Communication is Key

As a Health Educator with Erie Family Health Center, I provide students with vital information regarding their own health. I work closely with students to assist with one on one nutrition counseling, organize dental and vision services, teach comprehensive sexual education in classrooms, coordinate lunchroom health promotion events, as well as represent Erie at health fairs throughout Chicago. With my range of responsibilities, I can confidently say I enjoy teaching sex ed the most. Through my experiences teaching sexual education I've begun to realize just how important effective communication is when dispersing health information.

Since August, I have learned communication is both receptive and expressive, or in other words that to both listen and explain, giving myself a break from the material to provide clarity of thought. It is critical to break down complex ideas into simpler parts and smaller steps to transmit to students, not because they cannot understand the complex material, but because they simply have never been exposed to the subject matter. I've learned to adapt my methods of communication to students regardless of ability or learning style. I have familiarized myself with ʺreadingʺ the students and adapting to their educational needs. In addition, I've learned that I can communicate concern and caring by tone of voice and use of body language. According to students, we sometimes speak on ʺuncomfortableʺ topics, ranging from proper condom use, amount of lubrication necessary during any given sexual activity, and domestic assault. At first, I struggled with keeping a neutral facial expression when those ʺuncomfortableʺ topics were presented, but through continued awareness I've grasped the importance of nonverbal communication. Effective communication includes transforming the boring into the interesting, and balancing entertainment with serious take-away points.

On a more personal level, I believe it is imperative to treat the students as human beings, not just a classroom of teenage faces. When beginning a lesson, we ask the students' names, we ask them to share their gender pronouns (if comfortable), we inquire about their day, and invite them to share their interests. In communicating our appreciation for the students, we celebrate their successes and constantly encourage them. We hope this helps students feel recognized and validated, inspiring communication to be receptive and expressive.

Although teaching is often done in the isolation of a classroom without the presence of other adults, I believe great teaching involves collaboration with colleagues. Through my service year I have discovered the immense benefit of teaching with fellow AmeriCorps members. When teaching together, lessons are expressed more fluidly, students are more engaged, and subject material is distributed more evenly. My AmeriCorps members and I take a team approach when problem-solving. Starting out, I struggled with answering questions in a classroom setting, feeling put on the spot and pressured to think on my feet. Teaching with a fellow service member allowed me to be more relaxed and composed when responding to unexpected questions.

At the end of each lesson, we always ask ʺare there any questions?ʺ We wait to answer the familiar questions on hormonal contraceptives, correct use of barrier methods, or specifics of STIs, but recently we've gotten a couple questions along the lines of, ʺwhy do you do what you do? Isn’t it funny to teach this stuff to a classroom of high school students?ʺ The answer is ʺyes!ʺ It is funny to teach this stuff to high school students, but that's why I like it. My title might be Health Educator to Chicago high school students, but the students are the ones that continue to educate me every single day, specifically on effective communication. When communication is effective, both the student and the teacher benefit. Communication makes learning easier, helps students achieve goals, increases opportunities for expanded learning, strengthens the connection between student and teacher, and creates an overall positive experience.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2017-18 member Devon Martinez.

Devon is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - Lakeview.