Celebrating diversity

Issue: Volume 96, Number 19

Posted: 30 October 2017
Reference #: 1H9fjy

Recently released guidance intended to give school leaders and teachers practical ideas around supporting the inclusion and wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ students meets a need that schools, advocacy groups and students have been aware of for some time.

Recently released guidance intended to give school leaders and teachers practical ideas around supporting the inclusion and wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ students meets a need that schools, advocacy groups and students have been aware of for some time.

The guidance takes the form of a guide on the Inclusive Education website. Called Supporting LGBTIQA+ students, it provides school leaders and teachers with guidance on:

  • understanding sex, gender and sexuality diversity
  • creating a school culture where all students are included, visible and valued
  • addressing immediate environmental, physical and social needs of students
  • creating an inclusive classroom that supports all students to achieve.

One of the key points that all parties involved in the creation of the guide make clear is that the guide does not represent any kind of policy directive, nor does it signal any changes in this area. Supporting LGBTIQA+ students shouldn’t be read as a set of hard and fast rules – it’s meant to act as a starting point for practical advice and guidance.

The guide is the culmination of work undertaken in response to requests from school leaders seeking practical information on how to go about supporting LGBTIQA+ students, in terms of inclusion, safety, and wellbeing. The guide brings together local and international research and practice information, as well as pointing schools toward organisations that can help further.

Every school in New Zealand is committed (and obligated) to provide a safe and affirming environment for all students. Research shows that LGBTIQA+ students can be particularly vulnerable in these areas – they’re less likely to ask for help, are more likely to experience bullying, are more likely to experience problems with mental health, and often don’t feel as connected to their school environments as other students.

In addition, the 2016 Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health project revealed the need for better and more visible support for LGBTIQA+ students.

Connor Mcleod works with InsideOUT, an organisation that works with “youth, whānau, schools and communities to make Aotearoa a safer place for all young people of minority genders and sexualities to live and be in”. Connor says that one of the most important pieces of advice that it is hoped Supporting LGBTIQA+ students will impart is that teachers simply need to make it known within their learning environments that they are allies to LGBTIQA+ students.

“One of the best ways school staff can help is by being visible and informed allies to their sexuality and gender minority students; however, many staff feel like they lack training on Rainbow issues, so it’s great to be able to provide wider access to resources staff can use to learn about more identities.

“There is especially a lack of training and awareness regarding trans and other gender minority students, particularly on non-binary gender identities. Yet we’re seeing that more trans students are coming out during high school rather than after [they leave school].”

Jerome Cargill, a teacher at Newlands College in Wellington, was involved in a peer review of the guide. He’s just returned to school after presenting papers on issues related to supporting LGBTIQA+ students at New Zealand’s largest education conference, ULearn. Jerome says that the guide will provide the impetus that schools need to provide for the needs of LGBTIQA+ students.

“Schools have long been aware of the need to be inclusive of all students’ identities, but what this guide does is make it clear that sexuality and gender diversity needs to be part of any conversation about inclusion. This is an important step for increasing visibility of the needs of LGBTIQA+ students.

“However, visibility [of needs] does not mean action. What is vital now is schools use this guide to take meaningful action and genuine change.”

Jerome feels really positive that the guide will help to make sure that the needs of LGBTIQA+ students become a priority at schools where staff may not have been sure how to begin understanding or approaching those needs.

“I’ve had the privilege of delivering professional development workshops in a number of schools on making their environments safer for sexuality and gender diverse students. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, as every teacher walks away with a greater understanding of the needs that exist in their classroom. These workshops are important because they break stigmas, in the same way as this guide does: promoting a conversation that rarely occurs, helping to share language to enable teachers to talk about sexuality and gender diversity and making it clear that every individual can take actions to make schools more inclusive.”

Connor Mcleod reports that he’s already had lots of really positive feedback on the guide following its release – particularly from those who really matter in this conversation, the students themselves.

“As a youth worker, I have heard from students who are really excited to take the guide to their teachers, and to push for its recommendations in practice. For the young people I work with, it validates their advocacy work to staff and provides a strong and validated platform to work from.”

Charlotte Earle is one of the student leaders of the Queer Straight Alliance at Newlands College. She feels that the guide will help to facilitate the celebration of differences.

“[It’s important that teachers help to] ensure that all students feel supported and valued for their differences rather than discriminate against them, similar to the extensive work done for women and for racially diverse students.”

The Supporting LGBTIQA+ students guide provides information for both school leaders and teachers. You can find the guide at www.inclusive.tki.org.nz/guides/lgbtiqa. It can also be read alongside the Ministry’s guidance on sexuality education in schools http://health.tki.org.nz/Teaching-in-HPE/Policy-guidelines/Sexuality-education-a-guide-for-principals-boards-of-trustees-and-teachers(external link)


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 30 October 2017

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