Actioning Inclusivity: Teachers’ and school leaders’ framing of LGBT-inclusive practices and working with(in) policies and community

Year: 2016

Author: Ullman, Jacqueline

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Sexuality and gender-diverse identities remain marginalised in and by school education in Australia despite increasing national and global social acceptance. Interpersonal and institutional discrimination towards sexuality and gender-diverse students (or those perceived to be) is common, illustrating a failure of schools’ duty of care responsibilities. In light of these evidence-based concerns, and often through the championship of a dedicated school leader, some schools have taken up the call to action to actively support sexuality and gender-diverse students through a whole-school approach to inclusivity (heretofore referred to as “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] inclusivity”, for ease). While some research in these environments has thus far focused on mapping reduction of stigma and risk, little work has been done to explore the organisational processes enabling relevant shifts in school climate, including visibility of diverse sexualities and genders. This paper reports on preliminary findings from individual and focus group interviews conducted with staff from three schools in the New York City/Long Island metro area which publically position themselves as LGBT-inclusive. In each school, interviews were conducted with teachers and school leadership staff to explore salient themes and organisational features related to school mission, policy documentation, curricula, and other school based supports. Of greatest interest were the ways that school staff communicate LGBT-inclusivity to parents/guardians and their school community, the discourses they employ and their strategies for addressing challenges. While some notable differences were apparent between the discourses of parental choice within independent, private schools (2) and service to a local population within the public school (1), staff from each of the three locations actively positioned sexuality and gender diverse individuals as members of their community, both in the local (school) and national sense. Schools invested significant professional development resources to enhance teachers’ ability to confidently include and affirm sexuality and gender diversity, in terms of curricular and whole-school community inclusions as well as through the identification and eradication of marginalising language and practices. While some family/school conflict had been encountered across all three locations, conversations were fielded by leadership staff who cited state education guidelines, school mission and policies and took time to clarify the nature of content inclusions with the parent community in educative ways. Most noteworthy, educators were able to sit with unresolved conflict and outlined the ways in which they openly acknowledged the complexities of navigating inconsistent messages from school, home and religious community contexts with students and their families. Preliminary findings illustrate the impact of supportive school leadership, targeted professional development and inclusive policy on teachers’ confidence and sense of duty surrounding LGBT-inclusivity and point to the criticality of exploring gender construction during the primary years of schooling as a foundational concept.