Spotlight on Dr. Kimberly Truslow: Supporting Gender Identity in Schools
According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, almost 2% of high school students identify as transgender, and 27% of those students don’t feel safe at school.1 While this study focused on students in grades nine through 12, school can feel like an unsafe place for all youth who are transgender or gender nonconforming—as early as elementary school.
Our kids need schools that embrace and celebrate diversity. School principals, teachers, and other educators shoulder the responsibility of building school environments that are safe, supportive, and inclusive for all students, including those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
Elementary school principal Dr. Kimberly Truslow is a senior contributing faculty member in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Human Sciences at Walden University. Dr. Truslow, who teaches in the MS in Education (MSEd) program online, knows firsthand the importance of creating a school community where students aren’t afraid to be themselves. In her own words, Dr. Truslow shares her experience with supporting gender identity and gender expression in her elementary school:
Leading as an elementary principal of a prekindergarten through fifth grade campus brings about the typical challenges of setting schedules and providing professional development for the effective teaching of reading, math, science, and social studies. Occasionally, serving as an elementary principal means helping to clean up vomit or an accidental urine episode. However, this school year I was faced with a challenge to step up and lead all students, regardless of their sexual or gender identification. I must admit that I was caught surprised to be understanding and making decisions to accommodate students at such a young school age.
A new student enrolled at our school who is in the third grade. The student is named with a female name, Lilly, but we soon learned that the student’s preference is to be referred to as “he” or by the name of “Lilly.” The student shared this with teachers and friends as well. The student shared that he was not comfortable going to the girls’ communal restroom. The student also shared that he was desiring being able to change into uniforms that were more masculine in nature if an accident or spill was to occur at school. In a conference to review an existing special education plan, the student’s parents told the team that they knew about Lilly’s preference and they were desiring to be supportive of the gender identification as a male.
Understanding the nature of student rights, not just as individuals, but also for the remainder of the school population, a discussion was held among his teachers that he should be referred to as “he” or “Lilly” in the classroom. The teachers were very supportive and understanding of the nurturing and educational opportunities that are the same for Lilly as they are for all students.
One challenge that we were able to brainstorm a solution [to] as a team was a comfortable place for Lilly to use the restroom to respect his rights to privacy as well as the other students’. Because our student restrooms are gender-specific and a bank of stalls, the option we chose was for him to be able to come and use the office restroom that used to be a student restroom when it was part of the nurse’s station. Lilly can enter the main office at any time and go straight to the designated restroom without having to ask permission or interrupting any office activity. If Lilly is up the hallway closer to the nurse’s station, he is permitted to use that restroom as well. I notified Lilly’s parents and shared with them our plan shortly after enrolling at the school, and they were pleased that the school recognized the need.
Interactions in the classroom with teachers and students has proven to be a challenge in that one of Lilly’s three departmentalized teachers or classmates may say “she” or refer to Lilly as a girl. The teacher simply acknowledges that a mistake has been made and the lesson, discussion, or conversation continues. The students have said comments such as, “My friend, Lilly, wants us to call her a boy or play with her like she is a boy.” We acknowledge the comment and affirm the student’s comment and Lilly’s wishes.
Through this experience this school year, I have felt heartfelt pride in seeing our school’s faculty and students challenge our typical way of thinking and stereotyping to becoming one of inclusiveness, and I have accomplishment in leading all of the students at our school.
Expand Your Impact by Earning an MSEd
Are you inspired by Dr. Truslow’s story? Do you want to make an even greater difference in students’ lives? You can gain the skills to influence positive change in your school by earning an MS in Education (MSEd) degree online at Walden University.
In Walden’s master’s in education program, you will learn from experienced education leaders, like Dr. Truslow, who will share their teaching expertise and strategies to help you become a more effective educator. With 14 specializations to choose from, including a principal licensure preparation program, you can pursue your passion and tailor your master’s degree to the area of education that interests you most.
Grow your career and impact. Earn your advanced online teaching degree from Walden’s MSEd online program.
Dr. Truslow is a senior contributing faculty member in the MS in Education (MSEd) online degree program at Walden University. Formally trained in educational leadership, she has served in a variety of educator roles—from middle school classroom teacher, to elementary and middle school principal. Currently, she is an elementary school principal in Arkansas. At Walden, she teaches courses in the online MSEd principal preparation program and in the BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) online degree program. Her current research interests focus on building teacher leaders and conflict resolution.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral education degree programs, including an MS in Education. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
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