A friend of mine recently posted a picture on social media that broke my heart. The image was of a school registration form. It zoomed in on the part that requested they put down “mother’s name” and “father’s name.”
Her caption read:
“Death by a thousand paper cuts. #TwoMommies”
This family is real. The parents have been married for several years. They have two adorable children. They own a small business and they care about their community.
Yet, their validity was entirely dismissed in the re-enrollment paperwork for their child’s school. It was a lost opportunity for inclusion and community building.
The time of assuming that every child comes from a nuclear family with heterosexual parents is over.
The time of assuming that all people identify with their assigned gender at birth is over.
The time of assuming that non-binary gender inclusion isn’t necessary is over.
Schools are responsible for the development of the whole child. Acknowledging and welcoming all types of people from all types of families is something I believe every school must do.
Who am I to be talking about this? After all, I’m just a heterosexual, cisgender, middle class, white lady with a traditional nuclear family. The truth is, I’m not fully qualified to discuss these issues (but I’m going to link you to some great resources later in this blog post who are!)
I’m writing about this for a few reasons:
- Gender inclusion is an issue about which I care deeply.
- I think each and every educator should be concerned with equitable education.
- Our school cultures should accurately reflect the realities of the diverse lives and cultures of our student populations.
- Everyone should be promoting equity, not just the people affected by inequities.
- I have a platform directed specifically at school leaders and I’m going to use it for good.
So what can you do to have a more inclusive school culture?
Know Your Letters
Have you ever seen people write “LGBTQ+” and wondered what that “+” was for? Well, because gender/gender identity/gender expression is a spectrum, there are a lot of different terms used to properly include everyone.
L G B T Q A I N S P
- L – Lesbian
- G – Gay
- B – Bisexual
- T – Transsexual or Transgender
- Q – Queer or Questioning
- A – Asexual
- I – Intersex
- N – Non-Binary
- S – Two Spirit (acknowledged in certain Native American cultures)
- P – Pansexual
There are some other combinations of letters out there. This is something that is still evolving and likely always will be. Your best bet is to have at least a basic awareness so that you can easily support the diverse populations of humans you serve.
Wondering what some of those words mean? Good! I’m so glad to know you are curious. I encourage you to do some research so that you can better understand the life experience of some of your fellow humans.
Find Good Resources
You and your staff are going to need training and resources to help you work on gender inclusion in your school culture. There are many aspects of school culture and practice to consider and you aren’t going to be able to invent it on your own.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
- The Gender and Education Association
- Gender Spectrum – Some of the most comprehensive resources for schools out there
- UNICEF guide to equity and inclusion in education
- Teaching Tolerance from the Southern Poverty Law Center
If you work in a public school, your local school district may also have resources on gender inclusion in schools that might help you and your staff make a plan.
Check Your Forms
Every form, everywhere in your school, including the ones made by parent volunteers and/or teachers should conform to a code of ethics regarding inclusion. Here are a few specific places where schools can be more inclusive in their paperwork:
- Assume families are structured in many ways. The friend I referenced in the opening example has one type of family. Sometimes kids live with single parents or step-parents or grandparents or siblings. Sometimes they have guardians. Sometimes they have four parents. Make space on your form for all of these (and any other!) possibilities.
- Ask about preferred pronouns. Don’t assume you know someone’s gender identity just by looking at them. I know people who were born female, look and dress very feminine, and prefer the pronouns “them/they.” Make space for students and families to declare their preferred pronouns and then hold a firm expectation that everyone on staff honor each individual preference.
- Don’t toot your own horn. While you actively do the work to make your school a more gender inclusive space, do it without making noise about it. Why? Because our ultimate goal is to make gender inclusion normal. It shouldn’t be noteworthy, it should be regular. Humbly weaving gender inclusion into our daily practices normalizes it while still sending a powerful message to your community.
How are you feeling right now? Maybe you’re really jazzed and inspired to go make the world a more inclusive place. Maybe you’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable or unsure. Whatever you are feeling is okay.
Our global culture is evolving. Schools are a huge part of a community’s culture. We can support and influence change that makes the world a kinder and more welcoming place for all people. That’s what Dr. Montessori envisioned, right?
The little things we do every day are the big things that make our world what it is. What kind of world do you want to live in? If you want it to be kind and inclusive, start with your school.
Want to talk about this more with other school leaders who care about inclusion? Head on over to the Montessori Leadership Facebook Group and share your thoughts and questions!