Teaching MS and HS Sex Ed Online During a Pandemic
Are you about to teach comprehensive sexuality education online for middle or high school students for the first time ever? You’re not alone. Many people are prepping without any substantial information, experience, or even research on how to do it! Below are ten tips from UN|HUSHED on how to present sexuality education online, given what we know about online education and sex education.
- This is hard and different from teaching almost every other content area online, and offering something rather than nothing matters. It’s difficult for any teacher to pick up teaching online with short turn around and limited training. It is even more difficult for teachers of sexuality because our content is deeply personal, relational, and connected. UN|HUSHED has always said that because sex (usually) happens in person, sex ed should (usually) happen in person. But we live in unusual times! There are specific concerns with moving our content online, but we CAN do it, and we NEED to do it.
- Maintaining a trauma-informed lens is even more critical in the online space, and much more difficult to do. Once we’ve settled down to the business of teaching sex ed online, we must have a conversation about how we will make this endeavor trauma informed. Some problems include: participants not having a safe space to receive or participate in this education given their family dynamics, participants being triggered without facilitator awareness, other people participating or engaging with the class in ways that the facilitator cannot see or control, participants using the class as a springboard for going down a YouTube or Google thread because they cannot ask the facilitator a question, and more. Specific tips and tricks on how to address these issues coming soon – for now, be aware, be alert, and directly address anything that you are worried about. Working towards a trauma-informed approach is not taking away from the curriculum it’s adding to it.
- If your participants share with you that they’re in an abusive home situation, the standard response teams are considered essential services and are still available. Households that are prone to violence are in a free fall right now, with increased stress and proximity and dramatically decreased resources. Abuse and neglect numbers are expected to rise and some agencies and hospitals have already seen that rise start. Given the personal nature of sexuality education content, you may be one of the first people a young person reaches out to if they are experiencing abuse or neglect at home. You should reach out to the same set of resources that you would have had this outcry happened in person. While they may be overtaxed at this time, they are still working and still available to you and your participants.
- Your curriculum, in the short term, should not be as robust as you had planned for it to be in person. Our participants are all dealing with trauma right now. Quarantine is difficult in the best of situations, but with added stressors like a family that fights a lot or is abusive, family or friends who are at increased risk, new responsibilities of caring for younger siblings, trying to access school without the necessary technology, parents who have lost their jobs, and more, young people’s capacity for learning is dramatically reduced. Some of these stressors will be based in participants’ gender identities and sexual orientation, painful separation from a person they are dating, experiencing sexual abuse while under quarantine, or other elements related to the content of sexuality classes. Learning about these topics may be particularly meaningful and/or triggering during this time. Regardless of what participants are dealing with in their personal lives, meeting them where they are by taking the time to listen and responding to their immediate fears and needs rather than focusing exclusively on the larger curricular program should be the most important element of your educational plans.
- Replicating your in-person curriculum will only get you so far. By which I mean, they will probably get you through next week, but they definitely aren’t a long-term solution unless you’re doing a lot of modifications. Attempting to take your synchronous in-person lesson plans and move them into a synchronous on-line class just doesn’t have the same learning impact. Rather than trying to replicate your curriculum as-is, modifying it, with an eye towards activities and engagement that work well (or even better!) in the online space will provide substantial increases in participant engagement and learning. However, it will take you some time to figure out how to modify and adapt your curriculum well, and that’s okay.
- Class environments that are synchronous (at the same time, by video or voice) and asynchronous (at different times, by text, video, and/or voice) have both upsides and downsides. Ideally you can use both methods in integrative ways that are most effective for specific content, but many schools are dictating exactly how teachers must interact with their students. Based on what your administration is telling you, you can still get the most out of any online environment with creativity! In the same ways that you work to create engaging in person activities by thinking outside the box, you can do the same online. For synchronous environments, look into ways that your platform allows real-time interaction. This may mean providing students with the opportunity to annotate as a way to brainstorm, integrating polls for anonymous feedback, watching videos together, and having participants engage in whole-group movement activities that everyone is able to participate in. For asynchronous environments, stay deeply engaged and respond to at least half of the participants’ responses, write assignments that connect personally and currently, like having participants look up information like the closest STI testing center to their home and report back on how they’re handling testing during quarantine, and include discussions that are just for fun rather than being required to allow for some sanctioned chit-chat.
- Developmental appropriateness matters even more when you’re trying to teach sex ed online. People have been teaching Human Sexuality to college students online for years. There’s a lot to be gained from looking at this process (google “teaching online human sexuality” and have a look through the results), and it can’t be equally applied to sexuality education for 12 – 18 year olds. Younger teens, especially, are in a very different developmental stage than college students. For example, younger people need more active engagement (clicking on links, polls, etc.) and to have shorter form videos, readings, and conversations to stay engaged. This is as true online as it is in person, but the extra level of distance that comes with online education heightens and increases the need to be attentive to this, and other developmental, issues.
- Talk with parents, caregivers, and guardians when they are available. They’re scared, busy, losing their jobs, aren’t sure how to support their kids through school at home, tending to sick family members, and more. They might not be able to read everything you send them or hop on a phone call, but they want what is best for their kids and they want to understand what you are doing with them. So send out emails and messages and tell parents what you’re doing and how you would like them to interact with the learning process, if they are able to.
- Practice self compassion. While this is a top priority at all times, it is even more so in times of deep trauma and stress. And everyone is experiencing deep trauma and stress right now. Even if you have spent years in the classroom, what you are doing now is new. You are, in some ways, back to square one with your curricular plan, and the first year of teaching is always the hardest. But just like you got through that first year in person, you will get through this time and come out a stronger, more prepared facilitator.
- Know that this is going to be awkward for everyone. If the snafus over the last several weeks of working from home and teaching all college online have taught us anything, it’s that we can expect an awkward moment or two in the digital education space. One of your participants will end up video conferencing from their bed. And teaching someone sex ed while they’re in bed is weird and uncomfortable. You can ask them to move to a different place, but not everyone will have a different place to be, and as facilitators, we have to be able to roll with that.
I hope you’re more excited (and slightly less terrified) about diving in to online sex education now!
And… we’re going a step further to help! UN|HUSHED is holding 10, 1-hour, bi-weekly training sessions on these tips over the next 5 weeks on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1e/12c/10p (beginning on 3/31). The training will have a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous elements. Participation is $150 for all of them, on a sliding scale.
Even if those times don’t work for you, videos of training sessions will be archived on our website—so still totally worth the $150.