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Gender Identity in High School Education

About the Project

My name is Olivia Long, and I am a senior at the Latin School of Chicago. Over the last few years, I have seen vast improvement in my school, regarding the treatment of gender identity. However, while doing things like making the first gender neutral bathrooms are a major step towards gender inclusivity for all, one thing that is lacking is education around gender studies. High school is one of the most formative years of your life, and you spend most of it trying to figure out how you identity. It can be especially difficult and confusing if you identify differently than others. In the example of gender, some kids may not identify with the gender they were assigned, or within the binary.

My goal is to give students like this the opportunity to explore their gender identity in freshman year, with the hopes of making high school a little easier for them. At my school, freshman are required to take a course called “Health and Wellness”. It’s a combination of PE and health education, where you have to take two quarters of PE and two quarters of health, which involves CPR training, sex education, drug education, and diversity education. During diversity education, we discuss mental health, racism, sexism, and homophobia, but never really dive into gender identity. I feel that we can utilize this education opportunity and apply it to gender, so for my project, I designed a five-day lesson plan for diversity education surrounding gender identity.

The Preparation

I first decided to do some research on the Diversity Education course, to gain a better understanding of the best way to teach such a sensitive topic in high school. I decided to talk Jenny Stevens.

Jenny Stevens

Ms. Stevens in one of the school counselors and the teacher of Diversity Education. She has the job of formulating six weeks of lesson plans, and finding speakers, to best help educate the freshmen on how race, sexual orientation, and other factors of someone’s identity affect them, and how to be conscious and supportive of them. She has been planning and teaching this course since she started at Latin, seven years ago, so over that time, she has shifted and changed the course based on student feedback, and worked to hone her skills to better Diversity Education.

I first developed a friendly relationship with Ms. Stevens after taking Diversity Education in freshman year, and I have been in fairly consistent communication with her since then. I’ve participated in a lot of ehr discussions, including a recent one on gender based violence, and we’ve always been able to have open discussions on how to better these discussions. She has always been open to student feedback regarding how to make her courses and between this and our pre-existing relationship, I thought that she would be the best person to talk to about my project, so I arranged to have a meeting with her. Below is a short recap about how that meeting went, and the information she gave me.

 

 

 

The Lesson Plan


Day One

I wanted the first day to be introductory, and to ease into some basic aspects of gender identity. First, I wanted to give them the Genderbread Person chart.

While this, by no means, covers every aspect of gender, it’s a good start for students who hadn’t previously known how identity can differ on various scales. One of the reasons that I really appreciate this version of The Genderbread Person is that it includes who you’re attracted to, romantically and sexually. Sexuality is one of the other topics covered in Diversity Education, so it will be something for the students to draw connections too. Additionally, it makes a distinction between sexuality and gender, which is important because the idea that sexuality and gender identity are connected is a common misconception. The class will be spent reviewing the information on the sheet, and letting the students ask any questions about things they don’t understand. Like Ms. Stevens suggested, it will essentially be a freeform discussion that allows the students to freely talk about their experience and ask questions that they would otherwise be afraid to ask. This establishes that the class is a safe zone for the students, which makes them feel more comfortable in the future, and will make the class more effective. I want the students to more or less have total control of the conversation, with very little involvement from me. I will also let the students know that if there’s anything that they don’t feel comfortable discussing in public, they have the option of going to Ms. Stevens for a private discussion.

 


Day Two

I want day two to be something of an unlearning day. I want to cover gender stereotypes, and how they can influence our opinion of our own gender.

 

Using this image, I want to discuss the various stereotypes put on men and women. I know that this ad is very inappropriate, but it serves an important purpose: it starts a very real conversation around how harmful these gender stereotypes can be. By this age, a lot of the students have probably already seen images like this in ads, and it’s important for them to discuss how it affects them.

I called this day an unlearning because it will help make the students more aware of the stereotypes around them, and how they affect their everyday life. Again, this will be a freeform discussion, with a few prompting questions.

 

Discussion questions:

  • How does this ad reflect the gender stereotypes placed on men and women?
  • Can you think of any examples in your life that have been influenced by these stereotypes?

 


Day Three

Day three will be a continuation of day two, and dive into a few feminists concepts, specifically the Bechdel Test.

After showing them this comic, I want to begin a discussion around popular movies, which ones pass the Bechdel Test, and if that’s significantly damaging, or a mere coincidence. I want the students to go on their laptop, access this site, and find a popular movie that does or doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, and we can discuss the effect of this. My one concern for this day is that it may dive too much into feminist and a gender studies class, rather than a gender education class. However, I think, in order to become aware of gender stereotypes and break out of them, we need to pay some attention to the concepts that have helped others become more self-aware in the same way.


