New book provides sexual and gender guidance
Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
A new resource published and distributed by the Alberta Teachers’ Association aims to help secondary teachers create safe and inclusive spaces for sexual and gender minority students.
The secondary edition of PRISM is a 149-page resource for teachers of grades 7 to 12. It’s a follow-up to the original PRISM Elementary Edition toolkit, published in 2014, created for elementary teachers.
“The day that [PRISM Elementary] came out people started asking, is there one for secondary?” said Andrea Berg, an ATA executive staff officer and chair of its Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Committee. In this role, Berg acted as liaison for the book project, which was produced with grant support from the Alberta government.
PRISM is an acronym for “professionals respecting and supporting individual sexual minorities.” Each book is billed as a “toolkit for safe and caring discussions about sexual and gender minorities.”
Lead by Alberta teacher Jessica Scalzo, who was hired to be the lead writer, PRISM Secondary Edition incorporates the ideas of field teachers gathered through focus groups. Included are definitions of gender terms and pronoun options, a summary of research trends and an explanation of various sexual and gender minority (SGM) symbols.
One section provides a sampling of Association policies, government legislation and district regulations related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Another section lists potential questions that teachers may be asked along with suggested answers, as well as tips on creating a safe spaces and being an ally to SGM youth.
“What’s unique about this document is that it actually includes activities and lesson plans for every teacher in the school, from seven to 12, regardless of what subject they’re teaching,” Berg said. “A teacher can feel like he or she is covering curriculum at the same time as teaching about sexual and gender minorities.”
Teacher Jennifer Dodsworth is excited to see the new resource. When the first edition of PRISM came out, Dodsworth was so enthused with it that she sought a grant to help her provide a copy of the book along with a selection of supplementary reading material to every elementary school in her local.
Dodsworth feels it’s very important that teachers help destigmatize SGM issues by talking about them regularly.
“A teacher shouldn’t feel as though they’re walking on thin ice just by addressing one student calling another gay,” Dodsworth said.
She recalled an occasion when PRISM Elementary came in handy in her own teaching. A boy in her Grade 2 class came in crying from recess because he’d been teased for being involved in dance. Dodsworth created a lesson that started a conversation about gender-based activities.
“My advice would be to use teachable moments ... every teacher knows this ... when you use these moments, then the lesson goes deeper, because it comes from the students,” Dodsworth said.
The new PRISM project came about partly as a result of Bill 10, which passed in March 2015, and amended the School Act to require that schools allow GSAs if students request them and added sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds under the Alberta Bill of Rights.
The Association will distribute a copy of PRISM Secondary Edition to every Alberta school in its regular October mailing, on the last week of the month. For Berg, the publication’s strength lies in the fact that it’s a collaboration of several partners tied to Alberta curriculum.
“I’m super excited about it,” she said. “Nothing else like this exists in Alberta.”