Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students

51ewlzrbrtl-_sx331_bo1204203200_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.

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part II

41204q11wal-_sx313_bo1204203200_In a previous post on Todd Whitaker‘s excellent read What Great Teacher Do Differently I captured his first 7 of 14 points about what effective teachers do. The following post details the next seven along with a few thoughts that those chapters provoked.

8. Don’t Need to Repair – Always Do Repair

Two big aspects of this chapter that I value and will takeaway:

  • Effective teachers don’t use sarcasm, make cutting remarks, issue smart retorts, or engage in banter that could be harmful. Be I do – and probably quite often. It’s something I haven’t been challenged enough on. The potential harm to relationships and learning is too great to continue with this risky behaviour.
  • A scenario Todd describes in some detail is about building a repairing conversation with a student who has fallen out with another teacher. He suggests preparing them for an apology before any further action can be taken by using the analogy of the highway patrol man giving someone a ticket. How can the driver best get out of that situation: be nice. In practice this means helping the student to understand what their best next steps and giving them the language to support them to do this.

9. Ability to Ignore

Sometimes acting on an observation only serves to escalate something into a situation that requires handling. Sometimes not acting on an observation loses a teachable moment. Finding a balance and fine-tuning professional judgement is the key here.

10. Random or Plandom?

In an effective teachers classroom, design will play into maximising every potential learning moment. This includes the planning of the programme, but also the design of the space and who collaborates with who. Doing things by design, but not actually looking like there is a design is the goal.

11. Base Every Decision on the Best People

This tenet challenges the idea of instigating a rule or regulation because one person has done the wrong thing. The idea relates to the staff room as well and the way that staff are treated. I can think of examples where signs have been put up, or conditions put in place that have led me to question my own actions, despite how I was not contributing to the issue in the first place. This feels to me like a seed that could grow into professional capital is explored further.

12. In Every Situation, Ask Who is Most Comfortable and Who is Least Comfortable

This chapter contained a confronting idea for me that has got me thinking about the way feedback is gained and acted upon. The argument here suggests that approval of a system by a majority isn’t a measure of a success – it is who is comfortable or uncomfortable with it. Looping back to the previous chapter, it is what the best people think that matters most. For example, if 5% of the effective people are uncomfortable with a new idea, then that needs to be addressed. If 25% of the ineffective people, then this isn’t so much of a problem. If people feel uncomfortable, they will change their behaviour, for better or for worse. I’ve extrapolated a bit there, but the idea is quite a challenge to my assumptions.

13. What About These Darn Standardised Tests

The central debate in this chapter doesn’t interest me much, although Todd makes some excellent points around navigating it. What I am interested in was the overarching point of the chapter which is: “effective teachers don’t let hot-button issues shift their focus from what really matters” (107). As mentioned previously in these posts, it’s the students that are at the centre, and the goal is to prepare them for life, not for the next test.

14. Making it Cool to Care

“Students care about great teachers because they know great teachers care about them” (122).

CTU Out@Work Conference

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The CTU Out@Work Conference was an opportunity to share the work of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce as well as develop dialogue and network with other unions to hear about their work around sexuality and gender.

The keynote on the second day was delivered by Jack Byrne, a trans* activist. He made a range of points across his story filled presentation. Some of his key points were summarised by his tips. Firstly, the tips others have taught him:

  • Know your own struggle first
  • Look for groups that share a commitment to human rights
  • Listen to local community priorities and then identify what you can offer in support
  • How does your work empower those you are supporting?
  • Bring others with you
  • Be willing and eager to learn from emerging movements

Things to avoid:

  • Assume that activists in another country want or need your support
  • Making promises
  • Assume the needs and wants of another country

Things we can do from NZ:

  • Stand up from international human rights standards on Sexual Orientation Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGISC).
  • Sign on to NGO petitions and encourage general human rights groups to do this too e.g. the independent expert on SOGI is still under threat
  • Use UPR, CEDAW ILO and other reports to highlight SOGISC issues
  • To be honest about what we do well and share what we have learnt
  • Know where we lag behind and learn from others
  • Provide opportunities for activists and from other regions to share their knowledge and experiences

Some key points that have stayed with me – and that may have challenged the room -included the idea of being stuck in our own bubble. I think this was a striking point to make in a Union room. Like Karen Meluish’s uLearn keynote, the idea of the echo chamber does not helping us to move forward. Secondary, he made a strong argument for the need to link community research and community research together. Some of this research he showed us, and exploring these links is a big next step for me.

