Notes from a CHOP Workshop, Part 2: An Aha! Moment

Trans Pulse, the research and reporting organization that inspired this post, worked with Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) to create this infographic. See the full infographic here.

Guest blogger Alison Cupp Relyea brings us the second in a series of three blog posts inspired by the leaders of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

We welcome you to join us in this conversation!

-Lani Blechman


Let’s focus on one statistic—one small moment in the presentation by Linda Hawkins and Samantha Taylor from the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) that I attended in January. This statistic has changed the way I view the path of transgender youth, and it is one that I repeat time and again to anyone who will listen to me talk about why supporting gender diversity is critical. According to research, while many people associate transgender youth with an increased risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide, this correlation is only partially true.

When transgender youth feel affirmed and supported by their parents, the statistical difference for these risk factors between transgender youth and their peers diminishes to almost nothing. (Trans PULSE’s Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth Report)

Educators, too, play a role in a positive outcome by identifying at-risk students and ensuring that they have a supportive school environment.

In other words, it is the lack of support that many transgender youth face, and not gender identity, that is most problematic. This deeply resonates with me as an educator, a parent and an ally, and this is a message that is worth spreading far and wide. Parents often have a very hard time accepting and understanding a child who is transgender, and one reason that we often hear is: “I just don’t want life to be so hard for Kate. She will be not be accepted, will get teased and might become depressed.” They often try to avoid or ignore signs, or force gender-conforming behavior, because they do not want their child to struggle socially or emotionally. This intention is understandable, but the outcome is harmful.

Children who feel deeply that their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth are not trying to create a more difficult life for themselves. In fact, they are trying to find a path forward that makes them feel comfortable in their own bodies and allows them to develop with the same social-emotional well-being that they see in their peers. When parents and teachers acknowledge this and affirm who they are, it helps them on this path.

Raising confident, self-aware adolescents and young adults does not mean removing challenges. It means helping them feel secure and giving them the tools they need to navigate challenges successfully. Transgender youth are no different, and the adults in their lives play a critical role in shaping a positive future.

Further Resource: One Parent’s Story

Leaping Forward by Cybele Abbett on The Moth. One parent’s story of unconditional love, support, loss, and acceptance around her child’s transition.


Educator Spotlight: Zach Bernard & The Different Dragon as a 2nd Grade Class Play

TFC: How does your knowledge of the Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD) framework inform your teaching?

Zachary Bernard: Considering the GSD framework has been especially helpful in making me reconsider the types of gender roles I represent through literature and media in my classroom. It has taken a conscious effort to shift my classroom library, and it’s through this work that I encountered Dr. Bryan’s great children’s book, The Different Dragon.

TFC: How did you (or your class) come to choose The Different Dragon as the basis for your class play?

Zachary Bernard: I’ve learned that it takes just the right sort of story to make an effective 2nd grade play. At our school, each class puts on a new play each year, so I’m always on the lookout for stories to use. The Different Dragon stood out to me initially because it lends itself well to a class play. I was considering length, number of characters, child friendly language, and overall message. I also appreciated an opportunity to represent a two-mom family, a family type that is often missing from theater productions in our school.

TFC: How does your knowledge of the GSD framework inform your work with The Different Dragon?

Zachary Bernard: While first reading The Different Dragon, our discussions focused on gender stereotypes and the importance of being “true to oneself”. This message was so perfectly age-appropriate that very little explicit teaching was needed. I really let the kids drive the discussion. It was through the lens of gender stereotypes that the class looked at turning the story into a “show”. The kids really took ownership around how the dragon would be portrayed.

Mr. Bernard’s students prepared questions for Jennifer’s visit to their classroom.

TFC:What did your class gain from Jennifer’s visit?

Zachary Bernard: The class was energized in a major way when Jennifer visited. All of the ideas they had swimming in their minds suddenly became concrete. They LOVED putting a face to the character Goma and ideas for costumes and set backdrops crystallized in the aftermath.

TFC: What insights did your students bring to The Different Dragon?

Zachary Bernard: We spent a few different sessions working on the script together as a class. We made revisions and added detail to the bare bones adaptation that I presented to the group. There was a lot of talk about how characters should be portrayed, and one theme that emerged focused on the character of Claire (who played a minor role in the book but a more significant one in our play). A student had the thought:

Maybe in our play we should have Claire be really into girl stuff, like pink princesses.
But wouldn’t that just be a stereotype?
Maybe. But I just think it would be cool to show that it’s ok to be different than stereotypes, but it’s also ok to be like stereotypes too.
Well, we do have the dragon breaking stereotypes, so we show different ways of being yourself in the same story.

