Unless you are a novice educator, you have taught transgender students. You may not have realized it at the time, but I assure you that you have. Increasingly, educators are becoming aware that they have transgender kids in their classrooms, which can sometimes catch us off-guard. Most of us do not have formal training, or even experience, meeting the needs of transgender children. Yet, when a gender nonconforming child is placed in our care, everyone from senior leadership to classroom teachers to instructional assistants will appreciate having clear guidance on how to support them.
What Does Transgender Mean?
Transgender describes someone whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth (usually based on external sex characteristics). Transgender people may be ‘out’, or not; their gender identity (how they feel inside) may match their gender expression (how they present themselves on the outside), or not. There is a lot of diversity in gender nonconformity, and some countries or regions may use different terminology for similar concepts (i.e. Hijra for our friends in South Asia, for example).
Why Do We Need a Transgender Policy?
If you haven’t yet been asked how your school supports transgender and gender nonconforming children, you will face this question at some point. International schools around the world are finding that families with transgender children are applying to attend, or that a current student may be transitioning. This happens in religious schools. It happens in conservative countries. It happens in elementary and primary divisions. The interests of the school and, most importantly, of the child, will be best served if a solid policy is in place. Schools that take the lead here will find that they are on the forefront of child-centred practice in the international community.
A Model Policy for Schools
GLSEN (pronounced ‘glisten’) is a non-profit organization whose mission is, “To create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression”. They are leaders in the field, and backed by research, so you can feel confident referring to them for sound advice. GLSEN’s transgender model district policy offers school decision-makers sample language and reliable advice on topics as varied as student gender transitions, parent/guardian involvement, access to gender-segregated activities and facilities, and dealing with media requests. You could literally copy/paste their text into your own handbooks; it is written with schools’ needs in mind.
Transgender Policy in International Schools
International schools generally exercise a degree of independence from both local and foreign regulations, while also operating within at least the partial confines of both. Naturally, these responsibilities need to be taken into consideration before implementing any new policy. That being said, GLSEN’s suggested policy document uses straightforward language that would suit many international contexts. And, while I encourage you to consider adopting the model policy in its entirety, it is neatly organized and concisely written so that it would be possible to lift out the sections that are most relevant to your school as a starting point, until the full text could be approved.
Not So Sure?
Many people, even well-intentioned school leaders, harbor bias against gender nonconforming people. While we, as professional educators, are committed to serving all of our students, we may still find ourselves neglecting to protect transgender children in the same way we look after others. Decision-makers may feel nervous about endorsing policies that so much as acknowledge the presence of transgender children at their school. This takes some courage and forward thinking. We still have a long way to go in ensuring equal educational opportunities for transgender and gender nonconforming students around the world. A proactive policy is a step forward in making our international schools safe and inclusive places of learning.
Can I help? If you are interested in updating your transgender policy, but have questions about how to do so in a manner that is consistent with your school’s mission, stakeholders’ values, or local context, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be delighted to serve as a resource.