June 8, 2021 | Michelle Dzisiak
While June is celebrated as the last month of school for many, it’s also celebrated as Pride Month! As a classroom teacher, you likely want to create a welcoming environment for all your students so here are 10 simple yet powerful ways you can help to ensure your classroom is a safe and inclusive place for your LGBTQ+ students.
1. Post a safe space sign
Posting a rainbow flag or a safe space poster on your door or in a high-visibility area of your classroom is a subtle yet effective way to communicate to your students that you are an ally, that all students are welcome, and that you are dedicated to ensuring your classroom is a safe space for all who enter.
2. Use inclusive language
It’s common for teachers to use terms like “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”’ while addressing groups of students, but keeping in mind that not all students identify with these terms can help to create a more inclusive setting. Instead, try using gender-neutral terms such as “class”, “friends”, “grade -“, or calling out your class code. You can also come up with a fun class nickname with your students based on their interests to help create a feeling of community. Additionally, try not to group students by their genders. Many alternatives can be both engaging and inclusive ways to separate students into groups. Try having students pick a playing card, use a random group generator, pull popsicle sticks, or number them off instead!
3. Include inclusive learning materials in your teaching practice
Weaving LGBTQ+ learning materials into the curriculum doesn’t have to be challenging. Incorporating inclusive books, historical lessons, and activities can help your students feel seen, heard, and cared for. Additionally, this can help to ensure your students are learning about inclusivity and equity as part of character education.
4. Introduce your pronouns
At the start of the year, try wearing a nametag that includes your name and your pronouns and introducing yourself to your students using both. This simple act will signal to your students that you are aware of the diversity surrounding pronouns and care about how they identify themselves. If the school year has already started, you can simply write your pronouns on a board in your room alongside your name so all those that enter know how to properly address you, while simultaneously indicating that they too are welcome to clarify their pronouns.
5. Acknowledge diverse family structures
When referring to the families of your students, avoid making assumptions by only referring to “moms and dads”. There are many diverse family structures and all of them deserve a place in your classroom. Alternatively, try using language like “caregivers”, “grownups”, or “adults” when referring to your students’ guardians.
6. Introduce gender-neutral bathrooms
If gender-neutral bathrooms are available to your students, ensure your class is aware of their locations and that they are available for use. A seemingly simple part of the school environment can not only help transgender or non-binary students feel more comfortable using the restrooms at school, but they can also help to ensure physical safety for said students. If gender-neutral bathrooms are not available to students, try advocating to make at least one inclusive bathroom on each floor accessible for students to use (even if that means sacrificing a staff restroom!)
7. Invest in PD
As an educator, continuously learning and improving is part of your job description. Engaging in an LBGTQ+ focused PD course can help you better understand your students as well as tackle any unknown implicit or explicit biases you may have.
8. Don’t tolerate bullying or discrimination
Being an ally includes advocating and standing up for what’s right. It’s important to take preventative measures such as co-creating classroom expectations and predetermined consequences with your students. It’s never too late to set up a class meeting where you and your students can work together to establish rules and expectations that will help to ensure a safe environment for all. In doing so, also determine how you will manage someone who breaks the rules/contract. Collaborate with your students when solving problems and have an escalation policy in place to deal with conflicts. Don’t be afraid to involve parents or administration if needed, as a safe school environment is a necessary part of learning.
9. Join or start a GSA at your school
A Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) is a student-run club where students can support one another and discuss challenges related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. A GSA is a safe space where students and staff can work towards ending homophobia and transphobia. You can join your school’s GSA, or if you don’t have one, start one! You can learn more about GSAs and register your school’s GSA here.
10. Be a role model and an ally
Always remember that as the leader of your classroom, respect, acceptance and kindness start with you. You can lead by example by making efforts to create a safe and inclusive environment for all your students. The golden rule is, what is necessary for one is good for all and oftentimes small actions can have major implications for making school a better place for your students.
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