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Cultivating a Queer Mindset: How One Elementary School Teacher is Rattling Common Sense

by Bethy Leonardi & Sara Staley - 2021

Background/Context: A significant body of research on gender and sexual diversity in education has called on teachers to “move beyond inclusion” of LGBTQ+ voices in curriculum by queering their practice and “disrupting cis-heteronormativity.” Few studies have focused on the ways that disrupting cis-heteronormativity is challenging work for teachers to engage.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this case study, we focus on patterned moves that Laura, a first-grade teacher, made to disrupt cis-heteronormativity by supporting her students in cultivating what we call a “queer mindset”—a way of thinking, feeling, and doing that “rattles” her students’ common sense.

Research Design: The qualitative study reflects a nested case study design in which Laura represents an individual case within the broader case. Specifically, we use instrumental case study methodology.

Conclusions/Recommendations: To make good on the goal of disrupting cis-heteronormativity, we encourage educators to cultivate in their students ways of thinking, feeling, and doing that upend common sense and that challenge the status quo. We encourage educators to support their students in developing queer mindsets. This way, not only can educators support individual students, but they can also propel the kind of social transformation we want to see.

“I’m just curious about what you think and why,” Laura said to Brendan, a student in her first-grade class. The class had just read Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? (Savage, 2017), a book about Tiny and Tiny’s family. Throughout the book, other characters ask if Tiny is a boy or a girl. In response, Tiny asks, “What does it mean to be a boy or a girl?” Tiny admits that, along with liking “cakes and playing football and dressing up and watching the stars . . . I’m just me.” Throughout their reading, Laura’s students were not sure if they thought Tiny was a boy or a girl. In fact, the question remained at the end of the book, but they made some assumptions based on Tiny’s interests. For example, Brendan thought Tiny was a girl “because she liked to dress up.” Taylin challenged, “Dressing up is not just for girls.” Laura responded,

Right, so dressing up could be for anybody . . . there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. Brendan, I’m just curious about what you think and why. So, you might say, because Tiny likes to dress up. But really our minds think that because we hear a lot of times in stories, or we see on commercials, we might only see that. So, our minds might immediately think that, right? So, we have to kind of challenge our minds to shift our thinking a little bit and say, wait, that doesn’t make sense, right? Because anyone can dress up.

For four years, Laura participated in a research–practice learning community that we (Bethy & Sara) cofacilitated and that supported educators in learning and enacting queer teaching practices. In this context, queer involves “moving beyond inclusion” (Blackburn & Smith, 2010) of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) voices in curriculum toward the more ambiguous goal of disrupting cis-heteronormativity. The literature on preparing LGBTQ+-inclusive elementary educators has long suggested that teachers need to move in this direction (e.g., DePalma & Atkinson, 2009, 2010; García & Slesaransky-Poe, 2010). This is because cis-heteronormativity sends strong messages about what counts as “normal” with respect to sexuality, families, relationships, gender, and gender roles, and research shows that these messages are institutionalized in school through policies, curriculum, language, discourse, and teaching practices (e.g., Blackburn & Smith, 2010; Ferfolja, 2007; Garcia, 2009). Briefly, heteronormativity refers to a pervasive belief system that assumes everyone is straight; that being straight is normal; and that anything outside that norm, including people, relationships, and families, is abnormal, weird, and deviant. Cisnormativity refers to a companion belief system that assumes everyone is cisgender, meaning that our gender identities match the sex we were assigned at birth. It promotes cisgender identities as normal and natural, and it positions anything that deviates from that norm, including trans and nonbinary identities, as unnatural and abnormal. Importantly, when left undisrupted, cis-heteronormativity impacts all of us. It narrows the field of who we can become, and it impacts what educators teach and how students learn.

Reading the classroom interaction described earlier through this lens, we see that Brendan’s assumption that Tiny is a girl “because she liked to dress up” aligns with cis-heteronormative expectations for what girls like to do—what’s “normal” for them. In fact, cis-heteronormativity is ever present in schools, and it often goes unmarked because it is just “common sense” (Kumashiro, 2015). As Laura says, it is the reason that “our minds immediately think” certain things. Although research has generally encouraged teachers to disrupt cis-heteronormativity, in our classroom-based research, we have found that it is actually demanding work for teachers to engage (Staley & Leonardi, 2021). That is to say, the pedagogical goal of disrupting normativity is complex, and it involves teachers’ instructional moves, the specifics of what they say and do in moments of teaching, to “rattl[e] the common sense” (Kumashiro, 2015) of their students. Through spending time in Laura’s classroom and watching her engage her students in these kinds of learning moments, we were inspired by her skillfulness in this disruptive teaching. We found that she not only “rattled” the common sense of her young students, but she also called attention to that process of rattling. In other words, she supported her students in questioning normativity, in wondering why their minds “immediately think” certain things, and in questioning the “repeated routes” (Helton, 2020, p. 18) that their thinking might take.

In this case study, we focus on patterned instructional moves that Laura made to disrupt cis-heteronormativity by supporting her students in cultivating what we call a “queer mindset.” We conceptualized this idea by moving recursively between our observations and analysis of Laura’s practice and reflections, curriculum, and pedagogy; our readings of related scholarship; and queer theoretical perspectives. The following research questions guided that work:

1. How does one educator enact practices that engage young students in learning about gender, family, and sexual diversity and disrupting cis-heteronormativity?

2. What does that educator attend to in pedagogically demanding moments of classroom activity? What moves does she make to queer her practice?


To explore our research questions, we draw on queer theoretical perspectives that we articulate next.


Kevin Kumashiro (2015) argued that oppression remains “unrecognized and unchallenged in schools because it successfully convinced us that schools are neutral, are non-oppressive, and should not be taking a side one way or the other on issues of oppression” (p. xxxvi). He said that “common sense” does not make room for questioning the status quo as an oppressive system. In this way, schools, which often promote status quo ideology, are already contributing to oppression. Power and privilege direct status quo ideology, and in schools, they shape common sense. As we noted earlier, LGBTQ+-focused educational scholars have demonstrated that, with respect to gender, sexuality, and relationships, the common sense of education has been (and in many ways continues to be) cis-heteronormativity and a pervasive silence around genders, sexualities, families, and relationships that challenge what has counted as “normal.” The common sense of education tells a story that upholds power, injustice, and inequity, and it teaches that story; it is historical, and it operates as what Michael Apple (1971) called “the hidden curriculum.” Common sense has organized classroom experiences and curriculum to funnel certain students into certain social strata based on social class (Anyon, 1980). It has told us not to question white supremacy and that white folks in the United States are the important ones, the saviors, the good guys (and we do mean guys) (Baldwin, 1985; Kendi, 2016; Reynolds & Kendi, 2020; Zinn, 2009). That myth of common sense has taught us not to question schools as cultures of punishment for Black and indigenous students of color (e.g., Annamma, 2017; Annamma et al., 2019; Ferguson, 2000). It has taught us that what counts as good writing and speaking looks and sounds like Standard American English. It has taught us not to question why queer and trans people are tokenized or parenthetically included in curricula or why queer and trans people of color are often missing altogether.

