The 2017-2018 school year has seen learning communities engage in SOGI-inclusive education like never before. In just its second year, the BC SOGI Educator Network now consists of 54 out of 60 school districts and continues to grow. While many educators have been engaged in SOGI work for years, the Network has centralized resources, fostered regular collaboration and expedited professional growth.
Each of these member districts is represented by a SOGI District Lead who works with the BC SOGI Education Lead, attends regional meetings and oversees the recruitment and training for SOGI School Leads. Many of the SOGI District Leads are BCPVPA members. Currently there are more than 1300 SOGI School Leads championing this work in schools and offering professional learning opportunities. Within these 54 districts there is the capacity to reach more than 90% of the students enrolled within BC’s public schools. The website has played a key role in the success of this work. Educator resources have eliminated barriers for SOGI policy-making, professional development and classroom instruction. To date there have been over 76,000 unique visitors, 24,000 lesson downloads and 17,000 views of the SOGI 1 2 3 videos and learning modules.
A personal journey
After 14 years as an elementary principal in Delta, I was excited about becoming the BC SOGI Education Lead for 2017-2018. While I have always been proud to be a school principal, in recent years there was some monotony setting in with many conversations feeling all too familiar. This professional opportunity arrived at the right time and provided me with some unique challenges. Having said that, I did have some apprehension about taking on the role as I knew I would miss working closely with staff, parents and especially students. On a personal level, I was also somewhat anxious about becoming known as the “gay” educator and being defined by one aspect of my life. Regardless of these concerns, my work began in earnest on August 1 and it was the beginning of a fascinating school year.
My role as BC SOGI Education Lead started with some onboarding sessions hosted by ARC Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation in Vancouver spearheading the SOGI 1 2 3 imitative since 2015. We were developing plans for an expansion of the SOGI Educator Network from 9 to possibly 25 districts.
It was exciting but there was a lot of uncertainty about what lay ahead. The delayed transition to a new governing party had understandably slowed Ministry of Education (MOE) decision-making and there was some uncertainty around future funding. In the weeks before school began, we met with leadership from the various educational partners in BC: MOE, BCTF, BCSTA, BCSSA, BCPVPA, BCCPAC. These meetings were a great opportunity for me to get an inside look at the various organizations guiding education in our province. I was left very encouraged by the support we received as each of these education partners provided us with opportunities to host professional development sessions and communicate news about SOGI 1 2 3.
One communication proved to be a turning point for us. It was sent in late August through the BCSSA and invited districts to join the SOGI Educator Network. The response was immediate. Within a few days we had 30 districts confirmed for the network and by the end of September, 48 districts were active participants. The rapid expansion was exciting but presented us with plenty of new challenges as we worked to go to scale.
One of the challenges for me was managing the communications expectations. Within the 9 District Pilot in 2016-2017, there were frequent points of contact with scheduled district team meetings, SOGI District Lead meetings, acknowledgement of expectations forms, surveys, emails and phone calls. We wanted to maintain the same level of service but the sheer volume was imposing. As an administrator, I was also mindful of how precious time is in September and wondered how successful I would be in getting SOGI 1 2 3 on the radar for all of our new districts. Fortunately, the SOGI District Leads proved to be a very accommodating and engaged group, despite the fact that many of them had little to no prior experience with SOGI-inclusive education. Our SOGI District Leads wear many hats and hold a variety of titles: assistant superintendent, school counsellor, director of instruction, classroom teacher, district coordinator, vice-principal and principal. With funding from the Ministry of Education, we were able to bring together all of our district leads for a day of training on October 4 that set the wheels for positive change in motion.
While there have been plenty of developments to celebrate this year, this success has not arrived without some challenges. Some parents have inquired about content, age appropriateness or a perceived conflict with family values. In response to these questions, online resources for parents have been expanded to include a brochure and videos. There is also a facilitation guide designed to support a joint presentation between school administration, the SOGI School Lead and a PAC leader. The creation of these resources was a cooperative effort between ARC Foundation, the Ministry of Education and BCCPAC. Beyond those aforementioned parent questions, there has been some organized opposition to SOGI 1 2 3 but educators have stood firm and been buttressed by the overt support from leadership at the BCTF, BCSSA, MOE, BCSTA, BCCPAC and BCPVPA. The controversy came to a boil in Chilliwack, when a trustee posted what I would charitably describe as an unprofessional message in opposition to the SOGI 1 2 3 resource. The fallout was swift and provided me with a number of unique experiences. I was an in-studio guest twice on CBC Radio’s BC Almanac show and sat as a panelist at a SOGI information session that was hosted in Langley by the Parents for Inclusivity community group. Other opportunities also opened up for us as we received media requests and were asked to present workshops for districts and associations around BC.
As the new year began in January, my role as the BC SOGI Education Lead was more clearly defined. I was coordinating regional meetings, supporting education partners, curating resources, monitoring district progress and guiding SOGI 1 2 3 training with SOGI District Leads. Funding from the MOE allowed me to travel throughout the province and the countless interactions left me so impressed by the quality of individuals leading this work. As the 2017-2018 school year comes to a close, I will be hosting our year-end regional meetings, surveying staff, supporting the development of district goals for 2017-2018 and assisting with professional training. I will also take time to reflect on what has been an inspiring year and express my appreciation to ARC Foundation and the Ministry of Education for their faith in me.
Matt Carruthers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SOGI 1 2 3 is a learning resource developed by ARC Foundation, in collaboration with education partners, to support all students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. SOGI 1 2 3 provides educators with the capacity to build inclusive school environments.
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of the BC Principals’ & Vice Principals’ Association (BCPVPA) publication, Adminfo. It has been redistributed with permission from the BCPVPA and Matt Carruthers.