In the end, the group decided not to add much extra detail to Claire’s character, but I appreciated their careful consideration.

TFC: What tips and tricks can you offer other educators who want to include their students in the creation of a class play?

Zachary Bernard: Find the right story! If the story has a message that resonates with kids and they can deeply understand it, they will take ownership and have a clear vision. When I let the kids pick the roles they wanted  for the show, I realized that certain students were drawn toward portraying characters outside of what’s normally portrayed on the gender spectrum. It was a potent reminder to me that having characters representing a diversity of positions along the spectrum is another powerful tool worth considering as part of the youth theater experience. Many little people have never had the chance to act like someone they identify with in a theater production, and we can create these opportunities.


The Different Dragon
(sung to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon)
Lyrics by Ms. Noll

If you’re a different dragon,
and you don’t like to roar.
It’s not your style to bully,
then we can change that lore.
No pressure to be anyway
you don’t want to be.
Here we will accept you
in our community.

Oh, I’m a different dragon
than I was before.
‘Cuz being mean and hurtful
is such an awful chore.
I’m a different dragon,
and you can be one too.
Just choose a kinder, gentler way,
and we will all love you.

Notes from a CHOP Workshop, Part 1: Reflecting on a Teacher’s Role in Gender Identity

The first of three posts inspired by the copious notes I took during CHOP’s presentation.

Guest blogger Alison Cupp Relyea brings us the first in a series of three blog posts inspired by the leaders of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). In this post, Alison dives into the role of educators in being comfortably uncomfortable and proactively affirming our students’ identities and identity exploration. As educators, we may be the first to take note of students questioning their gender and sexuality. How have you responded when you’ve seen these signs? How have you been able to support your students’ in having a positive experience with their gender and sexuality development? We welcome you to join us in this conversation!

-Jennifer Bryan

In January, I had the opportunity to kick off the year with Team Finch Consultants at a conference sponsored by ADVIS, the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools, called Beyond the Binary: Exploring Gender and Sexuality at Independent Schools. The conference was full of educators from the Philadelphia area who ranged from early elementary school to high school, and in roles including counselors, coaches and classroom teachers. Being in a room with educators again—people who were taking the time to step outside of the classroom and broaden their perspectives on gender—gave me a great deal of insight and a chance to reflect on my own experiences as a teacher and a parent.

The other presenters at the conference were Linda Hawkins, Co-Director, and Samantha Taylor, Clinic Coordinator and Director of Education at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). They lead one of the nation’s only Gender and Sexuality Clinics for gender non-conforming and transgender youth, ages three and older. While listening to Linda and Samantha speak about the work at CHOP and about the families they support, I had several Aha! moments. For the next few Team Finch entries, I will share three of these takeaways that may resonate with other educators. This entry is inspired by an experience I had early in my teaching career—a moment that could have been significant had I chosen to explore it further.

As the CHOP team described the signs teachers can use to identify a child who might be gender questioning, I recalled a moment early in my teaching career when Sarah sent a clear sign of gender questioning. We were on a field trip, and Sarah—whose sex assigned at birth was female and who had always been called a girl—was mistaken by the field trip educator as a boy. While Sarah’s gender expression was more masculine, it had not occurred to me that she might be gender-questioning and might want to use different pronouns. When the educator called her a boy, Sarah’s face lit up with validation and pride. The other children were quick to correct the educator, and the binary lines were drawn again. But, for that moment, Sarah felt recognized, and I was a witness to it.

At the time, I was teaching at a progressive school in New York. This child had open, supportive parents and her closest friends were boys; she seemed content, was thriving in school and it was early in the year. My co-teacher and I had barely discussed her gender  with each other or with the school counselor. We were teaching elementary school, and since she appeared happy with who she was, we had not thought of our role as one to offer more support. On a more critical note, this was an overnight field trip. While her parents may have discussed that she would be sleeping in a room with girls (when most of her sleepovers and playdates were with boys), we had not discussed that and had assumed it would be fine. This child was not one to reach out, and without any attention to her gender identity, I had not put myself in the child’s shoes to better support her.

