Category Archives: Emily Meadows

EMILY MEADOWS, PhD is an alumni of international schools and has worked as a professional educator and counselor across the world, serving children and families in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She researches inclusive policy and practice for LGBTQ+ students, and holds master’s degrees in the fields of Counseling and Sexual Health. Emily teaches for the George Washington University’s graduate program in LGBT Health Policy & Practice, and is a consultant on gender and sexual diversity and inclusion in international schools: www.emilymeadows.org

There Are No Good Guys, and Other Teachable Moments from the Kavanaugh Hearing

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Brett Kavanaugh, now United States Supreme Court justice, is the latest in a string of men publicly demonstrating that there are no good guys.

Hang onto your #notallmen comebacks. There are no good guys – and there are no bad guys.

This type of binary thinking (good vs. bad) is problematic. Whether considering the sexual abuse epidemic in the Catholic church, or the extraordinary number of stories from the #metoo movement, a common theme is that people accused of assault are rarely pure villains. Someone out there is usually willing to vouch for their character, even to summon a respectable letter from the community attesting to their wholesomeness and good deeds. To take this as evidence that they have never once behaved inappropriately, however, is a logical fallacy with potentially serious consequences.

If a child understands that the adults in their life believe a religious leader/neighbour/doctor/family member/teacher is a ‘good guy’, and we’ve taught children to internalize people as being on one side or another of a good/bad binary, how might that impact their interpretation of a sexual assault? How might that influence their likelihood of reporting the ‘good guy’, or seeking help?

As educators, we can support children to see people as nuanced, and work to dismantle this simplistic good vs. bad misconception. Doing so may also encourage a healthier self-concept by giving little ones the chance to recover from mistakes that inevitably accompany learning. Otherwise, when a child uses binary thinking to judge themself, a simple misstep may create unnecessary internal conflict. Educators who cultivate a growth mindset with students will recognize this approach.

I do not mean to equivocate minor childhood gaffes with actual crimes, and this is not to say that someone who commits sexual assault in high school (allegedly) should be excused their behaviour and rewarded with a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States. Certainly we must face consequences for our choices. But, is Brett Kavanaugh entirely evil? Plenty of supporters would say no, and I agree: nobody is completely good or completely bad.

Other teachable moments from the Kavanaugh hearings:

  1. Sexual assault is not normal teen behaviour – it is violent behaviour. Let’s keep saying this loud and clear, and teaching children about consent early and often.
  2. Binge drinking is not normal teen behaviour; less than 1 in 3 American teens report drinking at all, and only 13% report binge drinking (defined as 4-5 beers in a row)[1]. Let us not normalize underage drinking.
  3. If a yearbook quote can follow you to a job interview in your 50’s, so can a social media post. Take care with online footprints.

If the recent U.S. Supreme Court nomination process came up with your students, how were you able to use it as a teachable moment?

 

[1] 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/results.htm

Moving is Hard

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Artist: Solara Shiha

 

Moving is hard.

The lists.
The logistics.
The farewells.

I woke up at 3am every morning the week leading up to our last day in Hong Kong. If someone had peeked into our flat while I was organizing and sorting and packing and planning, they may have grown concerned. I’m sure I looked a bit wild.

We traveled for 20 hours with our toddler. I continued to wake at 3am after the arrival, because jet lag and baby jet lag. Everything was new.

Since June, we have been living with a total of four forks for our family of three, and other similar shortages, as we wait for our shipment to arrive in the Netherlands. We make due. We employ flexibility and resourcefulness and resilience. We accept that this is part of a relocation, and compensate with the many marvels of our new home.

Moving as international educators is hard. But, really, it’s not that hard.

Hard would be absconding under cover of night, without farewells.
Hard would be leaving behind our memories and possessions, barely packing at all.
Hard would be trekking across deserts, riding dilapidated boats through the sea.
Hard would be an arrival without welcome, without provision, without safety and security.
Hard would be forced separation from my child. My baby in a cage.