In short, research across disciplines of educational research has demonstrated how the common sense of education has privileged white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, English-speaking, cisgender people. Further, the compensatory nature of commonsense ideology has also provoked students (and educators) to believe that these are identities to strive for; those identities have been constructed as normal and, thus, desirable. Anything that challenges those norms, through curriculum or otherwise, and that “rattle[s] common sense,” is positioned as different, other, deviant. Such positioning includes legislation that explicitly aims to outlaw particular identities, practices, and ideologies (e.g., “No Promo Homo” policies, English-only policies, and House Bill 2281, which prohibited the teaching of ethnic studies courses in Arizona).

Inclusion of identities that have been, and that continue to be, marginal or absent from curriculum, what counts as valuable knowledge, or what is worth learning about is important. Noticing what Helton (2020) called “pedagogies of silence—those hardened, inflexible, repeated routes” is, of course, critical to making schools more equitable and just and to creating space “so that something else might begin to rupture forth instead” (p. 18). Including diverse identities and experiences challenges the commonsense repetition of white male heterosexual able-bodied English-monolingual cisgender people throughout curriculum. Yet, what is defined as “normal” in schools, and in society, goes beyond who is included. Certain ways of making sense are also normalized, a certain commonsense mindset, so to speak. Being normal, as Kumashiro (2015) put it, requires

thinking in only certain ways, feeling only certain things, and doing only certain things. And it punishes those who do not conform. . . . Society’s definition of normalcy, as with society’s understanding of common sense, teaches us not only to conform to an oppressive status quo, but also to actually want to conform. (p. 52, emphasis added)

The historical problem, then, of the common sense of education does not land squarely in the absence of voices or people or events, but in the unquestioned production of “normalcy” itself and how pedagogy has been complicit in that production.


As Kumashiro (2015) argued, common sense “is not what should shape educational reform or curriculum design; it is what needs to be examined and challenged” (p. xxxvi). More directly, he called on us to “rattle the ‘common sense’ of education” (Kumashiro, n.d.-a). In our work as researchers and facilitators of educator learning, we attempt to do that rattling by leveraging queer perspectives (Cohen, 1997, 2019; Jagose, 1996; Muñoz, 2009; Warner, 1993) and, in particular, queer pedagogical perspectives (Britzman, 1995; Bryson & De Castell, 1993; Helton, 2020; Kumashiro, 2000, 2001, 2015; Luhmann, 1998). Beyond including LGBTQ+ people and topics in curriculum, a “queer” pedagogy, as Susanne Luhmann (1998) described, “turns critically against the practices of normalization . . . of any normalization, be it racist, sexist, or whatever” (p. 142.) In other words, queer does not aim to add to what is normal, but rather to expose, attack, and undermine the very processes by which (some) subjects become normalized and others marginalized” (p. 143). Queer pedagogy attempts, as Helton (2020) put it, to “make visible the grid lines of ideology within which we all inevitably rest” (p. 18) and to expose the ways that power and privilege function within those grid lines. It asks students to consider how they view and engage in the world, to recognize that what they already know is partial, to unlearn what they think they know about how the world works, and to implicate themselves in what is wrong (Kumashiro, 2001).

Framed by queer perspectives in this way, pedagogical moves to disrupt the practices of normalization and ask students (and teachers) to reconsider and to question what functions as common sense—or taken to be just the way things are. Importantly, as Britzman (1998) suggested, queer pedagogy also aims to “get curious about the means by which normalcy becomes the great unmarked within classroom sites and the means by which pedagogy itself might intervene to agitate the limits and fault lines of normalcy” (p. 80). In other words, queer teaching processes engage students in questioning the ways that they think, the things that they take for granted, the ways that normalcy positions them, and how maintaining what counts as normal maintains power and privilege. An outcome of these queer pedagogical interventions is what we conceptualize here as students cultivating a queer mindset. As we describe more later, we define a queer mindset as a frame of mind, a way of thinking, feeling, and doing that questions common sense, troubles taken-for-granted notions of what counts as “normal,” and, as Laura put it, “challenge[s] our minds to shift our thinking.” We elaborate on this idea when we explain our approach to data analysis.


In this section, we discuss areas of research that inform our understanding of elementary educators queering their practices and disrupting cis-heteronormativity.


In studies that we reviewed, scholars conceptualized disruption, broadly, as teachers’ efforts to challenge students’ thinking along lines of cis-heteronormativity, but also along multiple and intersecting lines of identity, oppression, and normativity. Common across studies was the idea that disruption involved challenging binary and normative thinking that reified status quo understandings of gender, sexuality, and family (Bentley & Souto Manning, 2016; DePalma, 2013; Hermann-Wilmarth et al., 2017; Ryan et al., 2013; Souto-Manning & Lanza, 2019). In Souto-Manning and Lanza’s study (2019), teachers disrupted language practices by addressing students not as “boys” and “girls,” but instead as “friends,” and referring to the “adults at home” instead of “mom” and “dad” (p. 43); sorting clothes by color rather than by gender; and complicating bathroom practices by allowing students to use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identities and not necessarily sex assigned at birth. Across studies, challenging normativity also involved curricular inclusion. In particular, educators included texts that lifted up queer love and queer families (Bentley & Souto Manning, 2016; Souto-Manning & Lanza, 2019), introduced trans and gender-expansive characters (Ryan et al., 2013), and had conversations about multiply minoritized activists (Souto-Manning & Lanza, 2019).

Beyond disruption as it related to classroom practices and curricular inclusion, scholars also conceptualized disruption as challenging understandings of constructs and systems that maintain the status quo. DePalma’s (2013) study, for example, asserted that “challenging the effects of (cis)sexism and gender normativity requires that we question these categories and norms at a very basic level, questioning what we think we already know about gender” (p. 13). This notion of disruption aligns with what Ryan et al. (2013) explored in their study of Maree Bednar’s third-grade classroom. As researchers, they wondered how it might look not only to expand notions of binary gender (i.e., boy/girl) but also to “disrupt” students’ thinking about the relationship between biological/chromosomal sex, gender identity, and gender expression. Maree first supported her students in reflecting on the social and cultural systems in which they live and how those systems, related to gender as well as other identity categories, might be restrictive. Focusing on gender, Maree also introduced her students to terms such as “androgenous,” “gender nonconforming,” and “transgender” through read-alouds of 10,000 Dresses (Ewert, 2008), Totally Joe (Howe, 2005), and My Princess Boy (Kilodavis, 2009)—stories that offer students insights into the various ways that people live and experience gender. In those readings, Maree engaged her students in understanding and puzzling around the complexities of pronouns, the difference between gender identity and expression, and how characters navigated normative social and cultural systems.

