LGBTed Launch – The Power of Values, Stories & Authenticity

Live your values; don’t just laminate them.

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Bennie Kara delivered this perfect summary of the day in the panel that helped to close the launch of LGBTed. Held last weekend, it was an occasion for workshops, networking and the start of an organisation with real potential to make a serious difference. The organisation’s main function is to create more visibility in the UK education system in order to make schools more inclusive places. It was an inspirational day. This blogpost is some thoughts on some of the key themes that emerged for me over the course of the day.

Stories

Claire Birkenshaw‘s session titled ‘A trans perspective on nurturing a sense of belonging for young trans and non-binary people in learning communities’ was the most explicitly narrative driven session of the day. She set about sharing with us her story (‘safari’), as a means of promoting learning through creating empathy. It was a powerful session, very tweetable: “Every child should feel they belong in their school environment and nothing should hold them back.”

Professor Jonathan Glazzard presented a compelling case for the existence of LGBTed when he showed through statistics that the stories aren’t changing. However, what reoccurred consistently across the day was the power of knowledge to disrupt narratives. This came through the buzzword of authenticity, and the idea of being your authentic self to create meaningful learning environments. David Weston also included the quote on the right from Harvey Milk in his concluding keynote along this theme. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach was also quoted during the day: “the authentic self is a soul made visible.”

The Progress Divide

I remember the idea of progress being challenged at the ILGA Oceania Conference in 2016. The divide there was between LGBTI+ rights in the Pacific Island nations compared to progressive New Zealand (“Don’t ask me how far away from marriage equality we are when we are not safe in our own streets”). It was the rural/urban divide that arose at LGBTed. The stark difference in statistics on the experiences of LGBT teachers based on where they live was shocking.

This rung the bell of inclusion and the need for diverse voices within diversity. The majority of teachers at the conferences represented the first three letters of LGBT and were predominantly white. It’s important that we are sensitive to representation and ensure we are listening to other perspectives. David Weston also made this point; inclusion is key to progress which includes conservatives and readers of the Daily Mail.

Othering

Related to the divide is the notion of othering. David Weston suggested that “when people look at LGBT communities and ‘other’ us, it’s a natural psychological thing but it is deeply scarring”. This then creates shame. Claire Birkenshaw responded to the current so called ‘trans* debate’ by saying that of all the things that are being questioned, the one that cannot be challenged is that we are human. This framing immediately changes the expectations around the dignity and nature of the discourse that should be allowed in this questioning dialogue. Knowledge is again the key, and that is where educators – armed with a knowledge curriculum – are so vital; we can be the champions of equality for the future.

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Diary of a London Supply Teacher

I’ve now spent six weeks supply teaching in mainly central London schools. I’ve had some short stints of continuity a couple of times and many one off days covering everything from IT to Spanish. It has been quite an experience and I’ve got some observations:

A good measure of a school is how the students treat supply teachers

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Ready for a day of supply. 

Causation is a dangerous game to play in matters of education; however, without explicitly suggesting as much a trend is very clear. Schools where I’ve found the students treat supply teachers with respect tend to uniformly be schools that are welcoming and well organised. This means meeting both HR and a Senior Leadership Team member or appropriate Head of Department on arrival, receiving key information like a school map and overview of school systems, and appropriate access to the necessary classrooms or staffroom via a key or swipe card. The offers for assistance, frequent ‘check-ins’ and smiles in the coridors are all forthcoming as well.

On the other hand, schools where the students have more problematic behaviour offer a contrasting experience. The vibe of the school is clear from the reception where sign in procedures are offer unclear, the discourtesy can start with the office staff before a student has been sighted, and the important half an hour of preparation before classes is often wasting waiting in reception. These are the schools where cover work is sometimes hard to find: buried in a colleague’s email, left in the wrong classroom, requiring ICT access that a supply teacher doesn’t have, or simply non-existent. Often it is not meaningful – pages from a textbook which the students have no prior knowledge of, or worksheets that might be pitched entirely at the wrong level.

A day of relief offers a very small window. But I feel as though that experience is more than a little bit telling.

To survive there is a right level of care to bring to each day

When I began relieving I approached each day with an intent in the same ballpark of the way I approached each school day in New Zealand. Less than a week later I reached a feeling of rock bottom as the constant failure to reach my expectations weighed so heavily. It wasn’t necessarily the battle with the students to behave in a respectable manner, it was more the battle with myself. I found myself ill-equipped with the skills needed to deal with such challenging behaviour, shouting in the classroom for the first time in a very long time.

After deep soul searching I changed how I approached each day in order to survive. I became far more relaxed and flexible in terms of what each lesson entailed. Specifically this meant responding to behaviour issues by passing it on rather than feeling responsible, and being responsive in my expectations so that students may not achieve any meaningful learning outcomes, but at least they didn’t break anything.

You may only know them for an hour, but relationships are still the key

The more relaxed approach opened up the space for classroom conversations that I was far more used to. A student off task watching a football video under the desk got a football chat before being asked to put their phone away. A conflict between students was dealt with using humour rather than separating them. The result was less confrontation and more meaningful interactions.

Part of this was how I grew to set up each class. The pattern I developed was to introduce myself before introducing the work. This meant saying I was from New Zealand, asking what they knew about my home, whether they knew of our two official languages (te reo Māori and NZ Sign Language), teaching them to say “kia ora” and delivering my mihi. This made me more than a supply teacher, it made me a person and it enabled conversations that mattered a lot more than many of the worksheets I then had to pass out.

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:

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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.

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.

 

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.”