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THRIVE prepares future educators with LGBTQIA competency

NOVEMBER 21, 2016
BY: VANESSA DAVIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THRIVE OF SOUTHWEST PA AND TRAINING COORDINATOR, THE MENTORING PARTNERSHIP OF SOUTHWEST PA & ERIC D’AMBROGI, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, THRIVE OF SOUTHWEST PA

THRIVE of Southwest PA launched in July of 2015 to fill the gaps in support for LGBTQIA students in schools around the region. THRIVE’s unique mission is to create gender-inclusive schools by focusing on a systems change approach to how schools support, affirm, and celebrate LGBTQIA students, families, and staff. This model requires that we work within the school system, most frequently with administrators and occasionally with educators, students, and their families. We advocate for policy change, provide training to school staff, and support student groups, such as Gay/Straight Alliances (or the more inclusive name Gender & Sexuality Alliances). As we work with these schools, we see a shift in the attitudes of staff, student, and communities towards LGBTQIA youth and research show us, that when attitudes and systems change, LGBTQIA youth are more likely to succeed in and out of school.

Yet one area that few folks across the country are considering is how we can prepare adults who will one day be working with students in schools, which we call “pre-service teachers,” to create gender-inclusive environments from the start. This is an area where THRIVE has excelled, by creating a program model for pre-service teachers that uses service-learning to train them on LGBTQIA competency, Everyday Mentoring, and a gender-inclusive curriculum framework. Through the Duquesne University’s Center for Community- Engaged Teaching and Research program, THRIVE leadership recruits pre-service educators who are ready and willing to learn more about how to support LGBTQIA youth in their classrooms by giving them the opportunity to work with a GSA for a semester. The program serves two purposes: to provide on the ground support to the students in GSAs, while giving pre-service educators opportunities to put into action lessons learned in their coursework and in additional training from THRIVE. Everyday Mentoring training enhances the outcomes of the program by providing the pre-service educators with a chance to examine how to build positive youth-adult relationships, address their own biases, and learn to engage in active listening.

We are starting our second year with this program and have incorporated Everyday Mentoring Workshops, provided by The Mentoring Partnership of Southwest PA, along with the Elements of Effective Practice in the area of Monitoring and Support. We have seen a vast improvement in the quality of the programming that the pre-service educators are providing to the GSA students. The pre-service educators report feeling more confident in working with the GSAs after receiving Everyday Mentoring training. One teacher describes it this way: “My training has helped me think about what I can improve on and what I can apply to my teaching. The students that I interact with in THRIVE have already offered many ideas to make classrooms more inclusive. The reflections that follow each meeting will help me to meditate on the discussions rather than forget about them when we leave the school.”

Participants have also talked about how helpful the Search Institute’s Development Relationship framework has been in setting them up to better understand their role with the GSAs and in particular as they learn to “share power”: “My strengths in the last GSA meeting included my listening skills. It is hard to me to understand certain struggles and situations that these students have encountered. In order for them to know I am paying attention and caring, I used active listening. I also think I am a comfortable person, where they are able to open up to me without fear of judgment.” Participants also consistently reported that active listening is helping them relate better to the GSA students and they are not so quick to jump in with trying to solve their problems. “We learned how to wait until they are done expressing their concerns before speaking. And then give advice and share our own experiences while letting people talk as much as they wanted but still wanting enough time for everyone else.”

Most important for our work is the comfort that the pre-service teachers feel with LGBTQIA youth. “As a teacher, I need to make it a priority that these students feel safe in my classroom because it’s on me if I decided to make them feel accepted in the curriculum. I would definitely use more representation of the LGBTQ+ community because they rarely are ever represented in the curriculum.” The training provided by the Mentoring Partnership around implicit bias, and the enhancement THRIVE provided to that module, has been particularly helpful in preparing them to approach working with GSAs with an open mind.

In the coming months, we will also be asking for feedback from the GSA youth and adult advisors to better learn how the presence of pre-service educators in their groups has impacted them personally, their group dynamic, perceptions about educators, interest in LGBTQIA-history, and their willingness to take their experiences into the broader school community.

As we continue to ensure that LGBTQIA youth have welcoming and affirming schools to attend in and around Pittsburgh, we are excited to work with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwest PA in order to help us focus on the importance of Everyday Mentoring in the lives of these young people. We have already seen a difference in the impact on the pre-service teachers and are looking forward to hearing from the youth themselves.

You can find out more about THRIVE at www.thriveswpa.org.

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