Getting children into the habit of washing their hands is key to preventing the spread of colds and the flu
Tips for School & District Administrators Updated November 8, 2017

Helping Students Develop Healthy Habits Before Flu Season Strikes

By Brian Gatens

I try my best to keep this blog focused on the big things in education, such as attention to craft, communicating effectively and living up to the ideals of our profession. And as I do that, I hear a crescendo of beautiful music in the background as I think of our important work with our community’s children.

And then there are the days where I get to write about our students’ bodily fluids.

Getting children into the habit of washing their hands is key to preventing the spread of colds and the flu

And today’s that day!

So sit back, relax, drink some Echinacea and let’s all review the best ways to keep our students, ourselves and our classrooms as healthy as possible before the annual onslaught of cold and flu season.

Follow the basics

I’m a big fan of being proactive; it’s always easier to play offense than defense. Long before cold and flu season strikes, set time aside to inform your students on the basics for not passing around colds.

This should include not sharing food (also important in this age of allergies), covering their mouths and noses when they sneeze and washing their hands often. Hospital studies have shown that frequent and thorough hand washing is the most effective deterrent to spreading illness. School your students (and parents) on the fist bump — a proven alternative to germ-spreading skin-to-skin contact.

Repetition and reinforcement are the keys to building good habits. Have your students practice washing their hands, covering their noses when sneezing and not sharing food. Consider a reward system for younger students to reinforce the healthy practices. Many teachers try to keep boxes of tissues in easily accessible spots, and you may want to reach out to parents to for donations to help keep tissues at the ready.

Strive for early detection

Make it a point to convey these expectations to parents, and be sure to forward your school’s Health Office guidelines for student illnesses. Examples will include not coming to school with a fever or within 24 hours of vomiting.

A sick child at home is an inconvenience for many families, and it’s not unknown for the “sickish” child to be sent to school; it’s best for parents to know as early as possible when they have to keep someone home.

It’s essential that you pay attention to the health of your students and, when necessary, send them to the Health Office to be evaluated. A very sick and contagious child can really throw off the balance of health in the classroom.

Stay well-stocked

When completing your school budget, be sure to purchase basic supplies to get started and to encourage parents to send in tissues and antibacterial lotion. Also, make sure your school custodians are cleaning and wiping down your desks regularly. I also used to leave a window cracked to keep the room cold and, hopefully, kill some germs.

Take care of yourself

A sick teacher shouldn’t be in school. I know many administrators use attendance to gauge dedication and work ethic, but if you’re contagious and not feeling well, the best way to help your students is to stay home and recover.

You must have strong absence plans, be out only when absolutely necessary, and follow up with your students about their academic work and their behavior upon your return. You can best take care of the children when you take care of yourself.

Mind your classroom environment

For those of us in cold-weather climates, ventilation systems and close quarters also help to spread some illnesses. Do your best to get outside as much as possible to stand in the sunlight, and also try to crack a window to help air circulate. Flu season is also a great time to spend the winter in a local gym avoiding the hibernation weight that’s typical of winter.

Set reasonable expectations

You will most likely have a rotating group of students with the sniffles or a light cough throughout most of the winter. Many of these children are not contagious and are fighting off a low-level irritating cold (according to the National Institutes of Health, people are most contagious during the first couple days of a cold, and a cold usually is not contagious after a week or so; click “Learn More” for more facts on dealing with colds and the flu.).

I recommend keeping children in school provided that they aren’t contagious or highly disruptive to the classroom. A child at home is a child who loses a day of learning. Strive as best you can to keep everyone in school as much as possible.

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