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Disrupting Gender Inequities in the Elementary Classroom

October 15, 2021 by Christopher Olson




Temper flaring, finger pointing in my face, screaming…“How dare you allow my son to play with girl toys!  You’re making my son be a queer.” It was my first year as a teacher, fresh out of college and I am experiencing gender inequities almost immediately.  Here I am sitting in front of the administration and this father exploding over the fact that I allow his son to play in the “Dramatic Play” area with a kitchen set.  After all of that, what was I going to do or say…

I started off my teaching career in Special Education Early Intervention, working with 3 to 5-year-olds where learning primarily takes place through play and hands-on activities.  Dramatic play was a large part of this learning and a popular center.  I knew I should stand my ground and although I had tons of research to back up my decision this parent wasn’t going to listen to it.  Being young and new to education I did what I am sure many would… in other words, I stayed silent and I took it.  

I am not staying silent anymore. That mistake occurred once 14 years ago.  I promise to always stand up for what is right and in the best interest of ALL of my students. 

 

Why Should We Disrupt Gender Inequities?

Even though under Title IX (1972), children in educational settings are treated equally and fairly.  No student should be excluded from participation on the basis of sex or be subjected to discrimination.  I think some educators may believe that this isn’t a true concern until the older grades where students hit puberty; which just isn’t the case.  Starting at the primary level, students have an identity.  We need to ensure that we are providing equal opportunities for all genders.  

It is so important for your students to see themselves in the materials you use, the examples you speak, and the activities they complete.  When students feel seen and to see individuals like themselves in stories and examples the world just opens up for them.  

I think another misconception is that some may believe that this is just a “female” problem.  Science, Math, and Stem fields often are called out in education as not “female-friendly”.  Although this is an extremely true case, the misconception is just that.  Both genders experience inequities as well as those individuals who do not conform to gender stereotypes.

Gender In A Nutshell

Gender, in a nutshell, is an individual’s social identity as male, female or non-binary. Non-binary refers to individuals who identify as a gender other than a “male” or “female”. When I discuss gender equality, this involves empowering all individuals regardless of their identified gender.  

As educators, we work with a variety of students.  Students with varying academic levels, varying socio-economic status, varying abilities, and varying gender.  That is the best thing about education and why we are so important as educators.  We need to be aware of our students’ feelings, self-perceptions, self-identity and provide appropriate affirmations.  We can positively change the way students interact, treat and view themselves and others.  Above all, a common goal we all may have is to make our classrooms safe and welcoming for ALL students. 

Teacher Products to Help Disrupt Gender Inequities

  • Gender Equality K-3 Literacy Resource:  Dizzy Ozzy 
      • Gender Equality unit for Kindergarten to Grade 3. This resource features 10 lessons that focus on friendship, acceptance, challenging gender stereotypes, positive self-image, and understanding with an extensive book list.

Podcasts for Educators: Gender Inequities

  • Femme Wonk by Katie Davey 
    • Femme Wonk a policy and current affairs podcast hosted by Katie Davey discusses both innovative and traditional policy from the perspective of gender equality and inclusion.

 

  • The Other Side Podcast
    • The Other Side podcast is on a mission to discuss important cultural and social issues relating to race, culture, gender and equality.

Blog Posts / Articles for Educators on Gender Inequities

Classroom Books to Encourage Discussions

Gender Inequities: Activities for the Classroom

  • Empowering Children in Body Safety, Gender Equality and more — Educate2Empower Publishing
    • This website has several free downloadable posters.  These posters are available in English and non-English versions and include topics from safety to Gender Equality topics. 
  • Female Visibility 
    • Are females the only individuals that receive inequality?  No.  However, I feel it is more prevalent for females, so it is so important as educators to make sure we are representing all genders throughout our curriculum and supplemental resources.  This holds true especially in the areas of Science and STEM.  
  • Games and Team Building 
    • Incorporate games and team-building activities whenever possible.  Not only does this establish a great classroom community, but it also involves problem-solving skills, communication, turn-taking, coping, and many other social skills.  When pairing or dividing your classroom into teams, make sure you are strategic and include mixed-gender teams.
  • Free Play 
    • When students show a particular interest or ability in an activity, this should be encouraged regardless of gender. For instance, if girls show an interest in football or hockey, they can be given books or movies on the subject or encouraged to join groups to pursue the sport. Similarly, boys should not be discouraged from playing with dolls or cooking.
  • Role Models 
    • Activities that use nontraditional gender role models can help fight gender stereotypes and teach children the myriad choices available to them. A teacher can bring professionals to the classroom who are working in nontypical gender jobs, to talk about their work. Girls often lack appropriate role models in the sciences and engineering and therefore may lose interest in these occupations. Bringing female professional scientists to the classroom will break the stereotype and teach children that girls can be just as skilled at science and math as boys.
  • Teach Students to Be Aware of Personal Biases
    • One of the best ways to confront gender discrimination in the classroom is by simply making your students aware of it. Teach students about implicit bias, or beliefs we might hold about ourselves or others because of sexist messages we have heard.[3]
    • Tell your students that many people hold these biases, and it doesn’t mean they are bad people. The important thing is for students to acknowledge their own assumptions. Once they do, they can challenge them to actively change those assumptions—to recognize that a person’s abilities are not linked to their gender.
  • Examine our Practices 
    • Take a moment to consider the following questions from Edutopia as you reflect on your own classroom and gender equity:
      • 1. Do any texts I use omit girls and/or women, or tokenize their experiences? How are boys and/or men stereotyped?
      • 2. Are females or males presented in stereotypically gendered roles in any texts I have selected? If these are historical texts, how might I teach students to be critical of the limitations in the gender roles presented in these texts?
      • 3. Do I encourage empowering and nonsexist behaviors among my students? Do I discourage both female and male gender stereotypes?
      • 4. If I have a classroom library, is there a balance between male and female authors? Are there plenty of books with strong female protagonists? Do the nonfiction books feature notable women and girls?
      • 5. In what ways do I encourage gender equity of voice and participation?

Small Steps to Equity

This is just a small step in the appropriate direction to building more equitable classrooms regarding gender inequities.  We hope you find these resources helpful. As an organization, ETTC will continue to share information and resources that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.  It is so important for your students to see themselves in the materials you use, the examples you speak, and the activities they complete.  

In addition, if you have resources to share with us, be sure to put them in the comments below! Together, we will work towards the goal of inclusion of everyone. We are looking forward to hearing from you. 

Written by – Christopher Olson

At Education to the Core, we exist to help our teachers build a stronger classroom as they connect with our community to find trusted, state-of-the-art resources designed by teachers for teachers. We aspire to be the world’s leading & most trusted community for educational resources for teachers. We improve the lives of every teacher and learner with the most comprehensive, reliable, and inclusive educational resources.

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