Over the last few weeks, the gender based learning that’s been happening at our school has been under the spotlight with an article in our local paper and now the TV news story above from the ‘Today Tonight’ program. This isn’t something that I’m particularly comfortable doing! But, I believe in the work we are doing in this area and am glad that we can be a part of the discussion.
My co-teacher in this program, Aimee Aparicio, and I both worked in a single gender program in my last school, Hackham East Primary. After attending a workshop with Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education, another colleague, Rebecca Hepworth and I started trialling some of our new learning. Drawing heavily on Lillico’s work and that of Michael Gurian, we were supported by our school leadership to build a strong single gender program that still exists there today. At our peak, we had single gender and mixed class options from year 2 to year 7.
In our new roles at Woodend Primary school, Aimee and I can see that the needs of boys and girls at Hackham East aren’t unique. in fact, world wide data suggests that programs like these would have value in any school anywhere.
The program that we are running now is a great start. We have been able to tackle some topics around gender stereotypes and masculinity. An important part of this for us is that we are seeing the students becoming the drivers of this learning. They want to spread the message within the school community. This post from a student last night is a great example of that.
This is great to see. Students empowered to make a difference in their communities. What we are doing isn’t difficult. It just takes a willingness to try something different. The conversation around the individual needs of boys and girls in schools is happening and we look forward to seeing where it goes.
I recently read this article by Lise Eliot titled “Should Single Sex Schooling Be Eliminated?”. It was an interesting read. The article was written in response to a debate (see video below) but was approached in a very one sided way. The article put forward arguments against single sex education, stating that there is no evidence to support benefits for academic outcomes, brain and cognitive development or even social development.
My initial response was to just yell things about this being ridiculous (ok.. maybe a little more colourful version of this) or to argue against each point individually. Not being a neuroscientist or even a researcher of any real depth I figure that my opinions don’t really bring anything credible to that conversation. All I can do is speak from my experiences at the classroom face of single sex education.
Over the last seven years I have worked to establish and develop a single gender program at our school. Starting with some initial small trials, the success of the program has seen us expand so that we now have a single sex class option, for both boys and girls, for students from year 2 through to year 7. Being involved in this process has been a highlight of my teaching. I totally and wholly believe in this program and feel lucky to be involved in something that has made a big difference in the way our school runs.
Our single sex classes are designed around the work of Michael Gurian, a gender education expert from the USA and also the work of Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education. Among his extensive work, Ian Lillico has developed 52 recommendations for boys in schools. These recommendations are at the heart of our single sex classes.
We have based our program on data and research, but as one speaker in this debate said:
“When looking at enough data, advocates of either side can find vindication in the research.”
and she is right. When looking at the research you will find academic opinions on both sides of the discussion. The research isn’t enough to definitively state that single sex classes do or do not work. I think debate is healthy. As educators, it’s not ok to be so single minded about your practice that you aren’t willing to at least consider other opinions. We learn best by having our ideas challenged. In this vein, the hour long debate was worth watching. It challenged my thinking and made me consider what was being said and how that related to my classroom. The statement that bothered me however was this:
“It is a well-proven finding in social psychology that segregation of boys and girls in schools promotes and even exacerbates stereotyping and prejudice.”
I couldn’t disagree more. A big part of our single sex program at Hackham East is about challenging stereotypes. We explicitly look at what the stereotypes are and spend dedicated time challenging these. We work intensively with our boys to identify how boys and men are seen by society. We look at which parts of this are positive and which parts are not. We then take this information and look at what we can do to challenge the negatives and nurture a more positive view of boys in our local and wider community as well as the ideas that they have about themselves as young men.
The implication of this article is that single sex classes somehow promote the ‘boof head’ behaviours of boys rather than combatting it. Although I can only speak for our school I strongly disagree with this assumption. Our girls classes also look at stereotypes and challenge these on a daily basis.
Time and time again, we see the results of this around our school. In our school’s AFL football team we have 5 girls, all of whom are from our single sex girls class. Only two students from our school have ever been involved in the dance troupe for our local music festival. Both of them boys and both from our single sex boys classes. Our boys take on nurturing roles with our new reception students and in the past have worked closely with residents at our local nursing home that don’t get regular visitors. Our single sex boys class runs an annual charity event in an effort to play a positive part in the community. In this event where students shave their heads to raise money only a few girls are involved and, you guessed it, they are from our single sex girls classes. There are many more examples of this and will be many more examples created in the future.
“The argument that “boys will be boys” carries the ‘anti-male’ implication that we should expect bad behaviour from boys and men. The assumption is that they are somehow not capable of acting appropriately or treating girls and women with respect.”
In the end, the idea that “Single Sex Schooling Should Be Eliminated” is ridiculous. I firmly believe that they benefit students in many ways and should continue to an option that is available for parents to consider when choosing their child’s education.
Over the last seven years I have worked to establish and develop a single gender program at our school. Starting with some initial small trials, the success of the program has seen us expand so that we now have a single sex class option, for both boys and girls, for students from year 2 through to year 7. Being involved in this process has been a highlight of my teaching. I totally and wholly believe in this program and feel lucky to be involved in something that has made a big difference in the way our school runs. The lasting relationships I’ve been able to develop with students and their families over this time have been brilliant.
Our single gender classes are designed around the work of Michael Gurian, a gender education expert from the USA and also the work of Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education. Among his extensive work, Ian Lillico has developed 52 recommendations for boys in schools. These recommendations were at the heart of our boys classes when we first began.
This year, one of the goals I have set myself is to revisit these recommendations and critically look to see how well we are showing these in our classroom and learning programs. To do this, my plan is to create at least one blog post each week focussing on how we implement (or don’t implement) each recommendation. Each post will focus on one recommendation and look at what we are doing, what we need to improve on and, if appropriate, a commitment to action.
Let’s see how we go!
Both at home and at school women must be in positions of power – they must not be seen as the nurturers and men as the power brokers. Both men and women must play a rearing role in their sons’ lives. The father (or male teacher) must not be seen as the disciplinarian as this tends to further emphasize the gender stereotype.
This recommendation is one that we could certainly do better in our classroom. This is particularly evident to me after participating in the Miss Representation PD last week. Although we have lots of good things happening in our classroom, we need to tighten up our act in this regard.
At Hackham East we have strong female teachers and leaders everywhere. Our boys class spends a lot of time with our female music teacher who is also responsible for our Kapa Haka program and she is certainly a strong and well respected role model. There are many others though, that we could access better.
Our new deputy principal has a passion for reading and has some great ideas about class libraries and the way book clubs run. These passions fit in with one of our key class focuses this year. This is a perfect opportunity for me to expose the boys to another female educator in a position of power. Our new school counselor is also a strong female leader that we could access better for our class. Being the teacher in charge of our schools student voice program means that there are some links we can make with how our classroom runs.
Next week, my commitment to action is to work at strengthening how we achieve this recommendation in our classroom. My goal in using this process is to turn a never ending ‘to do’ list into something that will see regular professional reflection and improvement in our classroom.