Person centred but not personal.

When we teach Relationships and Sex Education, we’re often in a classroom. We’re in a school, in a large group, amongst people who might not have any strong support networks with any of their peers in the group.

Or maybe we’re working with a small group who do know each other, or with an individual young person; the point is we’re still trying to teach about the most personal experience someone can have: that of sexuality.

As educators, we strive to make sure that there are professional boundaries in place when we work, and talking about sex offers a chance for those to be completely shattered. When the personal becomes the professional, how do we maintain a distance? And how do we balance a participant’s needs with imparting information?

This #teachingtuesday looks at a strategy for making your teaching person centred, but not personal. If we teach about contraception, for example, it’s probably glaringly inappropriate to ask someone to say what they think would be the most important quality a method of contraception should have for them in front of the group.

One way to encourage participants to reflect is to hand out a small piece of paper with ‘what about me?’ on it at the beginning of the session. Ask them to write down or draw something that resonates with them during the session. At the end, they can discuss that with a partner (or not), or with the facilitator (or not).

This means that they can begin to reflect on their own development but not feel that they have to cross any boundaries they’re uncomfortable with.

Of course, there is a balance to be struck between this and, if you’re in a traditional classroom, outcomes evidence. But maybe that’s another conversation…

We all have biases, and they matter.

Welcome to another #talkingpointtuesday. I’ve been thinking lately about how much our viewpoint matters when we’re talking about relationships and sex. As professionals – or as parents – we can’t hide completely from our own beliefs and values. Some of our practice, therefore, has to look at examining our own systems of belief and how they could prevent us from delivering key messages around topics in as clear a way as possible. Note I didn’t say objective. I’ve long since stopped believing that anything we do as humans can ever be truly objective.

But what about the beliefs and biases of others? There are two main things we need to take into account when considering how others’ beliefs might shape our teaching of RSE. The first is to help the people we work with to consider where their beliefs might be impairing their development. For example, for a LGBT+ teenager worried about the consequences of an unalterable identity (hello, teenage trauma!), a nudge to the fact that the Catholic church is not where the world starts and ends could offer tools for self-acceptance. Equally, young people who have been shaped by their culture to hold particular beliefs around pleasure could benefit greatly from being supported to explore those beliefs. Our beliefs can change, but as facilitators we should approach this from a place of openness and compassion – and recognise that shedding the skin of a childhood belief can be painful.

The other facet of beliefs and biases that we need to take into account is those upheld by the education system. In recent weeks I’ve been struck by an approaching ‘resources war’ in the UK, as organisations who feel that the LGBT+ inclusive curriculum offers harmful messages to children and young people and seeks to counteract it with their own. Many teachers will be in a position of having to create new resources when the curriculum launches fully in their schools, and there is a danger that, with all these competing resources, young people could be exposed to both conflicting messages and resources that have at their heart a motive other than the development of skills, knowledge and understanding.

This is an invitation to evaluate any messages which you think you might still hold biases over and to think about how you can deliver those topics in an open, non-judgemental way, and a reminder to quality assure any resources you plan on using in the classroom. RSE should help clear up confusion, not create it.

Protests, Pride and Anger in teaching about sex.

If you’re not angry, you’re not paying enough attention.

It’s a saying I love and use often, but it’s not often a saying that crosses over into teaching, especially not when we’re talking about Relationships and Sex Education. But maybe it should be.

The first Pride was a protest. Recent years have seen it become more about glitter and dancing and corporate rainbows. I’m happy to see its gnarly side re-emerge.

This summer it seems like across the world, communities have united to fight against injustices. We’ve seen many people across the UK start to examine the history of racism that this country often brushes aside. We’ve seen social media posts were BIPOC share their experiences of not just systemic racism but those microaggressions that add up to take their toll over a lifetime.

I’ve spoken before about the fact that we often see Disabled people as desexualised, as people who ‘probably won’t go on to have sex’ so need limited knowledge about it. And I think I’ve covered how dangerous that can be. But what also tends to get lost is that no Disabled person is just a Disabled person.

This 1989 essay by Kimberle Crenshaw was amongst the first to dive into the differences in experience of white and black feminists, and to explore how the convergence of multiple oppressed identities affects the human experience. Whilst this theory is best suited to feminism, it offers food for thought about how all of us as humans sit on intersecting fault lines of identity.

So the young black disabled boy in your class? We have to work on the assumption that, even if we wish it weren’t the case, his experiences will be different to his white peer. More likely to be viewed with suspicion by police, we have to ensure that we recognise this when we teach. We know that trans young people are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, and we need to teach strategies on self care and advise on when to reach out for help.

How does this come into RSE? Well, surely, the first – and longest – relationship any of us have is with ourselves. By teaching young people to recognise the interconnecting identities they experience, they can become more attuned to these in others. It also helps keep education founded in social justice, and in not just accepting the injustices we see.

What I’ve loved most about this summer is the crowds of angry young people hungry for change. I want to see more of that, and I want to see them proud about their anger, about their drive. It’s how we’ll see change.

It’s the first #talkingpointtuesday I’ve done since relaunching this blog. So let’s look at how we begin to talk about intersectionality. It’s something – especially white teachers – we shy away from, but the best way to talk about it is to talk about it. Here are some practical teaching tips you can use both in class or in small group/ 1-1 teaching.

  1. Images – show images of people protesting. Ask the participants what the image is showing, and explain protests. How do they feel about the image? Does it look scary to be in the crowd? Are there other things people can do to help change?
  2. Social stories – create two social stories about an interaction with a police officer with two people of different races. One should be a positive experience for a white person and one a negative for a black person. Whilst this is a stereotype and we should be careful not to reinforce it, it is also the case that many members of the BAME community feel less comfortable around police than their white peers. Ask participants to think about how each encounter would make them feel. Who else could they ask for help besides the police?
  3. All of me – hand each participant a cut out of a figure and ask them to write or draw (with support) everything that they feel makes them who they are inside that image. Discuss the things they have chosen and have them share them as a group if appropriate. Discuss how each of those things is with them all the time, even in their relationships. Ask if any of those things are things that need to be discussed when they are in a relationship or if they are things that might change their views on certain situations.

Without discussing uncomfortable issues, it’s difficult to move forwards for change. It’s a challenge, but, as educators, it’s one we can take on.