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In This Episode of School of Talk


This episode features Ace Schwarz.

Ace is a 6th and 7th-grade science teacher in Pennsylvania.

In addition to being an educator, Ace is a passionate advocate of social justice and LGBTQ+ inclusion. In 2018 Ace came out as non-binary and began using the pronouns they/them/theirs.

They worked closely with HR and administrators to develop a transition plan for teachers and students.

Due to this advocacy work, they were recognized as the 2019 Educator of the Year by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Ace shares resources on their website, Teaching Outside the Binary, to support LGBTQ+ students and teachers. They joined me on the podcast to educate us on creating LGBTQ+ inclusive classrooms and work environments.

How to Create an Inclusive Classroom

Episode Highlights:

  • Ace breaks down their definition of LGBTQ+ inclusive education as well as the intended goal or purpose of LGBTQ+ inclusive education.
  • Ace gives advice to teachers who are making LGBTQ+ inclusive education a focus this year, including how teachers can adjust their language, content, and the physical environment to support all students.
  • Ace share’s their personal experience with how creating a safe space has impacted their school community.
  • Ace explains what they see schools doing well and where improvements can still be made. Plus, they tell us one thing schools could do to make schools more inclusive.

Resources to create more inclusive learning environments:



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Michelle: This episode features Ace Schwarz.

Ace is a sixth and seventh-grade science teacher in Pennsylvania.

In addition to being an educator, Ace is a passionate advocate of social justice and LGBTQ plus inclusion. In 2018, Ace came out as nonbinary, and they worked closely with HR and administrators to develop a transition plan for teachers and students.

Due to this advocacy work, they were recognized as the 2019 Educator of the Year by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Ace shares resources on their website, Teaching Outside the Binary, to support LGBTQ plus students and teachers.

They joined me on the podcast to educate us on creating LGBTQ plus inclusive classrooms and work environments.

Welcome to the podcast, Ace. I would love to start off with just a little bit of your background if you could walk us through how you got into teaching.

From Sunday school teacher and future business major to science teacher, LGBTQ+ inclusive education change-maker and GLSEN’s Educator of the Year

Ace: Sure, so my name is Ace, and my pronouns are they, them, and theirs.

And I’ve been a teacher for seven years, but I actually wasn’t ever supposed to be a teacher.

I was supposed to take over my dad’s soda business and be a business major.

I got the chance to teach Sunday school in high school at my church, and it just completely changed my life.

So I taught preschool for like, three-ish years. And I don’t know how I got from preschool to majoring in middle school.

But somehow, that happened. That is what got me into teaching.

I went into college as just a straight-up English Middle School major. And then I was like, you know, I need to be more marketable.

So I added science, a science concentration.

And in Shippensburg, where I went to school, you had to take every intro to science class that they offered to be a middle school science teacher.

That really ignited my love of science. It was something that I was like, Okay, everyone needs science teachers.

So this will just make it easier to get a job to be like, I really love teaching science, it’s so much more my vibe.

So when I got out of college, even though I had a dual degree, I only have ever taught science, and I absolutely love it.

We have to remember that intersectionality exists. We have students that exist in many identities.

Michelle: That’s amazing. Did you always have a passion for science? Or was that just something that you took to, you know, to add some extra qualifications and you fell in love?

Ace: So I was in honors science classes, and I, you know, I did well in science, and I thought it was cool, but it was like, I loved English. I mean, like, I am still a really voracious reader today.

So I didn’t even, you know, ever consider being a science teacher until I saw that you could do two concentrations, which I think is really interesting.

And I’m so glad that I made that swap. Because I think science is more my vibe as a human.

Teaching science just fits me better, I think. And yeah, I just really enjoy it.

What is an LGBTQ+ inclusive classroom?

Michelle: Yeah, it’s so hands-on and so entertaining and exciting. So it’s a really cool subject to teach. I’m glad you found it.

Is there a particular aspect of education that you focus on or that you’re really passionate about, aside from what you teach as subject matter?

Ace: Sure. So I’m really passionate about social justice in certain subjects like science. So a lot of folks think that social justice is more naturally fit for English or social studies, but it can fit all subjects.

And so, I’m really passionate about bringing social justice and also LGBTQ plus inclusion into all aspects of school.

