Making Diversity Visible for Gender & Sexuality Inclusive Schools

This blogpost was originally published on the CORE Education Blog here. 

At any conference or professional learning event, the idea of “inclusive education” tends to buzz. It’s a theme that many workshops or presentations have at their heart. But when we talk about inclusive education, are we also including sexuality minorities or gender identity?

Data capturing the voices of same-sex or both-sex attracted, and transgender youth suggest we are not. These groups of students are regularly overrepresented in statistics for bullying and well-being in the Youth2000 surveys (Clark et al., 2013; Clark et al., 2014). Sexuality and gender diverse students may not be visible in a lot of Aotearoa’s schools, which can make inclusion complex. However, it is now 2018, and our diverse young people are beginning to make more noise. They are proudly coming out and demanding change.

Last year I was privileged to be selected as one of the 2017 CORE Education eFellows. Seven teachers from various contexts undertook action research projects over the course of the year with guidance from CORE mentors and the support of one another.

I set out to work with a small group of teachers to develop their inclusive practice to support making sexuality and gender-minority students feel welcome, included, and accepted at school. I was interested in delving into the teachers’ historical understanding of sexuality and gender and support the development of that understanding. The inquiry investigated what makes a difference for teachers in this area and to encourage ongoing practice that promotes empathy and acceptance. I hoped that understanding the teachers’ journeys, both past and present, would help to develop gender and sexuality inclusive practice in others.

diagramMy findings led me to develop this diagram (with some source inspiration from this blogpost). Our inclusive practice is in tension between the pressure to be more inclusive and the pressure to be comfortable. Pressure comes from well-being initiatives or professional development opportunities, the statistics (above) that tell us that more needs to be done, and student voice that demands change for inclusion. The pressure in the opposite direction comes from internal pressure that naturally wants to maintain the status quo, the drive to stay in your comfort zone, and competing priorities.

In order to create a shift, I propose drawing inspiration from Newton’s First Law: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. What is required to shift teachers to more gender and sexuality-inclusive practice is greater pressure for change. To avoid diversity inertia, we need to make the compelling reasons to change more visible.

Friday 18th May is Pink Shirt Day. This is an opportunity for visibility, for schools to shift the inertia.

The purpose of Pink Shirt Day is “to create schools, workplaces and communities where all people feel safe, valued and respected.” While the day sets out to address bullying in a general sense, the origins of the day come from the LGBT+ community. It is important that homophobia and biphobic and transphobic bullying is specifically addressed by Pink Shirt Day events because sexuality and gender minority young people experience higher rates of bullying (Bullying Prevention Advisory Group, 2015).

It is easy to be involved; many schools already participate. The harder part is ensuring that the day results in a deeper understanding of the prevalence and impact of bullying on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The Pink Shirt Day toolkits are a great place to start. This is also a good opportunity to reflect on our practice too: how do sexuality and gender minority students know they are safe in our schools? In our classrooms? How does our practice support the disruption of heteronormativity or binary views of gender?

Participating in the day is one action that can make a difference. Taking part could mean one individual wears pink, or a whole school. But this is only a start. We need a tidal wave of action to push us out of diversity inertia and start turning around Aotearoa’s embarrassing statistics for our sexuality and gender minority youth.

Links to further information:

pink-shirt-day
Newlands College staff on Pink Shirt Day, 2017

References

Bullying Prevention Advisory Group. (2015). Bully prevention and response: A guide for schools. Bullying Prevention Advisory Group. Retrieved from http://www.education.govt.nz/school/student-support/student-wellbeing/health-and-wellbeing/bullying-prevention-and-response/bullying-prevention-and-response-a-guide-for-schools/

Clark, T. C., Fleming, T., Bullen, P., Denny, S., Crengle, S., Dyson, B., Fortune, S., Lucassen, M., Peiris-John, R., Robinson, E., Rossen, F., Sheridan, J., Teevale, T., Utter, J. (2013). Youth’12 Overview: The health and wellbeing of New Zealand secondary school students in 2012. Auckland, New Zealand: The University of Auckland.

