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Four Ways to Teach Gender Equity in your Classroom

By Jarah Botello

When teaching gender equity, we typically focus on the injustices women have faced throughout history and today. And we should! From the glass ceiling, to the lack of educational opportunities for women around the world and the gender pay gap, there are (unfortunately) a plethora of topics to choose from. But as we focus on justice it is also important that we examine gender equity through other domains of social justice education.

Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards are based on the work of Louis Derman-Sparks’ four goals for anti-bias education. Divided into four domains—Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action (IDJA)—the Standards recognize that, in today’s diverse classrooms, students need knowledge and skills to reduce prejudice and recognize and act against injustice. While it’s important to teach about injustice toward women, it is also important to acknowledge gender equity as it relates to identity, diversity and action.

In doing so, the narrative of gender equity becomes multi-dimensional, and students can understand how gender equity relates to their multiple social identities (identity) and different groups in society (diversity). They can also begin to make plans for what they can do to stand against the injustices women and gender-nonconforming people face (action).

In addition to teaching lessons that address the multiple social justice domains, here are a few tips for teaching about gender equity.

Examine and confront your own gender biases

Before you teach gender equity, be sure to examine and begin to confront your own biases. For example:

  • Do you naturally favor the boys or girls in your classroom?
  • Are you comfortable with transgender and gender-nonconforming students?

The Harvard Implicit Bias website has two assessments to evaluate biases about gender. Take a test and check your bias. Confront your biases by following gender equity activists on social media and reading texts and watching videos that unpack gender equity issues from a variety of perspectives.

Remember that gender is non-binary

Understanding that gender is a spectrum and teaching it as such has lasting effects. It not only supports students who don’t conform to narrow gender norms, it also helps them, and educators, see more nuance across a wide range of subjects. Read up on the gender spectrum and be sure your lessons make room for all students on the spectrum.

Address intersectionality

When teaching about gender equity, you might find yourself focusing on certain aspects of gender equity (employment rates, unequal pay, etc.) without acknowledging the ways multiple systems of power impact women of color, women with disabilities, undocumented women, etc. Learn more about intersectionality here, here and here.

Choose texts/voices that are windows and mirrors

Culturally responsive text selection requires that you know your reader(s) and consider their experiences, motivations and knowledge. These considerations relate to the discursive background of your readers. When choosing texts to teach about gender equity, ask yourself: for whom could this text be a mirror, a reflection of identity and experience? For whom could this text be a window into the identities and experiences of others? Search the “gender and sexual identity” topic in the Teaching Tolerance Perspective Text Library for a list of diverse voices. Also, our Reading Diversity tool is a great way to analyze texts for diversity of voice.

Applying these social justice practices into your teaching about gender equity should make your lessons even more equitable for everyone!

Getting started with teaching gender equity

Here are a few Teaching Tolerance lessons that can help incorporate multiple social justice standards into your gender equity teaching.

K-5 lessons

Exploring Gender Stereotypes in Stories (K-5)

Social Justice domains: Identity and Justice

In this lesson, elementary students practice critical literacy skills around themes of gender identity and stereotypes. Children look at one or more picture books that counter gender stereotypes, and after a discussion of the book, engage in a creative writing activity geared at fostering individual identity and resisting social definitions of what and how a boy or girl “should” be.

Exploring Gender Stereotypes Through Role Plays (K-2) / Role Plays to Reduce Gender Stereotypes (3-5)

Social Justice domain: Action

These lessons offer role plays and essential questions to guide students as they participate. Children have a chance to use creative, dramatic expression to consider not only the roots of gender stereotypes, but also their consequences and strategies for counteracting them.

6-12 Lessons

Maya Angelou (6-12)

Social Justice domain: Identity and Action

This lesson focuses on questions of identity as students read and analyze Angelou’s inspirational poem “Still I Rise” and apply its message to their own lives. Students learn how Maya Angelou overcame hardship and discrimination to find her own voice and to influence others to believe in themselves and use their voices for positive change.

The Importance of Female Voices (6-12)

Social Justice domain: Diversity

This lesson examines the gender discrepancy among Wikipedia contributors. Students create their own class wiki in order to discover why, despite Wikipedia’s policy of openness, girls and women comprise only 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors.

Challenging Gender Stereotyping and Homophobia in Sports (6-12)

Social Justice domain: Action

In this lesson, students identify qualities they associate with male and female athletes and the attitudes they have about gender, sexual orientation and athletics. They will also make a plan for how to debunk stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation at school.

In honor of Women’s History Month, Participate Learning is sharing resources about Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality during the month of March. For more resources to teach gender equity, sign up for Transform Our World: Gender Equality from our sister company, Participate Inc.

Jarah Botello brings more than 14 years of education experience to her role as a teaching and learning specialist for Teaching Tolerance. Botello loves all things creative and enjoys serving and encouraging other educators. Follow her on Twitter @JarahB_TT.

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