The Results are In! Teacher and Student Identity Central to Student Engagement & Resistance When Teaching about GBV
Over a year after, the Time to Teach About GBV in Canada research team wrapped up data collection from the teacher interviews, where teachers told us their experiences teaching about gender-based violence (GBV), and the teacher workshop where data was analyzed by the teachers and informed by our youth participants, we are excited to share our findings. Thank you SO MUCH to all who participated—amidst the onset of a global pandemic!—and to those now interested in learning about our results.
A main theme that recurred throughout the data analysis, and a concept that many teachers reflected upon, was teacher and student positionality in the classroom. Participants discussed how effectively teaching about GBV meant being explicit about their power, privilege, and position in the classroom, even if that meant displaying their own vulnerability. Educators who shared an ethnic identity or other experiences with their students touched on how this shared identity could foster relationships that would allow for deeper connections and learning. A teacher’s difference, too, rather than their shared identity, also afforded students the opportunity to consider perspectives different than their own.
A problem consistently identified by participants was that the curricula, content, and learning materials still overwhelmingly reflect white Western male perspectives. Many educators voiced frustration over course content that excluded diverse perspectives or that they factored as an ‘add-on.’ Creating one’s own materials was time consuming but necessary to provide a counter-narrative to the standardized course content.
Many educators discussed feeling that they had to teach to their most privileged students—especially white boys from high and middle-income families—for them to understand GBV, possibly because it was so different from their own lived experiences. Many teachers observed that the most resistance to learning about GBV came from boys, recalling that they were more likely to act defensively or feel attacked when discussing issues of privilege, inequality, and violence, and that these issues of resistance seemed more frequent in recent years. To resolve some of the resistance, teachers addressed how GBV affects everyone, including men and boys, and emphasized that everyone has a role to play in violence prevention, with tangible opportunities for individual responses and/or social activism.
By contrast, many teachers discussed how, with students for whom GBV was more closely associated with their lived experiences, conversations were often more authentic and action-oriented. With a mix of demographics within the classroom, teachers identified a delicate balance of protecting more vulnerable students from (re)traumatization while addressing GBV in compelling ways to engage their more privileged students. Teachers discussed strategies to fostering safer spaces, but acknowledged there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to creating this space, instead noting that it’s crucial to be adaptable and reflexive.
We hope you find these preliminary findings from our data collection with teachers as valuable as we do. We welcome your feedback on this discussion! Also, stay tuned for findings from our data collection with students, coming soon.