“[Consent is the] permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” - Oxford Dictionary
Everytime you read or watch the news, chances are you will hear a horrific story about sexual violence (assault, harassment, rape, emotional abuse). Sexual violence is a rising problem across our country (and around the world). You can read more about this on the Canadian Women’s Foundation website. There has also been ongoing discussion over the past few years about the issues about sexual violence on Canadian post-secondary campuses.
Consent is a very basic, explicit concept that can be taught from a very young age. To instill a sense of respect, and being able to understand and communicate boundaries at a young age is an essential part of a proactive, rather than reactive, measure to combat (sexual) violence.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the re-implementation of the 1998 health curriculum in Ontario is the absence of any explicit reference to consent.
As I continue to read (and reread) the 1998 sexual health strand of the Ontario curriculum, it becomes progressively apparent how this curriculum lacks the depth it requires to meet the needs of 21st century learners - the depth and robustness that is found in the 2015 curriculum.
When you look through the 1998 curriculum, this is as close as you’ll get to finding roundabout learning expectations (i.e. specific expectations) about consent:
Grade 4: “Identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., showing consideration of others’ feelings by avoiding negative communication)”
Grade 6: “Identify strategies to deal positively with stress and pressures that result from relationships with family and friends”
Grade 7: “Use effective communication skills (e.g., refusal skills, active listening) to deal with various relationships and situations”
which is definitely better than nothing, but is not as explicit and direct as the learning expectations from the 2015 curriculum:
We need to have conversations about consent with students starting in kindergarten. I don’t suggest starting to talk about consent with grade 1 students in the same way you’d talk to a grade 12 students, but there are ways to scaffold:
Primary grades (1-3)
Intermediate & Senior (7-12)
Having specific lessons about consent is helpful (such as this lesson plan I created for grade 3-12 students about effective communication skills), but I also encourage you have these conversations as they come up. You’ll notice students trying to hug each other when it’s clear it is unwanted, or hear students talking in the hallway about their new partner. Don’t be afraid to introduce the concept of consent in these situations as they will be personally relevant to your students, and will resonate with their real life experiences.
There are some amazing resources online you can share with your students or use to plan your lessons about consent:
Consent for Kids (YouTube video)
No Means No (Picture Book)
My Body Says What Goes (Picture Book)
Create a poster in your classroom about appropriate consensual behaviour
Consent Tea (YouTube video)
All About Consent (Planned Parenthood)
How To Talk About Consent (Planned Parenthood)
Ask. Listen. Respect (YouTube Video)
Dancing, Project Consent (YouTube video - cartoon graphic content)
Teaching Sexual Health, Consent (website)
Sex And U: What is Consent?
5 Ways To Teach Your Children About Consent (Huffington Post)
Now that the Ontario Ministry of Education has repealed the 2015 sexual health education curriculum, teachers in Ontario will be mandated to teach the 1998 sexual health education curriculum. This means students will be learning from a curriculum that was introduced over 2 decades ago.
If you read any article online that is covering this unfortunate controversial decision, you’ll know that the following topics are the primary areas that are missing from the 1998 curriculum:
If you take a look at the actual curricula themselves, while some of the learning expectations (or, as teachers call them, specific expectations) are similar, it’s pretty clear the 1998 curriculum is lacking detail (due to lack of detailed curriculum content and missing teacher prompts/student responses). For example, here are the grade 1 learning expectations:
While sexual orientation and gender identity are missing from the 1998 curriculum, they are both recognized and protected by our Ontario Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Regardless if these identities are present in the curriculum, teachers have an ethical duty to discuss and protect the rights and laws of our province and country.
So, how does a teacher actually talk about sexual orientation and gender identity without any guidance from the curriculum? I have some suggestions!
Both with respect to age and timing during the school year. Conversations about identity should start in young grades, as early as preschool and kindergarten. The earlier students are exposed to these identities, the more comfortable they will be as they get older and develop their own identities, and/or meet people with different identities.
Teachers should also initiate conversations about gender and sexuality early on in the school year and not wait until the last week of June, as many people do! See below for ways to start these conversations.
Don’t make it a “big deal”
Calling too much attention to sexuality and gender is unnecessary, and inadvertently may cause extra pushback or controversy from parents, other staff, and community members. Is it important to talk about? Absolutely - but do so with intention and purpose.
