health.
What will students learn in the Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education) section of the curriculum?The learning about Human Development and Sexual Health, like all the learning about healthy living in the curriculum, is focused on helping students learn about the things that contribute to their health and how to use that information to make healthy choices (and avoid potentially harmful ones) in their everyday lives.
Some of the information students will learn about this topic includes:
Grade 1 Students will learn:
Grade 2 Students will learn :
Grade 3 Students will learn:
Grade 4 Students will learn:
Today, children enter puberty earlier: on average, girls enter puberty between 8-13 years old and boys enter puberty between 9-14 years old.
Grade 5 Students will learn:
Grade 6 Students will learn:
By Grade 6, students have developed some self awareness and coping skills and also learned critical thinking and reflective skills to solve problems and examine issues, which they will apply to learning about stereotypes and assumptions.
Through challenging these stereotypes and assumptions, they not only continue to learn respect for others, but also self-confidence in their own identity.
Grade 7 Students will learn:
Teaching about sexual health and development does not increase sexual behaviour, and can actually prevent risky activity.
Grade 8 Students will learn about:
Grades 9-12 Students are required to take one Health and Physical Education credit in high school. However, they may choose to continue to take additional course in other grades. These courses build on learning from Grades 1-8. See below for what students will learn in the in the Human Development and Sexual Health component of those courses.
Grade 9 Students will learn about:
Students also learn about the potential implications of online activities (e.g., texting and sending personal photos) and how to use electronic technologies appropriately.
Grade 10 Students will learn:
Grade 11 Students will learn:
A fascinating article was published last summer, entitled "Colorado teen birthrate drops 40% with low-cost birth control."
"Colorado's teen birth rate dropped 40% between 2009 and 2013...in part due to a program that provides long-acting contraception to low-income women."
Providing resources is just part of the package of providing holistic and impactful sexual health education. In addition to providing access to resources such as (affordable) birth control, we also need to provide information to youth to allow them to make informed choices that best suit their needs. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) - such as in the case of this article - is one of many different birth control methods for females. Oral contraceptives, the patch, and others are available, all of which have their pros and cons (which I will describe in a later post. Stay tuned!)
To read more, visit:
My thesis - Best Practices and Obstacles Teaching Sexual Health Education at the High School Level - is available for viewing on the University of Toronto's website.
Ontario’s implemented Sexual Health Education (SHE) curricula are the oldest sexual health curricula across Canada (Oliver et al., 2013; Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000). Implementing outdated SHE curricula is problematic since many topics related to sexual health are not addressed, such as the influence of social media on sexuality and discussing the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities (Murray, 2011). Also, Ontario’s SHE frames sexual health narrowly, emphasizing the biology and risks of sexual activity (Meaney et al., 2009) while failing to consider the healthy, positive, and “normative” aspects of sexual development (Salehi & Flicker, 2010). SHE has been a longstanding source of controversy among parents, students, and religious groups, yet teachers’ views remain virtually nonexistent (Ninomiya, 2010). Four experienced Ontario high school teachers were interviewed for this study using semi-structured interviews. Interviews focused on exploring best practice strategies for and obstacles to teaching SHE in Grades 9 through 12, as well as recommended changes for Ontario’s SHE curricula in Grades 9 through 12. Using a Critical Pedagogy framework, various themes emerged under best practice strategies (e.g. take a student-centred teaching approach by letting students decide which topics they would like to explore in SHE), obstacles (e.g. backlash due to sensitivity, cultural and religious beliefs), and direction for change (e.g. introduce sexual health topics in earlier grades).
If you would like to read the entire paper, please visit https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/68771
Image source: http://andiswa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/home.jpg
Lesson Title: Let’s Talk
Learning how to communicate to maintain healthy and satisfactory relationships – both platonic and romantic – is one of the main objectives of the new Human Development and Sexual Health strand of Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curricula. Whether you are 6 years old or 60, learning how to communicate effectively with others is very important.
