Teachers can forge a more gender-balanced world
March 05, 2019
Teach Starter’s Emma Stuart, digital content producer and teacher of 7 years, talks about the responsibility of teachers to strive for a #BalanceforBetter, and why the classroom is an ideal environment to address issues surrounding gender inequality.
In a world of number games and spelling tests, it’s easy to consider topics such as gender equality too ‘grown up’ for the classroom. However, there is no better place than the classroom to address the social issues that International Women’s Day challenges.
Teachers are an incredibly privileged bunch. Their passion lets them touch numerous lives through their practice and they affect the greater community at a base level through their students. They have the honour of nurturing and forming relationships with children who will grow to become informed, empowered adults. Teachers are well-positioned to support students to become citizens who promote inclusivity and who are aware of imbalances in the community.
Engineering a change in gender inequality
Teachers have a social responsibility, because of this influential position, to drive positive changes in youth. As a female-dominated profession, it is in the sector's best interest to promote gender-balanced views in the community. Not only this, but teachers also are responsible for the children in their care – they owe it to their students to teach them to be successful members of a productive and inclusive society. Teachers are the perfect people to help engineer a change in gender inequality as they can target gender perceptions as they begin to develop.
Teachers are also lucky in that they have a strong community to support them to share their wisdom and promote inclusivity and equality in the classroom. They do this through teaching students that they are all valued for their diversity and to value each other, and to challenge inequality and bias. The #BalanceforBetter campaign aims to promote this very message. What better way to help such a worthy cause?
Teachers can promote inclusivity
School is where relationships, including those between genders, are modelled, taught and formed. The ways in which students are encouraged to interact with those around them at school carry on in to their interactions in the greater community and are lessons which they take with them into adulthood.
Teachers know how important it is that they foster positive relationships between the diverse children in their care from a young age. Teachers are role models from the moment they walk through the school gates – they can't escape it! Not only do they model appropriate behaviour, but they also influence ways of thinking, processing and being open to the world around them. Ensuring they challenge gender stereotypes and confront bias directly and through their everyday pedagogical practices teaches their students acceptable ways of behaving.
As well as modelling positive gender-interaction, they can explicitly teach the issues targeted by International Women’s Day. They want to teach students activities which encourage them to question the status quo and provide a safe place to explore gender identity in society.
Some examples might include:
- exploring the issues which International Women’s Day aims to bring to light, including facts about inequality in the workplace, politics, the social sphere and education
- examining gender-bias issues, such as stereotyping and bias, in role play activities - stereotypes are often so ingrained in their students that they aren’t even aware of them
- teaching lessons that study gender influencers, using inclusive language, avoiding gender bias and reinforcing positive behaviour helps students understand gender roles
- celebrating the achievements of inspirational historical and contemporary women - asking students to consider female role models in their life outside of school and encouraging them to explore how these women have worked to challenge gender stereotypes and bias
Putting understandings into practice
Encouraging students to understand gender issues and the facts behind inequality is only the beginning. To cement this knowledge and understanding, teachers need to intentionally and mindfully help children to put understandings into practice.
Many teachers encourage and support their students to value diverse personalities, strengths and genders. Reminding students that there are no such things as ‘girl things’ and ‘boy things’ and discouraging such talk in the classroom is an incredibly simple tool that, when reinforced, has great power.
The power of positive role models
Role modelling ways to respectfully and maturely challenge inequality when they see it around their community is a fantastic way to encourage them to take lessons from school to their homes and neighbourhoods.
Teachers can invite positive role models from the community to talk to their class about breaking gender stereotypes and bias. Perhaps an empowering female firefighter, or plumber, or engineer are useful in demonstrating what it means to follow one's dreams. If teachers provide students with a forum for safe and open discussion on gender issues, then they help foster a love for positive discourse that promotes women's empowerment.
Teachers are incredibly privileged. They can create a new era of critical and creative thinkers, seeking balance and representation in regard to gender in all facets of life. Teachers have the power to provide students with the conversations and experiences that equip them to question stereotypes and bias, promote gender imbalance and celebrate women’s achievements.
Resources to enable female empowerment in the classroom
In collaboration with International Women’s Day, Teach Starter has created a range of inspirational resources suitable for lower, middle and upper grades. This collection is designed to celebrate the achievements of women around the world and encourage students to develop their knowledge of the issues surrounding gender equality. It includes facts sheets, profiles of inspirational women, IWD activity task cards and classroom decorations. This teaching resource collection will help you to celebrate contemporary and historical women and continue important conversations about gender equality issues with your students.
On International Women’s Day - and every day - teachers play a critical role in helping to address gender equality in the classroom - and creating a global #BalanceforBetter.