Drug Education Blog

Teachers: a critical resource for drug education

Posted February 14, 2012 by Cindy Andrew

Drug use is a complex and messy issue. (Just think about the wide variety of personal, social and environmental factors that influence a young person’s choices to use alcohol or other drugs.) Because of its complexity, some schools are beginning to recognize the need to revamp their drug education programs to better reflect reality, and better help their students navigate a world where so many people use psychoactive substances ranging from caffeine to cannabis to cocaine.

Evidence is growing that schools should adopt a competency enhancement approach that seeks to increase a range of cognitive, social and emotional skills in students, as opposed to approaches that focus specifically on drugs and the harm they can cause.  A skills enrichment slant is more likely to have real-world impact than a fear-based and information-only approach.

That means adopting an educational strategy rather than the traditional marketing of messages. In this new approach, teachers are a critical resource. It is not good enough to bring in an outside “drug expert” or motivational speaker to give the “say no to drugs” talk. Here’s why.

Teachers are best placed to provide drug education as part of an ongoing, comprehensive effort to support the health and learning of young people. Effective drug education is best positioned within a broad curriculum that explores the complex relationships humans have with drugs. This includes history, literature and science, as well as health and personal development. Effective programs focus on both knowledge and skills for problem predicting and problem solving, and assist students in relating their learning to real-life situations.

Teaching methods matter. Inclusive, student-centred and interactive teaching strategies have been demonstrated to be the most effective way to develop students’ drug-related knowledge, skills and attitudes.  A constructivist approach such as that used in the iMinds learning resources helps young people engage in more meaningful learning experiences.  

Relationships and connectedness matter.  Educators, unlike guest speakers, have ongoing relationships with the young people they teach, and contribute to the school culture in many ways (e.g., engagement with students inside and outside the classroom, coaching and leading other extra-curricular activities, linking with students’ families and other service providers).

Teachers matter (a lot!) but they can’t do it alone.  A growing body of evidence suggests that combined strategies produce better results. A large US study found that the most important factors in reducing risky behaviours were students feeling connected to their school community and to caring adults within it. In particular, whole-school approaches have emerged as being among the most promising school-based programs to reduce the harms related to substance use. While their impact can be further increased by including family or community components, they can be effective even when limited to what is internal to the school setting.

For more on effective school-based efforts, visit the Promising Practices page.  For a closer look at grades 6-10 learning resources, visit iMinds.

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About this Blog

This blog is managed by the Knowledge Exchange team at CARBC. Articles are selected to support the application of comprehensive school health approach in addressing substance use in K-12 schools in British Columbia.

If you would like to submit an article for publication in this blog, please send it to helpingschools@carbc.ca.