The Learning Accelerator Blog/Celebrating Pride in Schools: TLA Team Viewpoints

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Celebrating Pride in Schools: TLA Team Viewpoints

by Jin-Soo Huh, Bianca Dávila, Stephen Pham on June 28 2021

A core component of whole-child education is supporting student identity development while building an inclusive, caring community. At The Learning Accelerator, we believe that personalizing learning for students includes creating a safe, caring culture and fostering supportive relationships so that all students, regardless of their identities, feel welcomed and loved. As we close out Pride Month, our team wanted to share a few of our personal reflections on LGBTQ identities and experiences within education.

Jin-Soo Huh, Partner

Emily Style talks about the importance of having mirrors and windows in creating inclusive classrooms. Students need to see their own cultures and identities reflected in the curriculum (mirrors) and also learn about other cultures and identities that are different from their own (windows). As a student, I did not have mirrors in the curriculum that reflected my LGBTQ identity and did not have any out LGBTQ adults in the community. That also meant my non-LGBTQ peers were not seeing that there were LGBTQ people throughout history like Oscar Wilde, Bayard Rustin, and Sally Ride. I am heartened that there are five states that mandate that LGBTQ history be taught in public schools (including my home state of Illinois) and that there are educators who actively incorporate windows and mirrors by reading books with diverse characters, teaching inclusive history, and in some cases by just being their authentic selves.

I grappled heavily with coming out to students. Early on in my teaching career, I was far from comfortable with my own orientation. Later on, I worried about potential backlash from students, families, and other staff members. Towards the end, I realized how meaningful it would have been for me as a closeted kid to have known an out LGBTQ person and gradually shared at first with students who identified as LGBTQ. Just as importantly, non-LGBTQ students also need to know LGBTQ people so I began to share my identity with all students. As we wrap up this challenging school year, consider how schools can foster inclusive spaces for their students, staff, and families so they can bring their whole selves.

Bianca Dávila, Chief of Staff

As educators, we’re tasked with educating and supporting our students beyond just academics. As a teacher and shared school leader, I was often faced with helping students navigate varying aspects of their identities and of their understanding of the world around them. One aspect of life that I frequently saw my students grapple with was sexual orientation. Oftentimes, I found myself reactively supporting and educating students in response to challenging situations where students attempted to weaponize sexual orientation and use it as an insult — most often without proper understanding of what they were saying and of the implications. Though I held restorative conversations and attempted to educate my students about the LGBTQ community and helped them to understand how harmful it was to take a positive part of someone’s identity and turn it into a negative, I found myself on a merry-go-round of repetition. Every so often, the same problem would arise, and I’d have another conversation in reaction.

I finally realized that this pattern would continue until I chose to proactively educate my students about the LGBTQ community. I began to shift from only having discussions about sexual orientation in response to negative situations to including books in my classroom library and in read-alouds that included LGBTQ characters. I also began to share more personal stories about LGBTQ people in my life that I love and care for so that my students could begin to make real-world connections with openly LGBTQ people. Although Pride Month is a wonderful opportunity to place an emphasis on elevating and celebrating the LGBTQ community, we can’t wait until June every year to talk with our students about the meaning behind Pride. Every day that we enter the classroom, we’re provided with the chance to create a more inclusive community and environment for all students, including those who are LGBTQ.

Stephen Pham, Director of Organizational Learning

Reflecting back on when I was a teacher, I am saddened that I was not able to be the out-and-proud queer teacher that I so needed when I was growing up. While I strive to give myself grace for doing what I thought I should (and only could) do at the time, I wish I had the support systems and conducive school culture that enabled me — and every member of the community — to live in my truth. Instead, I was encouraged to think about academic outcomes first and weigh how potential controversy, including any rifts in my relationships with students and their families, could interfere with my role as an educator. But, looking back, I now know that bringing my whole self into my classroom was an important part of my job as a teacher. Doing so would have created a more welcoming, trusting culture and enabled stronger relationships with my students, particularly those who may have needed an LGBTQ role model.

As schools seek to improve inclusivity for all students — including, but not limited to, LGBTQ students — leaders must also consider creating the spaces to celebrate and embrace diversity at the broader community level. Modeling a culture of inclusivity, where staff members are invited to bring their whole selves to their work, ensures that a culture of love and care saturates the entire community. And when a student sees themself in a role model, such as an educator, they feel connected, enabling them to actively engage and grow within the school community. Pride Month is about celebrating and loving all parts of who we are, and it is only through living and modeling authenticity that we invite others — especially our students who are watching us closely — to do the same.

While Pride Month is coming to a close, the work to support LGBTQ students and celebrate the community’s history in schools is ongoing. We hope you join us in this journey towards making schools more inclusive for all students. Happy Pride!

Beyond Pride Month: LGBTQ+ Education Resources for Supporting All Students

About the Author

Jin-Soo Huh is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. He brings over a decade of experience implementing and scaling innovative education models that incorporates blended and personalized learning.

Bianca Dávila is Chief of Staff at The Learning Accelerator She blends her expertise and passion for educational leadership, team culture, process innovation, and organizational management to support the TLA team.

Stephen Pham is a Director, Organizational Learning at The Learning Accelerator and an expert in blended and personalized learning, data systems, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.