How to Participate in GLSEN's Day of Silence as a K-5 Educator
GLSEN (pronounced glisten) is hosting its annual Day of Silence on Thursday, April 23, 2021. The Day of Silence is a vow of silence that students take to acknowledge and protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people in schools.
Here's where you can register for the day and receive more information.
This year's topic is My Silence, My Story. Young people are absolutely able to understand and participate in this demonstration! Ways to engage your younger students:
How to talk about it:
If your students don't already know terms like lesbian, gay, transgender, and similar terms, use our definitions or teach our lesson What Do All Of These Letters Mean? before the Day of Silence.
Explain to students, "Have you ever had an adult tell you Shhhh, be quiet! When? How did it feel? [Wait for responses]. People don't always treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, and other people in a respectful or kind way. Sometimes they are discriminated against, or treated differently because of who they love or because of their gender identity. Then we don't hear their stories or their voices as much as we hear the stories and voices of straight, cisgender people. They are told shh, be quiet. One way to show our support and love for these folx is to stay quiet for part of the day. It's pretty tricky to stay quiet and not talk, but it is important to show that everyone's voices should be heard!"
Before the day:
Let your principal and other educators/staff/faculty know in days prior: "Some students will be choosing to be silent today to support often-silenced voices of LGBTQIAP+ students. Please do not penalize them for not talking and please allow them to communicate in other ways. If you have any questions or want to speak further, please reach out to me!"
Try to get a colleague to be an ally. Can another teacher participate with you? Can a nurse, counselor, administrative assistant, math/reading specialist, ESL/ELL/Special Education teacher, cafeteria staff member, custodial staff member, adult volunteer, or someone else be supportive?
Logistics of the day itself:
If you are virtual, encourage students to communicate via chat that they'll be participating in the Day of Silence. They can also use Zoom backgrounds.
Allow students to choose. They can be silent: not at all, for 1-5 minutes, for an hour, for a specific academic period, on their own in their house, for half a day, during lunch, etc.
Make a big deal of "breaking the silence!" Explain that it's a moment to celebrate all of our voices being heard, and being a friend and ally to folx who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, gender non conforming, and many other queer identities. Be creative - go outside and cheer (set a timer!), decide on a class cheer ("We love everyone!" "All voices count!")
Check out GLSEN's Breaking the Silence guide for more ideas.
Center all students' safety and wellbeing. If you don't have total school/educator support, tell students they can let you know if they feel uncomfortable or if another teacher or student is telling them they have to speak, and you will help them.
What and how to teach:
Treat this as a day to celebrate all identities. Encourage students to express their identities through self portraits or draw pictures about their favorite parts of themselves. Play music and videos by famous Black and Brown LGBTQIAP+ musicians, poets, intellectuals, artists, actors, and athletes.
Have older elementary students write "I Am From" poems using our I Am From lesson.
Encourage students to get creative with other ways of communicating while silent: hand signals? Writing/drawing? Shaking/nodding heads? Sign language, if kids know it?
Find ways to teach and acknowledge intersectionality (a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw). Think about how people's multiple identities converge and can lead to very different experiences as an LGBTQIAP+ person.
Read books to your students or show videos that feature Black and Brown queer folx written/illustrated by Black and Brown queer folx. Need help finding some? Check out our Exclusive Free K-5 Book List and check under the #OwnVoices column.
Create supportive protest signs and stage a virtual or socially distanced march. Ask other classes to watch you go by, or record it and take pictures!
What if you receive pushback?
GLSEN can help you with assistance from Lambda Legal.
**Thank you to GLSEN Sr. Youth Programs Manager a.t. furuya for their 4/7/21 webinar about the GLSEN Day of Silence!