Linda and Samantha reminded teachers of the role of educators in supporting and referring gender non-conforming students. While parents or guardians are the only people who can formally refer a child to the clinic, teachers are often among the first to see the signs and signals that children send. Sarah’s shy smile and eye contact when she was called a boy should have been a door opening for me: a chance to explore further with her and an opportunity to learn more as an educator. I remember noting with surprise that she seemed happy being called a boy. Like the other students, however, I felt a moment of discomfort and then relief when she was put in the correct box. My feeling came from my own knowledge and bias at the time. I thought she might be uncomfortable being mislabeled because that is how I might have felt as a child, or how another child might feel. It wasn’t clear to me until now, years later, that for a rare and fleeting moment, Sarah felt fully seen.

Cross-posted on Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) NEWS.

Further Resources

Millions of educators take a stand for transgender students in advance of historic Supreme Court decision. This happened in March 2017, and educators continue to stand together and with our students.

The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens (2016)
by Stephanie A. Brill and Lisa Kenney

Becoming Johanna (2016) by the Youth and Gender Media Project
Use TEAMFINCH30 for a 30% discount

Ready to start a GSA? Check out the 10 steps from GSA Network: trans and queer youth uniting for racial and gender justice.

Discussion Forum: Valentine’s Day in the Classroom

screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-58-05-pmWe’re happy to have guest blogger Alison Cupp Relyea back again to get a conversation started about the potential pitfalls of Valentine’s Day, and how we as educators and parents can help children celebrate it. Knowing that many teachers and schools aim to use Valentine’s Day as a way to create connection and discuss diversity, we invite you to share your Valentine’s Day philosophies, lessons, and resources. We teach best when we learn from each other. We look forward to hearing from you!

Jennifer Bryan


Valentine’s Day is approaching, and teachers everywhere are dreading the chaos, pink and red decorations, and materialism associated with the day. When I was a second grade teacher, we struggled to find a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day that was satisfying for the students and felt connected to the larger classroom community of inclusion that we were trying to build. We talked at grade level, we strategized at faculty meetings, and we spent a lot of time discussing the goals and restrictions for this mid-February holiday.

did-first-candy-conversation-hearts-say_58171da383886d4eAt  the beginning of my teaching career, Valentine’s Day looked much like it had when I was a child, with teachers writing valentines for each of the students in their class, and students bringing in bags of small paper valentines to exchange. The rules were clear: bring a valentine for everyone. In twenty minutes of chaos, the children distributed their valentines and collected the ones with their names on them–it was generally a positive experience. What’s not to like? Just ask an elementary teacher and you’ll get an earful.


The Jubilee Project

The candy is an issue, of course. Some children have allergies, others have braces, and teachers tend to believe that children do not need candy in the middle of the school day to have a good time. My colleagues and I ruled out candy quickly, and surprisingly, it was usually the parents who pushed back. Then there was the equality of the valentines themselves. Bringing one for everyone seemed like a good solution, but there were still feelings of favoritism. A favorite Pokemon character, a different sized valentine, or a special note that went to one child but not another.  These were all problems that could be resolved, but really, was a Valentine’s Day celebration necessary? Did it have any meaning?


Love Has No Labels

As a school, we looked for other ways to talk about love on Valentine’s Day for children of all ages, and with well-chosen picture books, we often sparked some deep discussions. For a creative and historically significant way to learn about Valentine’s Day, see Jennifer Bryan’s article and resources from Valentine’s Day 2015. And to hear what children themselves have to say about Love and Valentine’s Day, enjoy this clip from The Jubilee Project.

If you are a teacher, why not consider showing the “Love Has No Labels” video from The Ad Council? This is guaranteed to inspire a valuable conversation with all who watch it together.

Review: Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity

Guest blogger Alison Relyea reviews Who Are You?: The Kids Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin Whedbee and illustrated by Naomi Bardoff. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017.  Order the book here!


screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-2-42-24-pmWho Are You?: The Kids Guide to Gender Identity is an insightful book that provides educators and parents a new resource for teaching gender diversity. With simple text and colorful illustrations, this book tackles some common questions about gender diversity and is appropriate for preK-6 audiences. There are also additional resources  that help educators incorporate Who Are You? into a larger exploration of gender diversity in their classrooms.

The author’s choice of language and the illustrator’s use of varied, multicultural images reinforce the central concept that gender is the outward expression of who you are on the inside. By using the word “you,” Pessin Whedbee brings the reader right into the book and creates active thinking and connections to the story. Who Are You? emphasizes diversity, and while it includes vocabulary associated with gender, such as cisgender, non-binary, and transgender, the purpose is not to define these terms but to describe the gender spectrum. In doing this, children can see that there are many more than two ways to feel when it comes to gender. The book focuses on the process of developing gender identity over time, from sex assigned at birth to childhood expressions of gender. Pessin Whedbee emphasizes experiences and process rather than categories. This openness is empowering for young readers, who are actively making choices about who they are every day.

img_8462Who Are You? Is best used as a teaching tool to spark discussion. There is no main character or hooking narrative but the book features a unique hands-on wheel that children can use to describe their own gender experience. Kids will love being able to manipulate the wheel and personalize their gender story. Older students might enjoy creating their own version of the wheel, customizing the choices even further to reflect different developmental realities.

