Tag Archives: Social Emotional Learning

LGBTQ+ Students Need Allies

Usually on this blog, I share my expertise around PBL and SEL from my personal experience. This post will use some personal stories, but LGBTQ+ is an area of growth for me and I am in no way an expert on the topic. I feel it is important to share my journey and point toward others who are experts because we don’t talk about LGBTQ+ issues enough in education. And these issues are 100% Social and Emotional Learning in the areas of Self and Social Awareness.

This year I have been attending a series of virtual workshops from the Michigan Department of Education supporting LGBTQ+ students in our schools. We had a panel of LGBTQ+ students from around the state share their experiences with us. This past week we had as our guest Owen Bondono, the 2020-21 Michigan Teacher of the Year, who led us through some resources and answered questions. Owen is the first trans teacher of the year in our state. So in “old school” blogging style, here are some reflections on what I am learning.

Harassment of LGBTQ+ Students

I grew up in a conservative, religious, rural community. Most people that I knew opposed LGBTQ+ people for religious reasons. Most LGBTQ+ people were not “out” but everyone knew who they were. We were often judgmental, but mostly we pretended like LGBTQ+ didn’t exist in our community.

Nationally around 13% of students are LGBTQ+. So as Owen said in our workshop, “Unless you have a magical class with less than 10 students, then you have LGBTQ+ students.” Based on current surveys in Michigan (and I sincerely doubt the numbers are much different where you live), LGBTQ+ students are huge targets of bullying, harassment, and assault in schools. Unfortunately this includes teachers as the perpetrators. This is not ok. I don’t care what your personal beliefs are; we cannot tolerate prejudice and hate from students or adults in our schools toward LGBTQ+ students. We have professional and legal obligations to make schools inclusive and safe for all students.

Via GLSEN 2019 National School Climate Survey

A Culture of Safety and Belonging

I was a founding teacher at a comprehensive Project Based Learning school that functioned as a lab school for the county. We bused in kids from 20 districts representing urban, rural, and suburban communities. It did not take long to realize that we had a high percentage of LGBTQ+ students at our school. They were not recruited, but I think we gained a reputation as being an accepting, safe space for all students. We were by no means perfect. We definitely had students who were homophobic and transphobic, but our culture was inclusive and did not tolerate hateful speech. Based on the conservative communities that our LGBTQ+ students lived in, I can surmise that they did not feel as safe at their home districts.

In the fall of 2012, students completed the #MyParty election project where they created their own political parties based on issues that mattered most to them. Since my students came from such diverse areas across the county, we had all kinds of party platforms advocating for and against pretty much any issue imaginable. But one issue that stood out was gay marriage (not legal in our state at that time). No matter if the students were conservative, moderate, or liberal on other issues, they agreed in marriage equality. Students who personally opposed homosexuality for religious reasons still supported LGBTQ+ rights for marriage equality.

For the culmination of the project, we invited in a group of local state representatives. They were almost entirely Republican, because that is the voting demographic of our area. The students played 30 second commercials for their party and gave two minute stump speeches. When it was over the Representatives rushed me and only wanted to know one thing: Are all young people really this supportive of gay rights? They were literally in shock hearing this from the kids in their communities. You better believe that I told my students this story the next day! This is the power of student voice in action, influencing the leaders of our state.


I learned a ton about LGBTQ+ issues from my students. One day that stands out is when Cam, who identified as non-gender, informed me that their preferred pronouns were “they/them.” I had never heard of this before, and my initial reaction was thinking that it was really strange and made no sense because everyone knows those are plural. I did some research and began to learn more about different LGBTQ+ terms. I am thankful for Cam’s bravery to teach me about what mattered to them.

More recently it has become common for people to identify their preferred pronouns in certain situations including email signatures and social media descriptions. To be honest, I have resisted this trend, judging it as performative. But what I have learned the past few weeks, is that it can be powerful for LGBTQ+ students to know that teachers are allies to them. Currently as a teacher in a virtual school that has LGBTQ+ students (some identified and I assume many others who are not), I have struggled with how to show support for them. That’s when I realized that by including my pronouns in my communication, it’s a small signal to LGBTQ+ students that I respect their right to choose their pronouns. So I have made this subtle change, but it is too soon to report any student feedback yet.

