Conference Helps CBE Create Safe Learning Environments

Nov. 17, 2014

Often some of our best learning happens when we immerse ourselves in new environments. In March of this year, a Calgary Board of Education (CBE) teacher, principal and student did just that by attending Canada’s first national Gay-Straight Alliance Summit for secondary students. The Outshine 2013 conference invited students and educators to come together to promote safer and more inclusive schools for everyone, especially lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and questioning (LGTBQ) students.

The CBE is committed to ensuring safe and equitable learning and work environments for everyone. This includes LGTBQ youth. Because of this commitment, the CBE chose to have representatives attend the Outshine conference. What was learned at the summit is helping to shape the CBE’s inclusive practices.

For Matt Christison, principal of Centennial High School, it was the first time he found himself in the minority because of his sexual orientation. Christison said, “I hope I treat people in a minority position as well as I was treated at the conference. The sense of acceptance was strong.”

Centennial High School has had a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA - a student-led group intended to provide safe and supportive environments for LGTBQ youth and their allies) at the school since it opened its doors in 2004, but Christison said the conference provided him with some additional ideas to consider.

GSAs are one of many possible responses to creating safe spaces in our schools. Each school community is unique. What is important is that students be able to identify what they feel is right for them and work together with the principal, teachers and staff to create an environment where all students can thrive.

Harold Vasquez, a former Western Canada High School student, had the experience of starting up a GSA and welcomed the opportunity to attend the conference to improve on what they were doing. He couldn’t help but notice the difference in thinking at the conference from what he had sometimes experienced in high school. “There was no space for negativity. You didn’t resent or reject other opinions. I learned a lot there.”

At the high school Maxx Lapthorne was teaching at most recently, she was involved in helping to provide a more inclusive learning environment for LGTBQ students at the school. Lapthorne said the conference was helpful to her in advancing the inclusion work she was doing at her school. “You could see models of work in different provinces. I understand what is possible now. The conference moved beyond tolerance to acceptance.”

A number of CBE students and staff are attending the provincial GSA conference on Nov. 23 at the University of Calgary. The CBE looks forward to learning from their experiences as well.