In February 2021, Taipei American School faculty and staff began the first part of the esteemed "Welcoming Schools" program, created by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. This program is the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the United States, and it aims to provide LGBTQ and gender-inclusive professional development training. According to its founders, it uses an intersectional anti-racist lens designed to "uplift" school communities and support inclusive diversity initiatives.
Before the training, all educational employees were asked to consult some of the "Welcoming Schools" resources and submit a series of quizzes, to ensure that the community had a shared understanding of important vocabulary and terms. Additionally, faculty were asked to read the current TAS Policy on Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students. On the day of the training, faculty and staff were broken up into divisional groups for targeted professional development lessons and exercises facilitated live on Zoom with trained Human Rights Campaign educators and legal experts.
All three sessions were titled "Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Students," although the content varied slightly by developmental differences in the three divisions. The session is meant to provide the foundational training to help faculty and staff understand the critical need to create safe and supportive schools for transgender and non-binary students as well as to be familiar with policies and best practices to support transgender and non-binary students.
Dr. Nathan Smith, Dean of Faculty and Director of Instruction, says that this training was important for opening up a conversation among the TAS faculty. "It went beyond just one-way communication of the basics," said Smith. "And it was followed up with divisional faculty meetings for discussion of best practices."
Lower school educators met their facilitators in classrooms within their grade-level teams and were led in the discussion by Tracy Hobbs (she/her) and Cynthia Bohrer (she/her). Hobbs is a retired school psychologist from Traverse City Michigan who spent over four decades in schools. More recently, she has worked as a consultant for the Michigan Department of Education in addition to her work with Welcoming Schools. Co-facilitator Bohrer is also a veteran educator with 25 years of experience in Boston and Houston.
The middle school sessions were held within department meetings. Esme Rodriguez (they/them) and Tracy Flynn (she/her) led the middle school session. Flynn has three decades of management and leadership experience across several different work sectors and is passionate about anti-bias and inclusion training in the Seattle area. Rodriguez is the Safe and Healthy Schools Coordinator for an organization called Equality Florida, which is committed to ensuring the creation of safe and healthy school environments for LGBTQ+ students.
The upper school faculty met within their departments for the training to allow for small break-out discussions periodically. This session was led by Danielle Murray (she/her) and Steven Chen (he/him). Murray is an educational specialist with the Boston Public Schools in addition to her work with HRC's "Welcoming Schools" program. Chen, who was born in Taiwan, is currently working with the Boston Public Schools and HRC as a lawyer, but he also previously worked as an educator in Arkansas.
According to research conducted by the HRC Foundation, 83% of transgender students and 65% of non-binary feel unsafe at school. These numbers are correlated with a lack of school support, the majority of which includes not supporting the student's desired names and pronouns, denying access to restrooms and locker rooms, and preventing the student's preference for clothes and other forms of gender expression.
This training was only the first step in a series of programs related to the goal of supporting transgender and non-binary students that the school will undertake. However, some faculty members could see its immediate impact on their work.
"It took away some of my internal apprehension because sometimes I don't know what to do or how to address these students. But the truth is that it's not about us," said Connie Ma (she/her), who works as the TAS alumni and community outreach officer. "The training helped me realize that there are best practices out there for supporting these students. The important thing is that we try to honor or respect the students' wishes, and it's not about me."
The lower school Grade 4 teaching team agreed, describing this professional development as "thought-provoking." One Grade 4 teacher voiced appreciation for the sessions saying, "It's good to see that the school is promoting policies that are progressive. It has helped me to realize the need to raise awareness in order to have a positive impact in our teaching and student communities."
The school will continue to train faculty and staff in this area throughout the rest of this year and beyond, acknowledging that this work cannot be accomplished in one training session.
If parents have questions about this training, the TAS Policy on Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students, or about professional development at the school more generally, please feel free to reach out to TAS Dean of Faculty: Director of Instruction and Learning, Dr. Nathan Smith.
Want more information about what it means for a school to support transgender and gender non-conforming students? Welcoming Schools has put together this helpful FAQ page for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members here: https://www.welcomingschools.org/resources/school-tips/transgender-youth-what/trans-how/faq-on-supporting-transgender-and-non-binary-students-in-k-12-schools/