When we arrived in our new home, we were welcomed. When we arrived, we were provided for. When we arrived, we were perhaps disoriented, but we were safe and secure.

I do not mean to discount the difficulties that many international ed folks face when making a move; we must honour these, too. There is true pain in leaving a place, and real challenge in adjusting to a new context. But for me, personally, when I am washing those four forks – again – so we have something to eat our next meal with, I consider how very little actual flexibility, resourcefulness, and resilience have been asked of me during this move. I carry privilege, and my moves are not hard.

We’re Moving, and Leaving Our Baby in Hong Kong

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Here’s something I wasn’t prepared for.

I grew up as a child in international schools, so I’ve done it. I’ve said good-bye to so many people, so many times. I’ve made my career in international education. More farewells. The process isn’t necessarily easy, but I am accustomed to it. When my husband and I decided to leave Hong Kong, we knew the hardest part would be separating from the people who’ve made our seven years here so memorable, but we also knew we could handle it.

What I didn’t consider was that our baby, now a toddler, would be left behind.

Of course I don’t mean literally. He’s booked in a seat sandwiched between ours as we rack up the last of our Cathay Pacific airline miles, for now. But, he was born here, and spent his infancy here. And we can’t take that with us.

When we fly into Amsterdam airport later this month, we will be leaving behind the sweet little crew of munchkins that have become his tribe. We rotate group play dates at one another’s homes every Friday, swim in the community pool together every Tuesday, and bop around with maracas and plastic leis (don’t ask) at “dance class” every Wednesday. More afternoons than not, my child spends an hour or two on the playground with these babes, learning how to negotiate, to take risks, to show compassion, to have fun. We hosted the play group a couple of week ago, and he cried a little when the children left. “I miss my friends”, he said.

Oh, dear.

Hong Kong is where I gripped the edge of his car seat, instructing the taxi driver to slow down, as we wound down Mount Kellett Road, heading home from the hospital where he was born. Hong Kong is where he, inspired by his older/wiser/more experienced buddy (born 2.5 months before him) took his first steps across the brightly-coloured, vinyl-covered indoor play room where we passed so many hours in monsoon weather or to escape the air pollution. Hong Kong is where he used to pitch pieces of very expensive, organic pears imported from Italy onto the dining room floor because he was learning how to eat, but also learning about gravity, which was more fun. Hong Kong is where he was a baby.

Parenting adds a new – often unexpected – dimension to virtually every aspect of life, and this is no different. My husband and I have begun to bid farewell to friends, but we also know that we will be able to stay in touch with them, and there are certainly people we intend to see again. Those relationships will change with distance, but they will not disappear.

Our baby’s relationships will essentially disappear. So much happens in a child’s development that it’s not possible for them to keep up with others without real contact. In a year from now, his little crew won’t know him anymore. He was a baby with them, and they won’t be babies anymore. Perhaps that’s why, despite the cost of shipping to our new home in the Netherlands, I’m bringing along a box full of clothes that definitely do not fit him anymore.

As international parents, there is a definitive finality to moving. When we leave Hong Kong, we will do so with a full-fledged toddler. Our baby will stay behind.

 

How do you carry on memories of a place with young children? 

Human Rights Trump Cultural Tradition

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Inclusive education is, “not limited to the inclusion of those children or young people with disabilities. Inclusion is inclusion of all regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, language, socio-economic status, and any other aspect of an individual’s identity that might be perceived as different[1]. As educators, how do we tackle this goal in countries or regions with a history of excluding certain groups? For example, is it our obligation to improve inclusive education for gender and sexual minority students in countries where homosexuality is considered a crime[2]?

When it comes to rights and justice in education, I am tempted to take a purist approach: insist on full equity, anything short of this is unacceptable. In reality, the concept of equity is subjective, complex, and extremely difficult to measure[3], so this mentality is practically inoperable. Additionally, as a visitor in countries abroad, I am compelled to position myself as the learner (rather than the teacher), to value diversity[4] (rather than assume my perspective is superior), and to respect local traditions (even if I do not practice them).

