New Perspectives on a New School Year

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As another school year begins, I’ve had a lot on my mind, and I’ve been doing some pretty deep thinking about a few things.  I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of success as a presenter of a couple of topics: particularly “Writing” and “Boys and Learning.”  When I’ve shared stories and examples of what I’ve produced in the classroom, workshop participants have enthusiastically embraced strategies and been open to many of my philosophies and approaches.  Many have commented on my passion for writing and how practical my strategies are.  It has been empowering to be able to share examples and to feel like I was influencing positive change in classrooms I’ll never even set foot in.

For approximately 18 years I’ve been sharing my professional life in online conversations, via committee work, through consultation, as a key-note speaker, and in workshops that I’ve had the opportunity to present.  This has come quite easily and has rarely been controversial.

I’ve been reluctant to embrace some of the social media platforms, and have tended to be hyper-sensitive about what I share, particularly when it comes to making aspects of my personal life and my personal views public.  I’ve worried a little that certain truths might interfere with my professional life or advancement in that regard.  The very idea that something I “liked” or subscribed to, or images or messages I posted could negatively influence the way I’m viewed or whether my expertise might be devalued might seem ludicrous to some people, but it’s made me a passive consumer of social media and not an active participant.  For much of my life I’ve separated my identity as a gay man from my identity as an educator, despite the fact that the two are inseparable.  I worried that my role would be limited to the “the gay teacher” and it would limit my capacity to be remembered as the innovative teacher, or the creative teacher, or the fun teacher.  I feel secure enough in my accomplishments to date, that being remembered as the “gay teacher” doesn’t come with the same negative connotation that it used to.

This post by Chris Wejr may help provide some context for my hesitancy about social media.

http://chriswejr.com/2014/01/22/not-everyone-is-able-to-tweet-and-post-who-they-are/

I don’t know if it’s getting older and being less concerned about how the world views me.  I don’t know if it’s because the world is making some progress and the timing just makes sense, but, lately, I feel compelled to take on an additional role, which is very closely tied to my personal identity.  I want to be more involved in advocacy.

My school district passed a Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity policy in 2011, amidst controversy and opposition from a vocal parent organization.  Their public response made me suddenly feel that I had an obligation to provide students with a different perspective than was being reported in local papers.  It wasn’t because I felt personally attacked by the dialogue that was taking place, but I was genuinely concerned about any kid who sat in a classroom questioning his or her sexual orientation or gender identity listening to the negative messages and the contempt with which certain words were used and not feeling like they could respond or that support was available.  I nervously raised the topic and took those first few tentative steps towards opening the classroom dialogue, well aware that much of the opposition to the proposed policy was coming from within my school’s catchment area.  I was surprised to discover that I didn’t have to say much and that students were relatively comfortable voicing their views and responding to each other.  Our local policy, and now an expectation from the B.C. Ministry of Education that all B.C. school districts include Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity in their codes of conduct has encouraged me to do more.

I’ve had some great success with developing writers in my classroom.  I’ve done some impressive work with fostering supportive environments to engage boys in classrooms.  I’ve shared my ideas and views about these at conferences, in inquiry groups, and wherever I had an audience that was receptive.  Many people know this.

What many people don’t know is that I’ve also been doing some great work with creating opportunities for conversation about the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ issues, and in fostering acceptance of differences in my classroom.  This is a topic that I’m now ready to share with others.  I’ve started to include some of the examples I use to foster this when I teach writing into some of my newer workshops.

Don’t expect an LGBTQ unit plan.  That’s not an approach that resonates well with me.  I’m not keen on preaching what other people should do, but I am more than willing to share stories about the experiences I’ve had and the results I’ve witnessed.  If you are someone who’s thought about exploring these topics and wondered how to introduce them, hopefully, you’ll find something useful in the posts to come.  I encourage you to have the courage to do follow through and start (or continue) the conversation.

I worry that language in district policies will fall short of having a meaningful impact and I want to encourage teachers to create an LGBTQ presence in the resources they select, in the conversations they facilitate, and in the curriculum they implement so that LGBTQ youth and families see themselves reflected in the classroom.  I do believe that there are subtle, relevant connections in a variety of curriculum contexts than can easily be infused into existing lessons plans or units of study.  It is my intention to provide some insight into ways of starting that conversation in classrooms through personal anecdotes, and by sharing some picture books, read aloud titles, and novels that depict LGBTQ characters.

My goal is to make this website a more active resource, with more frequent posts to provide commentary and relevant, helpful resources (particularly to teachers who are hesitant to tackle some of the conversations or are worried about the potential controversy it may inspire in their communities)  on “Writing,” “Boys and Learning” and on “LGBTQ Inclusion.”

This is your invitation to the conversation.

 

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