How to Support a Transitioning Child

Note: Every child and every situation is different, the most important thing is to follow their lead!

Whether a child expresses their desire to transition to a teacher, a caregiver, or a school counselor, it is important for the child's support team to meet and formulate a plan to keep the child safe in school.

Here are some of the best resources from Gender Spectrum that can provide guidance for the meeting and concrete next steps.

Gender Inclusive Registration Forms

Plan for an Initial Principal Meeting

Gender Communication Plan

Gender Support Plan

I am working on a letter that can be sent home to families, as soon as it is finished, I will attach it here!

Here are some other important things to read:

A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools

Understanding the Needs of Transgender Students

Communicating a Change in Gender Status at School

After having a meeting with the family, it is important to find out from the child what they would like to happen next. Some children might the teacher to tell the class for them, while others might want to tell the class themselves. Some children might want only their family and teachers to know until they are ready.

If a child is not ready to share with the whole class:

1. Ask them if they would like you to change the pronouns you use for them. Once, I had a child use small labels to let me know their pronoun preference each day. We sat together and wrote "she/her", "he/him" and "they/them". Each morning they would choose a sticker to put on so that I would know. After several weeks of experimenting, they chose the pronouns that felt right to them.

2. Ask them if there is anything else you need to know to be the very best teacher for them.

3. If you haven't already done so, begin reading some books with your class. You can do this slowly over time and without calling out the child by having it fit in to an existing social emotional curriculum, reading unit or a social studies exploration. You can check in with the child and their family to see if there are particular books they might like you to read. For detailed lists, check here.

If the child would like to share it with the class themselves:

1. If you have time, familiarize yourself with some of the language and terms used to talk about gender. You can find them here.

2. You could meet with the student privately, with them and their family, or you could invite another trusted school grown up to join your meeting (principal, school counselor, former teacher), depending on your comfort level.

3. At the meeting, come up with a "plan" for letting the class know. Think about when the child will have time to tell the class and what they will say. You can ask them if they would like you to step in and help or if they would like to do it on their own. Decide if you will have a book ready to accompany the student, perhaps one you could read before or after they speak with the class. Find some great suggestions by grade level here.

If the child would like you to share it with the class:

1. If you have time, familiarize yourself with some of the language and terms used to talk about gender. You can find them here.

2. Check in with the child about the kind of language they would like you to use. Be especially clear about their pronouns if they are deciding to change them. If they are changing their name as well, have new labels prepared and begin practicing their name ahead of time.

3. Depending on your comfort level, you might choose a book to help you let the class know. Find lists of appropriate books by grade level here. I would highly recommend Who Are You? by Brook Pessin-Whedby. It is comprehension, developmentally appropriate K-5, and has an interactive wheel that any child in the classroom can use to talk about their gender identity and expression.

4. Find a time when you can have a discussion. It is best not to do it before lunch, recess or specials when students will be leaving or moving on to a new setting. If you'd like to, you could invite trusted adults to join your class for the conversation. The child may or may not want to be present during the discussion.

No matter what, follow the child's lead, remember that it is okay to say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know", and if it doesn't feel like it went well the first time, try it again!

Continuing to support this child:

- Always use their correct name and pronoun and make sure that other teachers, specialists and students do the same. You might start sharing pronouns as a routine. If you hear someone use the child's birth name (some call it a dead name), remind them that this is no longer the child's name and insist that they no longer use it. You can buy gender inclusive name tags here, or download a pattern here.

- If someone misgenders the child, model how to appropriately react. Do not make a big deal or launch into a large apology. Teach people too simply say "Oops - I meant 'he'" and the continue on with the conversation.

- Make sure that all labels and school forms are changed to reflect the students' name and gender. Don't forget things such as school lunch cards, bus cards and library cards.

- If your school is resistant to changing school registration forms or official documents, refer to this Model District Policy. You might also refer to this model district policy in California. You could also follow the guidance of the California School Boards Association, found here.

- Keep the support plan confidential, but treat it like an IEP. Hold other adults accountable for upholding the plan. If you share information about the child with others not specified on the plan, you are "outing" this student. This is harmful and disrespectful to this student.

- Ensure that the child has access to multiple bathrooms. These should not be bathrooms solely in the nurse's office (this is medicalizing) or an adult bathroom (they are still children!) or a bathroom on another floor or opposite side of the school (this is othering and can cause medical issues like withholding). If at all possible, encourage your school to move towards having "all gender" bathrooms while keep at least one set of "male" and "female" bathrooms. Get more information on bathrooms here.

- Finally, continue to love and support the child as you always have. If the child is comfortable with it, provide spaces for reading books or sharing experiences. Continue to discuss the ways in which we are similar and different, emphasizing inclusion and empathy.

If you have any further questions, you can email me at: genderinclusiveclassrooms@gmail.com