They're Speaking Gender Identity, Agency, and Belonging in an International Middle School

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Lappe, Gina

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East Carolina University


The purpose of the study was to better understand how international school middle school teachers can help cultivate a student's sense of belonging by creating a space for students to explore factors shaping their gender identity. The Participatory Action Research (PAR) study took place at an international school in South Korea that enrolls primarily local Korean students. A group of eight Grade 6 students volunteered as the study group. Through Community Learning Exchanges (CLEs), one-on-one and group interviews, and reflection activities the students identified factors that shaped their gendered identity and how it was expressed, or not, at school. Their stories revealed the following four findings: (1) The Influence of Context, (2) The Role of Relationships, (3) The Importance of Language and Culture, and (4) The Power of Elevating Student Voice. As a result of their participation in the PAR project they demonstrated increased agency, taking action to enact positive change in their community by designing and leading an advisory lesson for their peers, which focused on gender inclusion. The study findings indicate that educators can support students in cultivating a sense of belonging at school by elevating student voices within dialogue-driven spaces designed to explore topics of identity and agency at school. The study has implications for intentional school leaders and researchers interested in learning from students how to better honor diverse identities and support students to cultivate a strong sense of belonging at an international school.