Relationship Building

Creating a More Inclusive Classroom (Ep. 183)

As art educators, we want to create a learning environment where every student feels included, valued, and encouraged. The desire to create a positive experience–and an inclusive art room–helps drive everything we do. In today’s episode, Nic talks about some of the simple ways she creates a more inclusive classroom and the role that language plays in her teaching. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: My name is Nic Hahn, and my pronouns are she/her. Today we’re going to talk about gender inclusion in the classroom, on this podcast, Everyday Art Room.

At the beginning of the school year, I was invited to be a negotiator for our union at ISD 728. I accepted and so I have been going to many, many meetings this year, all virtual with Ed Minnesota. I have learned a ton, and one of the protocols that we have on a regular basis is a couple of things. Our name on Zoom, typically we’ll have our name and then we’ll also have our pronouns underneath. So mine says Nic Hahn, and then the pronouns she/her underneath it. And then also when we’re introducing ourselves, we will say, “Hello, my name is Nic Hahn. My pronouns are she/her. I’m a visual arts teacher at Rogers, Minnesota.” And that’s our full introduction.

I think this has become a very normal thing for EdMN, which is a super nice, just normality that has come to be. So some people will say he/him, some people will say they/them, or there are definitely many other pronouns that people will choose to use in the organization because it’s become just the norm. It just is something that we all say. But I will say that this group is one of only actually in my life that just has this as normal protocol when we’re introducing ourselves. I’ve taken this idea of pronouns and I’ve placed it in other areas of my life. I have it as my signature in my emails. I have it on my social media. So you’ll see my pronouns indicated on my Instagram and on my Twitter. And I try to just place it wherever I think that a person doesn’t have that ability to meet me not that that’s actually a very good indicator as well.

First of all, my name is gender neutral, a lot of times, and my name is spelled Nic, N-I-C. Most of the time I don’t write my full name, Nicole. So that is kind of a question mark for many people. So giving them that little indicator of my pronouns is helpful. And then also just even meeting me, even though I appear to be more feminine and people might assume that my pronouns are she/her, it can just give that comfort level of, “Oh, we’re doing pronouns?” That might open up a door for someone else to be able to say their pronouns, which might not be a norm for them or for someone else. So just introducing your pronouns to someone else is kind of sometimes opening up a door to allow someone else to feel more comfortable in their shoes or, let’s say, in their pronoun.

So why are we talking about this today? Well, actually this became a conversation between me and my student teacher, Cara Mullen, who was in my classroom a couple of weeks ago. And we were chatting just as we did every single day, having conversation at the end of the day. “These are the many, many things that you did amazing today. And if there were one or two things that I would correct, I would concentrate on maybe doing this or this or…” And one of the things that came up one day is I just kind of tallied how many times Kara said the word students.

She would gather the students back and she’d say, “Students, we’re going to learn about this. And, students, we’re going to talk about this, students. Can I have your attention, students, students, students?” And I said to her, “You’re using the word students quite a bit. Can you tell me more about that?” She said, “Yeah, yes. I know I say that, but that’s actually an over correction. Once upon a time I used the word guys a ton.” And I said, “Oh yeah, I use the word guys. I’m actually trying to break that habit. Tell me more about that. So you use the word guys, what happened?”

Well, I’m not sure if the deal was she was in a practicum situation and used the word guys, or if it was her advisor that gave her the information. And her advisor, I think said, “Hey, if you can use a different term, maybe use the word student rather than guys, that’s going to be a more universal, more gender inclusive term to use for your class and that’s going to feel safer.” Well, she absolutely glommed onto this and then started using students instead.

And this is a right answer. Absolutely. And I said, Oh, Cara, I understand where you’re coming from. And that’s the right answer, but let’s try to vary that up. Let’s try to figure out some other words to go into this.” And she said, “Great, which one should I use?” And then we kind of sat there. Well, let’s get back to that in a moment because that is where my research begins. What other words can a Minnesota art teacher use?

My first one, my first thought, the most inclusive is actually from you Southern art teachers down there. You guys have y’all and it is a great term. Oh my goodness. Every podcast I hear of Cassie Stephens. Y’all, y’all. That is a great term. But listen, are you hearing that, how it sounds coming out of this Minnesota mouth? I don’t know if I can pull that off. I can try, but y’all, y’all. Y’all, y’all. Maybe just all, but students, yeah, I’m agreeing with Kara right now. Students might be a better word. So we’re trying to get away from guys because that really does… Even though I don’t mean… I am saying universally, the whole class, “Guys, hey y’all. Hey, guys.” It’s not being heard as one full group. It’s being heard as one half of my group.

So I agree. Let’s go with students. Y’all, it’s not really jiving correctly. So let’s do an internet search. Let’s try to find some other words. As I did that, I investigated an article that was pretty interesting. It’s from a website called Hotjar. The author is Sara Bent in April of 2019. I’ll put it in our podcast notes. And she wrote an article called Guys: The New Four Letter Word. Ooh, it sounds intense, doesn’t it? But basically this is what they did in their work culture. They decided to use the word guys as the new swear word, the new swear jar. And it sounds worse than it is.

