A white man sitting outside near leaves smiles at the cameraRecent Master of Education Graduate Tristan Lewis joins Chris Carlton this month to talk about his MEd project - A Month of Queer Thriving: 20 ways to queer your classroomEnjoy this conversation full of helpful ideas about ways to queer your classroom. 

Make sure to check out Tristan's resource, A Month of Queer Thriving: 20 ways to queer your classroom which is designed to take some of the guesswork out of finding innovative ways of engaging students while employing queer and trans pedagogical practices. He hopes you'll use it to foster queer thriving via your teaching practice in concrete, practical, but perhaps unexpected ways. 

Tristan Lewis is a queer high school teacher in Ontario. His teachable subjects are English, Drama, and History. As a new teacher, he had trouble being bold enough to work against what's 'expected' of teachers. 


Song: Talking about innovation in teaching and education, Popular Podagogy. Discussions that are topical and sometimes philosophical, Popular Podagogy. Popular Podagogy.

CC: Hi there, thanks for joining us and welcome to another episode of Popular Podagogy, where we try to bring big ideas in teaching and education to life. I'm your host, Chris Carlton, and this podcast is being brought to you by the Faculty of Education at Queen's University. Welcome to our podcast. In this episode, we will be discussing a new teacher resource about queer thriving, designed by today's podcast guest, Tristan Lewis. The resource's purpose is to help take some of the guesswork out of finding innovative ways of engaging students while employing queer and trans pedagogical practices. Tristan Lewis is a secondary school teacher with the Limestone District School Board. Born and raised on PEI, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2019 and moved to Kingston to earn his Bachelor of Education at Queen's University in 2020. He recently completed his Master's of Education at Queen's, creating a resource about fostering queer thriving through teacher practice. Tristan, welcome to our podcast.

TL: Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.

CC: Tristan, first off, I really like this resource that you've created, and especially the way it starts with some guiding questions so teachers can reflect on their teaching. You help them reflect on what they may be afraid of doing and what they're already doing that's great. And I completed it and found it very helpful. And the glossary is one of my favourite. It was created and it was a hit for me. So thank you. And another point is I actually used yesterday, I used one of your suggestions you have on your cards, which we'll talk about later. And it was wonderful. I had a school assembly and I started by using the they/them pronouns for people I was speaking about or going to introduce. Right. And actually I had somebody come up to me after the assembly with a positive comment on that. So thank you very much for those type of tidbits.

TL: Yes. Well, thank you for using it.

CC: Yeah. You've just finished your Master's of Education and you've created this amazing teacher resource about Queer Joy. In it, I read that you say in your resource that as a new teacher, you've had trouble being bold enough to work against what's expected of teachers and that suggestion cards that you have in the resource are as much for you as they are other teachers, but ultimately they're for our students. Can you explain this a little bit more and what led you to making this resource?

TL: Yeah, absolutely. So as I was sort of going through the Bachelor of Education, I was thinking about the kind of classroom environment that I would like to have, the way I’d like to interact with my students, and how I wanted them to perceive me, and the learning that we were doing together. And I was really excited to sort of put that into practice and as soon as I got my own classroom, about a year after graduating. I found that immediately I went back to the sort of tried and true method of, you know, making sure that everything is disciplined and ordered, there’s respect at all times. And that I am maintaining the environment that I was in for my own schooling even though that wasn't my original plan at all. I was afraid to be different from the teachers in the classrooms next to me. And so I found that I needed to think about some ways that I could create a classroom environment that was different, not on the spot, but have this sort of plan to create a different classroom environment that let me teach the way I wanted to.

CC: That's amazing. And that new teacher syndrome of reverting back to what you experienced as a student is so common for a lot of us. We have all of these great ideas and we have these convictions that we want to do. And then with the stress and the workload and everything, it's obviously or not obviously, it's sometimes just a default. We go back to those things. And the more we can find resources like you've created, the more often we'll be able to get out of that rut and get back into what we know is good teacher pedagogy. So let's talk about queer thriving. What does that mean and what does it look like?

TL: Right. So queer thriving is a way to sort of flip the script on the mainstream narrative of the lives and existences of queer people and queer youth, especially in my project. The narrative that we often get as teachers is that queer and trans youth are bullied, they're subject to harassment, their lives are infinitely worse than their straight classmates, and, you know, they're at higher risk for suicide or mental illnesses. And, you know, just essentially everything in their life is terrible because they're queer. And so queer thriving is a way to acknowledge that 2SLGBTQ people can and do experience marginalisation and that's not great, but it also flips the script to make sure that people recognize that there's so much joy in a queer life as well. It's a radically hopeful position. It sees the positives in queer lives in the past, the present, and the future, and really just sort of rejects this mainstream narrative of queer people as an at-risk population, as a less well-off population, and seeks to just really acknowledge the joy that is being queer.

CC: So we concentrate on the positives and celebrate our differences?

TL: Yeah, I think so. I think that, you know, there's not a dismissal of the bad things that are happening, but it's not the focus. The focus is the joy that takes place every single day in a queer life, in a life that, yeah, is different than the norm.

