Category Archives: By Education

Math Problems?

In a new series aimed at closing the gap between research and practice, Usable Knowledge is partnering with Digital Promise on a project that collects real questions from educators across the country and poses them to faculty members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The series, called Ask a Researcher, offers evidence-based guidance to classroom dilemmas in the areas of literacy, mathematics, and English language learning, giving teachers credible strategies to enhance student learning. (Questions are gathered from educators in Ditigal Promise’s League of Innovative Schools; plans are developing to solicit questions more broadly.)

Here, we share an excerpt of questions and answers in mathematics, with links to the full series.

Q: For struggling math learners, how can teachers fill in the gaps and teach on grade level, all in one year?

Keep these two goals separate, advises Jon Star. Devote instructional time daily to filling gaps by giving students opportunities to revisit past content. Then consider ways to modify the complexity of new content, by using “easier” numbers, fewer fractions, and more straightforward problems. “This way, struggling students can begin to grasp the important ideas of the new material without being handicapped by their fragile understanding of the ‘old,'” Star says. Read Star’s full answer.

Q: How do you build students’ math confidence? 

Recognize, and work to counteract, the prevailing binary narrative about math, says Noah Heller: Either you’re good at it or you’re not good at it. “If students have received negative feedback on assessments, if they’ve been placed in lower math tracks, or if they misunderstand the content, then oftentimes, they think they’re bad at math,” Heller says. “One way to change this assumption is to create a classroom culture where errors become learning opportunities.” Also: try to de-emphasize answers and spend more time on reasoning, making math class more discursive, less about coming to a single answer. Read Heller’s complete answer.

Q: What assessment strategies are most effective for improving math learning? 

Based on the paucity of rigorous evidence showing the impact of formative assessment, “I’m not optimistic about teachers studying formal student data, and, if I were a principal, I’d put my eggs in another basket,” says Heather Hill. “For instance, I’d probably think about coaching teachers to be more aware of students’ in-classroom work product and cues.” The answer to improved learning probably lies in a package of pedagogical techniques, one that includes formative assessment strategies but also new tasks and student-centered teaching methods, including time spent on open-ended, cognitively complex problems. Read Hill’s full answer.

When Reading with Harder

For years, we’ve thought that the answer to boosting adolescent reading comprehension lay in building students’ vocabulary. Teens often struggle with the jargon and advanced terminology they encounter as they move into middle and high school, so educators have designed curricula and interventions that explicitly teach these complex words.

But these strategies aren’t always fully effective, according to literacy researcher Paola Uccelli. As she writes, many of these interventions have yielded “significant growth in vocabulary knowledge yet only modest gains in reading comprehension.” Too many teens still struggle to understand assigned texts.

WHEN CONNECTING WORDS ARE UNFAMILIAR

Uccelli’s research explores a new approach. By focusing on how words connect in academic texts — and by recognizing that this connecting language is a possible source of difficulty for adolescent readers — teachers may be better able to equip middle and high school students with the tools to comprehend the texts they’re reading for higher-order learning.

Her work identifies a set of language features that are common in academic text but rare in informal spoken language. She’s found that many of the most common language features of middle school texts are unknown to large proportions of students, even by eighth grade. This is relevant for pedagogy, she says, because many of these language challenges are invisible to educators, curriculum designers, and researchers.

UNDERSTANDING HOW WORDS AND PASSAGES RELATE

Too often, says Uccelli, students learn about language in isolation, memorizing vocabulary in one lesson and studying grammar and sentence structure in another. Of course, students need to understand technical terms — “isotope” in a chemistry textbook, “colonize” in a history article — but this knowledge is insufficient if students don’t understand how pieces of language relate to each other to create meaning.

In another article, Uccelli showcases the difficulties that academic texts can pose for students:

The scientific agreement today is that the Earth’s surface temperatures have increased in recent decades. Moreover, most scientists agree that it is extremely likely that humans are causing this problem through activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases.