Hermann-Wilmarth et al. (2017), who engaged both critical literacy and queer pedagogy in their study with fourth and fifth graders, conceptualized “disrupting the common place” by rejecting singular views of gender and sexuality and supporting students in interrogating the ways that context and culture influence what they think and believe. This involved uncovering how power and privilege operate and how normative ideas about gender or sexuality, as well as other aspects of identity, are perpetuated through literature and in our lives. As coteachers, Rose and Jill opened conversations with students about identity, how aspects of identity are seen as “normal” and treated as powerful while other aspects are positioned as Other or are marginalized. Finally, they involved students in reflecting on how identities that they embody impact how they see the world, how they position others, and how they are positioned. Souto-Manning and Lanza (2019) conceptualized disruption in similar ways, with attention to “identifying, problematizing, and interrupting” labels (e.g., at risk, deficit) that reinforced compulsory heterosexuality and that upheld dominant ideologies along multiple and intersecting lines of oppression. One example involved Alison Lanza, the teacher in the study, engaging students in discussions about family. Souto-Manning and Lanza (2019) explained,

Whenever [Alison] read a book that featured heteronormativity or assumed heterosexuality as compulsory, she invited the second graders to consider who was visible in the book, who was invisible, and why. She was committed to interrupting the conditions that foster the reproduction of homophobia pedagogically. (p. 43)

Beyond including same-sex couples in what counted as a family, Alison challenged her students to think about who was missing from more traditional texts and to question that absence. This literature points to the ways that teachers of young children are working to queer their practices and to support students in questioning the status quo.


Beyond disrupting cis-heteronormativity by complicating status quo practices and curriculum, the literature points to ways that teachers challenged students’ common sense and actively supported them in considering how normativity functions. A strategy shared by Hermann-Wilmarth et al. (2017) and Ryan et al. (2013) involved using questions to have students think about “the way things have always been done,” a refrain from Woodson’s (2001) The Other Side. In practice, this involved opening a discussion with students about the relationship between how things had always been done and what is considered “normal” or common sense. This conversation took up topics of race, power, friendship, and love, as well as expectations related to normative gender expectations (i.e., “boy” and “girl” activities, toys, and clothing). Ryan and colleagues’ (2013) illustrations involved Maree asking students to consider things that they might “‘always do’ even if no one ever said it is what they had to do” (p. 91).

In several studies, we saw similar moves to Maree’s—that is, teachers supporting students in developing a mindset that challenged common sense. In Ryan and colleagues’ (2013) study, Maree worked to foster in students a critical consciousness, one that would facilitate new discourses and new performances of gender, what Muñoz (2009) might consider a nod toward queer futurity, or a “utopia in the present” (p. 1). Similarly, Souto-Manning and Lanza (2019) sought to move from the realities of elementary schooling in the United States, where such “gender binaries and heteronormative family structures are reified, toward transformation via the pedagogical creation of third spaces” (p. 43). Thirdspace perspectives are where “real and imaginative realities come together through a ‘creative recombination and extension’ (Sonja, 1996, p. 6)” (p. 40). What this looked like in practice was “reworking everyday interactional norms” in order to allow students to “develop a critical stance,” one that provoked them to “name, problematize, and interrupt dominant discourses supporting heteronormativity and producing homophobia” (p. 43). In Souto-Manning and Lanza’s (2019) words, they “purposefully worked to design learning experiences and to employ artifacts that serve to transform current realities” (p. 44).

In another study wherein young children learned to challenge normativity, DePalma (2013) argued that it is not answers that matter; instead, “holding the question is key to . . . deep learning,” supporting students, as suggested by Butler (2006), to “unlearn rules and lose ‘expertise’” (p. 533). Similarly, in writing about their work in early childhood classrooms, Bentley and Souto-Manning (2016) reminded us that the purpose of teachers’ efforts to develop critical thinking—what we are calling in the present study a queer mindset—is “one of active change that informs long-term thinking” (p. 204). The ultimate goal, they asserted, “is to never conclude but to constantly evolve in the minds of children as they grow, informing and evolving to help them meet new moments and challenges in their lives” (p. 204).

Finally, challenging common sense was also connected to broader, intersectional systems of power and identity. Along with the details that we shared earlier, in their study, Souto-Manning and Lanza (2019) also noted that to promote justice, “there needs to be recognition and problematization of injustices and their roots” (p. 41), an exploration of intersectionality through curriculum and a pedagogy that “does away with . . . prejudice stemming from the intersections of sexism, homophobia, and related forms of bigotry” (p. 41). Toward similar goals, Hermann-Wilmarth et al. (2017) wove a critical literacy framework with queer pedagogy to push students to consider normativity through a lens of power, specifically how normativity and power function for trans identities. In practice, this involved engaging students in dialogue about the multiple identities that people might claim and how those identities are positioned relative to the norm. Maree, the teacher in Ryan and colleagues’ (2013) study with whom we began this section, also employed specific practices to emphasize intersectionality, including supporting students to reflect on ways that social rules, unquestioned, shape our behavior and often lead to marginalization, exclusion, and oppression along multiple dimensions of identity.

In our study, we build on the important contributions of these studies that feature teachers’ moves to disrupt normativity and to develop young learners’ critical capacities for naming, problematizing, and challenging hegemonic norms.     


In this section, we discuss the context of our study, research participants, and our approach to data collection and analysis.


Data for this qualitative study come from a larger project aimed toward understanding how K–12 educators and school leaders engaged queer practices through policy implementation and pedagogy. Data collection for the larger study took place over five years in District Q, with which we developed a research–practice partnership. District Q, like many in our Mountain West state, is geographically large: It stretches over 500 square miles and serves 11 communities. It enrolls approximately 30,000 students in 54 schools, 31% of whom are students of color; 21% qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and 11% are emerging bilingual students. While often recognized for its academic performance, District Q has also identified persistent academic and opportunity gaps.

In 2015, District Q made supporting trans and gender nonconforming students a priority by providing professional learning opportunities for district employees; district leadership reached out to our organization for support. Along with the district’s equity team, we developed a plan for educating employees and staff about the policy and about gender and sexual diversity more broadly. Some of those learning opportunities were mandatory. For example, all administrators participated in two 90-minute sessions focused on understanding and implementing Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, which had been in place for several years without attention to implementation (Leonardi & Staley, 2018). Other opportunities, which we called Teacher Institutes, were attended by choice. Teacher Institutes involved three 2.5-hour sessions and spanned the school year. Those sessions supported educators in engaging in knowledge building, critical self-reflection, dialogue, action, and practice. To date, 275 educators and two administrators in District Q have participated in the Institutes. A small cohort of 12 District Q educators participated for three years, attending Levels 1 and 2 and then joining us for Level 3. Level 3 sessions were meant to support this team of 12 to lead professional learning sessions for new hires in the district and to develop a research–practice community grounded in collective learning and shared inquiry. A focus of the research–practice work involved these educators exploring queer theory and pedagogy more deeply and enacting antioppressive practices in their classrooms. In addition to meeting monthly, we (Bethy & Sara) visited teachers’ classrooms, including Laura’s, to collect video recordings of their enactments of those queer lessons.

