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Skills for Health Education Teachers

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Physical Education, Fitness, and Sport-9th Edition by Daryl L. Siedentop & Hans van der Mars.

By Sarah Benes, EdD, MPH, CHES, and Holly Alperin, EdM, MCHES

Being a school health educator requires an individual who both understands the content area of health education and has the necessary skills to be an educator in the classroom. For our purposes, the design of classroom instruction in health education is guided at a global level by SHAPE America’s (2015a) Appropriate Practices in School-Based Health Education. Whether in a classroom or a public or community health setting, health educators have some differences but at their core share competencies and skill sets. In this section we explore some of the similarities and differences. To do this, we will look at two guiding documents: National Standards for Initial Health Education Teacher Education (SHAPE America, 2018b) and Areas of Responsibility, Competencies and Sub-Competencies for Health Education Specialist Practice Analysis II 2020 (National Center for Health Education Credentialing [NCHEC], 2020).

Need and Capacity

In any health education setting, it is important to understand the needs of the population with which you are working. Any health initiative is destined to fail if planning does not include an assessment of the target population. In a school setting, educators might evaluate student risk data, local and state rates of morbidity and mortality with the school-age population, and both qualitative and quantitative evidence collected from school administration. In addition, it is important to consider local and state standards for health education; school district priorities and goals; and the norms, values, and attitudes of the community. Through the lens of student outcomes, health educators can work to design a curriculum that is based in need, is functional for student achievement, and meets the needs of diverse learners (SHAPE America, 2015b, 2018b).

In a public and community health setting, needs assessment will take on a larger scope. First, a purpose for the intervention must be identified, a priority population is noted, and then data are collected to better understand the needs and issues affecting the community. Then, through data analysis, a better understanding of the health behavior in question might lead to the development of an intervention for the target population (NCHEC, 2020).

No matter the setting, taking the time to understand the data for the target population—in schools this means the student population—is critical to designing a curriculum that is relevant, applicable, and meaningful. In a public and community health setting, the target population is often broader and might require a more in-depth scan of both needs and stakeholders to determine a path.


Across both school health and public and community health, the concept of planning is essential. For any intervention or curriculum to be effective, the developers must be mindful to base efforts off previously collected data and needs-assessment results, understand the time constraints of the target population, align with complementary initiatives, and develop an intervention that will be meaningful to participants. In a public and community health setting, practitioners often conduct phased-in or pilot testing of initiatives as a part of the planning process. Planning includes the promotion of proposed initiatives and plans for implementation and evaluation (NCHEC, 2020).

At the school level, planning must include how to meet the needs of learners in your classroom by designing a logical scope and sequence and incorporating “performance-based objectives that are aligned with state and/or local standards, as well as National Health Education Standards” (Joint Committee, 2007). While an ideal practice, pilot-testing and spending time deeply refining prior to implementation is sometimes not possible. Rather, planning must be succinct and ready for implementation. Classroom teachers, while interested in refining learning approaches that do not work well, often lack the luxury of a prolonged planning process that includes multistage implementation.


In a school setting, implementation of a health education curriculum includes the use of a variety of instructional approaches and strategies that work to engage each learner in the classroom (SHAPE America, 2018b). Health educators must employ skills such as providing feedback, fostering positive learning environments, and incorporating technology and media to enhance instructional methods. Instruction should include learning activities that are culturally inclusive and responsive as well as opportunities to personalize learning and guide or facilitate a learning process rather than direct the learner to a specific outcome (SHAPE America, 2015a).

In a public and community health setting, implementation might go beyond employing specific programs and also consider protocols, arrange for implementation services and resources, identify training obligations, and develop systems to monitor fidelity of implementation (NCHEC, 2020).

For both schools and public and community health settings, implementation is the stage during which the planning is brought to fruition. It is key for all health educators to ensure that learning projects and materials are implemented through effective methods in culturally responsive ways.

Assessment and Evaluation

In a school setting, health educators must be prepared to assess students on their learning and application of both skills and knowledge. This is done through the design of relevant and authentic performance assessments. This type of assessment is less likely to occur in a public or community health setting. School health educators are more likely to receive coursework, instruction, and preparation in the design of formative and summative learning assessments (SHAPE America, 2015a, 2018b).

Rather, public and community health educators are more likely responsible for programmatic evaluation and research. This form of evaluation looks at the program design, implementation, and outcomes and results of the intervention (NCHEC, 2020). Public and community health educators receive specific coursework that prepares them for the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, whereas school-based health educators likely do not.

Professionalism and Advocacy

All health educators have a responsibility to present themselves in ways that promote the field and project it in a professional and positive light. Both school-based health educators and public and community health educators should receive training on how to present themselves in a professional manner.

Additionally, all health educators have a professional responsibility to serve as an advocate for our profession. In a school, this might mean advocating for students to remain in health class instead of being pulled for instruction in another course or requesting professional development that advances their ability to be an effective health teacher. For a public and community health educator, this might mean facilitating efforts to raise awareness of a health issue or developing campaigns to reach populations within the general public. All health educators have a responsibility to be advocates for the profession and to reach out to state and local lawmakers or policymakers in ways that encourage actions that improve public health.

Communication and Leadership and Management

The final categories of professional competency that show up in the public and community health space are that of communication and leadership and management. First, communication refers to the ability to design and relay messages effectively to a target population. This might include the design of messaging, recognizing factors that affect the ability to communicate, and determining the intended outcome of the communication (NCHEC, 2020).

Within leadership and management, this specifically focuses on the health educator being a leader within an organization. This might mean developing and building relationships with partners and stakeholders, preparing others to provide health education, engaging in human resources, or managing fiduciary responsibilities (NCHEC, 2020). While not specifically a part of school-based health educators’ training, some of these concepts also are relevant in a school space. These include the ability to form and further coalitions and partnerships to advance work related to school health and the ability to prepare grant proposals for funding. While many school-based health educators are focused on their efforts in the classroom, many also see the opportunity to seek out and receive additional funding to further the important work within the school and community.

More Excerpts From Introduction to Physical Education