The author includes a teaching guide at the end of the book, along with discussion questions for certain sections. She also includes literacy links to popular children’s books that spark conversations around gender stereotypes. Finally, the author provides a section of “Additional Resources” including books, films, and organizations that offer more stories and materials to support gender diversity.  

img_8460We recommend adding Who Are You?: The Kids Guide to Gender Identity to your classroom library and your diversity curriculum. As the first page of the story says, “This is a story about you.” It becomes the reader’s story in a way that will make each reading of it unique, depending on the audience. Reading this with young children will help them understand that gender identity is a personal experience and a universal process. It can positively shape the way they see themselves and others, leading to greater inclusion and acceptance.   

Learn more and access extra resources for teachers and family here!

Family Dinner

Happy New Year! We have a few exciting projects teed up for 2017, and at the top of that list is the addition of our guest blogger, Alison Cupp Relyea, to the TFC team. Alison is a a writer and mother of three children who taught elementary school for many years in New York City. Through teaching and parenting, she has developed a strong interest in gender studies, often exploring topics of gender and education in her writing. Alison and I met several years ago when I consulted with The Town School and she was a 2nd grade teacher.

Alison is a seasoned educator, a hands-on-hands-full parent and a skillful writer. Enjoy.


Family Dinner

In our overscheduled lives, family dinner becomes increasingly important to make that daily connection with our children. I know this, and yet this year, between hockey and swim practice, rotisserie chickens and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the moments we actually share both in preparing and enjoying meals seems more limited than ever. Luckily, I had a recent visit with my parents to prove once again the value of sharing a meal in shaping children’s understanding of the world. In a short conversation that grew organically, my parents demonstrated their gender openness in a way that surprised and delighted me, and I watched as my children’s understanding of the world around them shifted and expanded.

If I had been the only adult at the dinner table, which is normally the case, this conversation would not have happened. My children and I normally eat dinner together, before my husband comes home from work, and squeezed between homework, playdates, activities and bedtime.  The table is barely cleared, we use laminated placemats and paper towels for napkins if we remember napkins at all. While we talk and catch up, much of the emphasis is on getting my children to eat their dinner.


Photographer Theresa Thompson parodies Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want”

With my parents in town for my children’s holiday concert, I stepped up my dinner game to what I wish it looked like every day. We had salmon, asparagus and roasted potatoes and used proper placemats and cloth napkins. Water glasses were actual glass rather than plastic, and with my husband there as well, I enjoyed the company of three adults to share in the conversation rather than my normal company of my three children. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close for a Tuesday night dinner.

Everyone was eating, too, except for my three-year-old who couldn’t find one of his Iron Man gloves to go with his costume. I ignored him while focusing on the good mood at the table. My oldest child, Robert, seemed particularly happy to have his grandparents in town and out of nowhere starting singing, “I don’t want to know know know know, who’s taking you home home home home, and loving you so so so so, the way I used to love you oh!”

“He still loves Adam Levine and Maroon 5!” I commented.  

I expected my parents to ask what songs he would be singing in the concert tomorrow, or share their own favorite Maroon 5 songs, but instead my dad immediately said, “You know Maroon 5 is one of the bands that won’t play in North Carolina because of the bathroom laws.” He may have been talking more to my mom and me, but when an eight-year-old hears the word “law” he becomes very interested.

“What are the bathroom laws?” Robert asked, and while I thought my parents might try to change the conversation, they addressed it head-on. I didn’t jump in since Robert was asking them the question, not me. As the person who answers hundreds of questions each day, I took pleasure in being silent for once.

“See, some people are born a boy or a girl, but they don’t feel like that matches with who they really are, and North Carolina says they have to use the bathrooms that match how they were born,” my mom answered. It wasn’t clear that the older two children understood, but they were listening intently.

Women's And Men's Toilets Sign, Black On White

“There are chromosomes in our bodies that determine if a person is a boy or a girl. Do you know about chromosomes?” she continued.

“Yeah, sure,” Robert answered.