The present study reflects a nested case study design in which District Q represents the overarching case, and Laura represents an individual case within the broader case (Stake, 2008). Specifically, in this study, we use instrumental case study methodology (Stake, 2008). We chose case study methods because our goal was to understand how Laura negotiated the challenges of disrupting cis-heteronormativity and the moves that she made in her classroom, the context of which was relevant to Laura’s teaching and decision-making (Yin, 2003). Laura teaches at Flores Elementary School,1 one of the oldest elementary schools in District Q. Flores offers a dual-language program (Spanish and English) that promotes biliteracy, bilingualism, and biculturalism. Flores’s vision is to empower critical thinkers, mindful community members, and culturally competent bilingual individuals. Flores’s student population is nearly 70% Latinx, 27% white, 4% two or more races, and .4% Black of African American. At Flores, half of the students speak English as their first language, and half are Spanish-dominant speakers. The staff is similarly diverse. As the principal stated, “equity, diversity, respect, and understanding” are cornerstones of Flores. As a Title I school, 55% of Flores’s students are from economically disadvantaged families. Laura has been a teacher at Flores for 20 years. She is a white cisgender bilingual teacher who identifies as a lesbian. At the time of data collection, Laura had been teaching at Flores Elementary for 19 years.


During that academic year, we visited Laura’s classroom five times and recorded each lesson. For the purpose of this project, we focused on all five videos that we collected in Laura’s class. Each video lasted between 20 and 50 minutes and focused on gender and/or family diversity. In general, we were interested in answering the question, What does “this work” look like at the elementary level?—a question that we field often in our outreach work. Specifically, we were interested in the ways that Laura queered her practice. We argue that moving beyond inclusion requires that teachers engage in the complex work of disrupting normativity (Staley & Leonardi, 2021). Thus, our video recordings aimed to capture the instructional moves that Laura made to negotiate the challenges involved in this work: What questions did she ask? How did she respond to students’ insights? What connections did she make?

After observing and recording lessons, we conducted postobservation interviews with Laura. During those audio-recorded interviews, Laura watched selected segments and discussed her reasoning for what she was thinking, saying, and doing—the moves she made during specific moments of classroom activity. (We discuss the process of selecting those segments in detail later.) We take seriously the power relations and lopsided goals that often exist between researchers and the researched. In conducting interviews with our educator-partners, we saw promise for the “interview itself,” as Heckert (2016) suggested, to be “potentially a gift to the interviewee as well as to the interviewer” (p. 52). To make good on this commitment, we created semistructured interview protocols meant to prompt Laura to discuss how her instructional decisions influenced student engagement as well as to describe the pedagogical challenges and decisions she made to negotiate them, and we followed Laura’s lead. As humanizing researchers, we honor and value the expertise of educators with whom we work. We also follow Lather’s (1986) idea of catalytic validity, which she described as “the degree to which the research process re-orients, focuses and energizes participants toward knowing reality in order to transform it” (p. 68). Blackburn (2001) further suggested that a study’s validity increases when it serves “as a catalyst for getting participants to think about something in a new and perhaps more useful way” (p. 63). With Laura, we wanted to make sense of the data together, or, as Bartolome (2010) said, “get on with the business of sharing and creating knowledge (p. 177)” (as cited in Blackburn, 2014). Paris (2011) argued that “such humanization is not only ethically necessary but also increases the validity of the truths we gain through research” (p. 137). Along with the five videos we recorded of Laura’s teaching, data included four postobservation interviews, all of which were transcribed. It is worth noting that one of these videos was created by Laura, from our recording, to lead her colleagues in a conversation about what affirming gender and family diversity looked like in her classroom. Data sources also included analytic memos, informal conversations, and email correspondence with Laura.


Our analysis of transcribed video recordings and postobservation interviews involved two phases. In the first phase, we focused on the video transcripts and Laura’s teaching specifically. What we know from working alongside teachers, from our research, and from the research of others is that the work of disrupting normativity is complex, pedagogically challenging work. From Laura, we wanted to learn how a committed educator who had worked with us over the course of several years, and who also lives this work, engaged that disruptive work. Therefore, this round of analysis involved reading and coding video transcripts to identify the moves that Laura made. For example, in this round of both inductive and deductive analysis, codes that characterized Laura’s teaching moves included surfacing students’ assumptions, engaging students in disruptive thinking, disrupting normativity, challenging students’ beliefs, and students getting stuck (i.e., complicating gender, binary thinking). These codes were also salient in emails and conversations that we had with Laura. For example, on the day before she read Real Cowboys, Laura shared,

We’ve done some prep work to get ready. . . . I’ve tied the idea of our assumptions or stereotypes to making predictions which we teach as a reading strategy in first grade. . . . I told students that we would be reading a story about a firefighter and asked that the students make predictions [surfacing students’ assumptions]. Of course, they predicted that “he” would do things that firefighters typically do. . . . It turns out the book was My Mom is a Firefighter [challenging students’ beliefs, disrupting normativity], and the first graders admitted that all but one of them had pictured a male firefighter and were surprised that the story was about a mom [engaging students in disruptive thinking]. We talked about how predictions can get us in trouble because we assume things [engaging students in disruptive thinking].

We point to this particular data source because it not only illustrates how we applied our emergent codes across data sources but also provides important context for a queer lesson that Laura designed and that we discuss in more detail in our presentation of findings.

Our second phase of analysis focused on postobservation interview transcripts. In the days following our visits to Laura’s classroom, we conducted interviews to elicit Laura’s perspectives on what she did and said during particular moments of instruction. Here, it is important to note our positionality. Given that we are white native English-speaking queer teacher educators who identify as genderqueer (Bethy) and cisgender (Sara), our relationship with Laura goes beyond that of teaching and research. Our lived experiences connect us in ways that are tender and vulnerable and that create trust. We share common experiences in schools and classrooms as queer folks, as educators trying to do right by students, at the same time navigating our own queer identities in largely cis-heteronormative spaces. And, we are all white. No doubt, our identities as queer educators and our reliance on one another for support, for connection in this work, influenced our time together and the conversations that we had with Laura about her teaching. Our identities as white native English speakers no doubt influenced the ways that we read the space, the questions that we asked, what we were drawn to, and what we missed.

Inspired by queer theoretical perspectives and informed by transcripts of the video recordings, we developed interview questions that would help us to understand the range of moves and pedagogical challenges that animated Laura’s teaching (example in Appendix A). To engage with Altheide and Johnson’s (1994) conception of “validity-as-reflexive-accounting” (p. 489), in which researchers, the topic, and the sense-making process interact, in our conversations with Laura, we pointed to excerpts of her lessons in which she engaged in pedagogical moves, as we began to understand them. These segments were 1–2 minutes long. To be sure that as researchers, we were honoring Laura’s intentions, we directed our questions there (Creswell & Miller, 2000). (Appendix B includes a transcript of a snapshot of Laura’s teaching, an example interview protocol that we developed based on our initial codes, and her responses to questions asked in our conversation, all in raw form.) Through this recursive coding process and engagement in “practices of reason” (Scheurich, 1997, p. 172), which also involved writing analytic memos, we identified the code “challenging common sense.” In her reading of Worm Loves Worm, this looked like Laura asking her students to think “about what decisions the author made, how they might surprise us or might be different from what we would think.” Laura explained this even further as we discussed her goals for that lesson. In our conversation, she spoke about how she wanted to “help [her students] sort of think differently, and start to question, and start to be more critical about the way they read things and the way they learn things.” In further tracking how Laura navigated the challenge of “disrupting normativity,” we noticed one interesting move in particular.

