From the Dress-Up Corner to the Senior Prom: Navigating Gender and Sexuality Diversity in PreK-12 Schools

Author: Jennifer Bryan, Ph.D.

Very few PreK-12 teachers are adequately trained to address the gender identity and sexual identity of their students in a developmentally-appropriate and pedagogically-sound manner. Yet responsible adults — parents, educators, pre-service teachers, coaches, religious instructors, camp administrators and school counselors — must help children navigate the inherently diverse, increasingly complex world of gender and sexuality in the 21st Century.

From the Dress-Up Corner to the Senior Prom is a practical, forward thinking resource for anyone involved in educating children and adolescents. Jennifer Bryan takes readers into classrooms, administrative meetings, recess, parent conferences, and the annual pep rally to witness the daily manifestations of Gender and Sexuality Diversity at school. She provides a coherent framework for understanding what readers “see,” and invites them to use a contemporary, heart/mind perspective as they consider the true developmental needs of all elementary, middle, and high school students.

The book features thoughtful questions, models of dialogue, accessible lesson plans, and many pedagogical strategies. At the heart of this book, though, are the evocative stories from teachers, students, and parents that Bryan has listened to over the span of her career. These personal anecdotes bring the comprehensive explorations of this seminal work to life.

Book Reviews

Her tone in this book is warm and supportive to those who have not considered GSD before and to allies who have been fighting heteronormative educational practices for a long time. The book builds a framework to engage in GSD learning at school—including specific examples of gendered situations from pre-K to twelfth grade. She is able to seamlessly shift from a humorous voice which is in touch with teachers’ experiences to detailed explanations of current research. Read the whole review.

Jennifer Bryan has written a book, including sample curricula, that is timely and much needed given the passing of same-sex marriage laws in several states, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the increasingly accepted notion of sex and gender being on a continuum rather than categorical. The content of From the Dress-Up Corner to the Senior Prom should be a part of the human sexuality curriculum in every school system. Read the whole review.

Bryan’s chapter on teachers and professional development is one of the more thoughtful chapters in the book. In a style that honors where educators are at present in this great social change we are all experiencing, she addresses their possible discomfort and the reflection everyone has to do with regard to their own values. At the same time she honors the place they come from whether conservative, liberal, or in between, and she models for them, through dialogue balloons and examples, what teachers can say to the children, teens and parents they work with during difficult discussions. Read the whole review.

What Experts Have to Say

If you are interested in the role of gender and sexuality in schools, the only thing you need to know is: read this book! It is a long overdue resource that is rich with examples from PreK-12 classrooms across the country. The student and teacher voices framed by Dr. Bryan’s research and expertise combine to form a powerful tool that will help educators everywhere make their schools and classrooms more inclusive and freer of all forms of bias. This well-researched text is strengthened by pedagogically meaningful stories, lesson plans, and interventions that offer guidance and support to educators engaged in this work. Her valuable insights and ideas will certainly help reduce the harmful impacts of homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity in schools everywhere.

What we teach in our school curriculum helps shape the minds, attitudes, and identities of children. Conversely, what we omit or leave unexamined matters as well. In this carefully researched, courageous book, Jennifer Bryan cogently argues that despite the centrality of gender and sexuality to our core relationships and identity, schools rarely contend with these topics. Bryan is persuasive, forthright, and sensitive in challenging us to formulate a more inclusive and complex approach to addressing gender and sexuality diversity in school. As a teacher, I have often shied away from topics of gender and sexuality. I fear that I don’t know enough or that traversing these topics is too fraught and dangerous. Reading this book challenged me to re-think my tendency to sidestep these issues and provided me the conceptual vocabulary and practical strategies to be a better teacher for all my students.

…A must read book for any and all teachers and parents interested in getting their hands around gender stereotyping: what it is, how it’s limiting to all, and how to teach children to overcome it, towards the end of embracing gender and sexual diversity in the same way enlightened cultures embrace racial, ethnic, class, and religious diversity. The copious anecdotes alone are worth the price of admission to a future world where we transcend millennia of assumptions about “what boys do” vs. “what girls do” toward a more psychologically and socially androgynous and balanced future. Readers will find themselves thinking time and again, “It never occurred to me that our kids might be saying, and wondering, and exploring these things. How would I address that situation when it arises in my classroom?” This book of innumerable stories and wise counsel is also the new definitive authority reference book on terminology and resources on the topic. The central question Bryan addresses— what to teach about gender and sexual identity diversity in schools—is articulated perfectly by a fourth-grade teacher: “The school community needs a point of view on these issues. Then we all need to support this view.” Schools and teachers that don’t address the question collectively as a school community will address it, at their own risk, haphazardly and poorly individually.

A brave, lucid, and insightful exploration of the intersections of gender, sexuality, and the experiences of K-12 students. Informed by scholarship and years of school experience, Jennifer Bryan has written a superb manual for faculty, administrators, and families on how to navigate safe passages for all students. Following Bryan’s advice not to run from these issues, but to embrace them conscientiously, will help educators and parents meet the challenges of raising healthy children in a nation where gender and sex have become tools of commerce.

The issue of safety for GLBTQI students in our schools today is a matter of life and death, not a matter of politics. Jennifer Bryan’s book is essential reading for anyone directly or indirectly involved in the education of children today. As the Head of a pre-K through 8th grade independent school, I found valuable information contained in this book for faculty, parents, and trustees alike. Whatever your role is in the process of education, Jennifer Bryan’s book provides real life examples along with excellent solutions, making it a useful tool in the classroom and at home. Bryan does not shy away from the conflict, rather she encourages us to face the prejudices and inequities that exist with confidence, candor, and even humor. This book is a must read now!