Marriage equality has made national headlines since the U.S Supreme Court reviewed several cases from same sex couples wishing to marry, and granted them the freedom to do so. I am grateful that the attention this historic ruling has gotten has opening up communications regarding marriage, and ultimately families.
It’s not that discussions about marriage equality is new to our society, interracial marriage was not legal in several states until 1967. I think now more than ever families come in all shapes and sizes; single parents, same sex parents, blended families, biracial families, families with blended religious beliefs…and the list goes on. It is important that our country’s diversity is celebrated, and students have a space to express their feelings and questions regarding different family structures in an appropriate, respectful way. So let’s make sure we’re creating a positive, inclusive tone on campus, a tone that welcomes diversity. This is something that everyone from administrators to students can help out with.
Most importantly, first impressions are everything. When a family walks onto your schools campus, how can they tell that they are welcome? To brighten your space place student’s works of art, poems and assignments in the hallways and entryway. Are the forms your campuses uses for record keeping inclusive of everyone (using options like “parent/guardian” instead of mom/dad). Are the photographs hanging around campus, or in school literature reflective of your schools population demographics?
Is the campus staff ready for teachable moments? How will teachers and staff members respond when they hear students making inappropriate or mean comments about someone’s family, sexual orientation, gender or race? Practice these situations, interrupting these types of comments and creating a teachable moment can be difficult.
Finally, help positive connections between school staff, students and families grow. Plan campus events recognizing and celebrating diversity of all kinds. Invite students and their families to attend or even help plan them. Maybe a classroom activity where students can discuss different types of families, the people that can make up a family, and the different ways families can change. If students feel comfortable, it’s a great team building exercise for them to share their personal family make up. If the topic of biological family is not appropriate for your student population, discuss neighborhood families, school families, classroom families, sports families etc.
Our uniqueness is what keeps life interesting! Begin the discussion in your classroom, you know your students and your campus population better than I, create learning opportunities geared towards setting an inclusive, welcoming tone for each student and their family members.