Queer pedagogy encourages us to inquire into the contexts of learning, that is, “the conditions for [students’] understanding, or refusing, knowledge” (Luhmann, 1998, p. 148). In an analytic memo wondering about these contexts, Bethy wrote,

What do we have to do as teachers to create a context so that students can, in fact, learn. . . . If we want students to feel safe to grapple, what creates that context? Empathy? Permission? Gentle nudging?. . . By way of Felman (1987) Luhmann says that “rather than the transmission of ready-made knowledge, it is the creation of a new condition of knowledge, the creation of an original learning disposition” (p. 148). That “original learning disposition,” in my view, is the “Queer Mindset.”  

In trying to make sense of what we were seeing, Bethy, again, puzzled in another memo:

The literature asks us to disrupt heteronormativity . . . to move beyond inclusion . . . maybe we want to center questions instead of, or alongside of, groups and group identities . . . so what we want to do essentially, is cultivate, in students, a “queer mindset”—which is to recognize how normativity functions, that is exists, how we participate in it. . . . If we do this, we create a process in students rather than giving them best practices or things to do; it’s a way of being and thinking and acting. This is what Laura   seems to be doing. (In Appendix B, we share more excerpts from Bethy’s memos.)

The codes that we developed and applied in our first round of analysis of Laura’s teaching—surfacing students’ assumptions, engaging students in disruptive thinking, disrupting normativity, challenging students’ beliefs—seemed to come together as a collection (in both teaching and interviews) to describe what we began to understand as Laura’s moves to “cultivate a queer mindset” in her students. In applying queer theoretical perspectives and those codes to our analysis of Laura’s teaching, we began to recognize that the moves she made were toward that end—though not really the “end,” but rather toward a sort of “what’s next.” More specifically, two themes characterized the moves Laura made as she was cultivating a way of thinking with her students: (1) rattling a commonsense mindset and, most important, (2) calling attention to that process with her students. Insights about these practices also came through in our conversations with Laura. Using those aspects of cultivating a queer mindset, we documented patterns in the data and then identified examples of Laura’s teaching that provided instructive illustrations of our primary findings. (In Appendix C, we share some of our process of getting to the idea of cultivating a queer mindset.) In the following section, we share the results of our analysis and those illustrations.


The results of our analysis center on two “episodes,” which Ryan et al. (2013) defined as “thematically connected lessons around a text or group of texts where gender [or family] diversity was a central component” (p. 90). The first episode focuses on how Laura read and discussed Real Cowboys (Hoefler, 2016) with her first-grade students to help them grasp the partiality of their understanding of gender and gender stereotypes. In the second episode, we share Laura’s reading of Worm Loves Worm (Austrian, 2016) and her pedagogical move to engage students in questioning what counts as “normal” and to question how “things have always been done.” Together, these episodes reflect two key aspects of what we are conceptualizing as a teacher’s moves to cultivate a queer mindset: (1) drawing attention to students’ ways of thinking and (2) challenging common sense.


Over the course of the year, Laura engaged her students in thinking about gender and gender diversity, largely through children’s literature. Although gender was not always the focal point of her lessons, Laura’s learning targets consistently reflected attention to students’ processes and a desire to cultivate in students a way of thinking, feeling, and doing—that is, a mindset that embraced the spirit of rattling of common sense. As Laura’s email that we excerpted earlier demonstrates, the queer lessons that she developed folded in learning targets defined by the district’s literacy curriculum. In other words, her queer lessons were not “extra,” stand-alone lessons; rather, they were entwined with more traditional curriculum goals and content standards. During this particular lesson, Laura read Real Cowboys (Hoefler, 2016), which challenges young readers’ thinking about what counts as a “real cowboy.” For example, the text explains that they get lonely, they cry, and they miss their families when they are away tending to animals. Building on a previous lesson, Laura’s learning target focused on supporting students to grapple with “making predictions” and challenging assumptions. In our postlesson interview, we asked Laura about her goals for this lesson. She explained,

I was just trying to challenge myself to . . . not just read them something that presents another diverse, you know, picture of cowboys or whatever. . . . But how to help them sort of think differently, and start to question, and start to be more critical about the way they read things and the way they learn things. . . . Because it’s really easy to just read a book about a kid that gets bullied, because he wears a pink tutu or whatever and then just stop there and say, “Okay,” you know, “We need to accept everyone.” . . . And not really have the kids start to notice things. And, so that was kind of my goal. How can I really push them to start to think and to notice how they are thinking and notice the predictions?

It was Laura’s intention not only to rattle what her students might think counts as a “real” cowboy, but also to draw their attention to the ways that they were thinking and how their thinking might be changing—ways that the text might challenge them to think differently. As she set up the lesson, Laura reminded her class that they had been “talking about making predictions . . . informed [guesses] about what might happen.” She continued,

And when they say informed, that just means that we’re using information that we already know. But what we talked about is how sometimes that information that we think we know can get us into a little bit of trouble, right? Because when we made predictions about the firefighter’s story, what happened when we made the predictions?

Student: We were wrong . . . we all thought it was a boy and it was actually a girl.

Calling attention to how students come to know, as well as perhaps how what they know may be wrong, Laura said, “[s]o, sometimes when we make a prediction, we assume something based on what we know . . . from TV, our parents, books, friends . . . and some of that stuff is true and some of it’s not.” Here, Laura challenged her students to question their common sense but called attention to where that common sense might come from—and that what they “know” might be “wrong.”

Laura’s lesson segued to stereotype—a “new” and “pretty big word” that she described as “a simplified idea of what a person or thing could be like.” As an example, she referred back to their conversation about firefighters: “So, if we just thought—a firefighter has to be a man, that’s a simplified idea, right, because that’s not true.” She continued,

Another stereotype we might predict or assume (picks up And Tango Makes Three) is that in a family, we might assume that there had to be a mom and a dad, but can there be two dads? (hm hm) Can there be 2 moms? (yes, hm, hm) absolutely! Could there be one mom? (hm hm) Right, so that would be a stereotype. But we know, as we read, we’re going to change our thinking. . .

Of note, Laura’s text selection “turn[ed] against the practice of normalization” (Luhmann, 1998), disrupting more traditional elementary school content that tends to promote cis-heteronormativity and reinforce the overwhelming presence of whiteness as normal (Elia & Eliason, 2010; Picower, 2021). Yet, she did not stop there. In our postlesson interview, she spoke about lessons around “diversity” that her district provided and that they seemed to be “one-dimensional—[r]ead this book, talk about how there are different kinds of families. Read this book. Talk about how it’s not okay to. . .” If her goal, as she stated, was to have students “notice things” and to notice ways that they were thinking, she would have to work with them to peel back layers of normativity. She said,

I’ve realized that . . . gender and normativity, and the gender stereotypes are just so ingrained. Just one book is going to do nothing. And even over and over again it’s still—it’s like kids need—they need some tools to really be critical thinkers, to be able to challenge it themselves, because just talking about it one time is like a drop in the bucket compared to what they’re constantly, constantly exposed to.