To understand the text, students have to know the definitions of “greenhouse gases” and “concentrations.” But those clarifications won’t elucidate the whole passage: Students also need to understand that “this problem” refers to increasing surface temperatures, and that “moreover” signifies that the second sentence builds on the first.

Knowing how to unlock these connecting concepts is particularly important when reading academic texts, which use language far differently than we use it as speakers. When we talk through complicated subjects, we can use simple sentence structures, aided by tools such as hand movements, intonation, and enactment. But when there are only words on a page to explain these ideas precisely and concisely, the language structures often get complex, and students can grow confused when faced with these dense constructions. Paradoxically, the academic language features meant to supportprecise communication can obstruct comprehension if readers are unfamiliar with them.

How Bullying Looks to Teens

We asked teenagers from around the country to share their thoughts on why bullying happens, what it takes to be an ally, and how schools can promote kindness. Drawing on their daily experiences at middle and high school, teenagers Sophie Bernstein from Missouri, Lily Horton from California, Nadya Khan from New Jersey, Katie Wong from California, and Ricky Yoo from Georgia provided firsthand insight for the adults working to end bullying and create welcoming schools. The teens are part of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) at Making Caring Common, an initiative of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

We all know that bullying, teasing, and exclusion are wrong. So why do you think young people still bully, tease, and exclude their peers? And why do you think it’s so hard for students to stand up to cruelty?

Nadya: High school does a very good job of making teens feel as though their school is the entire world. Bullying is so prevalent, in my opinion, because teens want to feel superior in that bubble of their school. So it is common that they bring other people down in order to rise in superiority and popularity. On the other hand, students may find it hard to stand up for themselves or their peers when they are experiencing harassment because they are afraid of the popularity of the bully hurting them.

Katie: In my opinion, young people continue to bully, tease, and exclude their peers because they feel insecure with themselves, or they feel intimidated by their target. It is difficult for them to stand up for each other because they are afraid of being ostracized. While standing up for each other is deemed a good thing, it takes courage to stray from the norm because the social aspects of middle and high school stress the importance of fitting in.

Sophie: We’ve seen from preschool children to President Trump that if bullying behavior is condoned, it continues. Students need to be taught how to stand up for each other and given the skill set to stop bullying.

Lily: People who put others down can often come across as “cool” or “superior,” which prevents others from standing up for the people being bullied. People might not want to stand up to a bully because they want to be accepted and don’t want to be bullied themselves.

What does it take to be an ally, and to speak up against bullying when you see it?

Ricky: I think it takes courage and a sense of what is morally just. You have to be brave enough to take a stand for what is right, no matter the consequences.

Katie: Choosing to stand up for somebody is something that many teens have struggled with. Some feel afraid of making the “wrong” decision, socially. If a student chooses to become an ally, they must be ready to face repercussions, but also should feel proud of their decision to make positive change.

Nadya: It may be hard, but your actions to help someone in need can overpower anything and everything negative. If you are a good person and know that what you are doing is helping someone, then all the negative tension from the situation cannot hurt you.

Lily: I think that being an ally is simply standing up for something you believe is right. If you see someone being bullied, you should understand that it isn’t okay and that you need to stand up for that person. All it takes is letting someone know that what she is saying is mean and not okay. You can often stop the bullying by simply acknowledging how wrong it is.

What do you wish your school were doing differently to create an environment without bullying, teasing, and exclusion — a place where students could express themselves for who they are without fear?

Nadya: Whether it be through posters or morning announcements, I would like to see/hear my school administration stressing the importance of kindness and inclusion in school.

Lily: I think my school should do a better job of encouraging people to embrace who they are, rather than who they think others want them to be. I think my school should support people to express themselves without being scared of what people might think.

Ricky: I feel like more adult-youth engagement could facilitate an environment where victims of bullying are able to reach for help when needed. Adult faculty can serve both as teachers and as mentors. Having an adult figure in one’s life is important. It makes sense. They usually have experienced more and know more than teenagers. Having insight from an adult could help teenagers handle the pressure of school life.