Still, those who do not have access to the privileges of a dominant group need and deserve allies and advocates. To ignore disparity is to be complicit in discrimination. In countries and regions where inclusive policy and practice is discouraged[5], whether by social norm or legal position, this is particularly salient. What is our role, as international educators, when local cultural traditions marginalize certain students? Are we overstepping our reach to demand equitable education when we are guests on foreign ground? On these questions, we can take guidance from international human rights agreements, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to education”.

While the large multi-national cohorts that initiate human rights agreements have been critiqued for slanting toward Western ideology, these benchmarks are still preferable to leaning on one individual country’s interpretation of who deserves to attend a school that is relevant, safe, and inclusive. Human rights are more important than culture and tradition. So, discriminatory practices such as keeping young girls home to do the housework while their brothers go to school[6], are not acceptable. Marginalizing gender and sexual minority students from the full educational experience[7] for any reason, including cultural or religious objection, is also intolerable.

To implement policies stating as much is easier said than done. These types of shifts must be carried out sensitively, carefully, and sometimes slower than we like. Heavy-handed, hasty, top-down mandates (even with benevolent intentions) may prove counter-productive, causing backlash and a staking of camps. International education policy-makers, then, must be people with a deep understanding of the culture where they are working, a strong background in relevant policy, and a commitment to the well-being of all children, particularly those who have been historically disadvantaged.

How do you exercise cultural humility as a guest abroad, while also working toward inclusive education for all of your students?

[1] Polat, F. (2011). Inclusion in education: A step towards social justice. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, p. 50-58.

[2] For the record, my answer to this question is a firm: yes.

[3] Wiseman, A. W. (2008). A Culture of (in)equality?: A cross-national study of gender parity and gender segregation in national school systems. Research in Comparative and International Education, 3(2), 179-201.

[4] Déquanne, B. (2017, February 9). Stronger Together [blog post]. The International Educator Online.

[5] Fully aware, here, that my own country of citizenship (the United States) has a well-documented history of denying equitable access to education; this is not a ‘foreign problem’.

[6] Lewis, M. & Lockheed, M. (2007). Inexcusable absence: Why 60 million girls still aren’t in school and what to do about it. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

[7] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danieschewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

We’re Moving: What About the Kids? {Part II}

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This is the second of a two-part post on easing the transition of an international move with children, and is adapted from an excerpt I wrote for the book Teaching Overseas, by Kent Blakeney.

It can be tempting to put off telling children about a move, as it will undoubtedly induce some level of stress. Still, there are healthier ways to support our little ones than by keeping them in the dark. As a professional international school counselor, I’ve worked with countless families to facilitate their successful transition to a new home. It can absolutely be done well! These tips will enhance your experience of a big move:

  • Maintain routine – While some of the thrill of moving is in the newness, remember that children thrive on routine. Keep certain limits the same, such as bedtimes and mealtime expectations, in order to provide your child with a sense of security. There will need to be flexibility at times, of course, but keep the basic structure of their day as consistent as possible.
  • Set an example – Your child will notice your lead when it comes to embracing something different from what you’re used to. Involve your family in the process of showing curiosity and exploring this new place (even from afar, through photos and discussions about how it will be there). Openly model resilience and a positive attitude when faced with challenge or disappointment about the transition.
  • Build connections – Support your child in getting to know the new community. Consider taking a trip to visit the campus and town during a vacation break before the move date. Reach out to the school counselor before you arrive – most international schools will have a system for integrating new students. Find out if anybody in your housing compound or neighborhood-to-be has children around the same age, and strike up an email or Facebook dialogue with them. Even one personal relationship can go a long way in helping your child to feel more at ease about the new place.
  • Listen – Children will have their own feelings about your plan to move. Listen empathically and, though you may not agree, honor your child’s experience and encourage them to share it with you. Create a safe space for them to express and work through their feelings. Validate that big changes can induce big emotions.
  • Play – Children (yes, even high school students) need to play! Uprooting can be difficult, and wrapping-up is invariably busy. Make it a priority to carve out play time together as a family. Documenting ‘lasts’ at the old locale, and creating fun memories to cherish when you look back, is an essential component to making the international move experience one that you and your child can weather – even embrace -together.