Another session titled ‘Pride, Politics and Power –lessons and legacy‘ involved a panel of speakers talking about their experiences in activism. Huia Welton spoke beautifully about the impact of language and how we can harness the power of words as a community. Her example was the Marriage Equality journey. The tenor of that campaign it was framed as about human rights and equal rights. Then there was a shift in language from rights to love. The argument put forward was everyone is created equal and everyone should be able to marry the person they love. Of course the campaign was more complex that this, but the shift in language made a big difference. It is harder to argue against love, than it is to argue against rights.

This teaches us about emotion, and teaches us about the importance of aspiration. In campaigns like this we articulate how life can be better and we speak to the values of society. We are much more able to take people on a journey of change by appealing to these values.

Finally, Kirsty and I delivered a workshop on the work of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce titled ‘Changing Workplace Cultures’. We argued the work we do in schools is vital for a future focused attitude towards the next generation of workplaces. Some of the takeaways included:

  • Language in the presentation needs to be updated: sex characteristics is a better was of talking about intersex identities.
  • When discussing the need for a collected movement, gender expression is a commonality across the LGBTIQ+ spectrum and can help to bring people together.
  • The PPTA is leading the way in terms of queer activism in workplaces. Our workshops and presence was a strong support to others who are making headway in their own unions and workplaces.
  • The connection made with NZEI was important as the combined force of our unions can make a real difference to the shape of NZ schools. For NZEI to not have formal rainbow representation is an outrage, but this is slowly changing as leaders in this area are emerging.
  • Their remains a tension between the work of a union and the greater good of queer activism.

In conclusion, the conference offered an opportunity to navigate my discomfort with the union movement, by realising the importance of the voices we have the opportunities that the collective has created.

 

 

The Challenges and Opportunities in Creating Queer-Friendly School Cultures

Earlier this year, Angela King and I presented at ILGA Oceania on behalf of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce. This was to share what we have learned about changing school cultures to enable queer young people to be safe and welcome, something I wrote about for the PPTA News. PPTA, as the union for high school teachers in New Zealand, has been providing materials to schools on affirming diversity of sexualities and gender diversities since 2001. Over the last five years the Taskforce has delivered whole-staff professional development at about sixty schools, ranging from large urban secondary schools to small rural area schools. The workshop will consider how successful this work has been, and what more is required to ensure that all schools in New Zealand are queer-friendly.

PPTA Rainbow Taskforce Feedback

Our presentation (accessible here) gave and overview of the work that the Taskforce does, but opened up the dialogue around what the needs are for our presentation to tackle. This padlet captures the responses that the group made to the question: what’s missing? What does the presentation lack? How can we bring it into current thinking? Their responses represent the enormous amount of work that is yet to happen on a large scale in this area.

Guidance Professional Learning Day

The Guidance Professional Learning Day is now an annual event for the guidance team to take a PL approach to our positions. Deans PL is usually deferred to learning-on-the-job and internal support, so having this day to stop and examine our practices and be introduced to new ideas is so valuable.

Mindfulness

Presentation from Marc Mulholland as our guidance counselor. Talking around helping student to slow down think less and rationalise through mindfulness. Mindfulness is:

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Marc suggested the importance of taking time out and time to focus during our days. He took us through an exercise where we were instructed through a meditation process. It was a  time out and a chance to focus on the moment. He talked about the importance of taking time to stop and notice things in our environment that we don’t notice everyday.

We were introduced to six mindfulness exercises you can try today:

  1. Mindful breathing
  2. Mindful observation
  3. Mindful awareness
  4. Mindful listening
  5. Mindful immersion
  6. Mindful appreciation

Mindfulness is training the brain to have focused attention and increased emotional regulation. Data to support the implementation of a mindfulness programme is part of this TED talk:

Conversation then turned to how this might be incorporated into our current programmes. Initial feelings were positive and this is a discussion worth continuing.

Cross Sector Agency Perspective on Vulnerability 

Jo Brider – Lead Adviser: Social Sector Partnerships | Sector Enablement and Support

Jo spoke about the introduction of the Vulnerability Children’s Act 2014. The impact on schools and professionals and the actions we take to support these students. Vulnerable children are defined as:

Vulnerable children are children who are at significant risk of harm to their wellbeing now and into the future as a consequence of the environment in which they are being raised and, in some cases, due to their own complex needs. Environmental factors that influence child vulnerability include not having their basic emotional, physical, social, developmental and/or cultural needs met at home or in their wider community.

