Here’s how to run a successful health challenge in your school

I’ve been running weight-loss and health challenges in schools for many years. Through trial and error, I’ve managed to figure out exactly what it takes to run a successful challenge for teachers and school staff.

Before you begin your next “biggest loser” challenge in your school, make sure you check out these five tips to ensure it runs smoothly and your participants find success.

Tip #1: Partner with a trainer or coach

Most teachers aren’t health professionals. Even the PE teacher, while definitely knowledgeable about health and physical fitness, might not know the best practices for running a challenge like this with adults. If you happen to have a qualified staff member and/or PE teacher, awesome! Use that resource if you can!

It’s important to partner with a professional who can ensure participants are following guidelines that are not only safe but effective.

I have heard horror stories of teachers drastically reducing caloric intake to make sure they lost weight when they stepped on the scale every week. Or teachers who spent hours in the gym trying to “sweat the fat off” in hopes of winning the challenge.

Both of these examples are not only ineffective in the long-run but also potentially harmful if not properly executed under the supervision of a professional.

An easy solution is to partner with a fitness/health professional you can trust. Perhaps one of your staff members has a personal trainer who would be willing to help out for a small fee.

If not, consider reaching out to local personal trainers and/or health coaches who might be willing to facilitate a challenge in your school. If enough teachers/staff are interested, you could be able to cover the cost with a minimal investment from your teachers and/or district.

Our Fit Teacher Challenge is a great option that’s completely free and run by a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.

Tip #2: Decide how long to run the challenge

I’ve experimented with challenges of various lengths. Everything from 7 days to 12 weeks. The duration of the challenge depends on what the primary goal is.

Is your goal to get teachers drinking more water throughout the day or eating more vegetables? 1-2 weeks is usually good for a short-term challenge.

Do you want to help staff and teachers lose weight, develop healthy habits and move more? You’ll probably want to run this one a little longer. I’ve experimented with 4 week, 6 week and 12 week challenges.

12 weeks is way too long. Many teachers – especially those not finding as much success – lose interest by week 12 and became unmotivated

4 weeks is too short. Just when teachers started to see/feel changes, the challenge ended and they felt lost moving forward.

6 weeks is the “sweet spot.” It’s enough time to start forming better habits and for participants to see and feel change. Our most successful challenges were 6 weeks long and I recommend these the most.

Tip #3: Teams are great but use them wisely

As teachers, we know the power of grouping kids into “teams” for an activity or assignment. Group mentality, collaboration, communication and accountability are all part of the process of working together.

We also know the occasional problems that can come from group work. One or two students do a bulk of the work while others slack off. Try as we might, careful planning doesn’t always solve this issue.

The same is true when putting adults together. Teams can be awesome. The “community” aspect not only brings staff closer together but adds another layer of accountability to the challenge.

That being said, habit/behavior change and weight loss are really an individual thing. These kind of challenges can fall apart when members of a team just aren’t pulling their own weight (pun intended). If your challenge has a competition aspect to it, first consider not making it a competition (see below) but instead utilize teams hold each other accountable.

Tip #4: Don’t make it a competition.

When I first started running challenges in my building, I made them “weight-loss challenges.” The person with the most weight lost (or highest % of body weight dropped) at the end of the competition would win.

I quickly realized a few things:

  • Not everyone’s goal is to lose weight. Some teachers want to tone and gain lean muscle.
  • Weight loss varies from person to person. Some lose quickly while others naturally lose slowly.
  • Men generally lose more weight at a faster rate than women (sorry, ladies… it’s just how it works).
  • The more weight you have to lose, the faster it comes off (generally).

I spent a good amount of time asking myself, “If the challenge isn’t based on weight loss, how do I keep it competitive?”

My solution was a daily “check-in.” I created a google form that asked a question or two each day and each teacher would open the form and submit their responses. If our focus was drinking enough water, the check-in question might be “did you drink half your body weight in ounces of water today?” If we were focusing on eating real food the question might be “did you only eat REAL food yesterday?”

This system worked well but required teachers to remember to open a browser on their phone or computer and go to the link each day. Most remembered but many forgot. Sending out a daily text and email seemed to help but involved lot more work for me.

For the our Fit Teacher Challenges, we use an app that reminds teachers to check-in every morning at 9am. A notification pops up on their phone automatically and they’re prompted to answer “yes” or “no” to their daily check-in question.

Tracking compliance is a much better way to keep it competitive and maintain accountability without focusing on weight loss. Even those that don’t lose much weight can be rewarded with high compliance scores just for checking in each day.

Tip #5: Make the challenge about habit change instead of weight loss.

This one took me a while to figure out but challenges should be about habit change – not weight loss.

“But what about teachers who want to lose weight, fit into their clothes better, and/or have more energy?”

Those are all outcomes and if there’s one thing I’ve learned through coaching hundreds of teachers it’s that you cannot change outcomes; you can only change the habits and behaviors that lead to them.

When you focus on weight loss people will naturally do what they need to reach the goal: reduce calories, workout more (and harder), and do whatever else it takes to find “success” in a short amount of time.

The problem is it’s not sustainable. This is where I see most challenges fail and why many teachers gain the weight back.

Creating meaningful behavior change and developing healthier habits may yield less weight loss initially but it’s effects are longer lasting because they don’t require a large amount of temporary will-power.

So what habits should you focus on that lead to the desired outcomes?

  • Eating REAL, unprocessed foods
  • Consuming more vegetables
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Not overeating
  • Eating slowly
    … to name a few.
Ready to run your own challenge?

There’s A LOT more that goes into running a successful challenge including keeping everyone motivated, how to encourage exercise and what to do when someone falls off the wagon.

The good news is you don’t have to do this alone. Feel free to use me as a resource when planning your next school health challenge. Just shoot me an email and let me know how I can help.

Want to have a challenge but don’t want to plan and execute it yourself? I don’t blame you!

Our 6 week Fit Teacher Challenge is available to any school, anywhere, and focuses on just ONE habit – eating REAL food. Of course the daily lessons included with the challenge go deeper into what to eat, when to eat it and how much is enough. I’ll admit, it’s stupidly simple but surprisingly effective.

I’ve seen challengers lose upwards of 15-20lbs during this 6 week challenge which is pretty remarkable considering it’s NOT a weight-loss challenge!

Teachers report having more energy, better sleep and better habits after the challenge, too!

Good luck with your next challenge!

Let me know how it goes!

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