What tips do you recommend for international families transitioning to a new home?

We’re Moving: What About the Kids? {Part I}

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With the flurry of recruiting season beginning to diminish, many international teachers are now standing, new contract in hand, preparing to pack up and start a new chapter someplace else in a few short months Aside from the logistics of moving, there is also the emotional management of bidding farewell. These good-byes are particularly complicated when we are not only professional educators, but also parents. This is the first of a two-part post about easing the transition of a big move for your child.

Be careful of how you break the news

Parents know that big changes can create anxiety, and we all have the best intentions to shield our children from discomfort. A family I once supported as a school counsellor decided to move their child to a different school nearby. They knew this might be upsetting so, to try to make the transition fun and quick, the idea was to surprise the child with cupcakes on their last day at our school and, at the impromptu good-bye party, break the news that they would be attending someplace else the following day. I managed to talk the parents out of that plan, but have seen various (less extreme) versions of attempting to conceal from children that they’re in for a major shift in scenery. Put your child’s needs at the forefront, and think carefully and sensitively about how to tell them that you’re moving.

Tell them now

Maybe not right this very second, but tell them soon. Here’s why:

  • They already know. Maybe they don’t know the details, but kids are so dialled in to their parents, it’s hard to keep major family secrets for long. My guess is that they already know something’s up, and could be worrying about it anyway.
  • They will find out soon. If you haven’t told them yet, they are going to learn about it in short time. International communities (sometimes called bubbles or fish bowls, for good reason) are close-knit, and exciting news gets around quickly. You want to be the one to share this information at the time and place of your choice, not have your child accidentally find out at a play date or in the hallways of school.
  • They need to prepare. Children will benefit from having time to process the idea of a move, as well as to wrap up at the current locale, and get excited for your new place. Basically, they want to know for the same reasons you’d want to know: they need to get ready.
  • It will cause less anxiety in the long run. Moving is hard. It can be positive and exciting too, but it’s always hard. There’s no getting around this, and cutting your child out of the conversation won’t make the shift any less difficult. Accept that there will be some aches associated with the process; don’t put it off like a trip to the dentist.

Full disclosure and special circumstances

We are actually moving ourselves. After seven incredible years in Hong Kong, we’ll be starting a new adventure in The Hague this summer. I’m feeling a bit hypocritical as I write this because we haven’t told our babe yet. He’s two, though, and June is a very abstract concept for him. We’ll make sure to give him plenty of notice as we near the departure date.

Every family is different, and you know your child best. There may be a good reason to temporarily hold off on telling them about an upcoming move, such as one parent is on an extended trip, and you want to share the news together. Or, perhaps your child is facing a different, significant challenge at the moment, and you need to focus on that. However, consider what your reason is for delaying the conversation, and whether waiting will actually address the issue. Kids are resilient, and bringing them into the family discussion about your transition now (even if it’s difficult) could be better for them in the long run.

If you’re not quite sure how to prepare your child for an upcoming move, stay tuned… My next post will offer tips on how to ease this perennial transition so associated with international teaching life.

What tips do you have about sharing the news of a move with your child? 

Your School’s GSA May Be Saving Lives

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Before school-shooting survivor, Emma Gonzáles, burst into the public spotlight for her role in pressing U.S. legislators to tighten up gun control, she was contributing to a life-saving cause of another sort. Emma Gonzales is the president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s gay-straight alliance (GSA).

