Post submitted by Charles Girard, Welcoming Schools Coordinator

I always loved the first day of school. I’ll never forget the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, decorating my notebooks and the excitement I felt as I entered my new classroom each year.  

I remember one August in elementary school, when I walked into my new classroom, I saw that my teacher placed folders on each desk with our names on them.

I eagerly found my name, but my expression quickly turned from excitement to devastation.

My name was written in careful cursive on a pink folder and was decorated with flowers and hearts. The boys had blue folders covered in footballs and soccer balls.

My first day of school that year, I cried. How could someone have made this choice for me? Did my teacher care about me at all?

My teacher had no way of knowing that I would come to identify as male after learning the word “transgender” when I was a teenager, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only student that would have preferred a color that wasn’t so gendered, like green or yellow.

Getting a classroom ready for the new year can be overwhelming and hectic. Who has time to think about gender stereotypes when there is lesson planning to do and bulletin boards to create?

HRC’s Welcoming Schools has compiled a list of tips to help start the school year. It’s easy to create a classroom where students aren’t limited based on gender stereotypes and where all students can reach their full potential this year.

1. Avoid Using Gender to Divide and Address Students

For generations teachers have separated students according to their gender for activities or to line up for lunch. However, this can leave some students feeling out-of-place, making them distracted or isolated and not able to focus on learning.  

For example, when lining students up for lunch, rather than saying, “Girls line up first,” try saying, “Anyone wearing a green shirt can line up,” or “If your name has an ‘E’ please line up.”

Similarly, instead of addressing your class using “boys” and “girls,” try something new. Words like “friends,” “students” or “scholars” allow all students to feel included, expand student vocabulary and model inclusive language and behavior for other students and teachers.

For more ideas on creating a gender-inclusive classroom, click here.

2. Prepare for Teachable Moments

“He looks gay!”

“She dresses like a boy.”

Sometimes students catch us off-guard and it’s difficult to formulate the perfect response to difficult questions or statements. Check out our teachable moments to prepare for these situations and find real questions that students may ask and responses that can help students appreciate and better understand gender diversity.

3. Allow Students and Their Families to Identify Their Gender (or not)

On paperwork, avoid asking students to identify as male or female unless it is absolutely necessary. If it is necessary for students and their families to do so, consider adding a third write-in option for those who have non-binary gender identities or to allow students to elaborate if neither “male” nor “female” fit. Our partner, Gender Spectrum, has a sample school registration form that is inclusive of transgender and gender-expansive students.

Similarly, make sure that forms do not have specific spaces for “mother” and “father.” If a form requires the name(s) of legal caregivers(s), the form can just say “parent,” “guardian,” or “caregiver.”

4. Develop a Gender Expansive Environment

We know that conforming to traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity can be limiting, not only to transgender students, but to all students.

Be mindful of the ways you might be gender stereotyping students. For example, rather than only inviting girls to learn a dance during recess, invite all students, including the boys, to dance.  Show pictures and videos that challenge gender stereotypes and demonstrate that women can be firefighters and doctors and that men can be nurses and stay-at-home parents.

Check out Welcoming Schools’ list of great role models, which are excellent ideas to use when students research and write biographies.  

HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools is an LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying in K-5 schools. Learn more about Welcoming Schools here.

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