“So some people have certain chromosomes but really feel that they are a different gender, and they want to use the bathroom that they feel most comfortable using, but the law says they can’t, and Adam Levine doesn’t agree with that law so he doesn’t want to play concerts there until they change it.”

“Yeah, I mean, what’s the big deal? People should be able to use whatever bathroom they want to. Why would the law make them use the other one? That’s so ridiculous,” Robert complained. Eight year olds care a lot about fairness and this did not seem fair. My parents shrugged.

Someone asked for more potatoes and someone else didn’t want to eat her asparagus, and the moment passed as quickly as it arrived. My children knew more now about Adam Levine and had one more reason to like him, and I finished dinner so thankful for this moment.  When I look at my parents, I see people who are nearly seventy years old who cannot always relate to parenting today. They aren’t always thrilled by my children’s behavior or mine for that matter, but they love us unconditionally. When my dad made that statement, for an instant I had no idea where the conversation would go, but I should have trusted them to give information without judgement. After all, I was the child at their table not so long ago.

A Tale of Two People (You Might Know)

Heather Newman’s TED talk is worthy of a blog post. Meg Taylor, head of the Robert Parker School in upstate New York, shared the talk with me. Meg is proud of this Parker alum and their remarkable story, and she knew I too would deeply appreciate Heather’s story. I actually watched the talk back in September, but amidst the distractions of a busy fall and the disturbing presidential campaign, I forgot about it. As we continue to digest the election results, whether we are educators, parents, or students, Heather’s message about identity, assumptions, labels and community couldn’t be more important.


Education of the Heart in the Wake of Tragedy

2016-06-14 06.17.59This morning in the workout room at my hotel in NORTH CAROLINA it was a challenge to find something on the T.V. that wasn’t a) related to the Orlando massacre and b) the absolute worst of today’s “media coverage.” And then, suddenly, there was a gift…the Dalai Lama on C-Span (who knew!?) talking with a group gathered for the Youth Leaders and Peace Initiatives summit. The Dalai Lama speaking about the need for “more education of the heart, more education about love.” No need for the pundit news circus. Just the Dalai Lama and youth leaders who care about peace.

A Memorial Day Paradox

protecting freedom for allIn high schools on Tuesday educators may discuss Memorial Day. Who knows why we didn’t have school yesterday? And some students will know that on Memorial Day we honor the people who have died protecting the freedom of the United States. If teachers invite students to do a little digging, they will learn that in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. Why always a Monday? In order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees.

A three-day weekend for federal employees sounds like a great idea.

Yet last week, the House of Representatives voted against a routine spending bill—which they sponsored—because of an amendment that would protect LGBT employees from discrimination by federal contractors. “In turning against a far-reaching funding bill simply because it affirms protections for LGBT Americans, Republicans have once again lain bare the depths of their bigotry,” said Nancy Pelosi.

But wait.

Two weeks ago this same congress confirmed the appointment of Eric Fanning, the first openly gay man to become secretary of the Army. Just five years ago, openly gay people were barred from serving in the armed forces. According to those covering the story, during Mr. Fanning’s lengthy confirmation process, “his sexual orientation was simply not an issue.” Politicians appointed a leader of the Army based on skills and merit, not based on whom he loves. On this Memorial Day, that milestone is worth celebrating.

The adolescent brain is increasingly able to hold and examine paradox. How should we help our students think about this fundamental contradiction: soldiers in the Army, led by a gay man, fight to protect the rights of all Americans. At the same time, Congress refuses to pass a bill that includes protection from employment discrimination for gay people. On the day after Memorial Day, that’s a paradox worth contemplating.

Critical Thinking About Love and Legislation in Middle School


Don’t miss out on the educational value of talking about LOVE with middle schoolers! All manner of (1) critical thinking, (2) content knowledge and (3) socio-emotional skill building opportunities rolled into a topic that students are truly interested in. For middle school teachers, what’s not to like??

I recently visited a 7th grade classroom where students were reading and discussing Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel set in Seattle that explores family relationships, cultural identity and LOVE during WWII and present day. Henry, a Chinese American boy, and Keiko, a Japanese American girl fall in love at a time when they are not supposed to.

The 7th grade students in this class look so young, yet they are the same age as the main characters Henry and Keiko who first meet in elementary school. What do 7th graders know about Love? What do they think about “forbidden love” and do they understand who has the power to forbid it? I pose some questions.

hotelHow did the United States government get in the way of Henry and Keiko’s love?