Laura recognized that this work to challenge common sense—what students are “constantly, constantly exposed to”—is a process; it is ongoing, and that it is a real challenge to disrupt taken-for-granted norms and assumptions, to “change thinking.” In this lesson, her hope was that her students “would be surprised by things” and that they would “notice that they were surprised.”

To facilitate that noticing, Laura asked her students to engage in a prereading activity and to “describe and predict what the cowboys would be like.” In an email she sent the day before we joined her class, Laura wrote, “They drew pictures of their cowboys and also wrote words that they would use to describe them. We brainstormed as a group, and many students wrote words like ‘strong, aggressive, nice, fast, etc.’” Based on most students’ initial ideas, as Laura read the text, she “tried to stop at places where [she] felt like it was showing a different perspective than what they had thought” (postobservation interview), when the “sense” that they had about cowboys might be disrupted or challenged. Laura read,

Real cowboys want peace. They don’t want stampedes where all the cattle spook and thunder over the earth and scatter in dust storms. . . . But sometimes it happens. . . . Some of those cattle and dogs are never found. And cowboys think of them from time to time when everything else on the prairie is quiet. Real cowboys cry.

Student: It’s making me cry!

Laura: Hmm. That’s a sad part, isn’t it? Does that surprise you? So, friends, we’re going to stop there again and turn. Is there any way that your thinking has changed?

The questions that Laura asked were less about the content of the book; rather, they encouraged students to track their processes of making sense—in this case, about gender-based assumptions and stereotypes. Her questions were in the service of developing students’ ways of thinking and noticing, and she encouraged them to understand that their knowledge might be partial, “that their thinking can change as [they] read” and that they can “develop more awareness.”


We sat in the back of Laura’s first-grade class as she read Worm Loves Worm (Austrian, 2016), a picture book about two gender-ambiguous worms who want to get married. Their names are Worm and Worm. One is wearing a wedding gown and a top hat, and the other is wearing a tuxedo and a tiara. Throughout the book, the cast of bugs—bees, beetles, and a curmudgeonly cricket—provide commentary on how the wedding should be. The chorus of insects chime in throughout the story with messages of normativity; they cannot get their heads (or antenna) around the idea that what has “always been done” might change.

Along with students writing their own narratives, Laura’s learning target in this lesson focused on the author’s central message of the story. She continued the conversation about making assumptions and predictions and alerted her students to ways that “the author had to deal with some assumptions about what a wedding would look like.” Because her students would write their own narratives, she called attention to how, based on those assumptions, “the author had to make some decisions for the characters.” By making those decisions, Laura said, “the author’s trying to tell us something, that’s the message in the story.” Again, Laura focused on students’ processes of making sense, on how their thinking might change, and on assumptions that they might bring to the text. She said,

I want us to be thinking about what decisions the author made, how they might surprise us or might be different from what we would think and then I also want us to be thinking about what the author’s message is.

In the case of Worm Loves Worm, the commentary from the characters is grounded in commonsense assumptions about what is “normal” when it comes to weddings. Worm and Worm love each other and want to be married. That’s it! But as far as the bugs are concerned, there are expectations to be met. As the refrain from Cricket suggests, there are certain things that “have always been done” in the context of weddings. After trying to appease a barrage of demands, including the need to have a bride and a groom, Worm and Worm decide that they will both be the groom. Unsurprisingly, this announcement meets one last objection from Cricket: “But that isn’t how it’s always been done!” Finally, Worm and Worm retort: “‘Then we’ll just change how it’s been done,’ says Worm. ‘Yes,’ says Worm. . . . And so they were married because Worm loves Worm.”

Throughout her reading of the story, and in response to the characters’ ideas about how things have always been done, Laura engaged in a refrain of her own. When both worms decide to be grooms, questions ensue from the characters. Laura paused here and asked, “What’s happening in this part of the story?” Josh replied, “Maybe they both want to be them.” Laura responded, “So maybe they both could be the bride and the groom. Who gets to decide in the wedding?” In unison, the students exclaimed, Them! “Right,” said Laura. “They get to decide!” In fact, “Who gets to decide?” was a question—a refrain—that Laura frequently used in her class. We frame Laura’s frequent use of that question as a move to cultivate in her students a particular mindset that questions normative forces at play and that upsets conformity. What counts as normal or common sense tends to be dictated by people in positions of power and privilege, even in first grade. This question of “who gets to decide” flies in the face of common sense in that it challenges students to think about where they land, who they are, and what they want, regardless of how things have always been done. In our follow-up interview with Laura, she explained that this question was meant to support her students to “make their own choices . . . and [to understand] that we all make different choices for different reasons.” She continued,

so just like them being able to take ownership and make decisions for themselves. . . . Just that idea that, “Okay. In the end it’s going to be your decision.” I mean I wished someone had told me that when I was little. [laughter]

The question of who gets to decide persisted when it came to students’ writing their own stories about two worms who want to get married. Laura was clear with her students that despite what had been considered common sense, or what had “always been done,” they were the authors of their own stories, and they “get to decide.” Pushing on commonsense ideas about what makes a wedding, Laura said, “So, if you assume, well in a wedding there has to be cake, that’s an assumption. Does there have to be cake in a wedding?” Again, a chorus of students replied, “Noooooo!” Laura continued, “Who would get to decide if they were writing their own story about a wedding?” In unison, several students shouted, “Yourself!” Laura echoed, “Yourselves! You get to decide. And who gets to make decisions for the characters?” “Us! Laura’s use of the question “Who gets to decide?” asks students to grapple with where they land in relation to what has always been done. It recognizes some kind of normative forces “out there” that could perhaps dictate or influence not only students’ decisions but also expectations that they have for others. In essence, it supports them, in Laura’s words, “to really examine their thinking, to be critical thinkers, to question things, to wonder about things”—to develop a mindset that questions common sense.


One intention of this article was to speak back to a question that we are often asked in our ongoing work with educators: What’s next? What’s next after adding more voices to the curriculum? What’s next after disrupting binaried ways of addressing and separating students? Essentially, what does the ongoing work of moving beyond inclusion and disrupting cis-heteronormativity look like? Here, we offered snapshots of one teacher’s efforts to do that work, as she made instructional moves that rattled the common sense of her students and supported them in cultivating a queer mindset. By explicitly asking students to recognize how their minds worked—that is, when their thinking simply mapped on to and where it diverged from commonsense notions about families, gender roles, gender stereotypes—Laura offered her students a chance to understand the partiality of their knowledge and to realize that when they know more, they have the power to “decide” and to “change their thinking.”

In conceptualizing a queer pedagogy, Luhmann (1998) developed “queer” as a practice that “turns critically against the practices of normalization . . . of any normalization, be it racist, sexist, or whatever” (p. 142.) What we found most impactful about Laura’s attention to process with her students was the opportunity it offered them to think through “the very processes by which (some) subjects become normalized and others marginalized” (p. 143) and to cultivate a way of thinking, feeling, doing—that is, a mindset for understanding what rattling common sense is all about. While in this article, we focused on Laura’s teaching practices related to cis-heteronormativity, we argue that supporting students to cultivate a queer mindset must include attention to the many ways that oppression and identity intersect. For example, conversations about reductive and consequential commonsense notions around language, dis/ability, cultural practices, behavior, and who is in need of “discipline” are all entry points for conversations that elementary students can and should be having. Starting here might work toward the healing of middle and high school spaces that continue to harm multiply marginalized students (Annamma, 2017; Brockenbrough, 2015; Burdge et al., 2014; Darling-Hammond, 2019).

