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Creating Safety in the Classroom

Teachers are used to creating a safe space where students can explore complex issues – a crucial requirement for this project’s objective. We offer the following guidelines as a useful tool that has proved effective.

Draft working agreement

Rights and responsibilities

  • We respect each participant's right to choose how she/he will participate in each session/exercise and responsibility for her/his own learning/contribution.
  • Therefore, we agree to refrain from pressuring each other.
  • We acknowledge our right and responsibility:
    • to question / challenge certain personal labels from others,
    • to reject stereotyping assumptions of others and
    • to protect ourselves from limiting generalisations.


  • We encourage questions for clarification, checking out or exploring differences and similarities of opinions.
  • When someone is speaking, we agree to ask the speaker's permission to interrupt when we want to comment or query what has been said.
  • We agree to take a constructive role in this learning process and the process of achieving our stated aims.
  • We agree to speak from our own individual experience, since each of us is equally valuable, and our ideas, opinions and feelings are valuable; whether they are unique or shared.


  • We agree to respect the time boundaries we have set and negotiate changes we want to make.
  • We will let the group know if we intend to leave early or miss part of the workshop in recognition of our value to the group.


  • We acknowledge that statements or attitudes expressed in the workshop are subject to change and development; they are not fixed for all time.


  • Respecting individual disclosures by agreeing to refrain from repeating what is said in the group in a way that can be attributed to a group member. The group may want to discuss and negotiate a procedure for taking issues further after the workshop and for reporting back to any individual or group who works with the group.

Constructive feed-back

  • If there is anything that the facilitators or trainers say or do which you find hurtful, disturbing, oppressive or discomforting, please let her/him know either in the group or in a break. This is one of the ways we continue to challenge our learned oppressive behaviours and attitudes. It is also an important aspect of the respect we owe to each other's vulnerability.


Setting the scene

In this section, we suggest a list of exercises which introduce the films. Exercises can be selected if the teacher feels the need for them - not all may be necessary. Most are very useful to ensure a safe and shared atmosphere in the classroom.

To gauge the range of opinions in the group, teachers might try the following association game.

Each pupil gives one word (or writes it on the board) which they associate with the word homo- and/or transsexuality. This will give the teacher an idea of the range of sentiment within the class and therefore which subjects should be addressed first. If necessary this can even help determine which film is appropriate for this specific class.

The teacher should then make pupils aware of some existing unspoken rules about gender and sexual identity, and behaviour. An explanation of issues such as falling in love with somebody of your own gender or an explanation of the word transgender can be given, but ideally only as a brief outline. Depending on the age of the children and the issue within the film (teachers should ensure they see any of the films in advance of showing them in class), some questions can be given for pupils to answer whilst watching the film. Examples might be: try to remember a situation or piece of dialogue which you recognize as hetero-normative (first explaining what that means)?

Throughout the whole lesson pupils need to be stimulated to ask questions. This will keep them on safe ground; and answering among themselves will help them accept different views. If a contentious issue is raised, a teacher can offer appropriate information. The films will raise issues like bullying among children, role-models, religion, coming out, and questions about sexuality. It may be advisable to answer some of the most compelling questions immediately after the first association game.

Discussion after film showings

After the viewing, allow the students to give their initial reactions and use these to determine how challenging the discussion might become.

Try to discuss objectively what the class has seen: what did you see? Did everyone see the same things? Can some patterns be recognized? Are the characters following the “rules” of society? Comparing these “rules” to other rules of society which are not always observed (for example stopping at a red light when riding a bicycle, or not smoking under age), may help stimulate open discussion.

Explain to the pupils that implied “rules” regarding heterosexuality and gender are unwritten or silent rules, and are in fact much stronger in constricting the individual. As soon as they begin to socialise, young people understand these rules. Even very young children already understand the requirement for keeping silent about some issues, so nobody speaks about them (they become a literal taboo). Silence is the first (and can become a very effective) way of repressing individuals who feel different.

This leads to consideration of the sense of these “rules”. Why is this (heterosexuality or a stereotypical gender role) a rule; what is the origin of this rule? Who has decided that being a boy means behaving in a particular way? Who has decided that being a girl means feeling attraction to boys and not to girls? Why should this make any sense for any of us?

The idea of being proud of being LGBT could be a good way to close the exercise. Difficulties are things we all have to overcome in life. We feel proud of overcoming them. Society makes it difficult to be LGBT. All those in the classroom could be encouraged to try to imagine their own feelings about overcoming the difficulty of being different. Thus they can be encouraged to imagine what it means feeling proud to be LGBT in a straight world, being proud to be black in a white world, or Muslim in a Christian world. But it is important to recognise that one would not feel the same pride in being lesbian in a lesbian world, black in a black world or Muslim in a Muslim world. What makes one proud in this sense is overcoming the difficulty of being different in the group of one’s peers

If everyone in the class tries to identify what is personally different within them, they can understand how the whole group will develop solidarity with diversity, and cease to stigmatise different behaviour. This leads to an understanding of how the support of the group can help people to be confident in their own difference.

Teachers can ask what the pupils think of the discussion and what they missed or where they would like to know more. It may help to provide examples of resources where they can find more information on their own.