CC: Which is what is great teacher pedagogy anyways, right?

TL: I should think so, yeah.

CC: It focuses on those things. So it's nice that we're bringing that to light. As teachers, we often think of universal design of learning, or UDL, which is a teaching approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process. I feel that your teacher resource has many UDL characteristics within its existence.

TL: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. The sort of, you know, catchphrase for UDL is necessary for some good for all. And I think that that appears in a lot of the cards, these ideas that this is something that queer and trans students, especially that's who this is designed for, will really thrive with these things present. will really thrive with these things present. But there's other students who, you know, just have difficulty fitting into the very rigid expectations of what being a good student is. And so when we're queering the classroom like this, when we're saying these expectations that you used to have, they're sort of out the window. Students who aren't queer or trans, but who are defying the norm in some way, who are acting out in particular ways. Again, like students with ADHD, students who just really love to talk in class, these sorts of things. These cards, while not specifically designed for them, are very much going to help them have a better classroom experience for sure.

CC: And I like your saying of those students are defying the norm. And those students, that group of students is getting bigger and bigger every year that we teach. And so the idea, and we're going to get into the cards because the cards are just phenomenal to me. The idea is these suggestion cards help us set the stage for those students that they can defy the odds in a very positive way. And so that leads us into, I want to talk about the suggestion cards because I think they're incredible. I think one theme, and you can correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think one theme that I got out of reading them is to do things that might be unexpected coming from a teacher in a traditional classroom, but not in a bad way, but in a creative way.

TL: Yeah, I think queer thriving and fostering queer thriving in teacher practice is all about welcoming the unexpected. And so that can either be being unexpected yourself, or it can be welcoming the unexpected in your students. You can invite the unexpected, but you also need to be, I think, prepared for something that comes out of left field and just sort of take it in stride as well.

CC: Which is not an unusual situation for a teacher. I mean, we all have those unexpected things. I also like that the cards and your resource in general is tied to performance, which seems to be another theme that runs through the resources. And you suggest that teaching is performance, which I 100% agree on. I did find the card suggestions very interesting, and some of them I've done in similar ways in my own class, but there were many new ones as well to me, which I got very excited about. So I want to talk about one in particular. You mentioned drag pedagogy in your resources, which is a new concept to me. Your suggestion card said, today, let's try encouraging students to boo, hiss, or heckle you for making a mistake. And it's a bit out of my comfort zone. So could you explain it a little bit more?

TL: Yeah. So drag pedagogy was coined by Harper B. Keenan and Lil Miz Hot Mess, who are our education scholars and little miss hot mess is also a drag queen and works with drag queen story hour, um, as well. And so they examine the ways that drag queens during drag queen story hour and, and during all their performances, um, are, are engaging in pedagogical practices, um, beyond what we would normally expect in sort of a classroom environment. Their, their costumes, their bodies, their performances are forms of pedagogy that show the, the joy of being different, the joy of being, of being weird, of being queer. And, and looks at things like strategic defiance, which is where the sort of boo, hiss, and heckle comes in. And so that's a way to encourage students to say, you know what, I'm going to stand up to the authority figure in this room, and that's the teacher. And by sort of inviting this very playful way of having them defy the teacher as this sort of ultimate authority. You know, I can't imagine having been, you know, in school booing a teacher for getting something wrong, but I probably would have liked to. And so, I think that, yeah, that card in particular with drag pedagogy in mind really sort of upends the idea of teachers' ultimate authority in the classroom and values the knowledge and the perceptions of students.

CC: And I think something like that is an incredible idea, but for me it would be something that I'd have to educate my students in before we just let them boo and hiss so that we could understand that positive interaction and that ability to do it, which is great. But that ties into that training them and trying with them. One of the other ones I really like is you suggest, and I'm sorry, I don't have it right in front of me, so you can correct me, getting them to explain something that they've found interesting on TikTok or social media and letting them show their interests and explain it to the class, which I think is another great opportunity, especially in a time when we seem to be clamping down on social media. We know the students are using social media, and I really find that with cell phones and social media, there are uses. There are educational purposes for it. We just have to find the right means. So can you explain that one a little bit for me as well?

TL: Yeah, absolutely. As a queer person and queer teacher, teaching queer students as we all are whether or not you know it, I think that restricting access to phones and discouraging the use of social media is inherently problematic, especially because so much of the sort of like, sort of the mainstream, almost popular things happening on social media are driven by queer and trans people and queer and trans people of colour in particular. And so by saying that that's no good, we're dismissing that, we're devaluing those communities and those contributions. So that's just that sort of thing. But it's also acknowledging that their knowledge sets are different than ours, but that doesn't make them worse. As an English teacher, I tell my students, everything is a text. And I really believe that. And I really try and teach that. And so if I go around saying everything is a text, but we're only going to be reading Shakespeare, I'm being pretty hypocritical there. And so that card, them telling me about TikTok trends is them teaching me about the texts that they're interacting with, which are just as valuable as the ones that I'm teaching them. There's less of a canon, but it doesn't mean that it isn't worthy of study, for sure.