Michelle: That kind of leads a great segue into LGBTQ plus inclusive classrooms that I wanted to ask you about today.

So, could you define for our audience, what is LGBTQ plus inclusive education kind of in your own words, and what’s the intended goal or purpose of it?

Ace: Sure. So LGBTQ plus inclusion is not difficult. It’s not this huge, like the thing we have to plan for.

It’s not something that requires a ton of time and energy on the most basic level, but it’s basically just making sure that all students feel safe and respected in their identities and also represented in the school curriculum.

Michelle: I believe that all levels, of course, but I think Middle School is a really, those are kind of some key years right there where students can feel maybe isolated or different, or they really need someone to advocate for them. I think at that age, it’s a hard age.

Ace: It is, it really is!

How can schools and teachers make LGBTQ+ inclusive education a focus this year?

Michelle: That’s amazing. What advice would you give to a new teacher or teacher who’s making LGBTQ plus inclusive education a focus this year?

Ace: Sure, I think my first piece of advice is to pick like two to three goals and work on them all year.

So it doesn’t have to be everything all at once. As much as we would love that to be the case. Sometimes we just need to pick a few things and just build them out each year.

So you know, starting with working on having inclusive language, whenever you’re talking to students, about students or in your forms that you send home, whether it’s, you know, adding one LGBTQ plus book, to the curriculum, or to your read alouds, you know, focusing on an LGBTQ plus scientist or historian, that kind of stuff is really simple and doesn’t take a lot of time typically.

And you know, when you have those basics down, you can really start looking more systemically.

Okay, so what are the school policies? What are classroom policies, what are things that we can, you know, tackle outside of just my individual classroom, because you want to feel comfortable doing it in your own classroom first, before you start to try and make waves, so to speak, through the rest of the school.

Michelle: You know what, I love that that’s really practical advice. And I really liked that you kind of bucketed those initiatives as like starting with your own classroom, and then you can actually broaden those efforts outside.

So can I just circle back with something you mentioned [about LGBTQ plus scientists and historians]? So is that one way that you would incorporate inclusivity into your content? Your lesson plans?

Ace: Yeah, definitely. So yes, that’s something I do every year in science, and just even talking about diverse scientists, in general, is something that I work on every year.

So you know, that’s one way that I do it. And then I just kind of like have picked a unit each year. So, for example, genetics was a really big focus this year.

And I’m like, Okay, how can I make genetics more LGBTQ plus inclusive, and so it was looking at vocabulary talking about social constructs of gender versus sex, talking about intersex, making sure that that’s represented.

So it’s kind of like, there’s a lot of ways that you can do it. And that’s just kind of how I approach it.

How we can drop this one habit and be more inclusive in our language

Michelle: Very cool. And, of course, depending on the subject matter you teach, it might look different. But that’s a really cool, practical example of what you can do. You also mentioned language. How can we be more inclusive in our language?

Ace: I love this question. So the most common phrases that I heard going through college and student teaching, and the first few years, were boys and girls, and you guys, both of those things are very commonly used in classrooms.

I understand why it’s what we’ve grown up with, right. The problem with those two phrases is they uphold something called the gender binary.

So in US society, the gender binary is seen as having just two pieces male on one side and female on the other side, but we know gender is expansive, and there’s so much more than just male and female.

So by grouping students as boys and girls, you’re boxing kids who might not fit into those boxes.

By using you guys, even though it’s kind of touted as this more neutral phrase, ‘guys’ is still inherently masculine, which again reinforces the gender binary.

Replacing those phrases with things like everyone, y’all, learners, I say epic humans just because that fits my personality.

You can, you know, depending on what subject you teach, you could call them your students, readers, or mathematicians.

You could use the name of your school’s mascot to refer to your students.

There are so many other options that don’t involve gender at all.

Michelle: I love that. I love all the examples you gave, too. I always used peeps when I talked to my students. Very good. The other one I hear a lot is, bring this home to your moms and dads.

I trained myself to say, you know, bring this to your adults at home, something like that. So very good.

Do you have an example of the impact some of these changes have had on students from your perspective?

How creating a safe space has impacted their school community

Ace: Oh, sure. So you know, it’s really interesting. So this is my second year at my current school.

And so last year was my first year. Truly, fully, like out and open. Um, you know, it didn’t require, like, coming out to staff and students, like it wasn’t my old school.

