A seasoned teacher, Lisa Turner knew how to frame lessons for a wide range of ninth grade students reading A Winter’s Bone, but she wanted support with balancing a challenging discussion about consent with the well-being of students with varied lived experiences. Midway through the novel, the protagonist references a dream-like sequence in which she remembers a past assault. Ms. Turner knew it was important to acknowledge this event in the novel, but she wanted to ensure that the discussion did not produce additional harm.
This is an example of the ways we know gender equity, sexuality and consent show up across the curriculum. Because English teachers typically do not receive training in how to facilitate such conversations, Ms. Turner reached out to Teacher Emma, PC’s new Health, Wellness and Human Sexuality Educator. Together, they created a plan. And, it seems, it worked.
Teacher Emma helped reframe a lesson in a way that invited students to consider healthy and unhealthy relationships. The students were encouraged to visit www.loveisrespect.org, a youth-focused resource promoting personal safety and well-being. Students explored the site using the following prompt: Which of the pages would you share with the characters in the story, and why?
Students lifted up tips on talking to someone caught in a cycle of abuse, advice for people with children seeking to move to a safer home, and other important information. Through this simple exercise, Ms. Turner created an opportunity to engage with the text, provided students with access to a new resource, and facilitated a safe conversation about how to confront challenging circumstances.
All of this was done while providing appropriate distance to ensure students could process, but did not need to discuss, any of their own experiences. It allowed those who might not have ever experienced sexual assault to imagine how they might support those who have. And, those who may have experienced such trauma were introduced to a new resource. The exercise allowed students to practice talking about difficult experiences.
Students responded positively to this novel approach, providing a number of comments:
People who experience trauma need a place to go for help and guidance, and the website really comes in handy.
It helped me understand other people’s views more, so I really enjoyed it.
The website included things I’ve experienced, and it provided ways to help me get through it.
Reading about these experiences, it makes you more aware of how hard life truly is, and it makes it easier to discuss difficult topics.
Over the last year, our task force has learned that issues related to gender equity, sexuality and consent are always present. These topics do not just arise in health class; they arise in every class. And, by collaborating with Teacher Emma, Ms. Turner demonstrated her understanding of that truth. Her students were lucky to benefit from that collaboration.