CC: And so much language can be pulled out of those types of texts as well. Yes, absolutely. Amazing. And there is, I think, one proviso on that card. And it says, again, to teach people about sharing respectfully and discussing in a respectful way as well, which is what we're trying to achieve in all of our classrooms as well. I will ask you this. Do you have a favourite one? Do you have a favourite card that sort of makes you go yeah this is why I do this?

TL: I think my favourite really is the boo hiss and heckle one I haven't done that myself but I'm just really excited to have a group of high school students boo at me when I get things wrong but I think the favourite thing that I've done so far is thanking a student when they sort of talk back to you. That's something that I sort of developed throughout my sort of early teaching practice. And so it's these students who have sort of internalised the message that they are not a good student and that teachers don't like them. And what I did is I started thanking them for saying, no, I don't want to do that, or that's stupid, or anything like that, this sort of rejection of learning. And, you know, I'll say, wow, okay, I didn't realise that this wasn't good for you. Thank you so much for telling me that. How can I help you? And it really just sort of flips the script, and it kind of puts them on the back foot a little bit. Instead of it becoming the sort of screaming match, it's, oh, I just got my way. This never happens. How do I respond to this? And so I think that, yeah, thanking students for being defiant, for being a little sassy, actually really, really helps improve things for them and also for me, because whenever they feel comfortable telling me things that aren't going well for them, then it means that I can change my teaching practice to better their experiences and other student’s as well.

CC: And we know what happens if we don't acknowledge it or don't address it. It just becomes worse and goes underground and pokes its head up worse the next time. I like there's so many opportunities to flip the script in those cards, as you've been saying. And I find that as I keep reading through them, it's like, oh, man, I want to try that. Now, I do want you to film when you do the drag pedagogy and people are booing and hissing at you. I want you to film it. I want you to put it on social media so that I can see it as well.

TL: Yes. I'd be excited to, to share that around.

CC: I think a lot of teachers would love to try it, but are probably very nervous about, about how to ease into it.

TL: Yeah. And I'm, I'm a little bit nervous as well. Mostly because I'm worried what other teachers in the hallway may think if, you know, they're, they're trying to teach something or it's silent reading time and all of a sudden there's these loud boos or if, you know, students forget which classrooms they're in and they make it to their math teacher and all of a sudden they go, boo. So I may have some, some explaining to do to some other teachers.

CC: That is a big flip the script that you'd have to do some script writing for. So yeah, it's great. But the more we share these type of resources, the more teachers will understand that this is great pedagogy and that we should be looking at different ones. But you do say in your resource that you don't have to try all of them. They're not all meant for every single class and that as a teacher, you know your class best. So you can pick and choose. But I love that there's so many examples that we can pick from. And there was tons that I could have tried with my class.

TL: Yeah, that's great.

CC: So we have a traditional final question for our podcast, and we ask our guests to try to answer it in a couple of sentences and I'm going to make yours even harder because I know you have an amazing resource and and this resource is going to be put on our website so if there was something other than your resource so you have to think other than your resource um what would you recommend as a first step for teachers who want to be more educated on queerness in the classroom?

TL: Oh, interesting. I think that accessing social media and getting input from students on what's current in social media is actually really going to help them learn about queerness in the classroom. Like I said before, queerness and transness really inform a lot of the social media trends. And so I think that staying up on top of those and letting students talk about those in the classroom as well can help teachers be more aware of queerness in their classroom for sure.

CC: I love that. And is that not our job anyways as teachers to stay current?

TL: I'd like to think so. I know that it can be hard, and I know that it can be maybe a little bit dissonant sometimes for us, but it's certainly an admirable effort.

CC: And it's what we need to do as good teachers is we need to find those things that are current in our lives that are relevant to the lives of our students and make sure we address them. And we always say student voice, student choice, and that sort of goes right along the lines of what you're talking about as well. Tristan, thank you so much for sharing your time, your personal experiences, and the month of Queer Thriving teacher resource with us today. I absolutely will be using it. And I'm so excited that we're going to put it on as a resource on our webpage as well. Teachers are always looking for ways to make their classrooms safe and open for all their students. And I'm glad that you have taken the time to develop this resource for us.

TL: Thanks, Chris. And thanks for speaking with me today.

CC: No problem. Thank you so much. That does it for another episode of Popular Podagogy. Again, thank you to our amazing guest, Tristan Lewis. Josh, as always, where can our listeners subscribe to make sure they don't miss any of our popular podagogy podcasts? Outro: Yeah, if you like what you hear, please subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, the CFRC website, the Faculty of Education website, and pretty much any place you get your podcasts.

CC: Please don't forget to check out our Queen's Faculty of Education website and search for Popular Podagogy for additional resources and information on this important topic. Well, that's it from myself, Chris Carlton, and our incredibly talented and resourceful podcast team of Josh Vine and Aaron York. Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay connected, and we will see you next time for another episode of Popular Podagogy.