“Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”
Meeting People Where They Are
As the quote above from Maggie Kuhn suggests, it can be frustrating to encounter resistance to gender inclusion work. But remember, for many people, evolving notions about gender are quite new. Without compromising their commitment to gender inclusion, educators can graciously and respectfully respond to such resistance in a manner that builds understanding.
As with many unfamiliar ideas, discomfort is quite common for people new to the gender discourse. While rarely stress-free or straightforward, responding to concerns, even those expressed quite aggressively, does not have to be a polarizing experience.
Principles for Responding to Concerns
In our work with schools across the country coming from communities with an array of political beliefs and values, we have observed some very specific behaviors that educators can employ to increase the likelihood that discussions about gender work in schools does not have to become contentious.
When discussions take place about gender issues in school, they can be highly charged; the subject seems to raise a level of intensity for many that is unlike most other topics. This intensity can in turn create a negative feedback loop when the energy levels of both parties are highly charged. Since you cannot control what is happening for the other person, there are some steps you can take to minimize the potential for conflict. The following strategies can serve to de-escalate highly charged situations.
Slow things down
- Soften your voice
- Pause reflectively before responding to comments
- If behind a desk, move out in front of it
- Listen reflectively and rephrase what you’ve heard. I think I heard you say that you are worried this work will confuse the children. Is that correct?
Appreciate the sharing of the question/concern
Take a moment to set a positive, constructive tone by recognizing that this is being brought to your attention (even if it is the tenth conversation on the topic!)
- Thank you so much for caring enough about our school to discuss this with me
- t sounds like you’ve really thought a lot about this
- I can see this feels very important to you
Try to learn what’s underneath the question or concern
In addition to rephrasing, ask probing questions to narrow down the issue that is most challenging for the person.
- Can you say more about that?
- Can you help me understand the impact this is having on you or your child?
- What might we do to support your child, you and your family?
Bring your own experience/expertise to the table
Fall back on the fact that you have a wealth of knowledge about schooling. Take confidence in the fact that you have navigated challenging situations previously.
- Here is what I have observed over the years
- In similar situations in the past,
- I can remember a time when a parent had a similar concern
Return to shared beliefs
Identify common hopes for how school will be for all students.
- Safety is something I think we can agree is important for every child here
- Kindness and respect are two values that we help every student learn and demonstrate
- Creating a more positive learning environment helps every child be more successful
School mission and values
Invoke the commitments that have been made in writing about your school’s larger purposes and approaches
- At our school, we believe that...
- We think that one of the reasons parents want their children here is our commitment to...
- As you probably know, the mission of our school is…
Remind them that you have a professional responsibility to protect the privacy of everyone at the school
- Just as I would never talk about your child or family with someone else, I would never talk about another child or family with you
- Invite a solution for their child (versus assuming the other child must change or adapt)
Have information, such as short articles and websites ready to share
- Can I share some information that other parents have found helpful who had similar questions?
- I can see that you have many ideas about this subject. I will send you some links about this that I’ve found helpful to more fully understand these issues
Ask for time
There are moments when you may simply not have the time to provide a response that you feel good about.
A question or point has been raised that you are not sure about how best to respond
- You’ve really given me a lot to consider here. I’d like to think more about our conversation, and check in with my colleagues. Perhaps we could set up a time to check back next week?
- I want to be able to give you and this subject the attention it deserves. Let’s make an appointment to talk when we both can give this topic a bit more time and attention
Deepening Your Reserves of Will and Urgency
Even with various approaches and language at the ready, difficult conversations can cause us to pause and even question our own commitment to gender inclusion. Keeping in mind some larger, more universal themes can help steel educators to stand strong and remain firm in one’s commitments
While steadfast in your beliefs about the importance of this work, in the moment others’ confrontational stance can shaken one’s resolve. By keeping in mind a few basic tenets about why this work matters and how it is being done, these challenging moments can be endured with your will to move forward fully intact.
- Views about gender are evolving rapidly, especially among young people
- Work related to gender diversity benefits every student by creating safer environments in which to teach and learn
- Schools throughout the country are being very intentional about gender inclusion and successfully supporting transgender and nonbinary students. While this may be new in your community, there are many, many places where this work has been happening for years.
- Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe.
- Transgender and other gender-expansive students are at far greater risk than their cisgender peers
- In most cases, our kids are way ahead of the adults when it comes to this topic