Sophie: I think every school receiving federal funds should be mandated to have a mission statement that includes antibullying clauses, and every student should have to sign a form to stop bullying when they see it or know of it happening.

Katie: I wish we could have a designated spot or club on campus that offered a discreet but fun place to make new friends and express yourself openly, among other people who feel the same way as you. I think it is important to offer other activities, such as lunchtime art or card making for veterans, which are different from traditional spirit events. This would help everyone feel represented at school and know that there is a safe community waiting for them with open arms.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • A strategy guide [PDF] for schools looking to build a student-led School Climate Committee
  • Meet this year’s Youth Advisory Board
  • Reflections from the YAB on the 2016 presidential election
  • Connect with the YAB by following Making Caring Common on Facebook and Twitter and searching the hashtag #MCCYoungLeaders

Raising Kind Children

Families foster kindness and respect at home by setting expectations for manners, sharing, and helping with chores. And families hope, often with a tinge of worry, that children will continue those behaviors when parents and caregivers aren’t nearby: in the school cafeteria, at a friend’s house, or on Instagram and Snapchat.

But guiding children to be empathetic and ethical in their independent lives — even when no one is looking — can be more intentional than that. Here, a set of parenting strategies for teaching children to think ethically, care about the people around them, and create positive change in the world. These resources were developed by Making Caring Common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

To guide ethical thinking:

  • Discuss ethical dilemmas you have encountered at work, with friends, or running errands. Ask your children what they would have done in that situation.
  • Talk about ethical dilemmas your children might face in the classroom, at lunch, or during recess. Brainstorm (and role-play) possible solutions.
  • Encourage your children to see conflicts from another person’s perspective. Discuss ways they can compromise between their needs and those of others.

To foster concern for others:

  • Encourage your children to really listen to siblings or peers when they are upset, especially if they don’t initially understand that person’s views.
  • Ask children to consider the perspectives of people they don’t usually talk to: a new student at school, a student who is often teased, a student experiencing family trouble, or a student of a different race or religion.
  • Discuss hardships you see on the news, and talk about the experiences, challenges, and feelings of people who live in different places around the world.
  • Complete this circle of concern activity.

To teach children to be change-makers:

  • Inspire children to take action around issues that affect them and their peers, such as school uniform policies, transgender students’ rights, or the healthfulness of school lunches.
  • Distinguish the importance of “doing with” others from “doing for” others. Encourage children to respond to community problems by working with and listening to a diverse group, rather than spearheading new initiatives without any guidance. This is particularly relevant for high school students seeking “community service” opportunities as part of their college-application process; parents can guide children to take a richer, more meaningful approach to volunteer work.
  • Model that communal approach — and the importance of service. Volunteer together at a food drive, or set aside a day as a family to donate unwanted clothes and toys.

The most important thing

Clint Smith, a writer and teacher, uses poetry to help students understand that digging into uncertainty can be just as important as finding solutions — an unfamiliar concept for many young people.

We asked Smith, a Harvard Graduate School of Education Ph.D. candidate, to read one of his poems with us — a selection from his debut collection Counting Descent. We also asked him to talk about how he approaches poetry in the classroom and as a writer. Watch the video here, and read excerpts from our longer interview below.

“Poetry doesn’t mean you need to have the answers.”
“I think that so often kids can feel paralyzed by writing because it feels like they have to know something, that there has to be some level of sanctimony, and that they have to have solutions or ideas to offer the world or their teacher or their peers. But poetry doesn’t mean you need to have the answers. It simply allows you to wrestle with the questions.”

“One of the first things I seek to do . . .”
“There can sometimes be this tacit, even unconscious presumption that spoken word is lower on the literary hierarchy than that of other more ‘traditional’ poetry. One of the first things I seek to do when I come into the classroom is seek to disabuse students of that notion. It wasn’t until the advent of the printing press in the mid-15th century in the west that poetry was even considered something to be written down, or something to be received in that sort of aesthetic.

