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…

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.