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Thriving, Not Just Surviving: How Teachers & Counselors Can Support Trans & Non-Binary Students at School

Thriving, Not Just Surviving: How Teachers & Counselors Can Support Trans & Non-Binary Students at School

Date of the Event: October 19, 2021 | Shane Jensen, Sarah Kamya, Nichole Kammann Mellus, Michelle Nutter, Jill Pedroso, Sherry Scott and Marianna Stepniak,
Show Notes:

What can teachers and counselors do to create and maintain positive, supportive classrooms where transgender and non-binary students can thrive? In this webinar, the third segment of MAEC’s “Thriving, Not Just Surviving” series, K-12 teachers and school counselors shared the practices, norms, and activities they bring to the classroom to support LGBTQIA+ students, especially trans and non-binary students.

Marianna Stepniak:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to folks who are coming in. We’re so glad to have you here with us today. You are in the Thriving, Not Just Surviving webinar with MAEC. And as folks are trickling in, we’re going to ask if you could put your name and where you’re coming from in the chat box. There’s a little chat icon on your screen. Just plug in there, your name, where you’re coming from today. We’re so glad to have you here...

Marianna Stepniak:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to folks who are coming in. We’re so glad to have you here with us today. You are in the Thriving, Not Just Surviving webinar with MAEC. And as folks are trickling in, we’re going to ask if you could put your name and where you’re coming from in the chat box. There’s a little chat icon on your screen. Just plug in there, your name, where you’re coming from today. We’re so glad to have you here for this conversation. We’re going to give it a couple of minutes for folks who are coming in still. So as you’re trickling in, please add your name, where you’re coming from to the chat box. And we’ll look forward to talking soon.

Marianna Stepniak:

I’m going to read through some of these. Worcester, Pennsylvania, Maryland, PG County, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maine. We are all over the place. This is great. Welcome, everyone who’s joining us. Please plug your name and where you’re coming from into the chat box. Just reading some of the most out loud right now. Frederick County, Maryland, PG County, Massachusetts, Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania, Ohio. Welcome, everyone. We’re giving one more minute to folks as they’re coming in. Please add your name to the chat box and where you’re coming from today. We will get started very soon with our Thriving, Not Just Surviving webinar. Representations from all over. Welcome, everyone.

Marianna Stepniak:

All right. We’re going to get started with our presentation. Welcome to folks who are coming in. Please add your name and where you’re coming from to the chat box, but I’m going to move forward. So welcome everyone to the Thriving, Not Just Surviving webinar. Our conversation today focuses on how teachers and counselors can support trans and non-binary students at school. And before we get started with our presentation, we’re just going to review some webinar etiquette. So please use the chat box to engage with other participants. You can access that by clicking the chat box at the bottom or top of your screen. And folks are doing that right now in order to say hello, and share where they’re coming from and their name.

Marianna Stepniak:

Please don’t use the raise-hand function. We will not be calling on people from the audience. If you have something to say, we will be doing Q&A with the audience at the end. Please add any of your questions to the Q&A chat box there. It says Q&A. We will also be administering polls. When it comes time for them, they’ll appear in the center of your screen. Just click on the appropriate button. And when everyone has responded, I will read the results out loud. You will see that there are transcripts, live transcripts turned on. You can turn them off, if you’d like to, by going to the live transcript or closed caption button on your toolbar. You can then click hide subtitle. If you want to bring them back, you’ll repeat the same process and do show subtitle.

Marianna Stepniak:

All right. We have an awesome webinar support team with us today. We have Nikevia Thomas, who is a senior specialist at MAEC, and she’s our chat box support. Kathleen Pulupa, who’s a communications associate at MAEC. And she’s on social support, so she’s watching our Facebook live and live tweeting. And Jessica Lim, our finance associate, who is on tech support. So any questions, please reach out to these folks in the chat box. Your moderators for today will be myself. I am Marianna Stepniak, a content specialist at MAEC. And my colleague, Michelle. Michelle, can you introduce yourself?

Michelle Nutter:

Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. We are so excited to have this third installment of a webinar series, truly designed to center the needs of trans and non-binary students, and making sure that we are doing everything that we can to provide that safe, supportive, respectful environment where students can thrive. Thank you for joining us.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thanks, Michelle. We are going to briefly introduce our panelists. Panelists, please don’t turn your cameras on. We’ll invite you to do that when it comes time for our presentations. We have five amazing teachers and counselors with us today. Shane Jensen, a music specialist in Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland. Sarah Kamya, a school counselor at PS 191-The Riverside School for Makers and Artists in New York. Nicole Kamman Mellus, a teacher at Garnet Valley School District in Pennsylvania. Jill Pedroso, a teacher in Upper Dublin Township, Pennsylvania. And Sherry Scott, who’s a counselor in Caroll County Public Schools in Maryland. We are so excited to hear from them today.

Marianna Stepniak:

A little bit about us, MAEC, before we get started. This program, this project today is put on by our Center for Education Equity. We at MAEC are an education non-profit that focuses on equity work. So our mission is to promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice. We oversee many projects, and one of them is the Center for Education Equity, or CEE. It’s a project that’s in partnership with WestEd and AIR. It’s one of four regional equity assistant centers funded by the US Department of Education. And our region stretches on the East Coast, covering 15 states and territories from Maine, all the way down to Kentucky and West Virginia, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands.

Marianna Stepniak:

We offer a variety of services at MAEC. Today’s service is a universal one. So we’re able to reach many people through this webinar, but we also do that through our research, resources, and other practices and publications. And we offer, we also offer targeted and intensive services. So that has to do with working directly with school districts, schools, state education agencies, and other entities to provide targeted assistance, whatever they need. Our agenda today, just for a brief context, we have started with our introductions. We’re going to move into objectives, context and norms for this conversation, and I’ll move into the heart of our conversation, the presentations from our panelists, and then a round table discussion with audience Q&A. And at the very end, we will do a brief wrap-up.

Marianna Stepniak:

So the objectives, what we are aiming to do today, we are aiming to identify and describe actionable steps to create LGBTQA+ friendly classrooms. This is meant to be a webinar that you will leave with concrete ideas of how to incorporate these practices into your classroom. Similarly, we are aiming to identify resources and best practices to support LGBTQA+ students in school, addressing how to model inclusive languages and activities in the classroom, and increasing educators’ abilities to intervene in and respond to harmful words and actions by students or others in schools.

Marianna Stepniak:

At this point in time, we are going to administer our first poll. And Jessica, if you could please make the poll live for our audience? This asks one, two, three, four questions. If you could please take a minute to respond. This will help us figure out who’s in our audience with us today, and how we should think about our presentations, and where to direct the conversation. So you’ll respond to the questions. Make sure to scroll down. There are four questions total. And we’ll give you 30 more seconds to respond. (silence)

Marianna Stepniak:

All right. Jessica, could you share how many results we have in so far? Oh, here we go. Thank you. I can read these out loud. So our first question was, “How familiar are you with the vocabulary to describe gender identity and gender expression?” We have no people who’ve identified as not at all familiar, the majority of folks responded somewhat familiar, and then very familiar, and slightly familiar. So that’s awesome. Most people are coming in here today with an understanding of the terminology we’ll be using, but we’ll be conscious about that. In terms of how comfortable our audience feels about talking about gender identity and expression, the majority of folks feel comfortable. That’s over 50%, 53%. And then the next largest group is neutral at 24%, very comfortable at 17%, and we have some folks who are uncomfortable or very uncomfortable. And that discomfort is okay. And we’re going to talk about that some today, too. So we’re glad to have you here, no matter your comfort level coming into this conversation.