Day Four

This day will cover what it means to be nonbinary. For a lot of students I talked to, identifying as nonbinary was something they hadn’t heard of until well into high school. This class will, again, be a discussion, but while we’re talking, I want to put this image on the smartboard.

While this seems cheesy. I hope that doing this will achieve a few things. First, I want it to make people feel comfortable about discussing their experience with gender, and not feel as though they’ll be questioned or judged. I also want it to make people ask more questions. Terms like “demigirl” and “demiboy” are probably ones they hadn’t encountered, and it may help them even more when considering their gender identity. This discussion is really supposed to be a revelatory one, where people making insights and breakthroughs that help themselves and their classmates. This seems vague, but since I want this to truly be a student-led discussion, so I can’t predict how it will turn out. I also understand that this is a very personal subject to be covering in a classroom, so I will again offer the opportunity to speak to Ms. Stevens in private if they need, or even talk to me during a free period if they’d like.

 


Day Five

Day five will be a conclusion of everything we’ve covered. It will be a discussion led by me, in which I essentially get feedback on what they’re taking away from the class. I just want to spend their class getting their feedback, and letting them tell me what did and didn’t work for them, so I can improve the class to be taken again next year. I’ll also give them the option of submitting anonymous, online feedback, or telling me privately.

Questions to ask:

  • Do you think that gender exploration is something that everyone should go through? Why or why not?
  • What are some ways that you can help friends who are struggling with their gender identity?
  • Does gender identity relate to the identities we have studied in this course? If so, how?
  • Is there anything that you would have changed in this course that would have better helped you learn about gender identity?

The Wrap-Up

After formulating my lesson plan, I met with Ms. Stevens again to review the plan and discuss what I can improve. While she had hesitation around a few of my methods and plans, in the end, she helped clean up some of the details and approved my final plan. Below is a video with further discussion of our meeting.

What’s Next?

At the beginning of this presentation, I talked about improving my school’s attitude surrounding gender identity, and to do that, I need to use my lesson plan to create actual change. After the Catalyst Conference, I plan on taking my presentation to my school, and advocating for them to begin teaching a course in Diversity Education around gender identity. I will be using my course as an example, but I’m willing to let them edit what I created in order for them to take the idea seriously. With Ms. Stevens support, I think I’ll have a pretty good case. I am a senior, and graduating Latin in June, but I’ll look for a student to continue my efforts once I leave.

I would also love if others could see my presentation as an opportunity to start a similar initiative at their own school! Fluidity and exploration of gender identity is something that a lot of people may not be familiar with, but acknowledging it and having discussions around the topic is something that can be invaluable. If you think that a class like the one I proposed would make a good change at your school, please use my presentation (or your own), and feel free to comment with any questions you have regarding my process, research, or anything!

 Works Cited

United States of America. United Nations. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.Education for All by 2015: Will We Make It? By Nelly P, Stromquist. Paris: UNESCO, 2008. UNESCO Publishing, 2008. Web. <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001555/155587e.pdf>.

Wight, Carly-Lee. Gender Inclusive Practices within the Primary Classroom . Research Bank. RMIT University, School of Education, June 2010. Web. <https://researchbank.rmit.edu.au/eserv/rmit:9478/Wight.pdf>.

Ashley, Martin. Primary School Boys’ Identity Formation and the Male Role Model: An Exploration of Sexual Identity and Gender Identity in the UK through Attachment Theory.Research Gate. University of the West of England, Bristol, Nov. 2003. Web.

Bhana, Deevia. Gender and Childhood Sexuality in Primary School. Singapore: Springer Singapore, 2016. Print.

Sadker, D., & Silber, E. (Eds.). Gender in the Classrooms: Foundations, Skills, Methods and Strategies Across the Curriculum. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

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COMMENTS: 2
  1. April 28, 2017 by Sam

    Hi, I’m writing to you all the way from Costa Rica. I am really impressed and really liked your project. I wish my school had a program like this. It’s very important that we start teaching children about this topic. I feel like the project you conducted is very essential and necessary to provide to these new generations of high schoolers, especially in times like these. Good job!

  2. April 28, 2017 by Daniella

    Hello. I’m Daniella from Costa Rica. I was really amazed by your project and I hope more people will start taking your project into consideration!

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