Diversity Practices for Distance Learning
Creating an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Online Space
Rick Oculto, MSW, Director of Education, Our Family Coalition - September 2020
Online Space and Personal Space
Just as in a physical classroom a virtual classroom has opportunities to show support for student identity. Some of the main places that you can show this support are as follows:
Here are some links to graphics you can use:
Rules & Classroom Agreements
One of the easiest ways to establish good behavior and the values of your classroom is to set expectations with rules and classroom agreements at the very beginning of the year. Outline in detail how students are expected to treat each other and be explicit about groups and behavior. For example, instead of saying, “We don’t put other people down,” and leaving it at that it is better to say, “We don’t put other people down for their gender, skin color, language, religion, accent, ability, culture, or for who they like because everyone’s background is different and everyone is important.” By being explicit you can then reinforce these ideas later by recalling this conversation.
Some example classroom agreements in addition to the one above:
The same as in a physical classroom, it can be useful to post these rules and agreements somewhere that can be reviewed so that there is a reference to point to. If it is on a landing page it can also serve as a reminder every time that a student joins a classroom or visits your page.
One of the best methods for buy-in for rules and classroom agreements is to have students participate in the process of creating them. It can be useful to engage your students in a discussion about what would make them feel safe and the best kind of environment to help them learn. Keep a set of “non-negotiables” for the things you know need to be in the list so that you can suggest them but allow the students to lead the discussion. Many will find that the students already know what would make the classroom more welcoming to them and will most likely cover your concerns as a teacher. This will provide the students the agency to build their own environment and empower them to adhere to and remind each other what they have agreed to be important for a productive classroom.
Survey for Students
One method of getting the pulse of your students for your online class about a healthy learning environment is to provide students with a survey several times during the year. Student identities may change during the school year. It can be important to assess the kinds of environments the students are physically in while they are distance learning as these can translate into unique situations that may hamper or even prohibit learning. Additionally, you can ask for information that can help you as the teacher and the other students in the class better meet the needs of their fellow classmates. Some example questions:
What would make this class a better learning environment for you? What
can we do to make that happen?
Names and Pronouns
Many of the online chat clients will give users the ability to set their names. With this ability comes a great opportunity for students to display the name by which they want to be called. Online etiquette has been evolving since the beginning of social media, but has not been adapted in large form for classroom settings, so, it is important to check in with your students about the names they display. If you had not already checked in with your student and you see a name displayed that does not match their student record or what you expected then it is recommended to talk with them about it to see what the discrepancy is about. You may find that some students want a certain name to be used only with particular people around or, conversely, when certain others are not present. This may be an opportunity for them to use a name in a safe environment that they had not used previously and they may be gauging their own level of safety.
With regards to pronouns on display names, it is a good idea only if there is precedent set about how pronouns are shared and how they are treated. A good practice is to share your pronouns first as the teacher and then let the students self-select if they want to share. The reason for this caution is that, for many trans and non-binary students, being forced to share pronouns can lead to easy identification and targeting for later harassment. If there is a shared understanding on respect with regards to names, pronouns, and gender then you may consider sharing pronouns in the display name. It can serve as a good reminder of how to refer to someone. Each class, however, is different and it is recommended to gauge the safety of it along with your students. It is important to do this assessment as a group and with students individually to limit the effect of peer pressure.
One way to introduce the concept is to start with your pronouns in your own display name and then explain, “I’ve shared my pronouns because I want you to know how to refer to me respectfully. I want to do the same for you and want to come to an agreement on how we respect each other in class. If you want, you can also share your pronouns, and maybe once we get to know each other we can all feel comfortable sharing them together.”
A quick checklist for names and pronouns protocol:
an agreement on how to respect each other in class
Respond to Discrimination, Bullying, and Harassment
The number one rule for dealing with discriminatinon, bullying, and harassment is that you must respond every time. Do not ignore it or make excuses for it. Whether it is a student, a colleague, or even a family member that might say something discriminatory in a virtual classroom it is essential to address it as it occurs. Students are absorbing how we, as the adults, are responding to discriminatory words and actions and the example must be set that it cannot be ignored. Otherwise the message that some discrimination is allowed some of the time will get conveyed.
Here are the recommended steps that you can take to address discrimination:
Resources for responding to or creating a preventative environment for discrimination:
Provide Social Support
Through the pandemic, protests for racial justice, and devastating fires we are experiencing major traumatic events as large communities. The impact of such an experience will have effects that can and cannot be anticipated. Here are some ideas for providing space and resources for your class:
Study and Learn about Lesson Plans and Student Activities
There are many online resources to help teachers with their own content learning and strategies about how to discuss topics of diversity in the classroom throughout the year. Make it a continuous practice rather than a one time event. Here is a list of some of these:
The ONE Archives Foundation has partnered with the UCLA History-Geography Project to host Professional Learning Symposiums and provide LGBTQ history lesson plans for educators at no cost. The lesson plans comply with California’s FAIR Education Act, which requires California K–12 schools to integrate fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful representations of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities into their social studies and history classes.
This site serves as a comprehensive reference hub for information regarding the FAIR Education Act, as well as for History Framework Lesson Plans and General LGBTQ Lesson Plans, and resources to support teachers as they work with the new content required by the FAIR Education Act. We are honored to work together with you to help California’s history and social sciences education be more Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful for all K-12 students.
This new one-week unit is designed to help support your teaching in the opening days of a US History course and to develop students' social-emotional skills in order to engage in an open and supportive classroom community. These first class periods are important to establish classroom norms and an inclusive environment where students honor and value differing perspectives, question assumptions, and actively listen to others.
Make your school more inclusive for all students! We have book lists for your school or classroom library, ready-to-use lesson plans, tips to make your school more welcoming for students and families and suggested responses to questions related to gender, families and LGBTQ topics.
This teaching tool by Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) can be used to start a discussion with your students on the differences and relations between gender, gender expression, gender identity, anatomy, and attraction.
Teaching Tolerance provides free resources to educators—teachers, administrators, counselors and other practitioners—who work with children from kindergarten through high school. These resources include classroom lessons, webinars, grants, podcasts, policy guides and much more. Educators use our materials to supplement the curriculum, to inform their practices, and to create civil and inclusive school communities where children are respected, valued and welcome participants.
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