Beyond disrupting normativity by offering them diverse representations of characters in books, or disrupting normative practices related to gender, Laura asked students to “think differently” and to notice when their thinking might be changing. In essence, her goal was to support her students in examining their thinking to such a degree that the process itself would become the “tool” that would support them to “challenge [normativity] on their own.” Further, she asked them to notice the consequences of their thinking, when stereotypes, for example, might “get us in trouble.” In the case of Laura’s class, the “trouble” her students got into was around what might have happened in the stories that they read, but this attention to the consequences of our thinking is significant in moving forward the conversation about “what’s next.” Teachers might, for example, ask students to consider how our commonsense thinking has consequences for the ways that we treat one another, how our common sense has affected ways that we “allow” our classmates to be their authentic selves, and how commonsense thinking has served to deny access and equity to groups of people throughout history and, very essentially, right now, in this political moment. Laura’s goal with her students was for them to “notice things,” to “be surprised by things” and to recognize that “they were surprised.” Of the many “tools” that Laura extended to her students, in our view, the most important was the mindset that she invited them to identify ways of thinking, feeling, and doing that they are always cultivating and enacting.

As we outlined in the literature review, a growing number of researchers and K–12 educators are working in partnership to understand this ongoing work, what it sounds like, and what potential it has for the ways that we support students to think and act differently in an effort to create more just, equitable schools and to disrupt oppression along multiple and intersecting lines of oppression. Elementary educators like Laura are disrupting cis-heteronormativity by offering diverse representations of family for their students to consider; they are having their students grapple with commonsense assumptions about “girl” and “boy” activities and behaviors; and they are challenging students to think differently about binaries and about how power functions to dictate what counts as normal and how those norms differentially affect certain people. In essence, educators are rattling the common sense of their students and engaging them in challenging the status quo. They are cultivating in their students what we have conceptualized here as “a queer mindset”—a way of thinking, feeling, and doing that interrogates normativity. A queer mindset questions and challenges ways that “things have always been done.”

What we found unique about Laura’s teaching practices was that she called attention to that process with her students. This, in our view, is critical to the “what’s next.” In a talk entitled “Teacher as Activist: Supporting Immigrant Students in Urban Classrooms,” Kevin Kumashiro (n.d.-b) was asked, related to supporting students who are immigrants in our classrooms, “How can teachers nourish student learning in ways that honor and build upon prior experiences in order to facilitate access to new opportunities?” In response, he said, “It’s one thing to map onto . . . to tailor our teaching to differences.” In practice, this mapping onto and tailoring to differences looks like including LGBTQ+ students, Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) students, and students who are immigrants; recognizing and affirming the diversity that those groups represent; and teaching in ways that create in those students a sense of honor for the unique identities that they bring. In Kumashiro’s view, that way of teaching fails to “actually empower people to understand the rules, the unspoken rules at play in any institution, right? Unmasking the unspoken rules is one of the ways that we help people navigate institutions, and that is our responsibility as well.” Similar to the practitioners we included in our literature review, in the lessons that we observed, Laura aimed to do just this. Yet, she also prompted students to question where those rules came from, “who gets to decide” on those rules, and, importantly, to track their thinking related to those rules. Along with rattling her students’ common sense, Laura engaged students in their own thought processes, which offered them insights into how normativity functioned as well as how they tended to be drawn in by it.

In his conversation, Kumashiro (n.d.-b) was sure to say that our responsibility around immigrant students “isn’t just with immigrant students, it’s with everyone.” Reflecting on larger purposes that animate our work as education researchers, he made the case that we have to contribute to something bigger. He said that education should be part of larger social movements, that what changes society is “not just a law. It’s not just a leader. It’s actually a powerful social movement.” What characterizes a social movement, in Kumashiro’s view, “isn’t simply leading toward changes in policy and law. A social movement is powerful because it rattles common sense; it shifts public consciousness.” That shift, he said, has historically changed the ways that we talk “about race, about rights, about diversity and democracy.” This, he argued, is where education comes into play and why education is so scary to people in power: because education is where new ideas come from, “where we get to imagine the world as it not is yet but the world as it could be.” The moves that Laura made in her classroom to rattle common sense opened space for new ideas, for questioning oppressive norms, and for disrupting status quo ways of thinking that affected all of her students, not just those who identify as LGBTQ+ or who are members of queer families. She focused on her students’ processes of making sense and encouraged them to “notice” those processes so that the practice of questioning normativity along multiple and intersecting lines of identity and oppression might become embodied as part of who they are. By supporting students in cultivating ways of thinking, feeling, and doing that upend common sense through questioning and challenging normativity, not only can educators support individual students, but they can also propel the kind of social transformation we want to see.



All proper names in this manuscript are pseudonyms.


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Sample Interview Protocol

Intro to interview about specific texts:

We’re going to talk through the three lessons we observed by way of the 3 clips you chose to share with your colleagues. First, though, I want to know some background around each lesson. Tell me about the lesson you taught on A.) cowboys—assumptions and stereotypes; then B.) Tango; then C.) Worm loves worm

1. When you were planning this lesson, what were your goals? When you think about all that goes into teaching a successful lesson—content, students, school context—especially a lesson that centers GSD—what came up as you planned this lesson?  2. When you think about the best-case scenario in terms of how students would respond, what would you say? What were your hopes? What did you want them to learn? 3. What was pedagogically challenging about this particular lesson? What made it hard to teach? What do you think made it hard for students? How did you navigate those challenges?

Worm loves Worm

57- 1:44

Clip Description: What the author’s message is, making decisions, surprising us. Tell me about what you’re saying here. How are you setting up this book?

2:30- 4:06

Clip Description: “Cricket said, ‘that’s how it’s always been done.’ student says something about a man and a woman/husband and wife and Laura asks if that’s the way it’s always been done and students say yes. . . . Then, Laura says, let’s see. Student then says: It doesn’t have to be a man and a woman b/c I have 2 moms. . . . To us, this seems like a pedagogical challenge—students identities/families interact in complex ways (belief systems, etc.). Student’s world and other student’s world. Can you talk about how you navigated this challenge with students who are so young?

4:40 Laura: “Does there have to be a boy and a girl in a wedding? No. . . ”  Student talking about Bible . . . but I think it’s okay.” Related to the challenge above, talk about what you were thinking here, what you might have said, etc.

5:15 author’s message: How was this conversation for you? Were you happy with what they got from the book? (Maybe show post-writing. What stands out to you?) Re: Student’s comment and “they get to decide”—how do you think this language is impacting students? What’s your goal?


Transcribed Teaching Excerpt/ Bethy’s Analysis (in bold)

0- Laura getting things started . . . and introducing us . . . work at XX . . . help teach adults who are going to be teachers . . . watching me not you . . . not on TV or news . . . for them to learn . . . getting partners . . . mom doesn’t want her to be in the video (she said, “I want to be in the video.”)