Instead of singling out a conversation about different sexualities and gender identities/expressions, have conversations about differences more holistically. Ask your students:
Talk about it when it comes up, don’t avoid it
I find some of the most powerful teachable moments I have had with students in the past are unexpected, casual conversations walking down the hall on the way to phys ed, during recess on the playground, or in non-health lessons.
Perhaps you’re doing a media studies or literacy project involving analyzing a movie, music lyrics, or television shows. If you introduce different artists, actors, or leaders in our communities, bring in a variety of examples that can naturally lead to conversations about sexuality and gender. For example, different family types (e.g. same-sex couples) are present in Modern Family, a kid-friendly show:
Laverne Cox is an openly trans actor:
Or think about musical lyrics, like Lady Gaga’s Born This Way: “No matter gay, straight or bi Lesbian, transgendered life I'm on the right track, baby I was born to survive. No matter black, white or beige Chola or orient made I'm on the right track, baby I was born to be brave!” which is a perfect way of discussing the acceptance and celebration of many different types of identity.
Be mindful of language
Many teachers often default to calling their class by “boys and girls,” “ladies and gentlemen,” “princesses and princes,” and so on. We should move away from polarizing, gendered names to be sensitive to students who may not fit into one of those two gendered “categories” (also, what happens if you divide your class based on gender, but you have a student who is not openly trans? How do you think that would make them feel?)
If you do need to separate your class into two, or call them to get their attention, try using gender-neutral names like “scientists and mathematicians,” “folks,” or “students”.
There is opportunity all around to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity. I have created a lesson plan using the grade 6-12 specific expectations from the 2015 curriculum, to talk about gender identity and sexual orientation. You can use this lesson plan for younger grades too!
"I Don't Flush" is a campaign to help create awareness around items that should not be flushed down our toilets (and drains). There are many personal hygiene products that unintentionally (or intentionally!) get flushed down our toilets. Some common products related to sexual health that SHOULD NOT be flushed include:
- Sanitary pads
- Condoms and condom wrappers
- (While not listed on the website), dental dams should not get tossed into toilets!
Share this with your students to create a dialogue on environmentally friendly (well, friendlier) ways to dispose of these aforementioned items. There are also environmentally-conscious items women can use during their period, such as the The DivaCup.
I Don't Flush: http://idontflush.ca/personal-hygiene-products/
Best Practice Strategy for Teaching Sex Ed Series!
I am going to be posting different best practice strategies for teaching sex ed over the next few weeks.
Best practice strategy 1: Teacher comfort level
When teachers have more content knowledge about a given topic, in this case sex ed, the more comfortable you will be with the content. Let's use math as an example. If you don't know much about trigonometry, you will feel very nervous if you need to teach it, and as a result your teaching will not be as effective compared to a teacher who knows trigonometry and feels comfortable sharing it. The same applies to sex ed.
When teacher comfort level increases, students notice the shift - the class will be more relaxed and open to conversation. You will be less nervous and more prepared to enter topics you may have originally knew little about (and no one likes to feel under prepared!)
Set a goal for yourself to look up a different sexual health resource every week and build a repertoire of resources you can use to support your own sex ed learning, and in turn help your students!
Two of my personal favourite online resources are Planned Parenthood ("Learn" tab - https://www.plannedparenthood.org/) and SexualityandU (http://www.sexualityandu.ca/). Click on a different topic every week and learn something different about human development and sexual health!
Next best practice strategy will be posted this week.
What you need to know about changes to Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curriculum, including Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education).
The Ontario Ministry of Education released a comprehensive review of the 2015 Sexual Health Education curriculum from Grades 1 to 12. They broke down the specific expectations and described the overall themes and topics covered in each grade.
What is in the Health and Physical Education curriculum? Active Living
Educating children with accurate and current information, skills and strategies to help them navigate a digital world can help keep them safe and healthy.
The Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education) component of the Health and Physical Education curriculum guides teachers to plan what they teach with the goal of establishing a foundation of mutual respect and understanding for diverse perspectives in the classroom. It will not replace the role of parents in educating their children about sexual health.
