photo of green door of Alumni House & rainbow welcome mat
November 29, 2021

Reflections on Being in Community with Gender Inclusive Educators

Tang Fellow facilitates conversation at AISNE's DEI conference about current best practices, successes, and challenges
by Emma Staffaroni

This past October at the AISNE Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 2021 conference, I had the pleasure of presenting alongside fellow New England independent school teachers about best practices for gender inclusive school policy. The working group grew out of the work of Talya Sokoll (they/them) of Noble and Greenough School and Lu Adami (they/them) of Milton Academy who put together a survey last spring to audit the AISNE community on the status of basic gender inclusive practices, from access to facilities like housing and locker rooms, to professional development and education for community members on gender expansive identities.

Talya, Lu, Jody Coleman (she/her), and I (she/her) teamed up this fall after finding that the survey data left a lot to be desired. Without a high response rate, we couldn’t tell how widely these practices are implemented (and we sensed that there was some response bias, i.e., those who responded likely felt relatively confident about their school’s status on these issues). We also hoped to embed more specific questions so that the survey can also serve as a kind of inventory for schools looking to gauge their progress in more granular ways.

At our presentation, we shared our plans for survey 2.0 and then broke into small groups to take notes on current best practices, successes, and challenges. We facilitated discussions on privacy, admissions, and next schools; facilities and spaces; and community education. I loved hearing from my small group, all passionate educators doing this important advocacy work at their schools.

It’s not incumbent upon you to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.

Pirkei Avot

Before digging into the details of gender inclusive practices, we discussed these key areas that are foundational for this work:

  • Schools must reflect on how to share knowledge: who needs to know, and why? How can we protect student privacy while also getting students the support services they need?
  • Schools need to train their personnel across the board in basic support practices, and this should be prioritized in on-boarding and training modules.
  • Schools should have an accessible glossary of terms for reference by students and adults. This can be a living document and should get input from student voice.
  • Schools must establish bottom-line expectations for conduct around discrimination and other forms of transphobia. How is our school responding to instances of bias and harm?

These general principles and questions, among others, framed our workshop with colleagues across schools, leading to a rich and inspiring discussion. Above all, this time in community, brainstorming together, reminded me that we are not alone here at Andover—we are part of a movement and are in good company.

Talya framed our session by sharing a quote from the Pirkei Avot: “It’s not incumbent upon you to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” This is both an invitation and an imperative, for this work is both urgent and slow. Indeed, there are short- and long-term goals and strategies for making our schools safer, freer, more inclusive spaces for all students, and we need to pursue both the immediate support plans and the long horizon of transformational school culture change.

If you want to learn more about this movement of educators who understand the transformative impact on teaching and learning of our understanding and supporting the full gender diversity of our students and adult communities, or if you are already taking action at your school, I invite you to connect with me and the network we are building!

Emma Staffaroni (she/her) is an instructor in English at Phillips Academy, a Tang Institute fellow with Andover’s All-Gender Housing Initiative: Process, Impact, and Reflection, and the director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies.

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