This article was originally published in the PPTA News, Feb-Mar 2017
At the end of last year the Out@Work Biennial Conference/Hui was held in Wellington. The theme of the conference was pride, power and politics as relating to issues faced by workers of minority genders and sexualities. A diverse range of unions across the country were present including the PPTA.
The PPTA was represented at the conference by Kirsty Farrant (Advisory Officer) and Jerome Cargill (Rainbow Taskforce), who ran a workshop titled ‘Changing a Work Culture’.
This presentation used the ‘Safer School for All’ workshop, which the Rainbow Taskforce has delivered in more than 60 Secondary Schools across New Zealand in the last few years, as an example of the direction that other unions could take. The workshop addresses the bullying of students and other members of the wider school community who are perceived to be different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The argument made was that the issues faced by workers of minority genders and sexualities could be challenged by more education for our young people who will be our next generation of workers. By creating safer and more accepting spaces in schools, we will create the expectation that workplaces follow the same principles.
It was an exciting opportunity to share this work. Feedback from the workshop reinforced that professional development and education is the best way forward for changing heteronormative and cisnormative cultures (the presumption that almost all people are assigned a gender at birth they feel comfortable with). Environments where hetereosexuality is expected and binary views of gender dominate are likely to contain discrimination on some level.
The conference reinforced that the PPTA are leading other unions in the way that formal structures exist in order to deal with the issues faced by the diverse workforce. We are fortunate to have the active voices of the Rainbow Taskforce which enables education of these important issues to be delivered across the union.
The conference featured a dinner as part of the programme attended by guest speakers Grant Robertson, Jan Logie and Kevin Hague. Each delivered a passionate speech about their experience fighting for equal rights for this community.
Kevin Hague made the point that despite our positive steps forward legislating equality through means such as the Marriage Amendment Act 2013, coming out for a young person today is just as scary as it was for someone 30 years ago. This speaks to the need for educators to continue to work towards providing inclusive environments for all students, as there is still a long way to go.
The photo above was taken on the school’s first ever Community Hour where members of the community were invited in to tell their stories and respond to student questions. It was organised by our Deputy Principal, Deb King, as part of launching our 2017 programme of Active Learning – weekly inquiry based learning time free from the constraints of curriculum and assessment.
The community was incredible at taking up this opportunity. Politicians, City Council, our feeders schools, police, fire department, the SPCA, InsideOUT, Newlands Community Centre, lawyers and a funeral director all came to speak to various groups of students un-conference style. The concept for the day came from the principles of curiosity found in Kath Murdoch’s book (pictured) which emphasises the power of inquiry and student questioning. The structure was supported by Sugata Mitra’s mantra of “learning at the edge of chaos” with the hour appearing unstructured and the school being alive with uncontrolled opportunities.
The group I sat with was talking to John Robinson from Challenge 2000. What struck me was the level of questioning that the students delved into – really interrogating John in terms of social justice. They really challenged the ideas being presented and the depth of their inquiries impressed me. Is this the result of giving the students free reign to respond authentically? What was also interesting was how little they listened to each other. It’s a small sample size, but the room’s questioning was erratic. Instead of building on from each other and asking questions along a consistent line, it really was pot luck as to where the next question would target. It’s a new part of teaching questioning I hadn’t thought about. The subject is important, but the room is equally so.
Previously I’ve reflected on presented the Safer Schools for All workshop here and here, commenting on the need to minimise the ‘tell’ and to challenge prejudice or ‘weak’ suggestions. In this third reflection I am going to try and process both my most successful presentation and my most challenging.
There was a strong challenge in terms of the cultural location of the conversation. There was a suggestion on one of the feedback forms to “include more NZ/Maori/Pasifika references”. But a discussion during the session, which continued after went much deeper than that. It asked me to have a more cultural perspective across the entire presentation as a Maori lens responds differently to the issues raised. As this participant pointed out, the language exercise at the beginning of the session was something they couldn’t relate to. In Maori there are only respectful terms for those in the LGBTI+ group. They compared this to a Maori student swearing in English and asking them to speak reo as a way of addressing this language. Homophobic terms simple don’t exist in Maori, so the colonial framework of addressing them isn’t necessarily the most appropriate.
