Here is a thing I believe:
For kids to know that we are their allies, we have to be visible.
Supportive educators help students feel better about being in school.
One of the ways that I’m being more intentional on my journey back to education and advocating for kids is in how inclusive my practices are. It’s not that I think I wasn’t inclusive before — it’s just that I had my eyes on a prize that ultimately wasn’t the most important thing.
I care far more about who my students are as humans than how they score, I always have. But I’m not sure that was communicated in every way it could have been. This is the message that needs to greet our kids every day. That they are loved, no matter where they’re coming from.
(Oddly enough, students perform better in environments where they feel safe and empowered and valued. Neuroscience and all that.)
Reimagining the classroom, I’ve started to think about what a safe place would look like. For starters, I think it’s crucial that students see their own reflection in the curriculum. For me, this means building a classroom library that includes characters from all walks of life. This means choosing ancillary texts, media, and speakers that represents all of my students, not just the majority. It means that as a teacher and the classroom adult, I represent my beliefs about respect and acceptance through the curriculum, through my classroom, and through my actions. It means that these beliefs are visible to kids.
“Visibility” used to be a term that I’d hear administrators using, and as a beginning teacher, I translated to mean “standing in the halls between passing periods”.
Visibility is not about an admin requirement. And while it may help, it’s not about stopping fights or misbehaviors. It’s about relationship building. It’s about kids seeing a friendly, supportive face. It’s about how all the students on campus are ours, not just the ones on our rosters.
This post is specifically inspired by the contents of my mailbox today. Look what came!
This is my GLSEN Safe Space Kit. I heard about it on Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy podcast (so, so good) back on a November episode, and finally ordered it. (Probably a little prematurely, as I don’t have a classroom to speak of. But it’s going on the top of my stockpile.) It came with stickers and posters and a beautiful, clear support guide for supporting LGBTQ students — information on issues, how to support and educate students and fellow staff, implementation on comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policies, how to promote non-discriminatory polices and practice — the list goes on. It was only $15, but you can also contact the site to ask for one to be donated.
My life overlaps in a lot of circles. And I feel like the next part of this message is necessary.
I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus and I believe in loving people — and I believe that that is the same thing. This topic in Christian circles forever frustrates me, and I am guilty of not having a kind answer sitting at the top of my toolbox for these friends who feel so strongly. Jen Hatmaker, who is secretly my best friend, said it so well, that I’m going to copy and paste it here. I know she won’t mind, with us being so tight and all.
It is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. So great has our condemnation and exclusion been, that gay Christian teens are SEVEN TIMES more likely to commit suicide.
Nope. No. No ma’am. Not on my watch. No more. This is so far outside the gospel of Jesus that I don’t even recognize its reflection. I can’t. I won’t. I refuse.
So whatever the cost and loss, this is where I am: gay teens? Gay adults? Mamas and daddies of precious gaybees? Friends and beloved neighbors of very dear LGBT folks?
Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing “wrong with you,” or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole. Yay for Jesus! Thank God he loves us. He is not embarrassed of any of us. I am not a scandal, you are not a scandal. We are not “bringing down his brand.”
Anyhow, my message to you today is simple, LGBT gang and all those who love you: You are loved and special and wanted and needed.
Our classrooms should be so wide that every last student can jump inside.