As educators, we interact with countless numbers of students, every day. Each has their own unique thoughts, feelings, and personal lives; as much as we’d love to understand all their inner workings, there’s so much going on behind the scenes that we’ll never know about. This includes figuring out their gender identity and sexual orientation. That’s why we’re responsible for supporting each and every one, in any way we can, so that they all feel, seen, safe, and supported during their formative years.
One of the ways we can support our students in the LGBTQ community—and further educate those who aren’t—is by acknowledging and taking part in the GLSEN Day of Silence.
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) was established by teachers in 1990. This group recognized just how much of a key role educators play in creating safe and affirming learning environments for LGBTQ youth, and now use their platform to support student-led moments such as the GLSEN Day of Silence.
The GLSEN Day of Silence is a national student-led demonstration started by Maria Pulzetti; LGBTQ students and allies take a vow of silence in protest against the detrimental effects of harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ people in schools. This includes standing up against anti-LGBT attitudes or enforcements.
The Day of Silence has expanded to reach hundreds of thousands of students worldwide, each year. Around April 23rd, students go through the school day without speaking. This group of students will finish with “Breaking the Silence” rallies at the end of the day. The purpose of this rally is to share their experience during the protest and bring attention to ways their schools and communities can become more inclusive.
To gain some more insight, we spoke to two teachers who wanted to shed some light on their experiences.
Nicole DeGidio is a high school English teacher, 6-12 ESL teacher, and instructional and technology coach at Clayton Ridge Middle School and High School, a rural school in northeast Iowa. Mrs. DeGidio has a passion for educational technology and increasing student engagement.
Building a safe classroom environment for all members of our learning community is important to me as a high school teacher. I’ve implemented many class and team-building activities in my room so that my students feel like valued members of our classroom. One of our favorite games to play is Bear, Salmon, Mosquito, which is a lot like Rock, Paper, Scissors. This game gets all kids up out of their seats and into a fun, low-stakes competition with their peers. The game is silly by nature, so it gets the students laughing and engaging with each other. When a student “loses” to their partner, they become part of the “winning” student’s fan club. The fan club cheers and continues growing until it’s a head-to-head finale. I also work to incorporate different types of brain breaks to allow students the chance to express their creativity, their ideas, and their viewpoints. Making this anonymous helps students find the safety to express themselves and receive feedback in a non-judgmental way.
I also respond quickly and constantly to bullying that occurs in my classroom and in the hallways. I’ve found that mingling in the hallways during passing periods has helped keep kids from making inappropriate comments or being violent. My presence also helps me to create stronger relationships with students, which makes them more apt to come to me with any problems.
As a new teacher almost 15 years ago, I took part in several trainings, including Olweus Bullying Prevention and Love and Logic. As a veteran teacher, I’ve found that using pieces of these programs and being genuine are the best tools to build trusting relationships, which in turn, help prevent bullying for all students – especially those in the LGBTQ+ community.
These relationships empower our students to feel safe and build the confidence to be themselves!
Special Education Teacher at Young Scholars of Greater Allegheny in Pennsylvania.
In honor of the Day of Silence, I think it’s important, as educators, that we reflect upon the anti-bullying practices in our own classrooms, particularly with marginalized students.
According to The Trevor Project, “LGBTQ students who reported being bullied in the past year had three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the past year.”
This statistic is certainly alarming and is one of the many tragic truths regarding the treatment of students in the community at school.
As a teacher, I try to consistently remind students about expectations for interacting with peers and the importance of embracing diversity in all spheres. I also have safe space stickers on my door and in my classroom so that students know my classroom is welcoming to them and I am a trustworthy point of contact. I would recommend touching base with your colleagues and reaching out to your local Pride center to explore ideas about how your school can be more proactive about supporting our LGBTQIA+ youth.
No matter your school district, private or public school, you will be interacting with, guiding, and supporting LGBT youth. The National Day of Silence is a day of action to make a statement against all types of discrimination and harassment; from name-calling to school policies.