Marianna Stepniak:

Our third question, “How many students do you interact with at school who are trans and/or non-binary?” It looks like the majority of folks interact with between one to five students who identified as trans or non-binary. The next largest number is zero, 20% of folks in our group day, don’t interact with students who are trans or non-binary, and then about a quarter of folks interact with six or more students at their school. As for roles, it looks like we have mostly K-12 teachers and school counsels, which is great. This is who this webinar was targeted at. We also have school administrators, non-profit employees. We have people represented from each group. This is fabulous. If you didn’t find your title listed here, please specify in the chat. We’d love to know who you are. Awesome. Thanks so much for responding to the poll.

Marianna Stepniak:

We’re going to move forward with the presentation. And this next part is Setting the Stage. I’m going to give some context about our Thriving, Not Just Surviving series. And then my colleague, Michelle, is going to take it away with the general history and recent events context about what’s going on, and why this conversation is so important right now. So as Michelle said, this is the third webinar of our Thriving, Not Just Surviving series. The first one started with a conversation with students in June 2021, and our second conversation happened with school and district administrators in July. Nikevia is going to put in the chat, the links to each of these webinars, which are recorded and have transcripts attached with them if you want to check them out after this webinar.

Marianna Stepniak:

We have focused our conversations around the takeaways with the students. So among the points that they brought up were, it is critical for their school teachers, their counselors, their administrators to use their names and pronouns accurately to prevent intervening and respond to harmful words and bullying by students and staff, to use non-gendered language in the classroom, and to revise policies to be inclusive. So our conversation with them really set the tone in terms of here’s what we need. And now, we’re in this part, first with administrators, now with teachers and counselors, where we say, “What can you do in order to meet those needs?”

Marianna Stepniak:

So in the administrative conversation, they address each of these points. And some of the larger takeaways that came out of that conversation were that, “The student is our number one. At the end of the day, the priority is making sure the efforts are student-focused and making sure that the students are safe at school.” All of our administrators talked about the importance of professional development on understanding identity and engaging in self-reflective work, which some of our panelists are going to touch on today, too. And they also brought up the fact that students are leading the change in these conversations, that they’ve found that it’s the adults, really, who are struggling more with understanding and talking about gender, equity, and gender identity. So we’re going to touch on all of these things in this conversation and continue to build on it. At this point, I’m going to pass it over to Michelle to talk about Title IX and the other context. Michelle?

Michelle Nutter:

Thank you, Marianna. So this is going to be just a really brief overview of Title IX, but also some of the other laws and lawsuits that we are seeing around the protections based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. So here, you have a snippet from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. And you can see here that it says that, “No person in the US shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” So very clearly, Title IX ties to federal funding. So any school, that is receiving any type of federal funding, must ensure that students are not discriminated against on the basis of sex. And not just students, but staff, employees within a school, visitors within a school. And the question that has been out there for quite some time is, does on the basis of sex, just relate to physical, biological gender? Or does it include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression? Next slide, please.

Michelle Nutter:

So this is an ever-changing landscape, but where we are right now is that we do see Title IX as providing protection for LGBTQIA+ students. So first and foremost, anti-LGBTQA+ sex stereotyping has been considered discriminatory practice for several decades through supreme court decision, Hopkins V Price Waterhouse. It’s anytime someone is subjected to how a man, a woman, a boy or girl, how someone should act based on gender. So if someone is acting in a way that is not fitting into that stereotypical norm, that is considered sex stereotyping, and it is illegal discrimination under Title IX. And that has been true, as I said, for several decades. But we are starting to see more than just sex-stereotyping being covered, as being not covered under Title IX, but we’re seeing additional protections coming out.

Michelle Nutter:

The second bullet point on this slide is kind of the argument behind why should transgender and non-binary, why should gender identity be covered under Title IX? Well, it’s the idea that if… As we explore the definition of sex, as we explore the definition of gender, it includes how we present ourselves, how we see ourselves, how we identify ourselves. And you can’t really separate that away from the idea of gender.

Michelle Nutter:

And so often, an example that’s given is around religious conversion analogy. So what this means is if we say that it is illegal to discriminate on someone on the basis of religion, which it is illegal to do that, it doesn’t matter if the religion is Christianity, if the religion is Islam, if the religion is Judaism, Buddhism, atheism. Any religion is covered. So it’s not saying that only one is covered. They’re all covered. And furthermore, someone may, in early life, practice one faith. And later in life, practice another faith. And both of those faiths are covered. And so when we talk about gender identity and how individuals perceive themselves, it doesn’t matter where on the spectrum they fall. Every place on the spectrum is covered.

Michelle Nutter:

And finally, looking at sexual harassment. Protections for survivors… Excuse me. Survivors of sexual harassment apply to all students. There sometimes is the mistaken belief that Title IX will only apply if the person who is engaging in sexual harassment is a different gender than the person that they target. And that’s not true. So it applies to any student, regardless of what their gender is, their gender identity, their gender expression, or their sexual orientation. Next slide, please.

Michelle Nutter:

So as I said, that sex-stereotyping piece has been around for a while. But just in the past two years, we are seeing changes in court decisions. So growing consensus in the courts, that sex discrimination or discrimination on the basis of sex, does include anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination. We have had one supreme court case so far, the second bullet on your screen, the Bostock decision, where the supreme court said that gender identity, so specifically looking at a transgender individual, that they were protected from discrimination on the basis of sex in an employment case. So this was a Title VII case.

Michelle Nutter:

But we typically see the courts mirroring decisions using the same logic or the same case law analysis. And so because we’ve seen a supreme court decision coming down in favor of gender identity, gender expression being covered and protected in a Title VII case, we believe we will very shortly also see case law in a Title IX case. There are a number of Title IX cases where individuals have been discriminated on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation. And we are awaiting that official guidance coming out to show that those are protected classes under Title IX. Next slide.

Michelle Nutter:

And we have seen a lot of new guidance coming out just in this year. For those of you who have been following this topic for some time, you will remember back under the Obama administration, guidance was released on how schools should provide protections and a positive and welcoming climate for all students, including transgender and non-binary students. That guidance was taken back by the Trump administration. And so in 2016, excuse me, winter 2017, that guidance was revoked and new guidance was put out by the Trump administration. And in March, the Biden administration put new guidance out. So we saw the Bostock decision that I just mentioned, and then we have seen some new documentation being issued by the White House, by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and some statement of interest papers issued by the United States Department of Justice, all providing guidance on how we can support and protect LGBTQIA+ students, specifically trans and non-binary students. Next slide.

Michelle Nutter:

I thought I had one more slide in there, but it’s just a screenshot of, if you go back one slide, please, Marianna, I’m sorry, just the last bullet there. The Dear Colleague Letter and the fact sheet that was jointly issued by DOJ and OCR is confronting anti-LGBTQI+ harassment in schools, a resource for students and families. Some really great information there. And we can pop that into the chat box so that you’re able to click on it and access it. Thank you.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much, Michelle. We’re soon to hop into our presentations. But just before we do that, we want to say first, we recognize that our audience is diverse in its understandings, beliefs, and opinions on gender identity and expression. And as we saw in our poll, this conversation today might be difficult and uncomfortable for some folks. So the norms that we’re setting here, essentially ask that you are approaching our conversation with our panelists today with respect, and curiosity, and openness. So the norms today are to listen with respect as an ally, and to understand and to embrace…

Marianna Stepniak:

As an ally and to understand, and to embrace discomfort, seeking to learn and grow. If you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay because change and growth requires that we feel uncomfortable. We’re really glad that you’re here today to listen and learn from our panelists, and from each other in the chat box about what we can do to create and maintain positive, supportive school environments, where all of our trans non-binary students can thrive.

