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Columbia Teachers Discuss Ways to Support LGBTQ Students

Ryan Levi/KBIA
Bonnie Augusta (left) and Frank Burger (right) lead Columbia Public School teachers in a workshop on creating safe schools for LGBTQ students on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.

Teachers from across the Columbia Public School District converged Wednesday on the Hickman High School Media Center to learn about ways they could support LGBTQ students.


Spurred by the addition of gender identity and gender expression to the district’s nondiscrimination policy last September, the Columbia chapter of the National Education Association (CMNEA) brought in facilitators from the National Education Association’s Human and Civil Rights Division to provide teachers with more training and resources on LGBTQ issues.

“Our school and our school district are really supportive of LGBTQ students, but, of course, there’s always a learning opportunity for teachers,” said Ginny Lennon, a resource teacher at Hickman High School who helped organize the workshop. “We figured this professional development opportunity would be one that a lot of teachers would want to have.”

NEA facilitators Frank Burger and Bonnie Augusta led about 20 teachers through activities and discussions designed to help them both understand why LGBTQ students might feel unsafe and how, as teachers, they can create a safer school environment. They asked teachers to think about how stereotypes and biases dealing with gender and sexuality show up in their schools and classrooms.

Burger and Augusta said a large part of ensuring safer schools for LGBTQ students has nothing to do with the curriculum that is taught. “What students are learning most from isn’t our formal teaching,” Burger said. “It is our hidden messages.” He listed acts versus inactions, non-verbal communication, verbal language and unwritten policies as examples of the kind of hidden messaging that can highly influence students.

The facilitators did provide some guidance on how teachers could talk about these issues in a more formal setting along with numerous other resources. “We give the participants several tools they can walk away with during this training,” Burger said.

At the end of the workshop, the teachers all created action plans with specific ways they could create safer schools ranging from putting up safe space signs in their classrooms to multiyear activities and policy changes.

Augusta said she hopes the discussions started at the training will spread beyond the teachers who were in attendance.

“I’m hoping each and everyone of these folks talks about it in the teachers’ lounge tomorrow,” she said. “[I hope they} say something about what they learned tonight and start planting those seeds among all of the staff people that didn’t attend tonight.”

Burger and Augusta said they think most teachers want to learn more about these issues and are especially interested currently in how to support transgender and gender nonconforming students.

“It’s so much in the news,” Augusta said. “It’s that teachable moment, and [teachers] are hungry for that.”

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