The Educator's Playbook

Bringing Gender Consciousness into the Classroom

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By taking a gender conscious approach, educators develop and display an awareness of how gender bias, roles, and expectations play into their teaching practice, and ultimately move towards more equitable teaching. 

Gender matters. In a society where messages about gender roles, norms, and expectations surround us, and where girls and women remain underrepresented in STEM fields and at the highest levels of leadership in business, medicine, education, and politics, these persistent biases often find their way into the classroom.

Think about the messages you have received throughout your life about gender norms and expectations. When you were in school, how were students expected to behave based on their gender?

In their new book, Teaching Girls: How Teachers and Parents Can Reach Their Brains and Hearts, Penn GSE’s Peter Kuriloff and Charlotte Jacobs, and alumna Shannon Andrus, encourage educators to consciously acknowledge gender as a way to support and engage all students in the classroom. The book reveals the kinds of teaching that engage girls intellectually, foster their creativity, and bolster their confidence.

By taking a gender conscious approach, educators develop and display an awareness of how gender bias, roles, and expectations play into their teaching practice, and ultimately move towards more equitable teaching.

Here are three different ways educators can take up gender consciousness:

Don’t pretend you are “gender blind”

You aren’t. But neither is anyone else. There is no such thing as a “gender neutral” lesson either.

Instead, build a lesson that acknowledges gender. Start by thinking about the messages your students often receive and experience around gender expectations and norms. Who is represented in your curriculum and how? Which figures are portrayed as leaders? Which figures are portrayed as helpers or supporters? When it comes to STEM subjects, what are the messages that different students receive according to their gender?

Audit yourself

You live in a gendered world, and gender biases, however implicit, might be shaping your practice. 

Research reveals that teachers often pay more attention to boys than to girls in the classroom by calling on them more often, and providing them with more frequent feedback. Girls often are rewarded more for their social contributions than academic accomplishments.

As a way to reflect on your teaching practices, conduct a gender audit of your classroom: What is the participation rate of students in your classroom along gender lines? Where do students sit in the room? What types of verbal and non-verbal feedback do you give students?  It can be exciting to do this with a fellow teacher.

Gender is more than gender

The students in your classroom are not only defined by their gender identity. They are from various races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, religions, and family configurations. Transgender students often have to negotiate expectations and biases of others. They have very different life experiences.

The intersection of gender with these identifiers influences how students move throughout their worlds — how others interact with them, what opportunities they are given or not given, what they are encouraged to do or not do. Many of these influences are based on societal assumptions that we have. 

Take the time to get to know your students—what their interests are, where they are confident, and where they are not, and what they need to be supported in the classroom.

Authors Andrus, Kuriloff, and Jacobs

“Teaching Girls: How Teachers and Parents Can Reach Their Brains and Hearts,” comes out on November 30. For more information about the book and the authors, you can visit www.TeachingGirlsWell.com