“You are already a poet.”
“I tell kids, ‘So much of what you consume now, whether it’s hip hop or whether it’s other forms of oral performative storytelling, comes out of the oral tradition of poetry at its root. You are already a poet in many ways.’ And I think once that cage that they have in their minds around how they define poetry is unlocked, it opens up room for them to think of themselves as writers and as poets. It gives them an access point. They realize poetry isn’t something that is done by this type of caricatured white man sitting by a fire in the 15th century. It is instead something that is living and breathing and exists all around them already.”

“An antiquated and largely false notion . . .”
“I think there’s an antiquated and largely false notion that people have that every poem should be about the trees and the flowers. And that’s fine — I think there’s lots to write about trees and flowers — but I think writing about those things simply because you think you shouldn’t be writing about other things in your life is a problem.”

“Honest and urgent and deeply committed.”
“The work of the artist has never been more urgent than it is in our new political era. We are entering a phase in our history which demands that artists and thinkers and writers and teachers respond to the world as we see it — the world as it’s going to evolve over the next four to eight years in a profoundly different way, and I think people have to be honest and urgent and deeply committed to truth.”

Accentuate the Positive

With an unsettling year drawing to a close, many educators are increasingly aware of race: how it impacts student achievement and how it obstructs connections between people. But as we hope for a new year filled with equity and kindness in schools and beyond, research offers some encouraging insights.

Confronting racial tensions, biases, and microaggressions can have powerful effects. But schools may also benefit from widening the lens. Behavioral psychologist Todd Pittinsky has found that when white teachers encourage and model overtly welcominginteractions between students of different races, ethnicities, genders, and abilities, student achievement increases.

These “microaffirmations,” as Pittinsky calls them, can be transformative — not only for academic work, but for broader school climate and even for life outcomes.

THE RESEARCH

In a recent study, Pittinsky, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, tested whether positive attitudes of predominantly white teachers could augment the learning outcomes of mostly minority students. The results suggest that simply being welcoming and inclusive can help students not only feel comfortable in school, but also grow academically.

The study looked at more than 1,200 teachers in predominantly minority schools in 14 states across the country. Of them, 80 percent were white and the rest nearly all Latino or African American.

It examined two characteristics of welcoming interactions: what Pittinsky calls “empathic joy,” or the happiness that comes from taking the perspective of another person, and “allophilia,” a term he coined as an antonym to prejudice, meaning “love or like of the other.”

To determine teachers’ levels of empathy and allophilia, the researchers asked them to rate their agreement to statements such as “When my students celebrate things, I am happy for them” and “In general, I have positive attitudes about my students.” The researchers then measured these scores alongside assessments of the teachers’ positive engagement with their students, and against end-of-year tests measuring students’ academic growth.

The results? A chain of good effects.

Teachers’ empathic joy was associated with allophilia. Allophilia, in turn, was associated with positive engagements between students and teachers, which were then associated with greater student learning. The research suggests that these positive interactions can make students more optimistic at school and more committed to continuing their education.

MICROAFFIRMATIONS IN THE CLASSROOM

Many teachers already recognize and promote positive interactions — microaffirmations — in their classrooms, though perhaps without fully realizing its measurable impact. In a recent Phi Delta Kappan article, Pittinsky gives several examples:

  • Nodding and making eye contact with students while they’re talking
  • Making sure to call on students of different races and genders equally
  • Referring to every student by his or her name
  • Using inclusive language — for instance, talk about “families” instead of “parents”
  • Openly giving praise for a wide-range of actions, from answering a question right to sitting still during a lesson
  • Staying enthusiastic when interacting with students

“Focusing on microaffirmations can create a virtuous cycle,” writes Pittinsky. “Over time, they can redefine the normative behavior in a classroom — or in a school — not only to avoid exclusion and insult, but also to embrace inclusion and affirmation.”