Clark, T. et al. (2014) The Health and Well-Being of Transgender High School Students: Results From the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey. Journal of Adolescent Health 55, 93-99.

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The Solo Traveler Sitting In Your Classroom

Since mid-February I have been travelling through Vietnam and China on my way to make a new home in London. For most of Vietnam I had travel companions, for most of China I have been a solo traveler. By myself I’ve felt like the outsider at times, being the only European and English speaker in many situations. Particularly in China I’ve been in environments that by their very design exclude me from particpating.

While I’ve enjoyed the extended break, I’ve been missing the classroom and pedagogy has never to too far from my mind. Traveling and education are much the same in how they are both about journeys. Traveling from the south of vietnam to the north of China could be a metaphor for a student’s journey through school: its about making sense of new environments, gaining knowledge, achieving success. There is also the challenge of maintaining your own identity and agency in the face of systems that tend to favour homogeneity.

An important part of my identity is that I am gay. It has been a struggle at times to have that part of my identity validated on this trip. Buying clothes, most shop assistants will attempt to sell me something for my girlfriend; arranged marriages with local girls have been proposed more than once after locals discover I am traveling alone. In Vietnam, I spent some time in Yen Duc Village a couple of hours from Hanoi. At my homestay I had to give up trying to explain I had a male partner. At first I was laughed at, then later I was reasoned with – my homestay mother explaining through a translator that if I only held other boys’ hands then it would be ok. This might not be homophobia, but more of a cultural clash where my identity cannot be seen for this family in Vietnam.

More overt homophobia happened later in Chengdu, when an Australian in a food tour group delighted in telling us his ‘awful’ story about accidentally going to a Chinese gay bar. He told us he didn’t know what type of bar it was, found it was full of only men and experienced guys hitting on him. He then explained how he got out of there as quick as he could barely disguising his disgust in his reenactment. This form of homophobia pales in comparison to the young fabulous boy I saw being spat at in Shanghai. While that was disturbing to witness, the ubiquity of spitting in China makes me doubt how directed an attack that was. But then again there was no attempt to apologise.

In our classrooms, students may find our educational spaces similar to traveling in a foreign country.

How do we ensure we are validating our students’ identities? How are we ensuring that everyone feels like they belong? Are our classrooms inclusive of all the differences that our students bring? Alienation can be brought about through language barriers and cultural practices that don’t find space for difference. The challenge here isn’t for China and Vietnam to change, it is for educators to make our classrooms inclusive destinations for all our travellers. I think I’ve learnt a lot from the reminder of both what it feels like to be the outsider and the privilege of experiencing this so rarely.

A sample from a series titled ‘Jerome standing in front of things’ – in this instance a street in the Old Quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam

2017: In Review

Last year I wrote a 2016 in review to reflect on a year of professional learning and the blogposts that I had written. It was an interesting exercise, reaffirming the reason for writing this blog, which is more for personal assimilation than for any potential audience out there (the potential audience pressures me to assimilate). Three trends from reflecting on the blogposts I wrote in 2017:

Technology in the Back Seat

I’ve felt the ubiquity of technology (the second year teaching in a full BYOD environment) has made it less of driver around professional learning conversations. This came through my own refocusing on inquiry through the work of Kath Murdoch as well as the action research of my eFellowship.  The keynotes at uLearn also reinforced this shift. Eric Mazur’s focus on shifting from transferring information to assimilating information and Abdul Chohan’s articulation of the role of belief in change initiatives both moved away from the tool to the pedagogy.

The place of technology in education was really nailed for me by Richard Watson in his book ‘Digital Vs Human‘. He was very clear that technology needs to be purposeful and not driven by capitalism. Derek Wenmoth contextualised this when presenting the 10 trends, suggesting that any technology, any new trend in education, needs to be explored through lenses of ethics, citizenship, safety and equity. Using technology just to grab a student’s attention isn’t good enough in 2017. What is the point of presenting a new technology tool to a staffroom if you aren’t going to discuss how it impacts on student learning? Pedagogy is the driver.