Basically what they did was a little social experiment with their work colleagues and they have colleagues from all over the world. So they just kind of put it out there as an offering. “Hey, if you would like to participate in this, you have the opportunity. I’m trying to change this in myself. If you’d like to change this in yourself as well, join on in. It’s just an honor system type of deal. I’m trying to change myself from using the word guys within the workspace and at home. Instead of saying, “Hey guys,” I’m going to use some other terms.

“And if I use the word guys, I’m just going to tally this in our spreadsheet, our common spreadsheet. And for every tally, I’m going to add a dollar in. And then whoever has the least amount of tallies by the end of this, will receive the whole pot of money.” Oh, yeah. Okay. We’re going to do this for a month. The whole group got into it. And actually the two people that started the whole tally system were the two people that had the most tallies. Maybe they were the two being the most honest or maybe they actually had the problem the most, maybe they actually were the two that used the word guys the most.

Either way, it brought awareness to the group. It created a little bit of a fun joking, like, “Ah, I just heard you say it, you better add a tally,” type of a deal into the workspace. And it created this awareness to change the vernacular so that there was more gender inclusion in their workspace. When the month concluded, there was actually a pretty good pot of money and the winner decided to donate their money to a charity of their choice. So it actually worked out pretty well for everybody. And it was a good learning lesson for the whole culture of the Hotjar community.

We as teachers have to think about this in our classroom. So what do we do to change our idea? Let’s go back to the conversation between Cara Mullen, my student teacher, and myself. How do we make sure that we change our words? So when I do a quick Google search, there’s a lot of other words that we can use it. It isn’t just the y’all down South, although that’s a really good one. You guys got it down for sure. You can definitely use the word students. That is a good one. Students covers a lot of age groups. I think that works for a lot of age groups, and I think it is all-inclusive.

So here was my suggestion to Cara. Put these words in the back of the room, big enough so that you can see it, a smaller for the younger eyes, the better eyes, and a little bit bigger. And the kiddos don’t need to know what these words are all about. This just gives you a couple of different options. Maybe they’re just back on a door in the back of the room so that you have some different options, you’re teaching yourself other words that you can use instead of guys. So you just write up some words and you put them in the back of the room.

Maybe you do use the word all. Maybe you use the word team. I liked this one. We talked to Coach T a couple of weeks ago, or Sarah Krajewski did. That would be a really good one for her class. Maybe you create this culture in your class where you’re saying, “Hey team, come on back, come on back to the front of the room,” or whatever it is. You’re calling and your group team. Maybe you’re using them the word group. Ooh, that was a good one. Accidental, that’s a good one. Instead of using students or team, you’re just saying group. Everyone, everybody, those are good ones, or folks. Hey, there’s a good Midwest one. Folks is a good one to use. People or kiddos. You can use people.

Another term that works really well is humans. You can call any child or people humans. That’s a good one. Or friends, pals, peeps, depending how hip you want to get. Of course, peeps. That’s a good one and friends is is a good one depending on the age group that you’re working with. Kindergartners, they love being called friends. “Hey, friends, how’s it going?” When you get up to those middle school or even third, fourth, fifth grade, friends, maybe you want to switch that vernacular. Maybe you want to keep it. Maybe that’s the culture you have in your classroom. That’s okay.

If you are a teacher that has a really cool name. I’m thinking of a teacher in my class. I’m sorry, in my school. He is Tony Wolverton, and he has the wolf pack. Okay. Now how cool is that? So when he comes to pick up his class, he says, “Hey, wolf pack, you ready to go?” Now he is identifying this team, this little group of people that he calls his own. And all he has to do is say, “Hey, pack, let’s go,” and this group of kids knows you belong. You’re part of me. You’re part of my group. I love that. That’s really cool. So maybe you have a cool name like that.

Let’s see. My name is, is Hahn. The best I’ve got is herd, my Hahn herd. I don’t know if it has the same effect as the wolf pack. No, I don’t think it does, but we’ll play with it. As I mentioned before, if you’re playing around with those words, put them in the back of your room so that you can start exploring and experimenting with what works. Once you get it down, once you don’t need those as kind of that crutch, take them down. You don’t need to have that visual clutter in your room, but as you’re learning new things, put those words in the back to kind of train your brain how to retrain what you’re saying.

Here’s the call to action. I would love to have you meet with a professional learning network, someone you meet with on a regular basis. Maybe it’s your art teacher group. Maybe it’s the specialist in your building or a group of professionals that you meet with on a regular basis. Talk to this group and see if anyone else struggles with using the term guys in their classroom. If this is a problem, try to put together the challenge of that swear jar or that guys jar. See if you end up putting in a few bucks.

I think if there was a guys jar in my world, I’d end up putting a few extra dollars in that jar. In fact, in this very podcast and maybe it’s because I’m actually concentrating on that word, I would have at least put five bucks in there already. So maybe I need to start my own jar. Yeah, that’s probably what needs to happen. Maybe that would be a fun way to just kind of evaluate what the needs are in your group. If there is a need, have that conversation with your group.

What are the words that could be alternatives? Put them in the back of your room. And please tag me on some of the words that you use in your classroom. I would love new ideas so that I can place them in the back of my classroom and start using something new as well. Help me out. I’ll always try to help you out, and we can work together to make our classroom the most gender-inclusive as possible.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.