Marianna Stepniak:

So with that, we’re going to get started with our presentations. And I’m going to pass it back over to Michelle again, to introduce our first speaker. Michelle?

Michelle Nutter:

Thank you, Marianna. So our first presenter is Shane Jensen, who is a Music Specialist for Baltimore County Public Schools. He holds degrees in Music Education from Concordia College and Towson University, post-graduate work in School Improvement and Leadership, and a graduate certificate in Social Emotional Learning.

Michelle Nutter:

Shane is an Ed.D candidate in leadership through American College of Education, focusing on workplace conditions and sexual and gender diverse school leadership. He has served on the Music Faculty at Morgan State University and Lincoln University. He is a member of NAfME, and continues to be an Educational Clinician throughout Maryland.

Michelle Nutter:

He has presented at SEL conferences, universities, and State sessions, focusing on inclusive practices, sexual and gender identity, LGBTQIA+ topics, and making meaningful connections. Shane?

Shane Jensen:

Welcome. Thank you, and welcome everybody. And I do want to give my thanks to this organization to increase visibility as a gay white cisgender leader. I started a lot of this work wondering where do I fit in? And going through my own lived journey from student to educator to leader, I really focus a lot of my work now on as a leader, what can I do to interrupt systems? But I want to present to you, what are you going to do to interrupt yourself first? And I think that’s the important part, is to increase the visibility. We have to see what’s invisible, that we are not seeing, and how can we address that?

Shane Jensen:

So a lot of the work that I do really focuses on adult learning and really creating collaborative… Just to give you a quick background, I do work in [inaudible 00:25:45], and really now as a doctoral student, looking at the impact of gender and sexual diverse public school leaders, and how authentic presentation of self appears in roles of leadership. So really looking at workplace conditions, the self, how everything can kind of [inaudible 00:26:01] to work with leaders presenting authentically. And those are my awesome dogs there.

Shane Jensen:

So I will, in these next slides, connect everything through three pillars of social emotional learning. So I will look at ways to interrupt self and that’s my focus, is you all working on you through awareness, decision-making, and relationship skills. Next slide please.

Shane Jensen:

There we go. So how do we get to a place that all means all? I focus on the internal and external. So when we really look at awareness, and I labeled that as number one, that is very internal. And this work, like they said, it can be uncomfortable. So really just jotting and taking notes because of the fluidity of sexual and gender diverse topics, things might be changing and vocabulary. So it’s really doing the work on your own, and then switching to the opposite extreme of the external, which is the decision-making, which I know I often struggle with, of having that right or wrong at times. And then the fluctuation of internal and external, which is the relationship skills. So that is how I frame the work today. Next slide please.

Shane Jensen:

So I always address, especially with adults, working with students or working with others, or allies working that might not understand everything, or are not keeping up with trends in terms and vocab of just asking people two questions, if you have interactions with individuals that are sexual and gender diverse, of what does this mean to you, or tell me more? Sometimes we go into situations where we want to answer every question and have the answers, but just take that step back and just tell me, what does this mean to you?

Shane Jensen:

So looking at awareness, are you appreciating differences? Are you building empathy, but also empathy in yourself? Are you reflecting on your needs, taking time to research and look? Are you looking at how you react based on your bias? Maybe your morals, your actions, your upbringing? Shifting word choices, and I know we’ve talked about this and maybe in the series too, of are you becoming more inclusive with your word choices, utilizing more of a singular they and shifting away from gendered language, he, her, how can you look at that?

Shane Jensen:

Are you seeking out information? Are you reading articles? Are you talking, but are you doing the work for yourself first? Which builds that self capacity, going to professional development, learning, sitting in on webinars like you are doing today, and really focusing on ability. And the hard part is the challenge to interrupt, but I do challenge you to interrupt yourself first, before working with others. So I always just ask, what does this mean to you, and tell me more? And it’ll put you in a place where you can start building those trustful relationships. Next slide, please.

Shane Jensen:

Going into the connection between the internal and external is the relationship skills, which I find probably the most important, but into spaces, are you accepting individuals as they present themselves? Not just students but leaders. I think that’s for leaders, we always sit in a space of where do I fit in? We focus a lot on students or youth, but really reflecting that you might also have leaders and adults that are also navigating the space of where do they fit in. And that’s the disconnect of when we present to students, that we’re missing the relationships needed for adults.

Shane Jensen:

So working with individuals to present themselves, I know I’ve shifted even language where I will utilize name if people struggle with pronouns, but are you building that collaborative communication process? Again, what does this mean to you, and tell me more? Are you sharing perspectives and working closely to maybe challenge at times different points of view? Are you looking at aspects of vulnerability? A lot of work around equity and especially gender and sexual diverse work really revolves around vulnerability and being a genuine person to take interest, and want to do that work. Next slide, please.

Shane Jensen:

And then looking at the decision-making, which I always say, this is a part of a bigger journey, and really working for the inclusion of all. Sometimes when I’m going through and more and more I see this, we focus so much on inclusive practice that we almost become exclusive. So take that step back and give that moment to sink into those feelings. And are we looking at the protection of all, and what does that mean? What does that mean from an ethical standpoint, but protecting rights when we previously just talked about law? And are we really protecting or are we excluding and picking and choosing? And are we considering all individuals?

Shane Jensen:

With curriculum, that’s with book choices, presenting different aspects. So even in a lot of curriculum work, I might just say choose a different perspective other than yourself to present this work. There’re ways around that. The impact of othering, of not accepting people how they present, and I’m going to do this instead. And that’s, again, where you just stop and reflect on your own bias, which comes into the impact of inclusion. And the hardest part for people is to interrupt pattern.

Shane Jensen:

But I challenge you to interrupt yourself before you work to interrupt somebody else. And that’s a lot of the work I do with adults. So just be thinking about that, and setting the stage of taking what I shared here and then going into working with students, and noting that there might be differences needed, and that’s okay that you’re going to address it on both sides. And I wish there was that easy button to push, to have every answer in there. But if you just step back and ask individuals, “What does this mean to you, and tell me more?” It’ll put you in this space of collaboration.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much, Shane, for starting off our conversation. We can’t talk about this without investigating how each of us are approaching this topic today. And so, I really appreciate you for grounding us, each and ourselves in thinking about what we need to do. Our next speaker is Nicole Kamann Mellus. Nicole is an English teacher at Garnet Valley High School and her pronouns are she, her.

Marianna Stepniak:

This is her eighth year of teaching, and in her role as the Gender Sexuality Awareness Advisor, she helps to advocate and support LGBTQ+ students. Nicole, over to you.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

Hi, thank you so much. Next slide please. So I work at Garnett Valley High School, which traditionally is a more conservative suburban school. We serve about 1,600 students at our high school, and I’m one of the English teachers there. As a co-advisor for the Gender Sexuality Awareness Club at our school, I’ve had a lot of interactions with the LGBTQIA+ community, and have seen such acceptance and growth, and in our club.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

My first year as an advisor, we had about 10 to 15 students. And this year it’s amazing, we have about 35 to 45 students and growing. And I think that has a lot to do with my school district. Although, as I said, traditionally more conservative, there have been a lot of moves to be more inclusive and diverse. Next slide please.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

So what I would like to talk about today is bridging conversations with colleagues. And although it may be uncomfortable and difficult at times, it is so important as a role in your school buildings. So preferred names and pronouns, many times in the beginning of the school, we have our students, we have our roster, and I have teachers a lot of times, maybe I’ll overhear a conversation in the workplace or the workroom, where there’ll be like, “Oh, I have this student. They want me to call them this, and they want to use these pronouns.”

