Am I a Feminist in my Classroom?

From Rogue to Regina George, Hermione Granger to Josie Alabrandi, society has created a variety of images of what girls ‘look like’ in the classroom. The images and role models we see influence the way we behave, act and interact with others and school is an important social setting for learning about and experiencing equality.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Today is International Women’s Day so I thought I should use this short post as an opportunity to begin to reflect on my role as a feminist in the classroom. Too often, people shy away from this label but I believe it is important for all those passionate about social justice to own it and work towards true equality.

If I really believe this I need to ‘get my act together’ and start implementing some better strategies in my classroom. I’m not saying I need to have posters of Rosie the Riveter on the wall, but some democratic teaching strategies that support equality will go a long way. Just being a ‘good person’ does not cut it, I need to know what I want to achieve, why and how.

In the classroom, teachers have a unique position of power as the facilitator and leader. Due to this, I believe it is important that I am highly aware of the social dynamics and interactions of students during my lessons.

As a young and white male teacher in the classroom, I acknowledge the privileged social position I come from. I have a variety of responsibilities and one of them is to be an agent of social change, creating a democratic classroom that empowers all of my students and delivers equality.

When establishing and re-establishing classroom expectations with students I made it very clear that language that degrades others based on gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity was not acceptable in my classroom. I have had to reiterate this quite a few times, particularly in one class.

While this might be a small thing, I think it is really important that a standard for what is acceptable in society is set and maintained at school.

One thing I have noticed in the last five weeks of teaching is that in each class there is a small group of confident students who put their hand up to answer questions. Many of these students in my classroom are louder boys but it differs from class to class.

Due to this I have decided to trial the idea of ‘no hands up‘, instead using a ‘wait time’ and cold-call system, allowing all students the opportunity to be engaged. This ensures those students who sometimes get drowned out by the loud and eager ones, are actively involved in their class and learning.

When learning about the ancient world, my lessons have focused on some of the historical figures. Unfortunately on reflection I realise that these have mostly been men. I believe it is important for my classroom to highlight the incredible women of history who are not highlighted by many mainstream history texts. A good place for me to start is using resources from A Mighty Girl in class. 

Another thing I have noticed is that the literature in my classroom is dominated by books written by men and with male leads. I need to change this.

I have a long way to go to work on my teaching abilities but I hope that with this reflective practice and conversations with friends and colleagues, I’ll be able to improve and become a great teacher for all my students.

From this blog post I have started reading a number of interesting pieces from the ‘Ban Bossy‘ campaign, A Mighty Girl and some other interesting blog pieces on being a feminist in the classroom. This is only the beginning but if you have any particular ideas please post below.

M Obama

I’d like to end this post by thanking all the incredible women who have inspired me to teach. From my Mother to my former teachers Sheena, Jenny, Aira, Chris, Barbara and Helen. You know who you are. 🙂

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The Centaur’s Classroom…

I’ve often wondered if what intrigues and enlivens the adult mind can be traced back to the ‘play’ and exploration you did as a child.

Pondering this yesterday made me remember some of the first times I was excited by school environments during childhood. I decided to make my first few Eduvironment blog posts about those memories with some ideas about what we might learn from them.

While being a Hogwarts Headmaster is my dream job, this post is about Classroom 11, the Hogwarts home of Professor Firenze the Centaur. The fifth book came out while I was Year 8 and this morning I remembered being particularly excited by Firenze’s classroom.

It might look a little like this, but more wild and natural:

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It is described by Rowling in the Order of the Phoenix here:

“The classroom floor had become springily mossy and trees were growing out of it; their leafy branches fanned across the ceiling and windows so that the room was full of slanting shafts of soft  dappled, green leigh. The students who had already arrived were sitting on the earthy floor with their backs resting against tree trunks or boulders…” 

Imagine walking through an ordinary school into a classroom like  this, full of trees and natural elements. I remember classrooms that were fun, creative and exciting were always more enjoyable and I don’t think this shouldn’t stop in primary school.

Developing students capacity to think creativity can be helped by stimulus and indoor trees and plants could be an effective way of doing just that. I thought I would have a look and see what information or examples there might be online about nature in the classroom.

I have really enjoyed browsing through blogs, teacher forums and just googling ‘indoor trees in classroom’s to see what comes up. While I was a little disappointed by the lack of information, I have found this blog on creative trees in a pre-school, a ‘magical’ tree from a bloggers classroom and this article on planting fruit trees as a class project.

While plants can increase air quality, some studies (and here) have found that plants increase ‘happiness’ and school or workplace satisfaction. This great website on indoor trees also lists some of the benefits.

Trees could also create fun classroom activities such as this from Teacher Created Resources Inc.:

Bottle Tree Idea

The average indoor plants (3) and tree (1) combination would set you back around $80-$100 at Bunnings or at some of the nurseries I found online.

I  imagine that having a tree or some plants in a classroom could improve the school environment, particularly if they are incorporated into the original design. Having trees throughout the school architecture like this from Japan (see below) would be awesome.

School Tree

So what do you think? Would you use a tree or plants to freshen up your classroom in the style of the centaur? Or is it all a waste of time? Let me know!

As always, feel free to email me any ideas to ben.duggan@raisinghope.org.au or tweet @Ben_Duggan