The Bilingual Learner’s Journey

Asil Yassine, who taught English-language learners (ELLs) in Detroit before enrolling in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was herself an ELL student as a child. Drawing on her experiences as learner, teacher, and researcher, she offers guidance about the crucial support that ELL teachers can provide. In a short video (below), she remembers her own school days — and how hard it can be to be “different.”

Lead the charge and encourage your entire school to make this meaningful vocabulary switch: Instead of ELLs, call them “bilingual learners.”

I grew up in a district that had very few ELLs at the time, so I have distinct memories of being incredibly self-conscious of the fact that I was the only one getting pulled out for services or the only one who had a special helper during reading time. That sense of “I’m different” can manifest itself into a variety of esteem issues, so I am grateful my teachers recognized the enormous importance of community. I remember how warm each classroom felt, how loving the teachers were, and how much camaraderie I found amongst my classmates. I don’t, however, remember too many occasions where I was invited to explore my identity or my classmates’ identities to unpack this notion of “I’m different.” It was not until college where I was able to really dissect my identity as a Lebanese-Palestinian, Muslim-American speaking Arabic growing up in Texas and all the ways it shaped my relationship with learning. I wish I had been able to start exploring that earlier in elementary school.

What we need to recognize is the importance of affirming our students’ identities. This is a step away from the annual “multicultural day” or general displays of diversity. It is the practice of bringing identity to the forefront of learning, because through understanding identity, we can understand the power that unfortunately defines so much of our students’ experiences.

Take a look at your curriculum and create opportunities for your students to share their backgrounds, journeys, families, and culture in the context of your content area.

For our bilingual learners, much of this has to do with language. Lisa Delpit says language is “the skin that we speak,” meaning that language is a massive part of anyone’s identity. So one of the very first things I would encourage teachers to do is to shift their mindset about ELLs. Paola Uccelli suggests that instead of calling these students ELLs, we call them “bilingual learners.” Lead the charge and encourage your entire school to make this vocabulary switch too.

Then, take a look at your curriculum and create opportunities for your students to share information about their backgrounds, journeys, families, and culture in the context of your content area. Encouraging students, particularly newcomers, to share their wealth of experiences sends a strong message that their identity is important and that it is affirmed. As students dig for words to share their stories, it can foster community in the classroom and can spur the growth of academic vocabulary. Further, allow students to speak in their home language as they brainstorm, draft assignments, or work in groups. There is good research to back up this idea, as it allows students to fully participate in rigorous, critical thinking in a language they are comfortable in. They may not be able to do that in English yet, but we shouldn’t rob them of the opportunity to do highly analytical thinking in their home language.

Supporting Undocumented Students

For undocumented students, close relationships with teachers and guidance counselors can make a world of difference, says education and immigration expert Roberto Gonzales. Educators can not only provide much-needed emotional support; they can also be the resource these students and their families need to stay safe and participate fully in their communities.

If a student discloses his or her status and asks for advice, you don’t have to have all the answers right away, says Gonzales, who spent 12 years chronicling the experiences of undocumented young people for his book Lives in Limbo. More important is acknowledging the student’s concerns and telling the student that you’ll figure it out together — and then talk to colleagues, visit local community centers, or find answers online. Tell the student, “I can find ways to better help you.”

Watch the video, and see below for best practices for supporting undocumented learners in a K-12 setting (excerpted from a previously published story).

SUPPORTING UNDOCUMENTED LEARNERS IN MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL

Help families and children understand their rights. Schools are legally forbidden from asking about immigration status, and some students may not disclose (or may not know) their status. Districts and schools with immigrant populations should communicate proactively with all families, with messages of inclusion and to encourage DACA enrollment and renewal, as modeled by this resource from the Boston Public Schools and by a new BPS website called We Dream Together, designed for students. From early on, they should spread the message to students that everyone can aspire to go to college and pursue interests and career goals. That message should include the fact that undocumented students can legally attend college in the U.S.

