Building Buy-in for Sexual Health Education in Schools: When Using Data Isn’t Enough

Date: August 3rd, 2017

Valerie Sedivy

Many of us who work in or with schools have found ourselves in a situation where we shared the latest teen pregnancy and STI rates in the hopes of persuading school staff that they should implement or improve their sexual health education. All too often, we have been disappointed when they don’t ultimately choose to do anything different, or when they do agree to improve but don’t follow through.

Sometimes, this approach falls short is because there are multiple reasons why a school might not choose or be able to implement or improve sexual health education, only one of which is a lack of knowledge about the numbers of students affected by pregnancy or STIs. Concerns about community backlash, teacher discomfort, and lack of time often override any positive feelings about the value of sexual health education. And let’s face it–data do not really pull at our heartstrings.

So what can you do? You can start by crafting messages that speak to some of these other concerns:

  • Collect and share stories from other school leaders in the area that have had success implementing sexual health education and share how they were able to fit it into their overall curriculum.
  • Share another school’s success implementing a curriculum with minimal or no community backlash.
  • Talk about a recent teacher training and share quotes from teachers about how it helped them feel better equipped to teach sexual health education.
  • Collect and share stories from teachers who have discovered that teaching about these topics wasn’t so bad after all, and you can find students to share stories about how important these topics are to them.

Stories get our attention, and engage us in ways that statistics can’t. They can be shared with people you want to convince to support your work, but stories should also be used to maintain support among those who already do. This means that you’ll need to continuously collect and share stories to keep your message fresh.  One great way to do this is to gather the people who have implemented your program for a debrief session. Some school districts have successfully done this as part of a ‘wellness’ celebration highlighting school achievements. If you can’t gather people together, you can try sending a note to school staff and leaders after they have finished implementation, thanking them for making the effort and sharing an anecdote about how successful it was.

There are lots of other ways you can share stories and other types of effective messages. Want more support developing a communications strategy? We can help! For more resources, check out our storytelling tip sheet. We hope to see you in Baltimore in October, where we will feature storytelling in a plenary session. If you want tailored support or more information, complete a service request form to start the conversation about building buy in with your stakeholders.

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About the Author

Valerie Sedivy, Ph.D., Healthy Teen Network Senior Program Manager, has over 25 years of experience in the sexual health field and currently supports professionals to provide programs and services that empower youth to thrive. Her experience in multiple roles including program provider, researcher, evaluator, capacity-building assistance provider, resource developer and project manager has instilled a passion for translating research into practical messages and tools for field staff.

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