The Politics of Diversity

In 2017 I continued to present the Safer Schools for all workshop also got to share this work at the CTU Pride Union Conference. I discovered the work of Peter DeWitt, which was inspirational to read. I was also very proud to peer review the vital ‘Supporting LGBTIQA+ Students’ inclusive guide on TKI. But it was Welby Ings and his book ‘Disobedient Teaching’ that really gave a political context for this work. He stated “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” and this work with promoting diversity is so often dependent on permission from straight white cis-males in leadership positions. My eFellowship research took aim at this in a way by working with teachers in the middle and making ripples to impact change. Going forward I want to hold this work with strong values while remembering being inclusive isn’t something that teachers need permission for.

He Tāngaga, He Tāngata, He Tānagata

The overwhelming trend in my thinking this year has been the importance of putting everybody (not just students) at the centre. From professional reading on this to a class EduCamp, there has been a clear theme of stories that has connected a lot of my journey in 2017. The eFellowship brought together seven stories to work alongside one another and the intersections between those journeys was often the most rewarding. One of those eFellows, Heemi, was exploring specifically indigenous narrative frameworks and story as data. Another moment this year that bought stories together was the ‘Learning with Our Community’ day. Having so many people from the community in the school inspiring the students with their personalised stories was a real special opportunity to be involved in.

Last year I drove away from Newlands College for the last time. After eight years I needed a change and shortly I’m going to be making my way to London to teach in a new system in a new country. I’m disappointed this comes at a time just as I’ve been woken up by Ann Milne who has helped me find my internal bias and my need for action to truly become a culturally responsive teacher. I’ve found through the process of reflecting on leaving along with Milne’s book and uLearn presentation this year that ‘people’ is the key to my educational philosophy. Something I tried to capture that in some of the last words I spoke at Newlands College:

Celebrate our differences, our uniqueness, our diversity. Champion our people, because it is the people that make this place so special. It is the people here that have made the difference to me. It is the people I will always remember. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

 

Leading in a Culture of Change – Michael Fullan

51xmx2biowsl-_sx331_bo1204203200_The concept of Professional Capital, as written about by Michael Fullan, made a big difference for my understanding of leadership in 2016. I followed up my reading of the book with an action plan, and it interesting looking back how much of this has happened in my practice due to a shift in philosophy rather than returning to this document like a checklist.  Fullan presented at uLearn16 on new pedagogies in a heavy and provocative keynote, which was reinforced by a breakout on deep learning. Leading in a Culture of Change was written in 2001, and contains a lot of timeless content about leadership and change. Here are some thoughts from the book:

Leadership Development is more of a tortoise not a hare proposition: “leadership must be cultivated deliberately over time at all levels of the organisation” (vi). Change is a double edged sword: “when things are unsettled, we can find new ways to move ahead and to create breakthroughs not possible in stagnant societies” (1). Change can create fear, anxiety and danger; but also exhilaration, risk-taking, and excitement. Fullan’s model (below left) introduces the way that successful change through leadership can occur. The five areas are broken down in five chapters in the book. I’ve captured some reflection below on those five deep theoretical reasons why change occurs.

1.Moral Purpose

“Moral purpose is about means and ends” (13). The why we do things and the how we do them in closely linked the moral purpose and value underpinnings. In education I think this is evident in the way that schools are part of a community and not working in isolation. Nor is any one student treated as if they are isolated from connections. The lives of people within the organisation must be treated holistically with a view to not just making a difference to one individual, but to society as a whole.

Moral purpose is related to the idea of doing ‘good’. However, it needs to be acknowledged that there are multiple ways of going about ‘doing good’ – therefore reconiliation between views and perspectives is a fundamental part of leadership. Fullan argues that moral purpose will surface as a matter of course, but he warns: “although moral purpose is natural, it will flourish only if leaders cultivate it” (27).