Here is a comprehensive resource on the rights of immigrant and refugee children, assembled by Teaching Tolerance for educators and school staff.

Ensure that staff members know about the resources available to undocumented students, as well as the limitations. Variation at the state-level — involving tuition rates, state scholarships, and licensure requirements, among other things — makes it important for school counselors, teachers, and other academic advisors to be aware of the opportunities and restrictions available to DACA-enrolled young people in their localities.

Create a strong mentoring system. Gonzales identified a single characteristic shared by each of the high-achieving undocumented students he followed: “To the person, they could name three or four adult mentors in their lives,” he says. “These were teachers, counselors, adults within the school community who really helped forge a pathway for them.”

Look to colleges as a model for student services. At the postsecondary level, some colleges have taken the lead by creating resource centers for undocumented students, and these have been effective at providing the specific support these students need, Gonzales says. These resource centers include an identified staff person who acts as a liaison to students in navigating the bureaucracy of higher education. They also provide trainings for staff and faculty, and they convene support groups and clubs for undocumented students.

Stay aware of the challenges of adolescence. Navigating adolescence is challenging for all children, but it’s uniquely so for undocumented children, who may contend with stigma, exclusion, or self-seclusion or secrecy that families often feel compelled to impose. With DACA, “there are more supports to prevent kids from falling off,” Gonzales says. “There are new opportunities for guidance, allowing these young people and their families some breathing room — some chance to maintain their aspirations.”

School wide SEL to Prevent Bullying

What are the social-emotional skills that can that work against the impulse to harass or exclude? What about the skills that build a predisposition toward empathy and compromise?

Developmental psychologist Stephanie Jones, whose lab explores the impact of high-quality social-emotional interventions, helped us trace the connections between SEL and bullying prevention.

Which social-emotional skills help children accept peers who are different from them?

They need empathy and perspective-taking skills, but those begin with a basic understanding of the emotions of self and others. This basic understanding of their emotions will enable children to think about a situation from multiple sides and imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

Which skills do children need to recognize and stand up to harassment or teasing?

Children need several things: awareness, knowledge, and skills that enable them to recognize hurtful words and actions or to identify unfairness and conflict; and strategies that help them identify what they see and resolve arguments or discriminatory situations. Basic awareness and practice with conflict resolution strategies can help children know what to do when they see these situations.

Schools can help develop both of these skills by creating a schoolwide culture that has clear norms and expectations. For example, a school should be very explicit and concrete about (1) what bullying behavior and discrimination looks like, (2) that it is not allowed in the building, and (3) what children should do when they see it.

What are some classroom practices that can help build these skills?

To build awareness of emotions: Have a “Feelings Tree” in the classroom (or in a more public place, such as the cafeteria or playground). Encourage kids to talk about the complex feelings that can arise during the day such as jealousy, frustration, anger, prejudice and injustice.

To build empathy and perspective-taking: Engage in simple exercises like asking children what it might be like to stand in another person’s shoes. These questions can help them understand, appreciate, and respect the perspectives, beliefs, needs, wants, and feelings of other people. Encourage kids to be “feelings detectives” and try to figure out how a character in a book is feeling.

To build conflict-resolution skills: Teach young children (as early as preschool) simple ways to share and take turns. These lessons help create a basic toolbox for responding to conflict in proactive and positive ways. Older children (first- to fourthgraders) can learn a larger set of conflict resolution strategies, such as how to compromise, how to decide when to walk away, and how to communicate through conflict. In our SECURe project, we teach elementary students a process called the Peace Path, which involves students telling each other how they feel, brainstorming solutions, and together choosing a strategy, trying it out, and reflecting on the outcome.

Students Surviving and Thriving

For students who identify as LGBTQ or are gender non-conforming, school can be a difficult, even dangerous, place. Especially in the wake of shifts in federal guidance on transgender students, educators can make a difference by openly supporting these students.