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

And the tone of it, it’s very much a negative tone. And a lot of times now, I step in, I say, “Oh yeah. I know that student, they do like that name. It’s good that he shared that with you.” I think it’s important to normalize these situations and also model appropriate use of language.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

In another instance, I had a colleague who came up to me and said… was very frazzled, very much, ” I have a… she was a girl, now she’s a guy.” And once again, very fragile, not understanding. It comes from a place of, they want to do right for their students, but they don’t know the right terminology, they don’t know how to connect.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

And so, normalizing appropriate language. Yes, transgender man, he, him or they, their pronouns. Here’s how, and as we discuss the students, a lot of that is really good in normalizing it and modeling that type of appropriate language to be used.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

Another thing I see a lot or I hear a lot in conversations with my colleagues, especially once you’ve been in the district a while is “We didn’t have this back then, or this is a new thing.” And many times very commonly, I say, “It’s not really a new thing. We did have this back then. It’s just that people are more… Our students are more comfortable coming out to us and sharing with us who they are.”

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

And having those conversations where it’s, you don’t have to understand what it means to be a transgender or a non-binary student, but it’s about respect. And that’s what we want to bring as teachers. We want to know that our students… that we respect them, we value them, and that this is safe space. And respecting them and creating that environment comes with calling them by the identity, the pronouns, the names they [inaudible 00:36:59] like to use. Next slide, please.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

Some takeaways that I would like you to have from this presentation is being an active ally. I think in my role as an advisor, my first year, I was definitely very passive. And self-reflecting on that, I had my safe space sticker. I had my inclusive flags. I was very much an ally, standing for my students, but I’m learning now that it means more. You have to be active. You have to engage in those conversations with others, your peers, in order to create safe space and start the dialogue, modeling appropriate vocabulary.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

And it’s okay to not know all the answers. And as someone who didn’t know a lot coming into this role, I’ve definitely learned a lot from my experiences and attending webinars, and reading research, and talking to my students. Also, not every conversation you have is going to end the best. However, I believe that it’s the beginning of those conversations that will eventually continue in other different parts of that person’s life. And some are very positive that I’ve had, and I think that very positive, they create good chain reactions.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

A lot of those teachers that I had talked about and had those brief conversations with, they in turn have come back to me and said, “Oh yeah, it’s no big deal.” I said, “Yep, no big deal.” And I think that having those conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable, leads to a better environment and a safe space for our kids. Thank you.

Michelle Nutter:

Nicole, thank you so much for sharing wonderful reminders that we start where we are, and we grow, we learn, we ask questions. The more that we know, the better that we do. And so, really looking at this is a journey to learn more and do better. Our next presenter is Sarah Kamyah. She is a Boston native, currently working as an elementary school counselor at a Title I school in Manhattan.

Michelle Nutter:

It is through her work as a school counselor that Sarah works with and supports students of all backgrounds and needs. As a school counselor, social emotional learning is critical for students’ development. Sarah places an emphasis on students finding their own voice, advocating for their academic and emotional needs, and building confidence, both in and out of the classroom.

Michelle Nutter:

When Sarah is not working with her students, she can be found reading books and working on her up and coming non-profit, Diverse Stories. Diverse stories was formed out of the Little Free Diverse Library project where Sarah places books written by BIPOC authors, and books featuring BIPOC characters into Little Free Libraries. It is her hope that children and adults can find books where they are represented, seen, and celebrated, and that these books can educate and empower all. Sarah?

Sarah Kamya:

Thank you so much for that introduction, and thank you all for being here. As we said, my name is Sarah Kamya. I am an elementary school counselor at PS 191, which is a school located on the Upper West side in Manhattan. I’ve been here for three years, and I work with students mainly kindergarten through fifth grade, although our school does go up to eighth grade. So we do see a range of students and how they kind of transform from their early developmental years through their early adolescents. Next slide please.

Sarah Kamya:

So our school is a Title I school, and I thought this would be helpful information for those who aren’t familiar with what a Title I school is, because I think it’s important to know the community and the demographics of each school community, and what that represents. But a Title I school is a school that provides funding and assistance to students and families who are in the low income housing, and come from low income households.

Sarah Kamya:

Because of this, and due to where we are located in Manhattan, the majority of our students are Black and Hispanic. And as you can see from the student demographic breakdown, there’s a very small percentage of teachers that match our students’ backgrounds. And I think in having this conversation today, it’s very interesting to me to think about what teachers and what staff represent our students’ backgrounds? Because I think a lot of times, we can grow and we can feel accepted, and we can feel safe when we see people who look like us, or who celebrate the same things as us.

Sarah Kamya:

And so, when thinking about my trans and non-binary students, thinking about who they have and who those resources are for them, and the lack thereof in school communities, but also the strength that it takes for them to feel comfortable with teachers who may not understand what they are going through, or who have no knowledge of what they are going through, and who are possibly doing their research as they go, just like I have found myself doing. Next slide, please.

Sarah Kamya:

And so, when thinking about when I was asked to join this webinar, one story came to mind, which is a student, who I’ll call student D. I met the student when they were in first grade, and in first grade, the student identified or was going through a time of not necessarily understanding who they were and what their gender was, and who they represented.

Sarah Kamya:

At this time, the student was experiencing very severe outbursts, flipping tables and desks, and kind of screaming out like, “I don’t know who I am and I need someone to help me.” And that student’s teacher really closely worked with student D to help that student better understand that you can be whoever you want, and there’s more than one option than what you come to school as, and who other people in society and at home tell you who you are.

Sarah Kamya:

And through a lot of discussions with this student, the student became very comfortable with the teacher and got to know me more. And one of the things that we thought would benefit the student is a support called Mobile Crisis, which we have in New York City, which basically supports students in need. And it sounds a lot scarier than what it is. It’s really not necessarily a crisis, but inside the student was having an internal crisis and was needing that support. But really, what this student received from Mobile Crisis was just tools and support, and coping skills through what they were going through, and finding that there are people who care, and that there is safe places to discuss these things.

Sarah Kamya:

But at the time, it seemed a little surprising to call Mobile Crisis on a student who was unsure of their identity, but looking back, it was probably the best thing we ever did for the student. Later, as the student has grown up, the student had carried on with this teacher. And what I really love about this teacher is this teacher checks in with student D and says, “Student D, who do you want to be today?” And that student is given the choice and the freedom to be who they want to be that day.

Sarah Kamya:

So student D will sometimes be like, “I’m a she,” and the teacher will say, “Hey you all, student D is she today.” And the kids will look up [inaudible 00:45:00]. They’re like, “Okay,” and go right back to what they’re doing, because this teacher has instilled in the class that student D or student B or whoever, whenever a student can be whoever they want whenever they want, and show up in that class and know they’re going to be loved and accepted.