2.Understanding Change

Change is inevitable; we live in a change society. There are no shortcuts to effective change:

  1. the goal is not to innovate the most
  2. it is not enough to have the best ideas
  3. appreciate the implementation dip
  4. redefine resistance as a potential positive force
  5. reculturing is the name of the game
  6. change is not a checklist, it is always complex.

The way we approach change in terms of leadership style is important. Fullan suggests six styles (above, right picture) but 1 and 5 have negative impacts on educational climates. A convergence of styles is needed for effective change.

3. Developing Relationships

“The single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve” (5). Fullan here talks a lot about purposeful interaction and problem solving, balanced with being wary of easy consensus. The emphasis on the micro means of developing relationships (in my context I think of corridor conversations, morning teas, the weekly raffle) was a key takeaway – something I haven’t previously explicitly placed within a leadership model. Emotional intelligence (EI) was unpacked and heralded as a fundamental component of leadership.

4. Knowledge Building

We live in a knowledge society, and knowledge is a social process. The example I responded to here was the notion that we can identify and share best practice fairly well. This occurs naturally in most PL programmes. But the breakdown is how this best practice is transferred or assimilated by the rest of the staff. Knowledge sharing and collaboration needs to be a value, but what mechanisms activate this value?

5. Coherence Making

Coherence making is a perennial pursuit. Leadership is difficult in a culture of change because disequilibrium is common (and valuable, provided that patterns of coherence can be fostered) [6]

Fullan argues that disturbance a good thing. There were echoes here of uLearn’s gone-by with Lichtman’s ‘get comfortable with discomfort’ and Spencer’s ’embrace discomfort’. The job of the leader is to create the learning context for the coherence to be made – not to solve the issues – but to bring them to the surface and address them in a collaborative space. The leader must pick their moments, but also remember that “unsettling processes provide the best route to greater all-round coherence” (116).

Convergence

Fullan concludes with three powerful interrelated lessons from the book: “the vital and paradoxical need for slow knowing, the importance of learning in context, and the need for leaders at all levels of the organisation” (122). I would offer a fourth: understanding and mastering convergence. Isolated skills on one specific mindset is not an appropriate leadership model. The modern ecology requires a convergence and understanding of the connections between the five capacities Fullan covers. The digital age makes this necessity more visible, and arguably more important as adaptability is key in response to exponential technology change.


Fullan, Michael (2001) Leading in a Culture of Change. Josey-Bass: San Francisco.

uLearn – Abdul Chohan

Keynote #3 – Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

Abdul’s storytelling approach to his keynote made him a joy to listen to. From the challenge of the laptop trolley to the tale of the photo he found of a innovative learning environment, he could certainly spin a yarn. From his time at Essa Academy and the Olive Tree Education Trust (see Olive Tree Free School) in the UK, his intent is to see mobile technology to support student learning.

James Hopkins captures this keynote in incredible detail in this blogpost. In reading this summary, the weight of the keynote became truly clear. Some parts that I at first dismissed as an Apple advertisement became clearer as an inspirational story of educational change.

An underpinning idea was the difference between behaviour and belief. To create change we need to focus on changing beliefs and the behaviour will follow. This resonated with me as it rung true of feedback we get internally from our Professional Learning structures. Some teachers talk of wanting tools and things they can try in the classroom: “good PD is when you can take something away and try it out in the next lesson”. Abdul’s affirms that the focus is right, on the thinking behind the tools and the strategies. The belief will lead the behaviour. Admittedly there needs to be a balance but this was reassuring.

Abdul unpacked the mentality of ‘we’ve always done it that way’ – calling the phrase the six most dangerous words in education. I would challenge that and suggest that ‘we already do it like that’ worthy of more concern. Resistance to change is one thing, thinking that change has occurred when it really hasn’t is another.