I have since revisited the original data from which we extract the statistics in the presentation. It backs up that the data is accurate for a range of ethnic backgrounds, with similar number for Pakeha and Maori identifying as same-sex or both sex attracted. However, the report does not break down the health, well-being, substance, sexual health statistics by ethnicity. I think it is important to clarify this data before the next presentation.
The slide mentioning cultural terminology for some of the aspects we talk about on the Sex, Sexuality and Gender spectrums does -on reflection – feel like tokenism. I feel there is a much deeper way of framing this presentation in a culturally inclusive way that goes beyond just adding more examples of takatapui and using more reo in the presentation. This is something I look forward to addressing as a taskforce!
That being said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Some of the feedback below suggests some significant shifts have been triggered:
[In] PE and Health I often feel we as a subject area are always left to teach these types of issues in isolation and with time constraints we struggle to give as much as needed.
I was really impressed with the presentation and the presenter. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good and helpful. I can totally see the relevancy and how I could begin to implement this into my curriculum.
Thank you! I came into this not knowing what to expect & if I’m honest, wanting to be doing my work – not because of not seeing this as important but just time constraints. BUT this was so worthwhile! Thank you!
Excellent presentation. Moving and thought provoking. Nice balance of videos and talk and discussion. Staff were engaged and wanting to do more to support their students and each other. Thank you.
Good session! The school has a very subtle issue of homophobic behaviour and the use of slurs. The staff (including myself) could benefit from some more thinking and action in this area.
I’m very proud to be delivering the session, and hope those seeds continue to grow for a long time.
This session led by Stuart Hoar was facilitated by Massey University for the Wellington Media teacher cluster. It focused on his experience of teaching script writing to students and what he felt, from his experience, are what young filmmakers need to understand.
Stuart regularly claimed how crucial it is for students to recognise structural paradigms in what they watch. They need to understand narrative paradigms, but not necessarily in order to follow them. This begins with the three act structure which recalls Aristotle’s three essential units of drama (beginning, middle and end).
He had many a point to make about narrative paradigms:
- It is not a rule bound structure; it is instead grounded in principles.
- The first draft should always be written without care towards these principles, but the review of this should always be through the lens of the paradigms.
- The screenplay is written for the reader. The reader decides whether or not it will be made into something that is visual.
- Tension = drama (dramatic stakes)
- The audience wants to be engaged. We have dramatic expectations that can be capitalised on. We understand instinctively dramatic narrative; we have unconscious expectations of how this happens.
- Genre and formula – our expectations get caught up by genre, we want surprise and comfort at the same time.
- The dramatic structure is about what is happening to the characters and why
- Act One makes a promise
- It contains the ordinary world of the drama. By the catalyst, we need a perspective. We need to vicarious relate to the viewpoint. We must recognise that we are with that character.
- Catalyst – inciting incident – sets something in motion and asks the dramatic question
- Crossing the threshold – reaching the point of no return. Main character might refuse the dramatic question. But it is embraced by the end of act one. Audience must be engaged by 20 minutes in.
- Sets the emotional tone, introduces the characters, takes us to the first TP – the point of no return.
- Releasing the tension after the TP – how do you do this? Who knows. Write your script.
- Act Two: complicates and escalates the action towards the next turning point
- Act Three: answers the question.
Task: Use 2001 A Space Odyssey – first 12-15 minutes. The perfect one act structure – Kubrick not associated with Hollywood, but there is still structure.
- What is being set up here? Ordinary world?
- Catalyst? Turning Point?
- Climax and resolution? What is being paid off?
EduCampWelly was another highly beneficial PL opportunity with the cross-sector pollination particularly valuable. This blogpost contains some of the many ideas I came across during the day, ideas that I hope to explore further in the future. I owe a lot to Raroa Intermediate, as a lot of my learning from the day came from their initiatives and their generous sharing of their philosophy and approach to learning.