So I’ve been out for three years, but really just the last two have felt the most comfortable.

I noticed from last year to this year, we had a huge uptick in students who started using multiple pronouns or trying out different names.

I’ve had a lot of students come out to me in the last two years, which is just such a beautiful gift to receive.

I think it absolutely does make a difference and their students who might not be out yet and might come out in the future, who, you know, can think about the things in middle school, the inclusion that their teachers made in middle school, but I’ve definitely seen some immediate impacts.

I’m really hopeful that there will be future impacts too.

I think it’s really important to remember that it is okay to change your mind, it’s okay to have a new language to describe yourself. It doesn’t mean that anyone was wrong before, or that they’re right now, it just means that who they are, has shifted.

Michelle: I’m confident that there will be, and congratulations on coming out as well as the amazing impact you’ve obviously had on the school community around you. That’s really awesome.

Ace: Something that like really impacted me was I had a couple of students tell me they had never met a person who uses like they/them pronouns, and I had a queer student tell me they never like they never see queer adults, or like queer teachers.

That just like hit me really hard. Like the fact that visibility just matters so much like you said, I think you know, that’s something we can’t take for granted.

Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so important.

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How can teachers ask their students or co-workers for their pronouns without overstepping? 

Ace: Sure. So there’s a couple of ways that you can do it.

The one phrase that I learned from a really epic coworker of mine, Joey, she refers to it as inviting people to share their pronouns.

So I always introduce myself with my pronouns whenever I meet somebody new.

So usually it’ll go like, Hi, my name is Ace, my pronouns are they, them and theirs, you know, would you mind sharing your name and pronouns.

That’s like a really natural way to do it. And that’s with adults.

With students, I tend to approach it in a different way.

But whenever it comes to adults, I offer mine first and then invite them to share back with me.

If I haven’t a nametag on, my pronouns are like right on there. I also have a pronoun pin as well, that I wear.

So there are lots of ways that I kind of signal, but the more direct approach is just, you know, asking.

Adopting inclusive language acknowledges and advocates for LGBTQ+ safe spaces. Are schools getting it right or missing the mark?

Ace: I think a lot of the really easy stuff is starting to trickle its way down.

So like the inclusive language part. I know there are a lot of, if not whole schools, a lot of teachers who are asking kids for their pronouns using like, getting to know you sheets or something like that.

I think like individually, there is a lot of good happening.

I think we’re still missing the mark systemically. So, curriculum. We’re, you know, I think schools are afraid of caregiver pushback.

So they’re not willing to make these big sweeping changes, or even just declarations like, hey, we care about our LGBTQ plus students.

You know, there are, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of announcements from schools whenever there is, you know, different acts of violence against groups that are traditionally marginalized, but when it comes to like the anti-trans legislation, the anti-LGBTQ legislation, they’re very silent.

So there’s definitely, and we have to remember that intersectionality exists, we have students that exist in many identities.

It’s important to, you know, honor and acknowledge that and even just like speaking, I think in some ways, schools systemically are just afraid to even bring it up because it’s seen as such a divisive thing.

I think I would love to just see more systemic change, more systemic reflection, and then just acknowledgment and, you know, actual support, like, it’s one thing to say that you’re supportive, but then to back it up with actions is a totally different thing.

Schools can create inclusive safe spaces with more attention to this

Ace: I think one thing that would be really powerful, and something that I’ve heard from a lot of my students, is, you know, training teachers to pick out and understand microaggressions against LGBTQ plus students, and really stopping any type of queerphobic bullying in its tracks, and just like strongly addressing it and taking a stand against it.

That stuff often either gets like, brushed under the rug, or it doesn’t get dealt with properly and so students don’t feel safe. And when they don’t feel safe, they can’t be successful in school.

So I would just love more competency around that, and also just how to address it in the moment. And also, you know, for bigger instances, how to address that, you know, more broadly.

Michelle: So when you say like addressing it at the moment, can you give a step-by-step of how you might do that?

Ace: Sure. So let’s say a student, you know, says, Oh, that’s so gay, right, in a negative context. So I’ll say, you know, I think what you’re trying to say is, this is bad, or this is negative.

When you say that’s so gay, it almost makes me feel like you’re saying that gay people are negative. And I don’t think that’s what you mean. And then we’ll kind of dissect that a little bit.