Sarah Kamya:

And going into this webinar today, I thought I should check in with student D. I want to see where student D is at. Student D has been having a wonderful year, has turned such a big corner in terms of their identity. And today I asked student D who they want to be, and student D told me they have a new name. So I guess now I would call them student H, and student H goes by they, them. And for a third grader to tell me, “I go by they, them,” and knowing how inspirational that was for them and profound for them to have finally found language and confidence, and understanding in their self was amazing for me to see, and knowing that the students that have traveled with student H over the course of the past three years has seen…

Sarah Kamya:

H, over the course of the past three years, has seen Student H make this personal transformation for themselves and feel happy to contend with that. So, that’s a little bit of my experience. Next slide. And just knowing that advocating for students voice is so important, but knowing their voice can change is also very important to me and letting that student find their voice on their time, but knowing that their voice can change and having the support and the love there when it does change. So, thank you for letting me share today. I look forward to hearing from the rest of the speakers.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much, Sarah. Jessica, if you could spotlight me, that would be awesome. Thank you. That was fantastic. And thank you for walking us through that specific example and the language the teacher used. Who do you want to be today? What pronouns should I use for you? Just asking that straight on. What an awesome example.

Marianna Stepniak:

Our next panelist is going to be Sherry Scott. Sherry has been employed by Carroll County public schools for six years and she currently serves as a school counselor at Northwest Middle School, which is located in Taneytown, Maryland. A 2020 semifinalist for the Maryland School Counselor of the Year Award, Sherry is known for her enthusiasm, compassion, and ability to engage and creatively support Northwest Middle’s at-risk populations.

Marianna Stepniak:

Prior to working as a school counselor, Sherry worked as a rehabilitation specialist with the Maryland State Board of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services. In that role, she worked with transitioning aged youth with mental health diagnoses to help them secure education and vocational training to obtain gainful employment. Sherry, over to you.

Sherry Scott:

Thanks so much. I am so excited to be here today. I just love when I was approached to hear that the title of this was thriving, not just surviving, because we all want to live our lives. We don’t just want to exist in our lives and just flow through. And that’s really what I’m talking about today. The importance of having an exclusive mindset instead of exclusive.

Sherry Scott:

So I love that Shane talked about that. I’m going to kind of come back and touch on that at the end of my presentation. But at Northwest Middle School, we want to focus on acceptance, support and connection. I want you to pay attention to the people that I have on the left side of the screen, because they’re going to kind of follow us through this presentation. And there’s a reason why I chose to have them illustrate it the way that they are.

Sherry Scott:

Next slide please. So I am at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown, Maryland. It’s a tiny little town in Carroll County. So as someone else had stated earlier, we are a pretty conservative county here in the state of Maryland, even though we tend to be a blue state, and mindsets can be very fixed, but we are working really hard through our student services department to have more of a growth mindset, to really encourage our students to be the best that they can be and help them figure out who they are and how to, as I did my previous job, eventually blossom and become great members of our society.

Sherry Scott:

You can see we only have 621 students, thanks to the pandemic. A lot of students are homeschool. But we serve grades six through eight, which is a very crucial time in student’s lives. Next slide please.

Sherry Scott:

So here I have identity versus role confusion. For all of the school counselors, this is not any new information for you. But for other people who are watching, this might not resonate with you. So I just want to touch on this because it’s very important.

Sherry Scott:

You can see at the bottom right hand of the screen where there’s a little person that’s kind of like scratching their head. I want to start off by talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We know that at the very beginning of his pyramid, people need to feel as though they have shelter, food, that they’re safe. And then right above that, we have a sense of belonging. And without a sense of belonging, people will not thrive. They will just be surviving. And we see that sometimes in our hallways, right? We see students walking and they look lost and they look like they don’t have a place to fit in. They don’t have a place to belong.

Sherry Scott:

So my job as the school counselor is to help them find that place. If you look at the image, I have two arrows pointing to different directions. We have a cisgender male on the left, a cisgender female on the right. And then there’s everyone in between. Everyone is on a spectrum and we need to help students find their identity so that they’re not stuck in this role confusion.

Sherry Scott:

So when we talk about that, this is a very critical stage. Identity versus role confusion for our students. And it starts to kind of creep up on them right around the age of 11 or 12. And those are the prime middle school years. At this point, we’re really working with our kiddos to help them feel confident in who they are, help them learn how to come out and say, this is me and I want you to accept me and I want you to love me so that I can feel as though I belong and I can be prepared to learn the information that you’re giving to me in this educational setting. Next slide please.

Sherry Scott:

So when I was reflecting on this presentation, I work with a lot of different types of students, but I like to look at my students. Every last one of them is multicultural. A lot of times when we speak multicultural, the first thing that comes to people’s mind is race or religion, but someone’s gender identity also fits into their culture, right? How they relate to the world and how the world relates to them.

Sherry Scott:

So as I’m reflecting on this, I’m like, well, what can I do to help my students belong? How can I help my kiddos belong? And luckily, I work with an administrator who partners with me very nicely, and we do a really good job of making sure that we’re following the expectations of our board. So we don’t have strict policy. We don’t have strict procedures. It’s left to be kind of fluid because our students are fluid.

Sherry Scott:

So if you look at the first box, we have acceptance. That’s where I come in. Students come to me in different ways. They may come to me and sit down and say, “Hey, Mrs. Scott, I think that I’m wanting to explore my gender identity.” Or “Mrs. Scott, I know for sure that I am transgender.” Or they may go to a teacher first and talk to a teacher and eventually come to me. So what I do is I make sure that they feel accepted.

Sherry Scott:

Next, we move into support and you see that there’s two hands. So you have me as the counselor and you have my administrator. We are supporting the family and we’re educating the family on how they can best support their student. And then we’re taking it one step further. My principal and I are educating staff to make sure that they’re using the right language, that they’re being inclusive and not exclusive.

Sherry Scott:

And then connection. So as Shane was saying, sometimes when we try to be inclusive, we ended up kind of pushing people out. We are starting one of the first clubs to support our trans non-binary LGBTQIA + students. But the way we’re doing that is through the multicultural club. Because as I started all of this, it all starts with your culture and your sexual identity is part of your culture.

Sherry Scott:

So we’re trying to connect them throughout the whole entire school. So they’re no longer walking the halls feeling lost and scratching their heads like they were in that earlier slide. Now they feel a connection. So the school, they have a sense of belonging and now they’re available for learning.

Sherry Scott:

So I hope you were able to take away some points on how we engage our students, our families, and our staff, to make sure that all of our staff feels or I’m sorry, all of our students feel as though they belong. Thank you so much.

Michelle Nutter:

Sherry, thank you so much. What wonderful information and reminding us that students have to Maslow before they can bloom, right? They have to feel safe. They have to feel accepted before they will ever reach their academic potential. So thank you so much.

Michelle Nutter:

Our final panelist is Jill Pedroso. Jill graduated from Temple University with her degree in education and certifications in elementary and special education. She has her masters of science in education and a reading specialist certification. She has recently finished the course sequence to be a board certified behavior analyst and is currently working as an autistic and emotional support teacher in the Upper Dublin School District in Pennsylvania. Jill is a wife, a mother of four, and a strong supporter of her children and students who identify as part of the LGBTQIA + community. Jill.

Jill Pedroso:

Thank you so much, Michelle. I’m super excited to be here amongst many wonderful advocates for the LGBTQIA + community. I work in Upper Dublin School District and although I’m a special education teacher, a lot of students, because of the way I make myself so visible, approach me and feel safe with me to come to my classroom and share. Next slide please.

Jill Pedroso:

So the first thing, like I mentioned, is everybody talked about what it looks like and I really want to say like, what could this look like specifically? Give specific examples of how you can be visible in your school community to make sure that our students feel safe and that can start out very small and then I can build to be bigger and more visible things.

Jill Pedroso:

So, the first I would like to look at is the school building. So we have talked about involving the kids because this is about them. And we want to know what do you want to see when you’re walking around the school building? So students approached me to update the sign that you see below, which is a lot of our pride flags on the wall. So they can feel represented as they’re walking through the hallways and see themselves in one little piece of the day. And it also educates other students to say, oh, what is that? And maybe want them to reach out and learn more.

