Creating a gender inclusive school is the best way to demonstrate respect for the diversity of learners within a welcoming learning environment. Such environments acknowledge and affirm gender diversity, as well. Through thoughtful and intentional practices, any school can establish and create gender inclusive conditions.
- Recognize that gender impacts all learners,
- Interrupt binary notions of gender,
- Teach empathy and respect,
- Question limited portrayals of gender, and
- Normalize gender diversity.
When we focus on the intentional creation of gender inclusive schools, it’s important to consider these four entry points:
- Interpersonal and
Depending on context, any one of these may be the best starting point to cultivate an inclusive environment.
Personal entry points focus on understanding ‘gender’, involving reflection about the way experiences and beliefs about gender affect the work we do with students. This is a foundation upon which we build gender inclusive practices. We apply a lens of awareness to all work performed in classrooms, including relationships with learners.
Structural entry points are steps the entire school takes that embed gender inclusive practices. These points demonstrate to the school community that it recognizes and honors gender diversity and actively seeks to reflect a more complex understanding of gender. These approaches include:
- Gender neutral restrooms that provide options for privacy without stigmatizing any learner
- Signs and images that celebrate gender diversity
- Unified staff members who act as leads around gender diversity and related issues
- Procedures that demonstrate a non-binary understanding of gender
- Readily accessible written materials and information about gender diversity
- System-wide straining that builds staff capacity to appreciate gender diversity of others
- Policies and regulations that highlight gender as an area of diversity that is protected and supported by the school
- Student information systems that allow families to specify gender markers, i.e., preferred names and pronouns
Interpersonal entry points are the ways in which communication and interactions reinforce school commitment to honoring gender diversity and inclusion. It is supported by the structural components, yet also requires intentional, mindful behaviors on a daily basis. Primarily language-based, educators who operate from this point:
Use language that questions binary notions of gender, with statements such as:
- There are many ways to be a girl or boy or something else, isn’t that great?
- Toys are toys, colors are colors, and clothes are clothes
- Is there only one way to be a boy or girl? Can they like the same things?
- Rather than “boys and girls” or similar, use non-gendered terms for learners like “students”, ‘children” or similar.
Help students understand the difference between rules and patterns, and consider:
- Who says only girls wear dresses? Do all girls wear them? Do all boys? Do some?
- Boys may engage in some activities more than girls or vice versa. Does that doesn’t mean all boys do those things or are supposed to and girls can’t or shouldn’t.
Question limited portrayals of gender. Introduce ideas that expand awareness of societal influences:
- Who decided which things are for girls and which are for boys?
- Sometimes this may be confusing. We receive messages that say these things, but these messages are just some people’s ideas, and may not apply to you.
Recognize that gender is more about our identity than anything else. Consider these statements:
- No one has the right to tell another person how to feel on the inside.
- How someone feels about their gender comes from their hearts and minds, not their pants.
- Some bodies are thought of as “girl” or “boy” but that isn’t true for everyone.
Not limited to administrator roles in the creation of gender-inclusive school learning environments, the transformation of culture and climate must begin with the school leaders. It is from that entry point that an inclusive setting is established and sustained. School leaders must communicate this new respectfulness to all staff in order that there is uniformity and consistency.
Every staff member must possess a commitment to inclusion without any gender biases that may compromise school climate or culture. Above all else, we mustn’t permit any conditions to exist where learners feel unsafe, disrespected, unaccepted, or insignificant in that environment. In this area of education policies and practices, “zero-tolerance for intolerance” is the general rule to set a tone that demonstrates a commitment to making sure that every student’s gender is recognized and accepted.
The importance of instructional entry points will be explored separately, in our efforts to create gender-inclusive school communities for the 21st Century and beyond.