How to welcome gender diversity everyday in your classroom

Dr. Lee Airton wants teachers to consider gender-friendly ways to evolve how we all speak, write, and move around in public spaces

Lee Airton, assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, Queen's University
Lee Airton, assistant professor at Queen’s University, a recent keynote speaker at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education

Dr. Lee Airton wants educators to welcome gender diversity everyday in their classrooms — not just when there’s a crisis.

Airton, an associate professor at Queen’s University and author of the recently published Gender: Your Guide – A Gender-Friendly Primer on What to Know, What to Say, and What to Do in the New Gender Culture, is leading a public information campaign to make gender expression ordinary, not only in classrooms, but in all public spaces.

“Let’s make gender more flexible and less constricting,” Airton said to an audience of teacher candidates at the University of Ottawa on Feb. 19. “Let’s make it a source of more joy, and less harm, for everyone.”

In the keynote lecture, Airton offered two axioms to form the foundation of gender-friendly daily teaching practice:

‘Signpost’ your gender

On the first day of class, Airton recommends teachers “signpost” their gender identity, “Hi there, I’m [title/name] and my pronouns are [e.g. he/him].

“Come out by signposting your pronouns,” Airton explained. “Encourage non-compulsory pronoun sharing.”

However, educators should not to create situations that oblige pronoun sharing from students — being careful to not rely on a “pedagogy of exposure” and use people who live in gender students as sacrificial lambs (Meyer, Stafford & Airton, 2016).

“Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice their right to privacy, among other things, in order to bring attention to the lack of gender inclusivity in a school community,” Airton added.

Reconsider and revise non-inclusive texts

Airton also put forward a couple of classroom case studies that teachers can consider emulating in their own practice.

“In elementary school, when reading Where the Wild Things Are, ask the class, why does the author use ‘he/him’ for that monster? What can’t ‘they/them’ be used instead? Or why does any book have boys doing x-y-z instead of girls?”

In secondary school, Airton laments that awareness campaigns about breast and cervical cancers aren’t transgender inclusive, people who “might have the same parts, and [therefore] the same risks of these cancers.” Airton encourage teachers to create a lesson where students rewrite health awareness campaign content that is non-transgender inclusive in a “non-exceptionalizing manner.”

“Help your students see gender as a process for everyone, including you.”

Visit Dr. Lee Airton’s website, the book Gender: Your Guide, and find out more information about Airton’s No Big Deal: I’ll Use Your Pronoun campaign, which features downloadable teacher resources.

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