Jill Pedroso:

We’ve also done pride announcements throughout pride month where we didn’t want to just give facts and have the students not really take away anything from that. We gave them trivia questions as well. So that took them one step further, the whole school community to say, Hey, I want to win a little prize. Let me look at this trivia question and try to answer it. So they’re not just listening. They’re also actively engaging in learning more.

Jill Pedroso:

And then we go to the classroom. What can this look like inside of your classroom? And this can be very small as a little sticker on your door that says that you are a safe place. And I kind of made a little collage here. There’s stickers on the door, signs on the door, inside of your classroom as well. Having the students know that your room is a safe place and you are a safe person. And that can be also in the way that you set up your class norms, by making sure that all students feel safe in your room by shutting down all hate speech in the beginning.

Jill Pedroso:

And then as a person, I walk around and students that may not be in my classroom, know that I’m a safe person because I have this card that I ordered from GLESN, which is an amazing resource. And then my pronoun pins, so that I can make sure that when I’m out and walking around the building, students know that I am a safe person. Next slide.

Jill Pedroso:

So not only do we want to be visible, we want to make it the norm. We don’t want to make this we’re more shouting from the rooftop and just outing individuals or making it seem like we’re shining a spotlight. We kind of want to make it the norm that this is in our everyday language and just our everyday life. So sharing your pronouns when introducing yourself, putting your pronouns in your signature, in your email, so that people can see that, oh, wow, she’s sharing hers. I feel comfortable now being able to share mine. And then giving students surveys in the beginning of the year. And those surveys can be as specific as what pronouns do you use? What name would you like to use in a class? And then going down and saying, can I share these pronouns with home? What pronouns would you like me to use at home, if not? And really breaking that down and making sure that you’re meeting the student where they are on their journey.

Jill Pedroso:

I like to say sometimes we’re on a gender journey and we can be anywhere and it’s fine to sit one place in the journey and feel it out and see is this where I need to be. And then going from there and say, okay, this didn’t feel right to me. And giving the student a safe place to be able to feel their way through their journey and see where they feel the most comfortable.

Jill Pedroso:

Using gender neutral terms. This is one big thing that, somebody said before, how it’s like this is the way I’ve always done it or we didn’t have back then. So they’re stuck in this gender binary. And instead of staying in that, boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen, let’s look outside of that box and be able to use gender neutral terms. I love party people. I think it kind of just like brings the kids in and it’s kind of cute and funny, but kiddos and folks and things like that, or other gender neutral terms that we can use.

Jill Pedroso:

And then the final thing is to really shut down that homophobic and hate language from the start. Students know that there are no words that they’re going to use in my room, like homophobic language, because I shut it down from the beginning. And I set that tone from the very early stages. So I’m very fortunate to be able to work in a school district that has gender policy, gender inclusive policies for the board that allow our students to be who they are and we’re working really hard at Sandy Ron to make sure that we are supportive of all students. Thank you.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much, Jill. There is your last slide right there.

Jill Pedroso:

I forgot that was there. Can I just really fast?

Marianna Stepniak:

Yes. Yes, of course.

Jill Pedroso:

As a teacher, we’re there for all students and I love this from Chris Moser. He is an Olympic coach and he also is a member of the community and if you refuse to or just can’t remember to use pronouns and names students wish to use, you’re not capable of meeting the needs of your students. Affirming and acknowledging your trans and non-binary students is non-negotiable. And like Sarah or Nicole said in the beginning, that it’s not about accepting and understanding. It’s about respect. And I have my own child who is trans, and that is my biggest thing to let everybody know. It’s a respect for somebodies choice of how they want to live their life and that you don’t have a part in saying who they are or how they feel. Thank you.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much, Jill. We’re going to move out of our presentations now into the round table discussion. So I’m going to stop sharing my screen and invite the panelists to each turn their cameras on. And you’ll each be spotlighted for this part. So once all the panelists have their cameras on and we’re each spotlight in this discussion, or however it should be. Our tech team is handling it. We’re going to get started with the Q and A.

Marianna Stepniak:

But actually, right before we do that, I’ve just remembered. We’re going to do a poll with you, our lovely audience, asking where you would like us to start this conversation. So Jess, if you could launch the poll, please. The question here is what topics would you like the panelists to discuss first? I imagine that we’re going to touch on all of these categories, but we’d really like to hear from you and where you want us to start.

Marianna Stepniak:

So the first category is navigating pushback and strategies to address ignorance. The second category is how to advocate for supportive spaces for students. And the third category is general activities and best practices. So as y’all are responding to that, we’ll give it about 10 more seconds.

Marianna Stepniak:

And again, this is just where we’re starting the conversation. We’re going to cover all of this, I imagine. Okay. Jess, if you could close the poll and share the results, that would be awesome. Perfect. This is what I thought from seeing some of the comments in the chat box. We’re going to start with navigating pushback and strategies to address ignorance, and then we’ll go to general activities and best practices. Thank you so much, everyone, for responding.

Marianna Stepniak:

So Michelle, can you pose the first question here?

Michelle Nutter:

Sure. So our first question that we would love to have the panelists weigh in on is how do you navigate a situation where a student comes out at school, but they’re not out at home. How can you best support students in that situation? Raise your hand, if you want to answer.

Marianna Stepniak:

And I apologize … Thanks, Michelle.

Michelle Nutter:

Jill.

Jill Pedroso:

The way that we do that with saying that we have very inclusive board policies to allow the student to be their true self at school. What I do is ask the student first if it’s okay to share with the rest of their team, to be able to let them know what pronouns are using, what name they would like to use. And then I meet with the team to go over what that looks like and allow them to, when they email home, I let them know that they are using their name and pronouns that are listed in the system.

Jill Pedroso:

So we usually send an email out, let everybody know that this is what’s happening. And the staff is great in being able to really draw that line between home and school and knowing that this is a great thing, to make sure that the student is affirmed in some space in their life so that they’re able to, again, like I said, be on that gender journey and be able to say where they are in that moment and be able to be that person that they want to be that day or that month or for the school year. And so they’re really comfortable enough to be able to come out at home as well.

Michelle Nutter:

Thanks, Jill. Anyone else? Any other panelists want to add to that? Sherry?

Sherry Scott:

I think it can be really hard for some of our students to come out to their parents, especially when we’re talking about their gender identity. A lot of families in this day and age are very much stuck in this binary, male, female. You were born the way you were born and that’s who you are.

Sherry Scott:

So when it comes to helping students come out, we really need to discuss who do you want them to hear it from first? Do you want them to hear it from somebody posting on Facebook the wrong name? Or a parent hearing through the grapevine, coming to your parent’s door and saying, Hey, did you know that your little girl is now dressing like a little boy at school? We want to help educate the student and help them understand that we’re going to support them regardless of how mom and dad feel. Because in the school, we are all about, like we said, inclusivity and making sure that you feel like you belong.

Sherry Scott:

So educating the student and letting them know the best way for your family to learn is for you to come out to them, giving them the tools that they need, giving them the support. Often we will invite the parents to come in and meet with the counselor and the student. So that that student has that extra like badge of honor, like I’ve got this counselor, this professional, this expert with me to say, it’s okay, and we’re going to help you and your student with this.

Sherry Scott:

So we always start with saying, Hey, these are the people that brought you into this world. These are the people that are going to be helping you navigate the rest of your life. Let’s get them on your team. Let’s see what we can do to help them support you through all of the transitioning that might take place.

