Being an Advocate for Change:
Implementing Gender and Sexual Identity Awareness in Your International School.

Dr Stephen M. Whitehead

Copyrighted 2018

As an Advocate for Change for Total Inclusivity in your school there are numerous ways for you to enable and encourage improvements in school culture and classroom practice with the aim of enlightening minds, encouraging learning and enhancing thinking regards gender, sex and sexual identity.

I have divided this list of suggested approaches into three categories:

1. Interventions in the Classroom
2. Liberalising the School Culture
3. Focused Professional Development.

Interventions in the Classroom

1.Inquiry Based Learning. This questioning and discussion technique is highly effective for encouraging lateral thinking in students and enabling them to be both critical and creative with regards to exploring, for example, personal and social gendered behaviours, assumptions and attitudes.

2.The IBL process can then be built on to enable related student research activities, discussion groups, media presentations, debating forums.

3.Classroom observations which focus on differentiated learning, seating layout, classroom imagery, student interactions, teacher/student interactions, questioning techniques, control methods, use of media and technology, task setting, materials, and discussion techniques.

4.Group and individual Professional Development arising from the formal classroom observations and which focus on those areas requiring additional support, e.g. addressing gendered differentiation and gendered student/teacher interaction.

5.Challenging Stereotypes and Sexist Attitudes. By the time they start school students will already have absorbed powerful gender stereotypes and codes. These can, however, be safely and productively challenged in the classroom setting. Examples concern language, dress codes, physical ability, respect for diversity, colour association, cartoons, and career possibilities.

6.Addressing HBT bullying. If your school has any incidences of HBT bullying (including online bullying), then they require addressing strongly and positively, both in the class and in the staffroom. See Handout (Stonewall Education Conference, 2016) for specific guidance and suggestions.

7.PSHE: Most international schools will have Personal, Social and Health Education built into their curriculum in some form or another. Clearly, this is an ideal forum for discussing gender awareness, respect for diversity, LGBT+ identities, as well as sex education issues.

8.Meditation Practice. An increasing number of schools are introducing mindfulness meditation sessions into their daily routine; e.g. using meditation instead of punishment (detention) to improve student behaviour. These whole class meditations while not directly related to gender awareness raising have shown to reduce negative attitudes in students, reduce stress and aggression and thereby improve the individual’s self-esteem and receptibility to addressing issues such as misogyny and HBT bullying.

Liberalising the School Culture

9.Image Association. Does your school’s physical environment reinforce gender diversity, female aspirations, multi-culturalism, and celebrate, especially, the achievements of young Asian female entrepreneurs, musicians, politicians, engineers? Such imagery sends a powerful signal to all students, telling them that their future is not determined by their sex.

10.Poster Campaigns. These are especially effective at shifting a school culture and can focus on issues such as inappropriate language (e.g. ‘Oh, that’s so gay’), cyber bullying, respectful behaviour.

11.Forming an LGBTQ+ club which is overseen by volunteer teachers but led by senior students. This club would be active in a number of ways, including encouraging the creation of gender-neutral toilets, inviting guest speakers, assisting school counsellors, and providing guidance and support to those students who are coming out as LGBTQ.

12.Parent Education. In all schools it is important to have the parents (and governors) ‘on board’, so they are fully aware of the school’s vision and mission. This is especially so with regards to respecting gender and sexual diversity. But parents too, require educating – most will be unaware of what a ‘21st century international education’ actually entails. For example, have special information days for parents which focus on ‘child identity’, ‘child psychology’, ‘safe use of technology’, ‘educating in the home’, ‘respecting diversity’.

13.Leadership and Management. Most international schools now have a designated Human Resource Department. Ideally, these departments should be implementing equal opportunities and ensuring non-discriminatory practices and policies, not only in recruitment and discipline but also in terms of supporting school leaders in their day to day work. Achieving this may well require designated HRM Professional Development.

14.The Administrators: Even a medium sized international school will have many administrative and support staff. They too are part of this journey to creating a ‘fully inclusive community of learning’. It is a big problem if the school only focuses on the teachers, leaving the reception staff, security and technicians operating in a cultural vacuum and, indeed, considering themselves separate to the school vision and identity. This invisibility gap can be closed through specific PD for Administrators.

15.‘Soft gender audit’ of the whole school. This would be undertaken by an outside specialist but informed by the school mission and current status. Such an audit would include seminars on gender and sexuality for all staff, including administrators and receptionists, together with operational observations and subsequent feedback to management.

Focused Professional Development

16.Communities of Learning: These operate as a more academic focused extension of the LGBTQ+ group in so much as they organise debating forums and conferences, invite university researchers to present their papers, review books and articles, and generally focus on the relationship between theory and practice in terms of (international) education broadly and gender/sexual identity specifically.

17.Research Groups. Professional Development should be embedded in the school’s strategy and business model, in which case it is an ideal opportunity to encourage some staff (perhaps supported by senior students) to engage in local and/or regional research into gender attitudes and practices and their impact on international education. This group activity can be complimentary to an MEd or even a PhD/EdD for those staff who wish to take such routes. It can also result in publishable articles in professional journals.

18.Advancing the Specialists: Most international schools employ Counsellors, Health Officers, Student Support Specialists. Such individuals and teams can always benefit from specific Professional Development in terms of LGBT+, gender and sexual identity development, student support, not least so that they can keep up-to-date with new research and developments in the field.