A few months ago, a couple of my students asked me if I would talk to my administration to see if we would be able to start a GSA–or Gender-Sexuality Alliance also known as Gay-Straight Alliance. They wanted to have a place for students to come together in a safe place and help our school become a more inclusive space. Today, Valentine’s Day, was our first meeting. It was great to see the kids come together in support of acceptance, tolerance and individuality.
Here are some things I learned along the way.
1. It may take some time to get things up and running. I’m lucky I live in a very tolerance driven community, but I still had to do my homework about what does a GSA do at middle school? I needed to talk to faculty and staff members and create allies for this group. I have several teachers who want to come to meeting and interact and support kids. My students know this and it has been helpful to them because they have people who they can go to if they have a need. I also did need to figure out the process for starting a new club and had to get administration approval at the district level. This definitely isn’t something that you decide to do today and start tomorrow.
2. Identify key members. You need students who are willing to act as leaders. These students will be the ones making posters, recruiting new members and talking about how great a GSA is going to be for the school. You need to capitalize on their help and strengths.
3. Do your research. I found a lot of great information from GLSEN’s Jump Start Guide. Ther are download guides for helping to start your group. Another great resource is from the GSA Network. They have information about forming your club, how to facilitate a meeting, and how to deal with hostility and opposition. Most GSA’s at the middle level have of a mission of building tolerance and inclusion within the school community and as such, complete a service project.
4. Advertise. We made posters and made morning announcements for 2 weeks before our first meeting. Word of mouth was another big form of advertising and I had a lot of students come to me to ask questions about how to join. You really need to give yourself several weeks to do this. It took about 2 weeks for the kids to make the posters, have them approved by the administration, and to hang around the school.
5. Prepare for your first meeting. Like any productive meeting, you need to have a plan of what you want to accomplish and do. In addition, for your first meeting, you need to establish ground rules and expectations with the members to keep it a safe space and to have all members have a voice that is heard.
For our first meeting, I went over group rules:
- One person talks at a time.
- Everyone has a voice.
- We will treat everyone with respect.
- What we say in here, stays in here.
I asked them to think about their priorities and to consider what you hope to accomplish in this group. Do you hope to educate your teachers and peers? Educate yourself? Change a school policy? Expand your social network? Get emotional support? Afterwards, I had them each share what they had written to the group. The common themes were to have a safe space to talk and to educate the school about acceptance.
When we were done sharing, I did one last activity with the group. I had them all stand in a line in my room and then asked them either/or questions. They needed to take a stand and move to one side of the room or the other based on how they felt about the choice given.
It was great to show that even though we all had our differences, we could all come together in the end.
To wrap up the meeting, we talked about what we would be doing in upcoming meetings–creating a mission for our group, and deciding on a few meeting topics, questions we need answers to and a project we could do for our school.
One last thing I want to share with you are these posters. They will let your students know your room is a safe, inclusive place. You can grab them for free in my TpT Store.