What do we do as professionals?

  • Sometimes something as simple as asking “are you OK?”
  • Trust your instincts – be professional
  • The need to share information, pass on disclosures
  • Sharing of information is absolutely vital

Further reading: The White Paper for Vulnerable Children and a FAQ.

Research on Student Wellbeing

Julia Davidson – Principal, Wellington Girls College | Woolf Fisher Scholarship 

With Julia’s scholarship she targeted visiting high performing schools and how they are dealing with mental health and wellbeing of their students. Her findings pose interesting challenges to the way in which we are supporting student wellbeing in these increasingly complex times. The first part of her session was reporting back on her findings. Most of the following examples come from Ontario:

  • Integrated and holistic approach to wellbeing – part of the vision, annual and strategic plans, comes from the top.
  • Curriculum integration – health compulsory until students are 15/16
  • Incredibly well resourced including this website: Well Ahead Canada
  • People involved are generous and collaborative, with additional staffing in place (the US system Julia encountered doesn’t have guidance counselor, broadly speaking they are under resourced careers advisors)
  • Ontario just started walk in mental health clinics

What action is possible for schools?

  • Learning environment: ‘climate of care’; responsive classroom model
  • Curriculum: health; wellness days (teachers not involved, student managed, external providers) and pop ups; reduction of credits 15-19; quality not quantity; NCEA policies around withdrawal and assessment clarified and emphasised; no exams Y9/10 or homework; flexi-block of time in timetable.
  • Pastoral care: form time (swap for more focused mentoring? Smaller groups?) Tuakana teina instead of peer support – 1:1 matching; wellness theme in assemblies with student voice.

Growth Mindset Workshop – Carol Dweck and Susan Mackie

The workshop was to explore your own mindset triggers and learn how to respond to the everyday challenges and demands to help us become the people we want to be. Prior to the workshop we were asked to complete some pre-readings/pre-viewings:

I want to be… someone who inspires others to aim for the sky and strive to be the best that they can be.

Success in life is about learning, constantly learning, finding hard things sticking to them. It’s also about finding the joy in learning. I was struck by how often the word ‘joy’ came up across the day. That is a powerful word that should be turning up more in my classroom. BUT many things that we do are turning people into non learners – we put emphasis on talent, on who is gifted and who is not. We create children that have to be infallible. This is the enemy of learning. If children think they can be infallible, they limit themselves so that they can be perfect.

How do we bring back the zest for learning?

Brain Plasticity – neuroscience shows us the tremendous plasticity of our brains – they can transform through learning. There is a lot of evidence that mindsets work and mindsets matter.

There was a section that was focused on the idea of an organisation and how there are fixed and growth cultures. A fixed setting is likely to believe in – and judge – fixed abilities. It will have a competitive culture where staff will try to be between that one another and therefore little or no collaboration. Meanwhile a growth focused organisation will support creativity, innovation and foster teamwork. Teachers being excited to go to work. Brainstorm together, feeling free to innovate, trying things, to go to others with problems and not be judged.

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  • Deep fear of failure in Y11. The need to experience some success before the mindset can grow
  • Brain Training vs growth mindset – the picture of neurons in your brain making connections.
  • Brainology essential to study skills – study skills in isolation is not ok.
  • Grades in Math (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, Dweck, 2007) said one student: “You mean I don’t have to be dumb”

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  • False Mindset  – of course one will always say that they have a growth mindset
  • It’s a normal thing to make a mistake, it’s a wonderful thing to learn from a mistake.
  • We must have a deep belief that everyone can raise their abilities
  • Tie the process they engaged in and connect it to their learning
  • How to raise kids with grit
  • Effort is one route to learning and improvement
  • Someone that says: “I have a growth mindset in all areas” – is a clear sign that they have a fixed mindset

Fixed mindset triggers

The following for triggers are common for switching our approaches back into a fixed mold. The slides suggest the different ways of  dealing with each of these triggers. The triggers can trap you in the fixed mindset – be aware of them and those behaviours.