What will students learn in the Human Development and Sexual Health (sex education) section of the curriculum?The learning about Human Development and Sexual Health, like all the learning about healthy living in the curriculum, is focused on helping students learn about the things that contribute to their health and how to use that information to make healthy choices (and avoid potentially harmful ones) in their everyday lives.
Some of the information students will learn about this topic includes:
Grade 1 Students will learn:
Grade 2 Students will learn :
Grade 3 Students will learn:
Grade 4 Students will learn:
Today, children enter puberty earlier: on average, girls enter puberty between 8-13 years old and boys enter puberty between 9-14 years old.
Grade 5 Students will learn:
Grade 6 Students will learn:
By Grade 6, students have developed some self awareness and coping skills and also learned critical thinking and reflective skills to solve problems and examine issues, which they will apply to learning about stereotypes and assumptions.
Through challenging these stereotypes and assumptions, they not only continue to learn respect for others, but also self-confidence in their own identity.
Grade 7 Students will learn:
Teaching about sexual health and development does not increase sexual behaviour, and can actually prevent risky activity.
Grade 8 Students will learn about:
Grades 9-12 Students are required to take one Health and Physical Education credit in high school. However, they may choose to continue to take additional course in other grades. These courses build on learning from Grades 1-8. See below for what students will learn in the in the Human Development and Sexual Health component of those courses.
Grade 9 Students will learn about:
Students also learn about the potential implications of online activities (e.g., texting and sending personal photos) and how to use electronic technologies appropriately.
Grade 10 Students will learn:
Grade 11 Students will learn:
Image source: http://andiswa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/home.jpg
Lesson Title: Let’s Talk
Learning how to communicate to maintain healthy and satisfactory relationships – both platonic and romantic – is one of the main objectives of the new Human Development and Sexual Health strand of Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curricula. Whether you are 6 years old or 60, learning how to communicate effectively with others is very important.
Throughout my undergraduate studies in psychology, I learned that one of the most common issues that arise among children and adults alike are faulty communication skills. Take a moment to reflect on a recent experience when you had a dispute with a friend, a colleague, a partner, and the like. When you were communicating with this person, how were you expressing yourself? More often than not, when we try to communicate – especially during a challenging or upsetting experience – we place a lot of blame (if not, all the blame) on the other person, which leads the other person to become defensive. It is not healthy or productive to communicate in such a way, though it is easy to default to “You upset me! This is your fault! How could you do this to me?”
I was recently speaking with a clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (currently, one of the most commonly practiced therapies in psychology) who works with pre-teens to adults. He gives each of his clients a worksheet with an exercise to practice effective communication skills. The worksheet looks like this:
“I feel ____insert basic emotion ____because ____insert what happened____. I would appreciate ____insert specific request ____.”
This dialogue is non-threatening. Instead of blaming the person with which you are communicating, you are explaining how you are feeling because of your interpretation of what happened. This allows the other person to understand where you're coming from and hopefully they will respond similarly when explaining how they feel. Then, the two of you can reach a compromise while remaining empathetic to each others' feelings and needs.
When describing how you feel, use “basic emotions” that a six year old would understand – regardless if you are speaking with an adult or a child. Some “basic emotions” include happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, and so on. Disappointed or frustrated may be what you initially think you’re feeling, but do you think a 6 year old would truly understand that language? Likely not. At the core of disappointment and frustration are usually anger, sadness and/or surprise, so use those terms instead.
Let’s say, for example, you are supposed to meet a friend for a movie at 7 pm, but she arrives at 7:20 pm without letting you know she was running late. This is what a conversation would look like not using the dialogue above:
“I can’t believe you were 20 minutes late. We’re going to miss the movie now. Why didn’t you call me? Or send me a text? You obviously don’t respect my time.”
If you were to use the dialogue "script" above, it may sound something like this:
“I feel angry because we are going to be late for the movie. I would appreciate if you give me a quick text or phone call to let me know that you are running late.”
This communication tool can also be used for positive experiences. People enjoy praise and being complimented. “I feel happy because we got to see a movie together. I appreciate spending time with you because you're a lot of fun to be around, and I hope we can do this more often!”