Takeaways and Observations

  • ‘Believe You Can’ – the motto of Olive Tree. The motif of belief came all through Abdul’s keynote; this philosophy must have a strong connection to the success his students have experienced.
  • Are we translating or transforming? While it can be limiting to think in binaries, this is a provocative reflective question.
  • Digital quotient – build your DQ, not your IQ. 
  • Teachers are the best app for students.

uLearn17 – Brad Waid

Keynote #2 – Engaging the “globally” connected student of today

Technology is changing – but not for the first time:

The key questions posed by Brad, as collected by Jo Robson in this blogpost were:

What are kids learning? Where are they learning? What is our role? Are we changing? How are we connecting with our 21st century learners? What is happening when the students leave the classroom? What are they sharing? Would they share what we are teaching? The role of educators is changing, yet have and are we actually changing?

Brad enthusiastic shared futurist visionary videos and personal anecdotes. He suggested a framework to help change the world, to make a difference to young students in education: RULE(e)

  • Relationships – a key driven behind learning (like here)
  • Understanding – what unites us is stronger than what divides us (like here)
  • Learning – fail…fail…fail…success (felt Karen
  • Environment – flexibility is key
  • (e)xpression – SHARE!

Several videos were shown through the presentation and there was a clear futurist lean to them. While the below wasn’t the video shown – it certainly does help capture current socialnomics trends:

Takeaways and Observations

  • Like Eric Mazur, a key theme that emerged was that the learning relationship is more important than the tool. 
  • We can leverage the technology for some really great outcomes – one example was Pokemon Go and the way that it go people active and outside. 
  • Comparison has been drawn with Kevin Honeycutt‘s keynote. I went back into my archives and found some of the gems I recorded in 2012:
    • “It’s a beautiful time to be a human being. Anything is possible”
    • “Even good kids will do stupid things if no one is watching: They need us on our digital playground”
    • “A student that asks ‘why do I need to know this?’ is asking a legitimate question!”
    • “How can we make it OK to invent? Do we have a culture that can sustain invention?”
    • “If we all we are doing it to prepare students to pass tests then what is the point? We are just building middle managers.”

uLearn17 – Eric Mazur

Keynote #1 – Innovating education to educate innovators

Eric Mazur keynote (collaborative notes) was a story that captured his journey from being under the illusion that he was the best Physics lecturer to someone that reformed his approach to teaching.

20171015_194210.jpg

As a Physics lecturer at Harvard, Eric was repeating the teaching style that he had experienced as a student. Transmitting knowledge by lecturing to the class. He told humourous stories of approaching teaching with a textbook such as finding a textbook that was out of print so the students couldn’t just teach themselves from their own copy. If you have the same textbook as the students, what do you teach them? If you are just going to hand out the lecture notes at the end of the class, what was the point of the class?

Capture

Learning, he proposed, is a two step process:

  1. Transfer of information
  2. Assimilation of that information

For example, the keynote transferred information, and the dialogue I had with colleagues after the presentation and the writing of this blogpost is an opportunity to assimilate that information. The assimilation is the hard part, but it’s the part that gets the least attention. How can we shift our pedagogy to focus more on assimilation. The curse of knowledge is that once you understand something it’s hard to remember the difficulty of learning it. His framework is displayed on the right. It is explained fully in this blog.  The learning takes place in the discussion phase.

At times I found myself wandering into a cynical state of mind listening to these ideas. I was listening for innovation, but all I heard was the learning process being broken down into a simple understandable formula. These moments were quickly challenged by reflection on my own classroom as I realise how little assimilation space I’m providing. Eric’s ideas seems simple because they should be. However, the default is transmission, and too often do I revert back to this. I feel very enlivened by Eric’s ideas and also confident that this is going to make a big impact on my practice.

Takeaways and Observations

  • If you are explaining something on the board – you aren’t engaging with your students. Face them.
  • Relationships again affirmed. Emotional engagement in the learning another key theme.
  • Mentimeter is a tool to help facilitate the framework; perusall is the platform Eric suggested.
  • How much are students dependent on a correct answer for emotional investment in a question? How do open ended questions fit in the framework? And most importantly: what skills do students need to be able to actively engage in this way?