Michelle Nutter:

Thank you, Sherry. And Shane.

Shane Jensen:

And thank you for all that. I just wanted to address it from my personal lived experience, as a gay male and a gay student growing up, of sometimes the comfort zone was school or the teachers that were there. And I think we have to understand that it’s there where I could be myself around my friends and maybe not around the rest of the class.

Shane Jensen:

So, as a gay kid growing up, I was constantly navigating do I present authentically or do I go with a societal norm of small town, Minnesota, where I was from and understanding that students might present at school one way and home another because they are navigating space.

Shane Jensen:

So I just want to put it in there too. It’s important when I talked about the relationships of not only with the caregivers, but also with the students, because no matter what I wish, again, that was an easy button that I wish I could navigate the caregiver. And I know everybody asks the same question and it’s always around caregivers, but that’s a relationship. And understand too, for caregivers and families, it might take time.

Shane Jensen:

And I know Jill mentioned your child of … It’s also for some parents navigating now another world and realm and society of growing up with the child this way. Now we have to shift. I mean, sometimes that’s hard and sometimes caregivers are just navigating that space. They still love the child, but they’re just navigating themselves as well.

Shane Jensen:

So, as we build these conversations and collaborations, they will take time, but just to keep the continued support there, because sometimes students are just really reaching out and it’s all about also navigating both spaces. So I just wanted to put that in there. Sorry, Jill, you had your hand up.

Jill Pedroso:

And I just I want to piggyback really fast on you Shane saying that. For some of my students, they’re not quite sure yet. So to be able to have that safely, some of them are just doing it in my room, just the two of us, so that they can be safe in that space. And really just like not try it on for size, but …

Jill Pedroso:

Can be safe in that space and really just not try it on for size, but I’ve been having these thoughts. I don’t know what that looks like. And I want the time to be able to figure that out, before I take that deep dive into coming out to my entire family. Because I’ve had students that have started, “I’m bi, actually I think that I am non-binary, no, I think I’m trans,” and then we’ve kind of gone back. And having that safe space to be able to do that has been wonderful because then they actually got to figure out, “Yes, this is where I’m at.” Because they knew their parents weren’t going to be super accepting and now they can come and say, “Listen, it’s not a phase.” I wanted to see where I was in this journey. And now I know where I am and now we can take the next next steps for your acceptance and for your support and your affirmation.

Shane Jensen:

And Jill, I think that’s the important when I brought up the, “What does this mean to you?” Especially students as we’re navigating and the fluidity of everything is just to be in that space. So just tell me, what does that mean to you? Because sometimes students maybe are articulating. And I also want to put this space, adults do it too. It’s not just students who are navigating these spaces. So you might be working with other adults who are also navigating self. But just to get out, what does this mean to you? You don’t have to solve it, but just have them articulate because even students, they might say, “I’m Paul,” or just using these words and you have no idea what they’re saying. So just, what does this mean to you? Because a student might just want it, need to process it out themselves. So that’s the relationship. Just, what does it mean to you as you go through?

Michelle Nutter:

[inaudible 01:10:40] Jill, thank you so much for those answers. Before you ask the next question, Mariana, I just want to encourage panelists. We do have a number of questions in the Q and A box, and feel free to type responses to any that speak to you as we continue with the verbal questioning.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thanks, Michelle. I’m going to pose the next question. And then we’ll actively, verbally pose a question from the audience, just so y’all know. But the question I have to ask first, we just talked about interacting with caregivers and parents. How about your colleagues? What strategies do you use when interacting with your colleagues who aren’t advocates of LGBTQA+ students. And how do you address their homophobic or transphobic comments in the school building? Nicole?

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

So, I had said in my own presentation before. I’ve had many of these conversations with my colleagues and they’ve been very difficult, especially around, I think it’s very hard sometimes for my colleagues to grasp names. When a student wants to change their name, I’ve had a lot of conversations where somebody will be like, “Well, I’m an ally, but if they change their name a third time, then I’m not going to call them by that.” And I think that being, immediately, you want to be on the defense. You want to advocate for your babies you want to, you know. But I think it’s important to stay calm and to combat a lot of that with de-escalating those conversations and being almost like that voice of reason, bringing it back to, “Well, the reason that we are teachers is because we care about our students, we value them.”

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

We demand respect, but we also want to give respect back to our students. And part of that is not just understanding them, understanding everything, but respecting them. By calling them the names they want to be called, the pronouns that they’re asking to be used. And I think bringing that back to the focal part of your conversation really helps push that part. And even if they are struggling with their own understanding or their homophobic feelings, understanding that it’s the student that we are trying to focus on rather than the big, everything else.

Jill Pedroso:

Thank you, Nicole. Jill, I see your hand. I love what Nicole said about focusing on that respect. It’s also, I think about as educators, the one consistent thing is change, right? And we have to evolve with our students. Our students are not going to be the same people when the first year that we started teaching, and they’re not going to be the same students the last year that we’re teaching. So it’s important for us to meet the students where they are. And if we do have those homophobic ideas and feelings, then it’s our job to educate ourselves outside of school, to make sure that we can then meet our students where they are and affirm, and accept and support them and respect them.

Jill Pedroso:

And I think it’s also important to feel safe in where you are as an adult to speak to your administration and say, “I need training on this.” This is something that does come up in our school and say like, “This is something I know that I am not actively 100% able to support my students that are part of this community.” What can I do, or what can we do as a community? And in our school, we actually started a culture and diversity club to be able to look at that diversity as a whole and have smaller subgroupings of how we can help meet the needs of all of our students, where they are in this current year. And then that will evolve as we continue just as our students evolve.

Marianna Stepniak:

I love that you brought in school administration too into your answer. Quickly, Nicole, and then we’ll go to an audience question,

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

Sorry. I just wanted to add definitely the buy-in too for teachers is that lack of professional development. And it’s something that I’ve heard a lot from my colleagues, and I’ve actually talked with someone from our administration team. He’s the curriculum coordinator for arts and humanities. And we were actually able to work with our current president, vice president of GSA to create a safe space training through GLSEN. Using that as our outline and being able to offer that to our teachers. And so that’s actually development between myself and another teacher, administrator, and also two of our students. So if you are able to have that at your school and you’re able to provide that training, GLSEN has a beautiful, safe space training program to definitely check out.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thanks for sharing that specifically, Nicole that’s awesome. Nikevia, could you bring in a question either from the Q and A box or one that was submitted in one of the registration forms? We’d love to hear a question from the audience.

Nikevia Thomas:

Yes, sure. I am going to read a question right now. This is from the registration. Can you share resources for classroom and community events? I’m sorry, community environments to support inclusiveness for those that identify as non-binary.

Jill Pedroso:

I think one of the things that you can do is using that gender neutral language, so that we’re not looking at binary terms to call the class like boys and girls and ladies and gentlemen. Looking at folks and friends and party people. There is on my, I don’t know why I love party people just I’m like, “Okay, party people.” It gets everybody up and ready. And I think in middle school it takes them little taken aback and then they they’re focusing on me. But there are a lot of gender neutral terms, and it’s on my slide. But if you had done, if you do just a simple Google search, there are a lot that you can use and try them all out and, and see what works best for you.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thanks, Jill. Shane, and then Sarah.

