Neag School Hosts “Respect for All” Workshops to Improve School Inclusivity

Workshop participants discussed different ways their schools handled gender and bullying issues.
Workshop participants discussed different ways their schools handled gender and bullying issues.

Teachers and administrators from throughout New England spent two days attending a Neag School of Education-sponsored workshop that focused on challenging stereotypes, exploring gender roles, reducing bullying and helping ensure that school is a place where all youths—no matter what their background—can thrive.

The National Network for Educational Renewal selected the UConn Neag School of Education as the site for this progressive, timely and important “Respect For All” pilot training program, which presented four interactive workshops made up of short films, group discussions, experience sharing and various other activities. Topics included:

  • “Let’s Get Real”: A look at bullying and bias through the eyes of middle school-aged youth
  • “Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up”: An exploration of how gender roles and sexuality pressures impact teens
  •  “That’s A Family!”: An exploration of what children growing up in a wide range of family structures would like classmates to know about their families
  • “It’s Elementary – Talking About Gay Issues in School”: A documentary and discussion about the power and possibility of LGBT-inclusive education
Teachers and administrators shared experiences as it related to the four short films.
Teachers and administrators shared experiences as it related to the four short films shown during the workshop.

More than 30 teachers, school administrators, teacher educators, social workers and guidance counselors attended, including Ellen Montgomery. “The information fueled my passion for social justice issues and made me feel like I am not alone in trying to make change in this world,” said Montgomery, who teaches art at Hunt Middle School in Burlington, VT.

She said she was especially inspired by the gender issues workshop, which made her see how terms like “male” and “female” could alienate some people. “One of the biggest changes I saw in myself was a shift in thinking regarding gender and sexuality, which I now realize should be looked at as part of a spectrum and not as just black and white.”

Run by the San Francisco-based educational and social non-profit GroundSpark, the event was organized by Neag Teacher Education Associate Director and Clinical Professor René Roselle, who said she found the workshops “deeply moving.”

“The workshop allowed participants to bond and connect over very important topics of social justice,” Roselle added.

High school math teacher Kevin Liner, a Neag alumnus, walked away with similar sentiments.

“I loved hearing how honest and vulnerable the other participants were willing to be,” said Liner, who teaches at the Metropolitan Learning Center magnet school in Bloomfield. “Their stories were inspiring to me, because there are always perspectives you don’t consider, and it helped us discuss topics from various angles. The workshop also inspired me to take more action on a day to day basis with my students and helped me realize the magnitude of importance that a safe school climate has on a student both personally and in regards to their academic success.”

Respect For All instructor Amy Scharf said one of the most exciting aspects of the event was the GroundSpark-Neag School partnership, which ensured the topics and issued covered were relevant to participants.

“Participants were also interested in staying connected with each other for ongoing support, so we will create a listserv where they can maintain their relationships, get advice and remain motivated,” Scharf added.

Roselle said she or a Respect For All liaison will follow up with participants in three and six months to see how they’ve used workshop materials and training.

“It’s important that local communities move the work forward,” Scharf added.