And it’s like, okay, so what could we have said instead? Or what should we say instead? So the student is involved in that process.

Maybe they did understand what they were saying, and maybe they truly didn’t. But either way, you know, I signaled to them when I have that conversation with them that I heard what you said, it’s not going to fly, and we’re going to use other things.

Because I’m not going to have other students be harmed in this space.

Michelle: I absolutely love that. And I love that you gave the student kind of the benefit of the doubt as like, I know, that’s not what you meant to say. But we’re going to correct it for next time.

So it’s a very clear and direct message, but at the same time, giving them a chance to adjust and learn and be better next time.

What resources are available to educators to help them learn more and create more inclusive learning environments?

Ace: Oh, my gosh, there’s so many. And I love that because that means that it feels a little less overwhelming. When you have all these resources to access – there’s a bunch on my website, I’ll just kind of plug my website out there.

But I have a bunch of articles and resources for Teaching Outside the Binary.

I highly recommend GLSEN. GLSEN works specifically in school settings. And so there are plenty of resources there to you know, look at school policy, different LGBTQ plus lessons and things like that.

The Stonewall Curriculum has, you know, so many ideas.

And if folks want to really focus on understanding more about LGBTQ plus identities and just getting that being comfortable with that language and vocabulary, Action Canada has a beautiful, beautiful graphic called the Gender Galaxy.

It’s basically like a universe with all of the many different gender identities and then definitions for each one. And they also have a Sexuality Galaxy.

So for folks who feel like their vocabulary is maybe a little bit lacking. That’s a fantastic resource.

Michelle: That’s awesome. And I will link all of those resources to the show notes of this episode, so people can find them more easily.

What about students who appear vulnerable? Like the ones that might seem reclusive or lonely? Are there certain ways that we can reach out or support them without drawing unwanted attention their way?

The power of building relationships with your students

Ace: Sure, I think the big thing there is building a relationship with that student. And so that could be as private as just having a quick two-minute conversation every day just to check-in.

I ask attendance questions. And so like, for example, our attendance question last week was, you know, if you could go to any planet, where would you visit?

So I might come back to that answer the student gave later and just kind of try and build something with them. And then I think, you know, you can’t force anything.

You have to kind of let the student come to you in most cases unless you think that there’s something truly wrong and they need more intervention.

But I think ultimately, you have to put the work in to build that relationship with them, and then kind of go from there.

What’s a major misconception about LGBTQ+ youth identities?

Ace: Sure. I would like to say I think a big misconception and a big reason that LGBTQ plus identities are being discussed in school and is seen as too old or too mature of a topic is because, sometimes kids change their minds.

You know who they are in sixth grade might not be who they are in eighth grade. And that’s a very natural development, right, with kids.

I think it’s really important to remember that it is okay to change your mind, it’s okay to have a new language to describe yourself. It doesn’t mean that anyone was wrong before, or that they’re right now, it just means that who they are, has shifted.

We need to respect that, you know, kids go through different phases.

I think I would love to just see more systemic change, more systemic reflection, and then just acknowledgment and, you know, actual support. It’s one thing to say that you’re supportive, but then to back it up with actions is a totally different thing.

I very much remember a phase where I wore leggings every day, I refused to wear jeans, you know, clothing is an example of a phase that we don’t even question. But when it comes to like personal identity, folks have a lot harder time with that.

I think we just need to look at this as an experience that people have, an experience that is really personal, and no one else can say anything about it except for the person.

I think if we start to look at a lot of those barriers in our brains we can kind of come down a bit.

We ultimately, you know, have to respect it. It’s the bare minimum that we can do is be respectful. And we have to do that.

Here’s how to connect with Ace

Ace: Awesome. So people can connect with me on Instagram at Teaching Outside The Binary. I also have a website, and I do speaking and consulting.

If folks are willing to support me financially, my friend Skye and I run a Patreon called Growing Outside The Binary, where we provide newsletters, lesson plans, curated resources, etc. So get in touch.

Michelle: Amazing. Thank you so much for being on with me today and for sharing all of your wonderful advice and insight.

Thank you for listening to this episode of School of Talk. If you enjoyed today’s episode, be sure you subscribe to the podcast if you love today’s episode, share this with a friend. Class is dismissed!

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