Connecticut has adopted a new guidance for school districts on supporting transgender students. What does this mean in practice? A recent professional learning opportunity helped clarify expectations for some of the everyday scenarios a school may encounter.
SERC held “Transgender Rights, Laws, and Best Practice Approaches” June 6 in collaboration with True Colors Connecticut. Robin McHaelen, True Colors’ executive director, and attorneys from the CT Commission on Human Rights helped answer questions on supporting students with a range of needs related to gender identity.
Through group discussion and reflection on their own youth, participants recognized the pervasiveness of gender “rules” in virtually everything students encounter in society—books, music, even food. These norms become ingrained from an early age, and those who fit these norms may not understand those who do not. McHaelen’s message to gender-conforming kids: You don’t have to “get” nonconforming preferences, but you must always be kind.
To guide adult educators, the facilitators emphasized inclusiveness:
- Recognize the cross-impact of gender identity and other characteristics, such as race. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, homelessness, and for other risk factors. Also, gender identity is often only one aspect for special consideration. If a student may be on the autism spectrum but is struggling with gender identity, for example, McHaelen suggests working with gender first.
- Parents may or may not support their child’s gender identity, or may be somewhere in between, but that is irrelevant to schools’ responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for transgender students. If parents are at least ambivalent, that can be enough for schools to work with them on ways to support their child.
Second, “sides” change. Sharp offered a scenario in which a child asks to be called by a first name of a different gender, and the parent demands the school use only their child’s given name. The child then become despondent and exhibits self-harming behaviors, and the parent ultimately relents to the child’s wishes. The parent may never acknowledge that they previously did not support the child’s preferred gender; suddenly the school alone is liable. Most administrators would clearly prefer to be on the side of the child.
As one participant put it: Schools should help parents help their children, regardless of gender identity.
Dismantling racism didn’t end with the conference
SERC began June with a lively follow-up meeting to its recent racism conference to identify common goals and a way forward.
SERC and the SERC Foundation held their second annual “Dismantling Systemic Racism: Conference on Race, Education & Success” on May 10. To maintain momentum, SERC hosted a June 1 networking and action meeting for attendees and anyone else interested in joining the movement.
Meeting participants, who ranged from educators to advocates, discussed three questions: “How comfortable are you initiating and engaging in conversations about race/racial equity?” “What are your hopes and goals related to racial equity, both personally and/or professionally?” and “What are the barriers in promoting racial equity both personally and/or professionally?” They then identified common themes:
- To most, the comfort level for discussing race depended on the awareness level of oneself and the other individuals who would be part of the discussion.
- Barriers to equity included recruiting teachers of color to a profession that is often undervalued; fear and risk in a politically charged environment; and the challenges of white privilege, including white fragility and the limited meaning and commitment of “white allies.”
- Goals included self-reflection and not just trying to “change” others; bringing in other voices into the conversation, particularly students; and leaving with a plan of action based on a question Calvin Terrell posed at the conference’s morning keynote: “If we didn’t create ‘it’ or start ‘it,’ then who keeps ‘it’ going, tries to stop ‘it,’ and/or works to transform ‘its’ energy?”
Co-teaching expert coming to Connecticut
This fall, SERC is offering two learning opportunities featuring Dr. Marilyn Friend, an international leader in the field of co-teaching. To begin planning, SERC’s Alice Henley and Virginia Babcock traveled to Boston in April to see Dr. Friend present at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Special Education Convention & Expo.
Dr. Friend’s sessions were titled “Co-teaching: We Know the Basics: What’s Next?” and “Co-Teaching: Moving from the Past to the Future to Increase Student Success.” She discussed enhancing the special education side of co-teaching and ensuring specially designed instruction (SDI), which is not always apparent in co-teaching practice, Babcock says.
Dr. Friend will address SDI in SERC’s session “Co-Teaching: Making It Work for You and Your Students,” to be held October 2, 2017. She will also facilitate the first day of “Making It Work in Your Building: A Co-Teaching Series for Administrators,” which begins October 3. The remaining sessions will be held December 14, 2017, and April 5, 2018.