As the school year closes, we reflect on our previous year and look forward to our time to recharge. We also tend to think ahead for next year. June is Pride Month and a great time to reflect on our current practices with regard to gendered practices in the classroom. I’d also challenge those people that immediately write this off to read this first.


  • It’s inclusive. It’s supportive. It’s a good idea to treat people how they want to be treated. And call them what they want to be called.
  • It doesn’t make “he” or “man” the default.
  • It doesn’t put people in boxes.
  • It doesn’t assume based on physical appearance.
  • It doesn’t assume gender stereotypes. Like myself and my classmates in school when our principal would come into our classroom and ask for a “few strong boys” to carry or move something.
  • It’s a way of showing you care about your students because it may be something THEY care about.
  • Think about a time you were called something you didn’t like. Me, “14” instead of my name as a college freshman in marching band. There were 14 of us in the section.
  • Musical instruments don’t have a gender.


Instead of boys and girls, here’s some gender neutral language you can use:

  • Musicians
  • Music makers
  • Sunshines
  • Y’all
  • All y’all
  • Alligators/Penguins/School Mascot
  • Kids/Kiddos
  • Friends
  • Pals
  • Porkchops
  • Homies
  • Morning glories
  • Kit Kats
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Sushi rolls
  • Muppets and puppets
  • Tatter tots
  • Future whatever (taxpayers, leaders, concert goers)
  • Campers
  • Earthlings
  • Blueberries
  • Younglings
  • Padawan Learners
  • Apprentices
  • Folks
  • Chickadees
  • Goblins and ghouls
  • Hobgoblins
  • Leprechauns
  • Chickadees
  • Doodlebugs
  • Jellybeans
  • Troublemakers
  • Pumpkins
  • Turkeys
  • Sugarplums
  • Tacos
  • Taco cats
  • Cool cats
  • Axolotls
  • Creepy crawlers
  • Minions
  • Mammals
  • Muffins
  • Hashbrowns
  • Jingle jangles
  • Whiz kids
  • Dragons
  • Sleepy scholars (for that class that can’t stay awake)
  • Clever clowns
  • Team
  • Humans
  • Lovies
  • Movers and Shakers
  • Gum Drops
  • Theydies and Gentlethems
  • 1st graders/2nd graders/etc
  • Aeolians, secondary dominants, picardy thirds, or any fun musical term.

You get the picture.

Folk Dance and Play Parties

Instead of following traditional roles, it’s ok to mix it up. Yes, those dances were traditionally used that way. You can even say that. But we don’t have to dance them like that. I don’t know about you but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to do boy/girl dances in upper elementary, or even worse, middle school.

For example, let’s take Paw Paw Patch. “Where oh where is pretty little Susie?” Instead, “Where oh where is clever little/happy little/ask the kids to pick an adjective and get in one of those “reading lessons”. Instead of “come on boys, let’s go find her”, “come on now, let’s go find insert kid’s pronoun here”. There’s no reason all your kids can’t do the fun skip around the set.

If you have to have “roles’, assign them as cats and dogs, chickens and eggs, triangles and circles, milk and cookies, ketchups and mustards or any other favorite pairs that go well together. This is a much more practical solution than hoping all your classes have an even number of boys and girls.

Dress Code

Instead of specifying “boys vs girls” dress code, make it simple. Specify what kind of clothes on the bottom and top. Make the rule for everyone. EX: Bottoms must be below the knee. Black socks or tights. Closed toed shoes. Shirts must have a sleeve that is at least 3 inches thick. No sleeveless shirts. Hair must be neat. Makeup must be natural. Not only will it be more clear but it helps create a uniform look. Gendered dress codes usually target female students. It’s another barrier to remove.

With that in mind, if you are picking uniforms, find options that work for many body types. Some students don’t feel comfortable in form fitting attire. Some are uncomfortable in tux jackets (not just for gender reasons, but also fit is not cut for all body types). Choir dresses notoriously have material that shows every lump, bump, and otherwise because of their material. They can be uncomfortable for body conscious kids. If you have the opportunity to get new uniforms, chat with your students about what things they like/dislike/etc. Ask for feedback, and keep it anonymous.

A few more things you can do

  • Assign kids to groups of random objects: assign kids to instrument families, a color, or a shape instead of calling by boys and girls.
  • Use kid’s preferred pronouns. Of course depending on where you live this may be an issue.
  • If you are supportive but can’t say so, actions speak volumes. Having taught in religious schools, I have former students who specifically came out to me. They knew where I stood and I NEVER outrightly said.

I hope this has given you some ideas! Removing gendered language, rules, and dress codes can be good for all our students. It can help with discrimination against one sex over another, empower all your students to advocate for themselves, and help them see each other on an even playing field.

Melissa Stouffer-1

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