The Raroa Intermediate Tour
An undoubted highlight was the tour around Raroa Intermediate from Jason and Stephen. They spoke passionately about the Raroa Vision and the connection between the philosophy and the design of space. Some of the ideas that stayed with me included:
- Designing space for learning – classrooms are organised to be used by students in student centred ways. One idea that came through is levels of learning, providing low, middle and high options for students. Other aspects of design I found interesting included white board tables, removing teacher desks, flexible design and variation of spaces.
- Teacher teams – Learning teams are constructed usually in groups of four with lots of autonomy around how they design learning in their connected spaces. This develops teamwork and collaboration and it sounds as though this approach of working together is embedded in the very fabric of the school.
- Change theories supported the shift in practice such as “social contagion” (similar to behavioural contagion?) – by highlighting and emphasising good practice the school culture shifted to follow in those same footsteps. This has lead me to reflect on the need to spread the voices that are leading PL.
Stephen’s blog unpacks some more of this journey.
Skillset, Mindset, Toolset
More Raroa goodness. This idea of three lenses to support the design thinking process can really help to grow agency and gives a language with which to inquire deeper into learning outcomes. The notosh lab defines them as:
Mindset: How you see, perceive and view the world around you – your beliefs and way of thinking that determine your behaviour and outlook, how you’ll interpret and respond to situations.
Skillset: How you act and behave based on your capabilities, knowledge and understanding as well as your motivation to put your abilities to use – ie. your mindset.
Toolset: What mechanisms you use to develop your skills and achieve your objectives – these can be any number of methods, techniques, models, approaches and frameworks that create value in your chosen field.
This blog unpacks these ideas further.
The T-Shaped Person
The T-Shaped person was new to me – pitched as a “metaphor for achieving success”. The top of the T indicates the breadth of knowledge, the bottom of the T indicates the depth. References to further resources and the source of these ideas are listed on the T-Shaped wiki page.
The Raroa Tree
I often preach that the students in my class have the experiences, knowledge and understanding to teach me as much – if not more – than I am capable of teaching them. This year I tried a new way of walking the talk by taking the time to run an in-class EduCamp. We took the time as a class to understand the EduCamp, un-conference style of learning and each prepared a slide for the smackdown:
To listen to the students talk about their area of interest and their questions about the world was fascinating. It was authentically student centred and it revealed more about some individuals than any google form could.
The class responded to the topics and contributed postits to the board with things they wanted the opportunity to explore further. We made a timetable based on these areas of interest and voted with our feet – at one point all migrating into the one room for a tutorial on how planes fly.
The sessions contained fascinating conversation about road ranging topics including how schools can best support mental health issues, the nature of leadership, photography and drones, film and empathy, doing exchanges to other countries, and using the science of microwaves to transfer data from Wellington to Auckland. The opportunity saw several students have a chance to facilitate, jump on the whiteboard, share their knowledge and have their understanding and experience validated.
This to me speaks volumes about not only the value of student voice, but also the EduCamp structure as a means of creating space for it. That’s my highest possible endorsement on the eve of #EduCampWelly17.
Peter DeWitt’s 2012 book, ‘Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students’ is a call to action that is just as relevant now as it was five years ago. Written is a highly accessible way it focuses on the building the understanding of the needs of LGBT and the practical steps that can be taken to ensure safer schools.
Importantly, DeWitt makes it clear that this isn’t just about a minority group of students, this is about having a positive impact on the whole education ecology and everyone within it. “Without addressing the needs of LGBT students, educators are not addressing the needs of all students” (32).
Some of the key ideas he puts forward as action points include:
- Educate staff about LGBT issues.
- Participate in GLSEN’s ‘no name calling week’ which could reinforce NZ’s Bully Free Week, Day of Silence and Pink Shirt Day.
- Read literature and use content that contains LGBT subject matter.
- Do not be afraid to use LGBT language, like the word “gay”. Whispering the words or avoiding them suggests there is something that is wrong.
- Encourage diverse thinking and for students to step outside their comfort zone by introducing the perspectives of minorities.
- Ensure your school offers a GSA (commonly referred to as a QSA in NZ)
The best quotation I have heard was from a Rochester, New York, LGBT student who said, “You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something” (11).
DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press: California.