Throughout my undergraduate studies in psychology, I learned that one of the most common issues that arise among children and adults alike are faulty communication skills. Take a moment to reflect on a recent experience when you had a dispute with a friend, a colleague, a partner, and the like. When you were communicating with this person, how were you expressing yourself? More often than not, when we try to communicate – especially during a challenging or upsetting experience – we place a lot of blame (if not, all the blame) on the other person, which leads the other person to become defensive. It is not healthy or productive to communicate in such a way, though it is easy to default to “You upset me! This is your fault! How could you do this to me?”
I was recently speaking with a clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (currently, one of the most commonly practiced therapies in psychology) who works with pre-teens to adults. He gives each of his clients a worksheet with an exercise to practice effective communication skills. The worksheet looks like this:
“I feel ____insert basic emotion ____because ____insert what happened____. I would appreciate ____insert specific request ____.”
This dialogue is non-threatening. Instead of blaming the person with which you are communicating, you are explaining how you are feeling because of your interpretation of what happened. This allows the other person to understand where you're coming from and hopefully they will respond similarly when explaining how they feel. Then, the two of you can reach a compromise while remaining empathetic to each others' feelings and needs.
When describing how you feel, use “basic emotions” that a six year old would understand – regardless if you are speaking with an adult or a child. Some “basic emotions” include happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, and so on. Disappointed or frustrated may be what you initially think you’re feeling, but do you think a 6 year old would truly understand that language? Likely not. At the core of disappointment and frustration are usually anger, sadness and/or surprise, so use those terms instead.
Let’s say, for example, you are supposed to meet a friend for a movie at 7 pm, but she arrives at 7:20 pm without letting you know she was running late. This is what a conversation would look like not using the dialogue above:
“I can’t believe you were 20 minutes late. We’re going to miss the movie now. Why didn’t you call me? Or send me a text? You obviously don’t respect my time.”
If you were to use the dialogue "script" above, it may sound something like this:
“I feel angry because we are going to be late for the movie. I would appreciate if you give me a quick text or phone call to let me know that you are running late.”
This communication tool can also be used for positive experiences. People enjoy praise and being complimented. “I feel happy because we got to see a movie together. I appreciate spending time with you because you're a lot of fun to be around, and I hope we can do this more often!”
How to use this activity with your students
1. Ask your students to get into pairs. Ask students to label themselves as Person A and Person B.
2. Ask them to reflect on a recent experience when they were upset with someone.
3. Ask students to role play using the dialogue above. Alternatively, students can make up a situation and role play. Person A starts by using the dialogue script above and Person B can respond. Give students a couple minutes to go back and forth to elaborate on the situation or use different emotions/scenarios. Then students can switch roles. (*Note* Depending on the age of your students, it may be helpful to show them some examples or role play with a student volunteer to model what the conversation would look like).
4. Have a class discussion about how the exercise made them feel. Do they feel more confident about communicating their needs? What did they find effective (or not effective) about this strategy? Ask how they can see themselves using this in their lives.
Relevant Specific Expectations from the Ontario curricula
Grade 3: C1.3 identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., accepting differences, being inclusive, communicating openly, listening, showing mutual respect and caring, being honest) and describe ways of overcoming challenges (e.g., bullying, exclusion, peer pressure, abuse) in a relationship
Grade 6: C2.5 describe how they can build confidence and lay a foundation for healthy relationships by acquiring a clearer understanding of the physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during adolescence (e.g., physical: voice changes, skin changes, body growth; social: changing social relationships, increasing influence of peers; emotional: increased intensity of feelings, new interest in relationships with boys or girls, confusion and questions about changes)
Grade 12: C1.3 demonstrate an understanding of how relationships develop through various stages, and describe the skills and strategies needed to maintain a satisfactory relationship as the relationship evolves (e.g., communication and interpersonal skills, adaptive and coping skills, conflict resolution strategies)