Again, Social and Emotional Learning includes students having Self-Awareness of who they are and Social Awareness to accept those around them with different viewpoints. So what can we do as educators to make sure that our schools and classrooms are safe for all students, especially LGBTQ+ ones? Some basic things that everyone can do:

  • Use students’ preferred names, regardless of whether or not it is their birth or legal name.
  • Use students’ preferred pronouns, regardless of whether or not it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Include literature that represents LGBTQ+ characters in your school and classroom libraries.
  • Zero tolerance of homophobic or other discriminatory language or actions toward LGBTQ+ students, including from adults. (this is a legal responsibility)


As I stated above, there are many out there who are more educated than me on this topic and you should learn from them.

Remote Assessment in PBL

This is the fourth of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.


Many teachers are overwhelmed with remote or hybrid teaching. It is so much work and is exhausting. Connecting with students is hard! They miss scheduled Zoom calls. Don’t respond to emails or messages. It sometimes feels like beyond a few self-motivated kids, student effort is dependent on how much parents or caretakers are monitoring them.

I recently saw a teacher post about how overwhelmed she was with daily grading in this environment. She stayed up late nightly marking papers. She asked about how much formative vs. summative assessment others were doing. For me the ratio should be about 99% formative vs. 1% summative.


I, of course, love assessment, but hate grading. My advice to teachers is to use formative assessments daily, even multiple ones. This shouldn’t be overwhelming because you do NOT need to grade them. The purpose of formative assessments is to figure out where your students are to plan your next teacher moves to make.

Think of formative assessment as a thermostat taking the temperature of the room, then you adjust the heat or air based on your reading. As students complete an activity in your class, listen and observe, looking for common misconceptions or gaps in understanding. Then sequence the next day’s lessons based on student needs. This means you may have to differentiate for different groups of kids.

boring pic, but important analogy

Formative assessments are not your sole responsibility. As you create a student-centered classroom, you release control to students. You are not the only source of knowledge in the room. Formative assessments should include peer assessments, community feedback, and self reflections, on top of your observations. Let’s consider each one and what it might look like in remote learning.

Peer Assessment

There are many ways that students can assess each other, and most can be adapted for online learning. For writing pieces in Google Docs, they can leave suggestions in comments. Many teachers have students post pictures of drafts of final products on Padlet or videos on Flipgrid and then have other students add feedback for refinement. Use a Visible Thinking Routine within breakout rooms to structure productive peer assessment. Remember to model what constructive feedback looks like and provide sentence stems.

Community Feedback

Outside experts can provide excellent feedback, especially in areas of the project that may be outside of the teacher’s expertise. You can use some of the same tools mentioned above: Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Docs, etc. Students can connect via email or video conferencing to get feedback on their products, advice for research topics and resources, and coaching around content topics. In a design project, students should be surveying the community for their perspective on the problem being addressed. Social media is another way for students to get their message out and to connect to local aspects of their project.

Self Reflection

In reality, self-reflection is the single most powerful assessment. When we decide something for ourselves, it leads to substantive action. Students should be reflecting on content, SEL skills that they are developing, and the PBL process. Reserve time daily for reflection on one of these areas. Use rubrics to have students evaluate themselves. They can journal or fill out an exit ticket. This can be done many ways online. My favorite for its simplicity is a Google Form. Mix it up by having students do a Turn and Talk with random pairs in a breakout room.

Teacher Observations

My favorite teacher assessment is just listening to conversations of students during group work. Put them into breakout rooms with a protocol to follow and a task to submit at the end. Hop in to notice how they interact with each other and what they are learning. Pull small groups or individuals into a separate breakout room for conferencing to assess them. Document students’ levels on content standards or SEL competencies in a spreadsheet (note: I am not the creator of this template and the author did put their name on it).

When you need to look at handed-in classwork, read 8-10 papers looking for themes of strengths and missing aspects. Once you establish what you need to know, don’t read the rest. Don’t grade them at all! Plan an engaging way to address the pattern that you discovered.

Finally here’s two of my favorite sites for formative assessment ideas: 60 Formative Assessments and K-20 Assessment Cards.

My Mantra:

Assess more;

Grade less;

Plan cool stuff for kids!

We only have so much time in a day. Every minute wasted grading busy work that doesn’t inform our next teacher move is wasted time. Let’s use our time wisely to plan work worthy of the children in front of us. Assess in real time and use your planning period to plan and adjust, not mark papers.

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele on Twitter.