Shane Jensen:

Just looking at also web type resource and you do some searches. Genderspectrum.org has a lot of great resources in there, even for a lot. And I do a lot of work in here, but I’m constantly Googling organizations. So if you do some of those searches. I do really want to also challenge cause I have to do it to myself and I have to interrupt myself of staying on top and making the effort to look and see what’s out there. We put GLSEN in there, but just looking at, especially through gender spectrum. They can guide you through some other things, especially when you’re dealing with all different levels. Cause you have to understand who you’re dealing with, and developmentally where they are and how they’re processing. I think that’s also important. So I can put the gender spectrum into the chat. And PFLAG somebody mentioned, for when you’re dealing with parents. Oh, thank you, gender spectrums in there.

Sarah Kamya:

I was going to jump in and say that obviously I’m very much into books, but I think that there’s such a great place for people to learn and to grow. And it’s also, I don’t know, I find reading to be a private time for me sometimes, but it also is a public time. So it’s something that can be done individually or as a class, as a whole. And I’ve actually shared with a list of books that I think will be shared with everyone who’s here today. But there’s ranges of books that start in from children and go up to adult, that really dive into this topic in a way that I think is celebratory and not necessarily even defining what someone is. And it’s just because there’s a lot of books out there that are like, “Hi, this person is trans, and I’m going to teach you about that.” Which are great books and important books, but there’s also books out there where that’s just who the person is.

Sarah Kamya:

And the story continues on without a mention of it, and I think that those books are just as important. And so I really think that books are a great tool. And as I brought up about the student that I work with, because they have a new teacher this year, I asked the teacher, “Have you used any books yet?” And the teacher has said, “No, but we’ll get around to it.” And for me, it’s like, there’s no time to wait. There are so many student who are wondering or asking questions, and the student themselves can still be asking questions. So knowing that there’s books and resources out there for your own education, but also for others, I think is extremely important.

Michelle Nutter:

Wonderful. Sarah, thank you so much. It’s a great reminder that books can be windows where we can see others. Mirrors where we can see ourselves and doorways that we can go through and explore other worlds. We’re going to do our final question. And that just really, that’s awful to say, because I think we could probably sit here and talk with our panelists for the next three or four days, not just hours, but we’re going to wrap up with the question that we have ended each one of our webinars in this series. And here’s the question panelists. So pretend that it’s the year 2050, and we are in a new world. What would it look like or feel like to be in a school where every trans, every non-binary student feels safe and valued and respected and empowered. So that’s the first, what would it look like? And part two, what do we need to do now to make that future happen? Sherry.

Sherry Scott:

Okay. I would say in the future to be able to live in a world like that and have a school like that is where we have a school where we don’t have to have titles. Where I look at you and I see you and I appreciate you. And I want to get to know you and I want to understand what makes you work and how I can help you become the best version of yourself. Titles are important, but sometimes when we title people, we put them in a box and when we put them in a box, then it’s easy to have prejudice. And it’s easy to say, “You are an other, and you’re not one of me.” So it would be great to be able to walk through a school and say, “Hey, we are just one great population. We’re here to support each other. And we’re here to learn.”

Sherry Scott:

I would love to see us get to that point, that would be great. And then how can we get there? I think sometimes it’s really simple. It’s asking those questions. Who are you, and what’s important to you? And what would you like for me to know about you? And once again, how can I help you thrive? Like you said, not just survive. How can I help you thrive? Where do you want to be, and how can I help you get there? I think it’s pretty simple just meeting them where they are and helping them grow.

Michelle Nutter:

Beautiful. Sherry, thank you so much, Nicole.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

So for me, this would be a school where everyone is appreciated and celebrated. Differences are celebrated and recognized and there’s interests and curiosity about what makes us all unique in individuals. How are we going to get there? I think it’s having a growth mindset. I think it’s something that we push on our students, or at least I encourage in my students every year. Trying to be better and better, never settling on what we already know, but seeking to learn more. I think that is something that with time, I think we can get there and I look forward to that world.

Michelle Nutter:

Thank you, Nicole. Thank you for that reminder of how important it is to have a growth mindset, to expect the best in others and not looking to put people in pigeon holes, boxes, or anything else. Any other panelists want to respond to that? Jill.

Jill Pedroso:

I agree with our other panelists. I think that it looks like the celebration of diversity and everybody being able to live truly as their authentic selves, without feeling like they have to hold anything back. Because they’re going to be bullied or to talked about, or just any type of negative connotation that has to do with who they are as a person. So I think it’s celebrating diversities and being able to be those true selves and not holding back is what that would look like. What we can do, like I said, it’s evolving with our students as teachers, we need to continue to grow and learn more and step outside of our comfort zones and really put ourselves in those difficult conversations in the difficult places. Because we don’t get anywhere by staying in what’s comfortable and what’s feels good. We need to push ourselves out of those comfort zones to really be able to make change and drive the change. And then that in turn creates that passion and that drive in our students to want to continue driving the change and making things better.

Michelle Nutter:

Thank you, Jill. Yeah, the comfort zone. It might feel comfortable, but we never grow, we never learn and we’re not going to thrive. If all we do is just survive in a comfort zone. Shane.

Shane Jensen:

So as somebody who has put labels on myself to hide my own labels, I always push. And I want to see kids and adults start to peel back labels and maybe not be defined or even ranked in a hierarchy based on perceived labels. And this goes beyond identity, race and everything. So that’s always, my hope is that we can peel back the labels and not have to hide by putting something else that is not us, authentically. But also my challenge is, and this is even the work that I do is to dive into discomfort that is the opposite beliefs of mine. And the work that I’m doing in advocacy to understand perspective and vantage point that clashes with mine. But I have to understand that it’s there so that I continue to do the work and continue to do the research and invest in it so that I don’t become salient in certain issues. But I have to know it’s there to meet people where they are and try at least to interrupt and work.

Sarah Kamya:

I think everyone has basically said such wonderful things, but I’ll just finish by saying that we get further when we work together and when we explore things together and help each other, when they feel safe with us and when we feel safe with ourselves. So it’s just continuing to make safe spaces within ourselves so that others can feel safe within us.

Marianna Stepniak:

I love that. What a perfect way to end this conversation, Sarah. Thank you each of you for your reflections and this conversation and your presentations, we’re going to transition into our closeout, which includes the surveys. I’m going to share my screen for just a moment. Here we go. So if you want to continue to converse with us, learn more with us, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or go to our website. We have a lot of resources there. As we responded in the chat. A couple of times, everyone who registered for this webinar will receive the webinar, transcript and resources in a follow up email.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much again for everyone for attending today. Thank you to our amazing panelists for this incredible conversation and thank you to our tech crew for spotlighting and managing everything behind the scenes. And please fill out our brief feedback survey. This allows us to improve each time. So tell us what you like. Tell us what could be even better next time. Tell us what you’d like to learn more about that we didn’t get to. We’re going to leave this screen on for the last couple of minutes. Thank you so much to everyone who’s joined us today. And I’m going to leave this screen up, but panelists, feel free to say thank you, goodbye. Hop off, but so glad to have you all here. Thank you so much again, everyone.

Michelle Nutter:

Thank you everyone. Thank you to the ASL interpreters for doing just such a wonderful job at keeping up with so many voices.

Nicole Kamann Mellus:

Thank you. This is Nicole Common. Thank you guys so much for joining us tonight. I really enjoyed presenting to all of you. It just gives me such hope that there’s so many of you, allies and supporters out there. Thank you again.

Marianna Stepniak:

Thank you so much, everyone and panelists, feel free to start hopping off folks. Please stay on. As long as you’re able to fill out that evaluation survey form, you can snap it, the QR code with your phone or use the link that [inaudible 01:29:21] plugged in the chat. And we’ll be closing this out in just a minute. Thank you so much. And thank you to our interpreters. I can’t believe I didn’t say that before, you both are amazing. Thanks to everyone for today.

 

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