WHEN SCHOOL ISN’T SAFE

LGBTQ students can feel “isolated and alone and rejected” when peers and teachers don’t accept them, says Tracie Jones, who runs student diversity and inclusion programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). Children as young as kindergarten can be bullied for not fitting in with typical gender expectations. Transgender students are especially vulnerable, facing more hostility in school than peers who identify as gay or bisexual. According to a 2015 survey [PDF] by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 77 percent of transgender youth were mistreated at school (ranging from verbal harassment to prohibitions on dressing according to gender identity to physical or sexual assault); according to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender youth are twice as likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol [PDF] as straight, cisgender peers.

All of this affects learning. LGBTQ students who are harassed or excluded have lower GPAs than straight peers and are half as likely to pursue post-secondary education. “If you’re constantly in that space of fear, there’s no chance of being able to reach the content and the learning that’s going on in your classroom,” says Tina Owen-Moore, who founded the Alliance School in Milwaukee with the explicit mission of providing an environment that would support LGBTQ students.

Even coming to school can be difficult. When Owen-Moore started the Alliance School in 2005, attendance rates were at 61 percent. Many students who enrolled simply were not in the habit of coming to school because they didn’t perceive it “as a safe or welcoming place,” she says.

Vocal support from teachers and administrators can make a world of difference. Now the Alliance School has an attendance rate of 91 percent, and students are applying to college and focusing on their careers, rather than just trying to “get through” high school. “It’s so important to build a place where young people can thrive instead of just survive,” says Owen-Moore, now pursuing a doctorate at Harvard.

STRATEGIES TO SUPPORT LGBTQ STUDENTS

To reach their full potential, these students need to feel safe and accepted. Here, we provide guidance for educators and school leaders about how to help, collected from Harvard’s Tracie Jones and Tina Owen-Moore, as well as from Michael Sadowski’s Safe is Not Enough, Teaching Tolerance, Welcoming Schools, and the Human Rights Campaign.

  • Educate yourself. Teachers and school leaders need to know what it means to be transgender, genderqueer, or to simply not believe in gender. LGBTQ students are in every school, in every grade, and educators must be prepared to understand them.
  • Respect students’ requests. When a student asks to be called by a different name or pronoun, teachers need to respect it, even if they’re initially uncomfortable or unsure. Says Jones, “It’s better to try, mess up, and own that mistake” than to not listen to the student. “Students need to understand that you are doing your best to ally with them.”
  • Use inclusive language and practices. Even if there are no openly LGBTQ students in a classroom, teachers can strive to look past gender. Rather than call a class “boys and girls,” they can use “team” or “scholars.” They can avoid statements that group the class into genders, such as “I notice all the boys are…” or “I wonder why only the girls….”
  • Ensure the entire school is supportive. Messages of tolerance and welcome should be spread throughout the school, not confined to certain classrooms. All adults in the building — teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians — should understand what it means to be an ally for LGBTQ students. And if possible, all school systems, lists, and data platforms should reflect students’ wishes on their gender identity and names.
  • Continue to follow the earlier federal guidance on Title IX. The Trump Administration has recently ruled that it won’t direct schools to allow transgender students to use facilities corresponding with their gender identity. However, says Moore, schools can still choose to give their students that right, as directed by the Obama Administration in May 2016.
  • Provide lessons and programming on LGBTQ issues and themes. It’s not the responsibility of LGBTQ students to educate their peers. Instead, educators should infuse curriculum with LGBTQ history and current events, teach students what it means to be transgender and explain problems with the gender binary, and have students read works by LGBTQ authors. Give LGBTQ students the choice to share, but don’t make them the subject of the learning.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • A deeper dive into the discrimination and harassment that LGBTQ students face, from GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey
  • A comprehensive report of LGBTQ youth’s experiences and how adults can best support them, from the Human Rights Campaign
  • Resources, strategies, and background information on gender and the importance of supporting transgender students, from Welcoming Schools
  • A toolkit on allying with nonbinary youth and a fact sheet on being transgender, from Teaching Tolerance