As a K-5 international educator it’s not often that we’re discussing ways to promote safe spaces for LGBTQ members of the community. It’s almost as though it’s a taboo subject for elementary educators and you only start to see Rainbow flags appearing when students enter middle school.
Where does the teaching of Diverse Family Structures fit in?
If you could name your top 5 favourite children’s books what would they all have in common? Most likely they feature gender conforming characters in a heteronormative family structure. Here is a list we can browse of 50 popular titles from the 80s and 90s…
Many schools make an effort to celebrate different cultures, religions, skin colours, abilities. However addressing different family structures (2 moms, 2 dads, adoption, single parents, divorced parents, blended families, trans parents etc) often seem too ‘taboo’ for K-5 teachers to explicitly include in their classroom literature. How often do we audit our own classroom libraries to make sure all family structures, abilities and identities are represented? How heteronormative is your grade’s reading list?
This is my 13th year as an IB educator and it’s only the first year that I’ve felt 100% comfortable been ‘out’ as a queer educator to all students and families at my school.
Every year that I taught overseas (Ukraine, China, Indonesia, Switzerland, Singapore), I hesitated to share information about my own family. I’d either avoid answering parents who point-blank asked if I was married, or I’d tell students it was too personal to ask if I had a husband or kids of my own. Ironically as teachers, we often ask students to openly share about themselves and their families and it wasn’t until one 6 year old student finally asked “When do we get to learn about YOUR family?” that I realised how isolated I felt as one of the only queer teachers. The main reason I finally feel comfortable sharing who I am with our school community is that my wife and I are living in Canada, and there are clear laws and protections for the LGBTQ+ community. The curriculum we teach also includes LGBTQ+ component called SOGI 123 (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
When I was teaching Grade 5 in Singapore, a group of students wanted to explore LGBTQ+ rights. Unfortunately, due to some conservative perspectives at our school (and fears of encountering ‘gay sex’ in their Google Search), this topic was vetoed and students were unable to pursue this issue.
The following year as a Grade 1 teacher at the same school, I decided to make an executive decision to embed the theme of Diverse Families into our Unit of Study about Who We Are. Our librarian was very receptive to the idea of creating a Diversity Showcase in the school library and together we brainstormed the 4 different categories of diversity we would showcase:
GENDER FAMILIES ABILITIES CULTURES
While the school librarian created a showcase and category activity in the Junior library, I created a literacy focused activity for my own classroom. Click here to see the summary of our Grade 1 learning journey in Diversity Themed Books.
After defining these terms with my Grade 1s, I pulled a variety of books from the library and had students assess which category the book belonged in (sometimes it was more than one!) and also leave a BOOKMARK REVIEW for each title.
Here are a few samples of the students’ Book Reviews:
After students finished their Book Reviews I displayed their bookmarks and the Book Box in our Staff Room for other teachers (JK4-Grade 1) to have access and consider ways they could be a better ally to queer students & teachers at the school.
Many of my colleagues were supportive of this initiative and a small committee formed voluntarily to explore more titles for K-5 literacy programs. We created a shared Google Doc where teachers could add their personal recommendations as well.
3 Questions for K-5 Teachers to Consider:
1) What is your perspective on the appropriate age students should be exposed to diverse family structures?
2) How safe would queer students and teachers feel at your school?
3) Which books have you used in your own classrooms that include positive examples of LGBTQ+ characters?
I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.