They tell me about Keiko and her family being sent to an interment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The students talk about the government’s lack of humanity and deep-seated prejudice against Japanese people. They talk about what can happen in wartime and how soldiers fighting in Europe were not the only people affected by WWII.

Do you know of any other time in U.S. History when our government has ruled against LOVE between people?

There’s a long silence. I scan the earnest faces and can tell they want to know the right answer and proudly share it with me, the class visitor. I can see them thinking. A girl finally raises her hand. “Do you mean, like, how women couldn’t vote?”

Have any of you ever read this book? 

5133bjGD1iL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I hold up a copy of Selina Aiko’s The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, and the students peer at the cover. No one has seen this book before, but a couple of kids start talking about how people of different races at one time weren’t allowed to get married. There’s a flurry of comments, a bit of confusion and the treasured excitement of students making a connection. (Isn’t that the moment when most teachers realize why they teach?!)

I read a few short excerpts from the book and then ask how the experiences of Richard and Mildred Loving compare with those of Henry and Keiko. The students make lots of good connections, noting differences and similarities, relieved to be doing their job as students. There is a strong consensus that not letting people of different races marry was a terrible law. The class is surprised that is was only 45 years ago that the Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws. (We wrote that word on the board.)

Do you know of any other time when the Government has forbidden LOVE between different kinds of people?

“Gay people,” says a boy sitting in the back row. “My moms couldn’t get married when I was little but now they can.” Several other students nod their heads, and someone says, “Oh yeah…that’s right. That just happened last year. The Supreme Court made a ruling.” I hold up a copy of The Harvey Milk Story by Kari Krakow and David Gardner.

Do you know who Harvey Milk is?51B5XPJKWVL

“I’ve heard the name before…” one student offers tentatively. The reality is that none of these smart, well-educated seventh graders knows who Harvey Milk is or what he might have to do with the Supreme Court’s historic 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. “Without Harvey Milk,” I say, “it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would have ruled in favor of this kind of Love.” The 7th graders are taken aback when they learn that Milk and the mayor of San Francisco were assassinated in 1978 for standing up for the rights of gay people. “Assassinated?” one of the more vocal students says. “Why haven’t we heard about this before?!”

What a plethora (another vocabulary word!) of educational opportunities here. Take your pick from these 35 Dimensions of Critical Thought.  I count at least 15 that we utilized during our 30 minute discussion.

I haven’t even shared the SEL focus of our final 10 minutes, when I asked them about their own LOVE relationships. Sure there were some giggles but not a yawn in sight, and plenty of participation and good will. For middle school teachers, what’s not to like??


A. Affective Strategies

•    S-1 thinking independently

•    S-2 developing insight into egocentricity or sociocentricity

•    S-3 exercising fairmindedness

•    S-4 exploring thoughts underlying feelings and feelings underlying thoughts

•    S-5 developing intellectual humility and suspending judgment

•    S-6 developing intellectual courage

•    S-7 developing intellectual good faith or integrity

•    S-8 developing intellectual perseverance

•    S-9 developing confidence in reason

B. Cognitive Strategies – Macro-Abilities

•    S-10 refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications

•    S-11 comparing analogous situations: transferring insights to new contexts

•    S-12 developing one’s perspective: creating or exploring beliefs, arguments, or theories

•    S-13 clarifying issues, conclusions, or beliefs

•    S-14 clarifying and analyzing the meanings of words or phrases

•    S-15 developing criteria for evaluation: clarifying values and standards

•    S-16 evaluating the credibility of sources of information

•    S-17 questioning deeply: raising and pursuing root or significant questions

•    S-18 analyzing or evaluating arguments, interpretations, beliefs, or theories

•    S-19 generating or assessing solutions

•    S-20 analyzing or evaluating actions or policies

•    S-21 reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts

•    S-22 listening critically: the art of silent dialogue

•    S-23 making interdisciplinary connections

•    S-24 practicing Socratic discussion: clarifying and questioning beliefs, theories, or perspectives

•    S-25 reasoning dialogically: comparing perspectives, interpretations, or theories

•    S-26 reasoning dialectically: evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories

C. Cognitive Strategies – Micro-Skills

•    S-27 comparing and contrasting ideals with actual practice

•    S-28 thinking precisely about thinking: using critical vocabulary

•    S-29 noting significant similarities and differences

•    S-30 examining or evaluating assumptions

•    S-31 distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts

•    S-32 making plausible inferences, predictions, or interpretations

•    S-33 giving reasons and evaluating evidence and alleged facts

•    S-34 recognizing contradictions

•    S-35 exploring implications and consequences