Research from the Educational Forum: LGBT Educators and School Climate

tiffany-wrightToday’s blogger is Dr. Tiffany E. Wright, Assistant Professor at Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania. She writes here to describe research published in an article (co-authored with Dr. Nancy J. Smith) in the current special issue of The Educational Forum on Sexuality, Gender, Identity, and Education. 

Research has found that an unsafe school climate created by discrimination of LGBT educators is damaging for not only the individual teacher, but the students as well.  How can educators provide the best possible education for their students if they do not feel safe or welcomed in their own classrooms? A safe school is described as one in which the school climate enables students, teachers, staff, and administrators to experience non-threatening and positive interactions while fostering and modeling healthy relationships and growth.  As school climate has been determined to be a main source of stress for LGBT educators, our research aimed to understand LGBT educators’ experiences in their school settings and to determine whether positive change has occurred.  By administering two surveys, one in 2007 and one in 2011, our research team was able to examine comparable changes in school climate related to LGBT faculty over a four-year time span. Both surveys collected similar data. This included how LGBT teachers perceived their workplace climate and the factors that influenced them to perceive this climate.

Sadly, the results of these studies showed that a lack of a safe climate persisted in schools over the time period studied. Participants from 2007 and 2011 shared experiences of being ignored or avoided, as well as hearing homophobic comments regularly from other teachers, parents, and even students. The highest percentage of demeaning language about LGBT identities was actually from students. These educators also experienced lack of support and intervention when faced with these situations. Although more policies existed in 2011 for addressing this negative language, they lacked enforcement. In both studies, more than two thirds of participants reported a lack of LGBT issues represented in the current curriculum and had experienced little to no professional development geared around LGBT issues.  Some participants were threatened with job loss, reassigned, denied promotion, or didn’t have their contracts renewed. As a result, it comes as no surprise that many LGBT educators still feared being out to their colleagues, students, and administrators. The most shocking data was found in the 2011 iteration of the survey. LGBT educators did not feel as comfortable supporting LGBT students as they did in 2007, which means fewer felt like they could be role models for a population of students who increasingly need that affirmation. However, for those LGBT educators who were out and accepted, they felt this made it possible for them to support LGBT students, as well as be better educators overall.

Our study confirms prior research that school leaders directly or indirectly have an important impact on the climate for LGBT educators. They influence and enforce policy, and they can create professional development opportunities that include training on diversity issues. Given the variety of challenges facing educators today, it is vital that school leaders support all teachers in their individual development. Making each teacher feel comfortable in the school is invaluable for helping teachers feel safe in providing the very best instruction and support to each student.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share this article free with the education community through October 31, 2015. Read the full article here.

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