GSAs are clubs to provide support and safety for gender and sexual minority (GSM) students, and to improve the campus climate for this demographic. The acronym GSA historically stands for Gay-Straight Alliance, but has been updated by some to mean Genders & Sexualities Alliance, a more accurate reflection of the youth running them. Allies are usually invited to participate, providing an outlet for heterosexual, cisgender students and faculty to acknowledge their privilege and contribute to making schools more inclusive.

GSAs originated in American high schools in the 1980s[1], but have spread around the world since. These alliances change – and even save – lives. Here’s how:

Gender and sexual minority (sometimes called LGBTQ+) students are more likely than their heterosexual, cisgender peers to miss school because they feel unsafe, to achieve lower grades, and to report less support from teachers and other adults at school[2]. Indeed, large-scale studies show that the vast majority of students who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgender are subject to frequent verbal and physical harassment and discrimination at school, at the hands of both students and faculty, based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation[3][4]. Furthermore, this stigmatizing school climate leads to serious negative outcomes for GSM students, including increased risk of mental health issues and suicidality[5][6][7].

Fortunately, GSAs make a concrete positive impact on school climate, and can mitigate these serious risks. For example, students attending schools with a GSA reported significantly higher feelings of school belonging compared with those who attend a school without a GSA[8]. Schools with GSAs see lower truancy rates for their GSM students[9]. GSA presence is associated with significantly lower levels of homophobic victimization and fear of safety at school[10], and can improve overall GSM student well-being[11]. In fact, the mere presence of a gay-straight alliance at school has been reported as more impactful on GSM students’ well-being than whether they had actually been a member or participated in the club in any way, so it’s worth hosting even if only a few students attend[12]. GSAs have even been associated, in multiple studies, with lowering the suicide risk for sexual minority youth[13][14]. These organizations make a difference.

Most of the studies on GSAs have been carried out in the U.S., but it stands to reason that their impact may be felt at least as strongly where they are present in international settings. Seeing as plenty of international school students are limited by language skills or cultural barriers from joining organizations in the local community, school is often the hub of social support for our expat children. Your school’s GSA may be the only option for students to meaningfully connect with other GSM children.

GSAs may be unsafe for students in some countries, where gender and sexual non-conformity is harshly penalized, so exercise caution according to your context. If you are in a place where these groups are possible, I encourage you to attend a meeting or event with your school’s GSA to show encouragement for the students running it, and for the many other children who are quietly noticing your support. If your school does not yet host a GSA (you may be surprised to learn that they do exist in conservative regions and in religious schools), this resource from GLSEN offers a how-to guide for getting started.

Tell us about your school’s GSA: what impact does the group make in the city/country where you work? 

 

[1] Russell, S., Muraco, A., Subramaniam, A., & Laub, C. (2009). Youth Empowerment and High School Gay-Straight Alliances. J Youth Adolescence, 38, 891-903.

[2] IOM (Institute of Medicine). (2011). The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[4] HRC (Human Rights Campaign). (2012). Growing up LGBT in America.

[5] Hatzenbuehler, M. L. & Pachankis, J. E. (2016). Stigma and minority stress as social determinants of health among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth:                Research evidence and clinical implications. Pediatric Clinics of North America,        63(6), 985-997.

[6] Lick, D. J., Durso, L. E., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Minority stress and physical health among sexual minorities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(5), 521-548.

[7] Russell, S. T. & Joyner, K. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1276-1281.

[8] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting Risks: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth. School PsychologyQuarterly, 26(2), 161-174.

[9] Poteat, V. P., DiGiovanni, C. D., Sinclair, K. O., Koenig, B. W., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Gay-straight alliances are associated with student health: A multischool comparison of LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(2), 319-330.

[10] Marx, R. A. & Kettrey, H. H. (2016). Gay-straight alliances are associated with lower levels of school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 1269-1282.