Eyes up here . . . learning targets . . .

4:06- 4:50

Laura: We’ve been talking about making predictions. And we’ve been reading some stories too about different kinds of jobs. And remember that a prediction is an informed guess about what might happen. And when they say informed, that just means that we’re using information that we already know. But what we talked about is how sometimes that information that we think we know can get us into a little bit of trouble, right? Making predictions and calling attention to the process of making predictions-- predicated on what counts as normal—or “common sense”—call up this language—and push against normativity by making their process explicit: [[Queer Mindset]]. Because when we made predictions about the firefighter’s story, what happened when we made the predictions Making predictions and calling attention to the process of making predictions—predicated on what counts as normal—or “common sense”—call up this language—and push against normativity by making their process explicit. [[Queer Mindset?]]

Student: It was wrong.

Laura: We were wrong. Why were we wrong, Andrew?

Student: Because, um, we all thought it was a boy and it was actually a girl.

M: We all thought the f-fighter was going to be a man and then when we read the story

Student interrupts—I thought it was going to be a girl

M: right, well some of us thought it was going to be a girl but most of us thought it was going to be a man

4:59- 5:16

So sometimes when we make a prediction, we assume something. That means we make a guess based on what we know. And we learn a lot of stuff from TV, right don’t we. we learn a lot of stuff from our parents, form books, from our friends, and some of that stuff is true, and some of it’s not. Making predictions and calling attention to the process of making predictions—predicated on what counts as normal—or “common sense”—call up this language—and push against normativity by making their process explicit. [[Queer Mindset]].

SO today I’m going to add a new word that we’re going to talk about. We’re going to talk about the word stereotype (Ok, so assumptions, predications, stereotypes. . . ). Put your thumb up if you’ve ever hear the word stereotype before.


I see some friends who have heard of that word. Does anybody know anything about what that word might mean? Yeah, it’s a pretty big word. So, today we’re just going to talk a little about it. What a stereotype is, it’s a simplified idea of what a person or thing could be like. So, if we just thought—a f-fighter has to be a man, that’s a simplified idea, right, b/c that’s not true. We realized, even, we said, gosh, we know that, right? But we still, sometimes, make predictions that get us into trouble, or . . . we’ve read some other stories, I’ve put some up here (Make predictions that get us in trouble. Then follows with examples about families. . . ). Another stereotype we might predict or assume (picks up Tango) that in a family, we might assume that there had to be a mom and a dad (based on what’s normal), but can there be two dads? (hm hm) can there be two moms? (yes, hm, hm) absolutely. Could there be one mom? (hm hm) Right, so that would a stereotype but we know, as we read, we’re going to change our thinking. . . (The focus is changing thinking—that’s part of what a Queer Mindset is, developing/shifting/changing thinking that has been based on what’s normal—focus on the process)

Excerpt From Interview/Bethy’s Analysis


Interviewer: Okay. So this is Laura. Interview 1. Okay. So the first question just kind of asks you—we’ll take one lesson at a time. So we have the Cowboys lesson around assumptions and stereotypes to Tangled lesson and Worm Loves Worm. So we’ll just take one at a time before we get into the video clips. So if you think back to the Cowboys lesson, and if the first question I was going to ask you was when you’re planning this lesson what were your goals, when you think about all that goes into teaching a successful lesson or making that lesson successful—so your content, your students, the school context—what came up as you planned the lesson?


Laura: So I think first of all I was just trying to challenge myself to (work as complex)—and with a lot of what I have really been excited about doing the class with you all is just trying to challenge myself to help kids not just read them something that presents another diverse (not just include), you know, picture of cowboys or whatever.


Interviewer: Right.


Laura: But how to help them sort of think differently, and start to question, and start to be more critical about the way they read things and the way they learn things (Attention to process—wants to get kids to think differently—rattle their common sense). And so I was [inaudible] to just talk about that article about the different levels. And I thought, “Well, what’s something I could do that take a little bit deeper but with young kids?” Because it’s really easy to just read a book about a kid that gets bullied, because he wears a pink tutu or whatever. And then just stop there and say, “Okay,” you know, “We need to accept everyone.” (Beyond anti-bullying/ color-blindness, etc.)


Interviewer: Right.


Laura: And not really have the kids start to notice things (Attention to their own processes—building a mindset and being explicit about it). And so that was kind of my goal is how can I really push them to start to think and to notice how they are thinking and notice the predictions (Push them to think [differently] and to notice that they are doing it . . . this is different from what other studies, etc. have talked about—not just rattle common sense but notice when you’re doing it. Developing the Queer Mindset!!!). And so, we kind of and then another piece of it is what can I do? How can I bring in things that I’m already doing that are part of the standards, because I feel like for teachers a lot of times that comes up, you know?


Excerpt from Analytic Memo July 23, 2020

What’s next?” Cultivating a queer mindset—haven’t written through this yet, but this is what I’ll develop as an analytic tool.

*Attention to the building itself which involves unlearning, etc. and does something to the learners—something about process—(cricket); framing emotional interference (does Gaby do this through cricket?); creating the context for learning—which means on-going attention, frames of thinking (i.e., who gets to decide?) to the process—when Laura says, “we’re going to change our thinking.”

*Actively supporting students to understand normativity (What counts as normal?) and in their questioning of normativity—along multiple and intersecting lines—must be intersectional

*Questioning “who gets to decide?” which suggests attention to something “out there” some kind of power beyond us as individuals/taking back their power

*Queer futurity—something beyond here/now. Why do we need to know? Is that “how it’s always been done?” I.e., what would it look like to change what’s been done and why should we? How does what’s been done operate to marginalize people? How do we marginalize people? Laura’s doing this

*Creating the conditions for unlearning (what do we mean by this?)

If queer is never done, if it’s a place we can’t get to (Munoz) then we can’t have endings and the things we want teachers to do in the effort of disruption are to create mindsets in students, right? We do things to disrupt what’s normal in schools, but what are teachers doing to share that disruption with students, to teach them to disrupt, to make that disruption explicit. That’s what the Queer Mindset is meant to do I think and it’s intersectional and context specific.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 7, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23784, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 11:18:13 AM

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About the Author
  • Bethy Leonardi
    University of Colorado Boulder
    E-mail Author
    BETHY LEONARDI, Ph.D., is codirector of A Queer Endeavor (aqueerendeavor.org) and an assistant professor of Educational Foundations, Policy, & Practice at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. In her research, she focuses on the complex relationship between policy and practice, specifically policies that rub up against the status quo. Her work has appeared in journals such as Gender & Education, Educational Policy, Journal of Education Policy, and the Journal of LGBT Youth.
  • Sara Staley
    University of Colorado Boulder
    E-mail Author
    SARA STALEY, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. She also codirects A Queer Endeavor (aqueerendeavor.org), a nationally recognized center for gender and sexual diversity in education that works in partnership with districts and school communities to organize learning environments in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth can thrive. Her research focuses on how prospective and practicing teachers learn and enact queer-inclusive and antioppressive practices. She has published articles in journals including Research in the Teaching of English, the Journal of Teacher Education, and the Harvard Educational Review.
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