While parents may be their children’s first role models, teachers and other school staff are also very influential in shaping students’ nutrition and physical activity behaviors.
From kindergarten through high school, kids typically spend 6+ hours each day, 5 days a week, 180 days per year, at school. With that amount of time, teachers, as well as coaches, administrators, aides, and other staff and volunteers at the school, can be very powerful role models.
Kids pay attention to adults and learn how to behave by watching others. Because you don’t know your students’ parents’ lifestyles, it is possible that you are the only positive role model they have in the area of healthy behaviors. You can’t control what their parents do, but you can control what you do in front of your students, as well as the policies you have in your class.
So don’t just give lip service to healthy eating and physical activity. Set a good example by the things your students see you do.
Here are a few ideas of things that help throughout the year:
- Create a bulletin board and/or other decorations around the room showing healthy foods and active people. Set aside a corner of the bulletin board to focus on one student every few weeks and the activities they do. Start the year focusing on you, with photos of you being active and some healthy foods you enjoy.
- Send out a newsletter to parents discussing healthy snack and lunch options they can use to help their children eat better at school throughout the year.
- Choose a day to eat lunch with your students. Be sure to bring a healthy lunch with lots of fruits and veggies.
- Focus on H2O as the Way to Go! Discuss drinking water throughout the month and model by drinking water throughout the day.
- When planning for holiday parties, send a note to parents to keep the foods healthy.
- Plan for students to join you in a local community 5K walk for a good cause.
- Discuss ways to stay active indoors and outside in inclement/cold weather with your students.
- Make holiday parties focus on physical activities instead of junk food.
- Discuss seasonal winter fruits & veggies and share recipes with your class.
- Discuss goal setting with your class. Have everyone set physical activity goals.
- Eat a different type of fruit or vegetable each day for a week. Talk about the health benefits of each with your students.
- Discuss ways for students to decrease screen time at home and increase physical activity.
- Organize the Jump Rope for Heart event to benefit the American Heart Association at your school.
- Remind students to eat a healthy breakfast every day. Designate one day where students bring a “to-go” breakfast and eat together at the start of the day.
- Start a walking club for school staff before or after school.
- When teaching PE to your students, play along with them to show that you enjoy physical activity.
- Bring in a healthy recipe each week to share with your students’ families.
- Host a cultural party where students bring healthy foods from their culture to share with others.
- Lead two 5-minute activity breaks throughout the day all month.
- Make plans for an active summer. Have students write their action plans and sign them.
- Plan a healthy end-of-year picnic for students where they each contribute something to eat.
Remember, you may not be perfect when it comes to healthy eating and being active, and that is OK. The school year is full of learning opportunities and teachable moments. If you slip from your pedestal, don’t stress about it. Kids need to know that everyone has setbacks along the way. Showing them that you can recover from these setbacks is an important lesson for all. Have fun!
BJ Williston, M.Ed. has a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis on Adapted Physical Education, and holds a California Teaching Credential in Physical Education and Adapted Physical Education. BJ has worked in the Physical Education/Physical Activity field since 1984. She has taught Physical Education in Hawaii, Oregon, and California at all levels Pre‐School‐College.
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