1. Stepping out of our comfort zones.

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2. High effort

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3. Setbacks

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4. Feedback

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Changing your mindset

“I’ve told you a 100 times”

“Yeah, and how’s that working for you”

  • The power of “yet” or “not yet”
  • Legitimize the fixed mindset and acknowledge that we’re all a mixture

Name and claim your fixed mindset persona. Get to know it:

  • When does it show up?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How does it affect your behaviour? Your relationships? Your goals?
  • Over time, learn to work with it

Fixed mindset persona: Joking Jerome – a persona I use to protect myself sometimes. Occasionally I rely on humour to navigate tough situations. This occurs a lot outside of school mainly, but my joking and sarcastic nature can be used as a defense at times and might prevent deep reflection and growth from a given opportunity. (True words said in jest?)

How to raise kids with grit

  • Mindfulness and mindset are related
  • The need to explore your own mental models, what you think about your learning and others learning: you show it.
  • Have an assembly about failure.
  • “Finland doesn’t teach to the test, they teach joyful effective learning
  • Nothing can tell you how smart you are and how smart you will be when you grow up. A test/assessment measures what you know now, and it will show you what you need to work on going forward.
  • The interplay between adult and child’s mindset – teachers and adults matter.

Fixed mindset triggers

  • A student struggling or confused
  • A student not listening to your lesson
  • A student with high or low test scores

There is compassion when you understand that all students have some degree of pain or fear behind their behaviour. These behaviours can all be addressed with a growth mindset. This involves working with the student and supporting them – and not putting them in a fixed mindset box. The growth mindset is part of the meta-curriculum.

  • The fishbowl – activity of coaching through some teachers when faced with this kind of conversation.
  • The conversation around assessments could be examined. How do we manage students fears and emotions through assessment?

Advice for a students in a fixed mindset?

  • See it as a challenge
  • What do you need to …?
  • Restorative questions – what’s happening/happened?
  • Look for the positive strategies and adapt them for a different context.
  • Peer to peer conection
  • Saying more effort is needed can alienate a student. They need to connect the effort with better outcomes/understanding.
  • Look up your heroes – they always find without fail that their heroes had to try really hard and had to overcome challenges.
  • Use the personas that make you afraid of risk. Something that is common and accessible.

Transmitting mindsets in the classroom

  • What can teachers do?
  • Studies showing that adults are not passing on growth mindsets
  • Rushing in and not letting the students fail
  • When students succeed – praise the process. Tie it to learning, progress.
  • When children struggle or fail – focus on the process. Talk about fabulous struggles.
  • Ask: What are you struggling with now? 
  • Give out failure of the year award
  • Make errors. Modelling the error correction process.

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Growth mindset necessary for students to find their way back to the world that needs them so much.

Slides from the presentation

A Life-Span Perspective on Bullying

Earlier in the term I went along to Professor Vanessa Green’s inaugural lecture at Victoria University that tackled the issue of bullying which I feel is particularly pertinent to youth in educational settings. Green presented a range of points around the issue – and while the 45 minute format did not allow for any particular depth into the issue, there was a range of interesting points raised.

Bullying is a barrier to every human being having the right to fulfill their potential and develop a full set of social and emotional skills. The existence of bullying has historical been denied often making this area of research difficult. Defining bullying is problematic. There is debate around whether the use of the word ‘repeated’ should be included – one harmful incident is potentially damaging so does it really need to be repeated in order to be considered bullying. For instance, cyberbullying challenges the common definition, because one post containing defamation can be seen by a significant number of people and shared even further.

slide_25Espelage and Swearer have developed a social-ecological model of bullying among youth (explained further here). It suggests that the role of the parents is particularly vital, and some evidence suggests their advice can often be harmful (who is training them? Is this the responsibility of schools?). Other participants are then vital like peers and this is where the bystander effect comes into play. The more people that see the less likely we are to help. We are not taught how to intervene. This is the shift that Green proposes: a community response whereby we all accept responsibility for stopping bullying.

The bullying programme that Green advocates is KiVa, already being used successfully by a
small number of NZ schools. She detailed a number of promising aspects of this programme and argued that is should be widely used.

kiva_logo_registered_550x550-300x300Another angle Green took in terms of a community response was in suggesting that we need to work towards a zero tolerance of bullying through shifting to explicitly teaching positive peer relationships and how to interfere in situations that do not fit this. Bullying occurs because of an unequal power dynamic – if left to sort it out themselves, this will remain unequal. We need to believe in the capacity for change and develop our growth mindsets.

I found her final point fascinating, as Green expanded the discussion to draw on our global community. We have seen in recent years a whistle blowing trend which has challenged the balance of power. These global manifestations of power the subsequent bullying that occurs could be a different story if we are all equipped to participate in positive relationships and intervene when we recognise a relationship that it’s not.