How to use this activity with your students
1. Ask your students to get into pairs. Ask students to label themselves as Person A and Person B.
2. Ask them to reflect on a recent experience when they were upset with someone.
3. Ask students to role play using the dialogue above. Alternatively, students can make up a situation and role play. Person A starts by using the dialogue script above and Person B can respond. Give students a couple minutes to go back and forth to elaborate on the situation or use different emotions/scenarios. Then students can switch roles. (*Note* Depending on the age of your students, it may be helpful to show them some examples or role play with a student volunteer to model what the conversation would look like).
4. Have a class discussion about how the exercise made them feel. Do they feel more confident about communicating their needs? What did they find effective (or not effective) about this strategy? Ask how they can see themselves using this in their lives.
Relevant Specific Expectations from the Ontario curricula
Grade 3: C1.3 identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., accepting differences, being inclusive, communicating openly, listening, showing mutual respect and caring, being honest) and describe ways of overcoming challenges (e.g., bullying, exclusion, peer pressure, abuse) in a relationship
Grade 6: C2.5 describe how they can build confidence and lay a foundation for healthy relationships by acquiring a clearer understanding of the physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during adolescence (e.g., physical: voice changes, skin changes, body growth; social: changing social relationships, increasing influence of peers; emotional: increased intensity of feelings, new interest in relationships with boys or girls, confusion and questions about changes)
Grade 12: C1.3 demonstrate an understanding of how relationships develop through various stages, and describe the skills and strategies needed to maintain a satisfactory relationship as the relationship evolves (e.g., communication and interpersonal skills, adaptive and coping skills, conflict resolution strategies)
Lesson Planning – Minds On Activity for gender identity and sexual orientation
Explaining gender identity and sexual orientation to your students can be difficult. Where to begin? How do you introduce the topic? How do you make it personally relevant to all of your students? There is a great minds on activity to help students understand how societal and cultural expectations make it difficult to define gender identity and sexual orientation, and hopefully help students move away from many assumed binaries that exist in gender and sexuality.
1. Ask students to get into pairs.
2. If you have access to a projector and screen (or SMART board), place two images of two “opposing” objects, such as a camp fire and waterfall, or a beach and a snowy mountain (you can also print the two images and pass them around the room).
3. Tell students that they have one to two minutes to choose which image reflects them best overall. They then have two minutes each to share their reasoning for choosing the image with their partner.
4. After students share their image and reasoning with a partner, ask the class if anyone had difficulty choosing one image. Ask them why. (Most students will likely say that they felt that neither applied, or they related to both).
5. Explain that the two images are metaphors for gender and sexuality binaries we often use in our day-to-day understanding of gender and sexuality. Oftentimes, we have to “choose” to identify as either male or female (e.g. medical forms, washrooms). Also, when we think about sexuality/sexual orientation, the two most “commonly” discussed orientations is straight and gay/lesbian. There is a huge spectrum of gender identity and sexuality/sexual orientation. Just like choosing an image to describe oneself, people sometimes have a hard time defining which gender and/or sexual identity suits them – sometimes one fits perfectly well, sometimes multiple identities apply, and sometimes they change over time.
Relevant specific expectations from the Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curricula
Grade 6: C1.3 identify factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept (e.g., environment, evaluations by others who are important to them, stereotypes, awareness of strengths and needs, social competencies, cultural and gender identity, support, body image, mental health and emotional well-being, physical abilities)
Grade 8: C1.5 demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex), gender expression, and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual), and identify factors that can help individuals of all identities and orientations develop a positive self-concept
Grade 9: C1.5 demonstrate an understanding of factors (e.g., acceptance, stigma, culture, religion, media, stereotypes, homophobia, self-image, self-awareness) that can influence a person’s understanding of their gender identity (e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex) and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual), and identify sources of support for all students
Grade 10: C3.4 describe some common misconceptions about sexuality in our culture, and explain how these may cause harm to people and how they can be responded to critically and fairly
There are many misconceptions about Ontario's 2015 Sexual Health Education curricula, especially for Grades 1-8. I have read dozens upon dozens of articles about the new curricula, I have seen newscasts about the new curricula, I have talked to parents, teachers, and principals - and most of what I hear is inaccurate.
I came across an amazing resource developed by People For Education that clarified a lot of the erroneous beliefs about the new curricula. You can check out the link below or open the file attached.