In schools, young people are taught not only compulsory subjects - their values and social skills are also developed. Learned social behaviour determines the communication between students, their relationship with the world outside the educational institution and with themselves. So, it is important to create a welcoming and safe environment at school.
STRENGTHENING THE COMPETENCES OF THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
Creating a safe environment should start with developing the skills of teachers and other educators in the school on how to recognize and respond to violence. Teachers have the opportunity to set a positive example for students through their actions, as well as to be aware of and respond to relationships between young people (groups of friends, romantic relationships, bullying, exclusion). Bullying or violence perpetrated by students, especially among younger students, may be an indication that similar situations are encountered outside of the school. Therefore, not only the child victim but also the offending student should be helped to deal with similar situations. Talking and showing concern in the long run would be a more effective way to solve the problem than strict disciplinary measures.
In order for teachers to be able to be empathetic and know how to deal with such cases, school leaders should encourage the team to deepen their knowledge. This can be done through the use of online platforms and methodologies, by inviting specialists to the training institution who can conduct trainings on various topics related to sexuality education and violence, and organizing discussions with colleagues.
Various thematic sessions can be organized for students to provide new knowledge about harmful relationships, strengthen their ability to form healthy romantic relationships with others, develop their ability to critically evaluate gender norms and stereotypes, and build other interpersonal relationships. It is likely that by encouraging school community and pupils to create their own event or social action programs and to look for opportunities to prevent violence at school, students could create or offer other activities of interest to them. It is important to show that their opinions and ideas are welcome and will be taken into account.
Strengthening the competencies of the school community means involving not only teachers and students but also parents in violence preventive activities. Young people learn first and foremost from their parents, and the school should help parents to meet the challenges of raising their children if they do not want to adopt violent or harmful behaviour. Targeted meetings can be organized for parents to prevent bullying and violence, provide knowledge and advice on how to raise children and resolve conflicts, express feelings appropriately, and so on. Such activities would help to develop the emotional competencies of parents, as well as children, and foster positive values and community spirit.
LGBTI+ YOUNG SAFETY SCHOOL
The modern school is usually a very heteronormative space - this can be seen in terms of sexuality education, uniforms, multidisciplinary teaching materials, in which task heroes perform actions that are stereotypically gendered. Nevertheless, not all students can identify with traditional gender norms.
When asked by a representative public opinion poll about which group of society they wrote to express their negative opinion, 23.5 % responded by leaving negative comments about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. Members of the LGBTI+ community receive negative comments about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression not only online but also in everyday situations. Because of fear of hate crimes, a significant number of individuals are forced to hide an important part of their identity in both private and public spaces. This limits their ability to express themselves and makes them feel safe. Still, there are things the school community can do to make everyone feel safe in school.
In particular, the school could show initiative and establish the LGBTI+ club. This would be a great gesture to show that there is a safe space in the school where LGBTI+ community members and supporters can gather after school and during breaks. Such a group would provide an opportunity to share their hobbies, joyous events, and difficulties with peers experiencing the same. It would also be possible to deviate a little from the curriculum and get acquainted with works of literature on LGBTI+ issues, history, community news from around the world and the like.
Another way to subtly express support is in the hands of the teachers. The textbooks are already illustrated, but teachers have the opportunity to choose the pictures themselves when preparing the teaching material. It is important to make sure that the illustrations reflect the wider possibilities of gender expression, they do not only depict traditional families. There may be students who take advantage of the use of such images as an opportunity to make a mockery, so the teacher should be prepared to intervene and explain that there are very different people in the world and that discrepancies do not mean that those people are inferior or less needed.
A more obvious way to show that the school cares about all those who study and work in it, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, is to allow them to demonstrate LGBTI+ attributes.
Creating an LGBTI+ friendly learning environment should be a shared responsibility, not a one-man job. School leaders, teachers and students should gradually introduce new practices and remember that this will not be a quick process - it may take a lot of patience and effort.
Read more in Equality Lab: a Guide to Creating a Safe Envirnoment at School.