Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Building Diversity-Positive Characters in the TPRS classroom with Anna Gilcher and Rachelle Adams

Holy cow!  I have to admit, I went to this class originally because my friend Anna was leading it.  And also because I am always wanting to honor the diversity I see in my classroom.

We started by creating a Circle of Love, an activity to replace a family tree.

I have gone away from having the typical family discussion by asking kids who they live with instead of "What's your mom's name?"  I get the same vocabulary, but it is individual for each kid.  

Next, we thought about one of our heroes and had to come up with an adjective to describe that person.  I thought of Stromae because he is influential.  We created a poster with all of those adjectives: 
We talked about these adjectives as possible replacements for the typical TPRS adjectives of beautiful, rich, tall...  

Next, they had the room in tears by showing an Ad Council video about Love has no Labels.  I had not seen the video, and after spending a week with like-minded love-filled people, I was done.  I'm just glad I didn't start sobbing and snarfing... 

Some quotes that I thought were powerful:
  • Students deserve to see positive representations of themselves and those they love, both as they are now and in the future.
  • We are not asked to change our personal belief systems, but to honor those in front of us. (I love this because it makes sense...we don't have to agree with...say...the hostile takeover of Palestinian lands to honor and love a person of Jewish descent.)
Next, we talked about the differences between diversity, multiculturalism, equality and equity.

Moving on to the Big 8 Social Identifiers:
  1. Ability-physical or mental capacities
  2. Age
  3. Ethnicity-a large group of people who share language, location, etc
  4. Gender
  5. Race-physical criteria (skin color)
  6. Religion/Spirituality
  7. Sexual Orientation
  8. S.E.S.
And the little 4:
  1. Appearance/body image
  2. Family structure
  3. Geographic region
  4. Military status (more important in some regions than others)
We talked about "jokes" that a lot of our teenagers think are hilarious.  Instead of yelling or getting them in trouble, we should guide them to understanding by asking "What do you mean by that?" and "Why is that funny?"

We talked about our gestures: think about how you gesture a man vs. a woman...(scary, isn't it??)

Now that we had all of the background, we talked about how we can co-create more inclusive TPRS stories.
  • adjectives-think back to the poster of the adjectives we used to describe our heroes...
  • names and characters and places: does it always have to be Kim Kardashian?
  • professions/responsibilities: woman can be doctors and men can be secretaries
  • locations (think of how powerful it is to use locally owned places that the kids actually go to!)
  • humor 
  • relationships: instead of a boy always looking for a girlfriend, maybe he is just looking for a friend
  • problems: try to move beyond to come up with meaningful problems (ex: Joe wants to take his mom to the much insight does that give us about Joe vs a story where Joe wants an iPhone?)  Instead of going to three locations and asking strangers for help, maybe the character works together with a friend to solve the problem.
  • solutions: try to come up with out-of-the-box will come up with great ones, but we may need to train them in the beginning.
We have great stories, but we can either re-write them to make them more inclusive or have our students do so.  As Alina said in her wonderful session, "We have to help them become the human beings we want in our society."

I can't say how important I think this session was.  I am always searching out ways to validate my students and their lives...and some of these things (like the gesture for woman) are so natural to's so nice to see it for what it is (sexist) and be able to change it in the future.  

Anna and Rachelle were amazing presenters and I hope they will present this same exact session next year (longer!) because it was cathartic and eye opening and wonderful.


  1. Thank you, Bess!! I look forward to continuing more of this work together! -- Anna

  2. Thank you, Bess!! I look forward to continuing more of this work together! -- Anna

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I'm glad that your blog was shared with me. We look forward to presenting again next year, and in other spaces between now and then. I hope you have an amazing teaching year ahead!

  4. It was my pleasure! Such an awesome session!