Elementary Education Undergraduate and Graduate Students Participate in “A Queer Endeavor” – Look to Disrupt Heteronormativity, Homophobia, and Transphobia in Schools

BU Wheelock undergraduate and graduate students whose class meets once a week at the William Monroe Trotter School in Dorchester to teach Language Arts and Science recently attended a workshop presented by Dr. Sara Staley and Dr. Bethy Leonardi, who led “A Queer Endeavor,” an initiative focused on supporting teachers and school communities around topics of gender, sexual, and family diversity.

“A Queer Endeavor” is hosted at the University of Colorado–Boulder School of Education and supported by the Twisted Foundation. Through the initiative, they provide teacher institute training, community support, and advocate for schools of education to better prepare their graduates to positively affirm LGBTQ youth and families.

“Teachers of young children play a key role in constituting classrooms that are safe and affirming environments,” explains Dr. Andrea Bien, Clinical Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at BU Wheelock. Dr. Bien organized the workshop for her students. “This opportunity seemed invaluable for supporting our teachers to learn how they might disrupt heteronormativity, homophobia, and transphobia in schools,” she says.

LGBTQ families are part of school communities in all areas of the country and it is important that children’s education reflects that. Molly Cohen, a BU Wheelock alumni and current graduate student in Elementary Education highlighted the event’s importance: “LGBTQ topics should be naturally incorporated into the curriculum” – not taught in “special units on diversity or families,” as is often done.

The students who attended are enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate sections of “Methods of Elementary Instruction: 1-6.” At the workshop, Drs. Staley & Leonardi screened their film Breaking the Silence before engaging in self-reflection and a dialogue about gender and sexual diversity. Dr. Bien emphasized the uniqueness of the opportunity, saying that “since we [were] at the Trotter […] where we work with students on Fridays on both Language Arts and Science—we [had] an opportunity to invite Sara and Bethy to support our thinking about the on-the-ground work we do in interaction with students. It’s powerful to do this work inside of elementary schools.”

Jennifer Bryson, Clinical Instructor and Elementary Education Program Director at BU Wheelock, notes that these students acknowledge the opportunity they have as young educators to disrupt, “heteronormativity by rethinking common school practices such as boys and girls bathroom passes, modeling use of preferred pronouns, and affirming the diversity in their schools and classrooms with a wide range of diverse texts.” She adds that the workshop reinforced to the students their responsibility in “creating inclusive and safe learning environments where all students and families see themselves represented in the curriculum and school environment.”