[11] Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., & Diaz, R. M. (2011). High school gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and young adult well-being: An examination of GSA presence, participation, and perceived effectiveness. Applied Developmental Science, 15(4), 175-185.

[12] Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 187-196.

[13] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[14] Goodenow, C., Szalacha, L. & Westheimer, K. (2006). School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority students. Psychology in the Schools, 43(5), 573-589.

School Shooters Are Male (and this isn’t just an American problem)

 

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The hegemonic definition of manhood is a man in power, a man with power, and a man of power[1].

Masculinity has been studied by social scientists, and broken down into core dimensions that many of us recognize. Masculinity means[2]:

  • Femininity Avoidance & Homophobia
  • Status & Achievement
  • Dominance/Power/Control
  • Toughness & Aggression
  • Restricted Emotionality

Toxic masculinity is when these dimensions are expressed in harmful ways.

In addition to (not instead of) gun restrictions[3], consider how social gender norms contribute to the school shooting epidemic. Mass shooters are almost invariably cisgender males. (Those who commit homicide in the U.S. are also overwhelmingly male, comprising more than 90% of cases where the murder’s gender is known). If this was simply a biological issue, then all cisgender men would be murderers. But, of course, they are not. This is a sociological issue.

Boys are fed the message, from a young age, that their masculinity is of paramount importance, and that they must actively maintain it lest they be figuratively castrated. Sissy, or other feminine insinuations, are perhaps the greatest insult for a male. Only more offensive might be fag[4], and other slurs that connote a lack of both masculinity and heterosexual prowess.

Social media has done a nice job of pointing out the lengths men may go to in order to clutch onto their male identity. The hashtag #fragilemasculinity pulls up a range of contortions designed to reassure men that they are, indeed, men. It might seem funny that anyone would require his bath products to be shaped like grenades, but the underlying message is serious: boys, your masculinity defines you, and it’s at risk – take steps, even irrational and bizarre steps – to protect it.

There are several ways to try to fit into the masculine mold. Referring back to the bullet (no pun intended) points above, one of the most effective methods to keep up your perceived masculine levels is to exude heterosexuality. Social norms would have us believe that masculinity and heterosexuality are mutually-dependent, that you can’t claim one without the other[5]. Therefore, to be considered masculine enough, boys must also show that they are firmly and indisputably straight.

Another way to assert masculinity is to display power. As masculinity is so inextricably tied to power, males are taught to claim and exert power in order to stay in the boys’ club. This power can take a variety of formats, but physical power and aggression is a high marker of manliness. So, the fierce guy with muscles who attracts the girls is on top of the pyramid of masculinity. But how about the (many, many, many) young boys in our schools who do not fit this description?

Some find productive, alternative ways to achieve status (i.e. Tim Cook or Morgan Freeman style). Some find healthier ways to understand their own masculinity (and sexuality), and live comfortably outside of the constricting social norms of their gender. And others struggle and bash around inside that rigid, narrow box, looking for a way to exist, to prove their worth, to Be. A. Man.

If this struggle brings up feelings, acknowledging them is to further emasculate oneself. From the bullet points above, restricted emotionality is a major element of traditional masculinity, so great displays of emotion are contrary to these boys’ search to become men. The one exception to this rule is anger: boys can get angry without being accused of being effeminate. So, anger may become a default emotion for boys, replacing other strong feelings like sadness, shame, fear, and loneliness.

In America, these males, pressed with the burden of traditional masculine norms, but unable to fulfil them to our social standards, can find incredible, breathtaking, earth-shattering power behind the sight of an assault rifle. And they do. In the hallways of schools. There have been 270 school shootings in America since Columbine in 1999. Ninety-six percent of them were committed by males.

Outside the U.S., we have the advantage of government regulations that significantly reduce the risk of a school shooting. Still, while young boys in international schools who battle with the heavy, unreasonable expectations of masculinity may not be armed to commit mass murder, this does not mean it isn’t hurting them. Toxic masculinity exists, and does harm, world-wide.

