Educator Resources Easy Steps to a Gender Inclusive Classroom
“Gender inclusive practices come in many forms. Educators can take a variety of steps today to make their classrooms more gender inclusive.
Tips for Your Classroom
Try some or all of our tips and see how your students respond when gender inclusive practices are employed intentionally.
- Avoid asking kids to line up as boys or girls or separating them by gender. Instead, use things like “odd and even birth date,” or “Which would you choose: skateboards or bikes, milk or juice, dogs or cats, summer or winter, talking or listening.” Invite students to come up with choices themselves. Consider using tools like the “appointment clock” to form pairs or groups. Always ask yourself, “Will this create a gendered space?”
- Whenever possible, avoid using phrases such as “boys & girls,” “you guys,” “ladies and gentlemen,” and similarly gendered expressions to address whole groups of students. Instead, use words that are not gendered, such as “ Good morning folks,” “Hey everybody,” or “y’all.” Or you can try “calling all readers,” or “hey campers” or “could all of the athletes come here. Create classroom names for groups and ask “All Terrific Tigers to meet at the rug.”
- Provide an opportunity for every student to privately share with you their name and pronouns, and tell students why you are doing so. At the beginning of the year or new semester, at back-to-school night, or following a break, privately invite students and parents to share how the student would like to be referred to at school. You might do this by asking them to write the information on a card, or via an online tool to collect the information. Seek out and use the name and pronouns a student uses, regardless of what is written on their birth certificate. Invite ALL students to share the name and/or pronoun they use (especially early in the year).
- Have signs and other visual images reinforcing gender inclusion: “All Genders Welcome” door hangers, “Think Outside the Boxes” and other signs. Encourage students to come up with similar messages or to create their own versions. Display pictures of people who don’t fit gender norms and from cultures in which gender is expressed outside of traditional binary notions. For example: “Two Spirit” individuals found in many First Nation communities, the Hijra of India, Arabic men holding hands. Display examples of people doing things not traditionally seen for their gender: men who are nurses, childcare providers and dancers; women who are doctors, auto mechanics, and athletes.
- When you do need to reference gender, use terms that expand the gender binary. “Boy, girl, or something else.” You can use terms like cisgender, gender-expansive and non-binary and talk about gender diversity as being common across time and culutre. If students ask about your language, use this as a teachable moment to discuss the variations of gender that exist.
- When students share binary gendered statements ideas, provide counter-narratives that challenge them to think more broadly about gender. Point out and inquire when you hear binary gender stereotypes. Ask things like, Can you say more about that? I see it a little differently or Is that always the case? Do all boys/men have short hair?
- Find examples in the media, popular culture or through social media that reinforce gender stereotypes or binary notions of gender. Call out and explore these with students. Encourage students to find their own examples.
- Interrupt openly hostile attitudes or references towards others EVERY TIME you hear or observe them, but also use these as teachable moments. Respond to gender-based putdowns firmly, but instructionally -- being punitive may stop the behavior at the moment, but being instructive may stop it entirely. Always be careful so you do not further marginalize the target of the statements. Follow up privately with them to see if how you handled the situation was comfortable for the student who was mistreated.
- Give students specific language that empowers them to be proud of who they are and to defend others who are being mistreated. Please respect my privacy. You may think that, but I don’t. You may not like it but I do. We don’t say things like that here. Have students come up with their own ways of responding to situations.
- Help students recognize the limitations of “all or nothing” language by helping them understand the difference between patterns and rules. Avoid using “normal” to describe any behaviors. Teach phrases like That may be true for some people, but not all people, and frequently but not always, and more and less common.
- Share personal anecdotes from your own life that reflect a growing understanding of gender inclusiveness. This could be a time when you were not gender inclusive in your thinking, words or behaviors, what you learned as a result, and what you will do differently next time.
- Do the work yourself. What are your own experiences with gender? What are some of your biases? Share with students your reflections on your evolving understanding of gender. Check out our online exercise "My Gender Journey" to explore your own gender story.