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Q & A: Comrades, let’s get on with the social engineering…

November 8, 2016 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: I’ve heard about PRISM, the ATA’s toolkit for safe and caring discussions about sexual and gender minorities. Is this a great plan of social engineering? I thought I had to follow the program of studies. What’s going on?

Answer: Teachers are required to follow the program of studies approved by the minister of education. School boards (and private and charter schools) are also required to ensure that schools are safe and caring places, and the School Act was amended by the Jim Prentice government to ensure that this goal is being met across the province.

In order to assist in ensuring that Alberta schools are safe and caring places, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (with help from government funding) developed the PRISM resource for teachers to use in secondary schools. Our members have requested help, especially related to what to do and say, in order to ensure that their classrooms are safe and caring places for students of sexual and gender minorities. As a result of the publication of the earlier edition of PRISM, a resource for ­elementary schools, many junior and senior high teachers requested a ­similar resource.

The resource includes a primer on the legal framework in Alberta, including the responsibility of school authorities to ensure that each student (and each staff member) is provided with a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging,” as stated in section 45.1 of the School Act. The publication ­introduces teachers to sexual and gender minority terms and definitions, including issues of gender and gender-inclusive language.

It includes many questions and answers on sexual and gender minorities to help educate members. Information is provided to help teachers in their own journeys to develop safer spaces in their schools. Lesson plans are provided for many subjects, giving real examples of how to engage in safe and caring discussions. What do you do and say if a student comes out to you? How do you address homophobic language? Name-calling? Bullying? How can a teacher be an ally for a student? The resource, which is essentially a toolkit for junior and senior high school teachers, provides information in these areas. As always, teachers will use professional judgment in determining the best way to use the PRISM toolkit that reflects the needs of their school’s own context.

Critics, who have suggested that this is a grand plan for the government and the Association to tag team on a social engineering experiment, have truly missed the point. Classrooms in Alberta, by law, are to be safe and caring places for students — school boards, private schools and charter schools have statutory obligations here. We have responsibilities as teachers to ensure this is realized, and the PRISM toolkit helps teachers fulfill their legal and professional obligations. It’s a superb resource for teachers — we deal with the realities of sexual and gender minorities every day in our classrooms. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (

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