Educators can help. Question gender norms at your school. Point them out, analyze them, wonder aloud – with your students – about their ridiculousness and the damage they may be doing. Select literature that portrays male protagonists who defy traditional masculinity. Avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes when you talk to and about children. De-emphasize heteronormative sexual relationships, such as those endorsed by prom and over-the-top, public promposals (especially on campus). Check your curriculum for signs of institutionalized heteronormativity. Teach little boys about the range of human emotions; let boys cry. Allow a flexible space for students to define their own gender and sexuality. Reiterate these messages in official policy documents.

Also, provide students with alternative ways to exercise power. Teach all children, including those who identify as male, to make a positive difference in other people’s lives, to contribute to a cause greater than themselves, and to help those who need it most. This is where their power lies.

How do you challenge traditional gender norms in your school?

[1] Kimmel, M.S. (1994). Masculinities as homophobia: Fear, shame, and silence in the construction of gender identity. In Brod, H. & Kaufman, M. (Eds.) Theorizing masculinities. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

[2]Zurbriggen, E. (2010). Rape, war, and the socialization of masculinity: Why our refusal to give up war ensures that rape cannot be eradicated. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 538-549.

[3] The message in this post is in no way intended to conflict with the underlying problem of Americans having easy access to guns. Get 100% of guns out of the hands of civilians, and you’ll get a 100% reduction in school shootings, even with no adjustment to gender norms. As a vegetarian, I do not even advocate for the right of hunters to bear arms. As far as I’m concerned, no civilian needs, deserves, or is entitled to a gun. I am completely supportive of banning firearms from the public altogether.

[4] Pascoe, C. J. (2007). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

[5] Bem, S. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Transgender School Policy: What’s Yours?

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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.

5 Concrete Ways to Address #metoo and #timesup in International Schools

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Tarana Burke, founder of the #metoo movement

Everybody’s talking about it. #metoo and #timesup are trending hashtags and campaigns that represent an age-old issue: sexual harassment. This is a global phenomenon, and certainly – unfortunately– present in international schools. Whether you’re inspired by Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, or moved by the flood of #metoo’s on your social media feed, or simply realize that you are in a position to make your school a better, safer place for working and learning, here are five concrete ways to start:

  1. Establish a rock-solid policy/plan on sexual harassment. I had the honour of serving on the committee which revised Hong Kong International School’s sexual harassment policy, and I can tell you that crafting an effective one requires a lot of thoughtful effort. Take stock of resources in your locality, read plans from other schools, and write it up in painstaking detail. Don’t assume that everybody agrees on things like the definition of ‘sexual harassment’. Remember to consider what to do if an accused harasser lives on campus or in school housing, a common arrangement in international schools. Waiting until you’ve got a crisis on campus is not the time to think about how to manage it.
  2. Publish your plan everywhere. Your plan will only be useful if people understand how it works, and trust that it will be followed. If students/staff do not know who to go to when they’ve been harassed, or don’t believe that the policy will be enforced, it is useless. Make your policy and plan visible to everyone. Tell families and students about it. Talk about it at staff meetings. Do this routinely, or at least once a year.
  3. Listen to reports of sexual harassment. Believe the reporters. Put your policy/plan into action as soon as someone reports.
  4. Reframe reports of sexual harassment as an opportunity. Nobody looks forward to the HR/PR issues that can come up when sexual harassment takes place within a school community, and there can be a temptation to see reports as a nuisance. Instead, consider that the sexual harassment has already happened, and the school now has a chance to improve the safety of everybody in their community, thanks to the reports. Express gratitude to reporters for their bravery and willingness to help make the school a better place for all.
  5. Turn this into a teachable moment. Children need to be taught the knowledge and skills to deal with sexual harassment, starting from a young age. Leverage this current conversation (or use it as inspiration) to reinforce your school’s curriculum on the topic.

How does your school ensure that community members know what to do in cases of sexual harassment?