Shut Up — When people in a marginalized community are kind enough to share their experiences and their stories with you, listen. Do not turn it into a story about you or try to be “devil’s advocate.” It’s a gift they are giving to you, be grateful and be quiet so you can take it in… even when they are students and you are the teacher, they can still teach you a ton!
As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator”, I had the pleasure to interview Kryss Shane.
Kryss Shane MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW is the author of The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive.
With over 25 years of experience guiding the world’s top leaders in business, education and community via individual, small group and full-staff trainings, Kryss been featured as America’s go-to Leading LGBT+ Expert in The New York Times, ABC News, Yahoo!, and CNN. Her writing has also appeared in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, Huffington Post, International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership, The New Social Worker Magazine, and many more.
She is also the author of Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
It seems that most people who work in mental healthcare have a personal story or experience that draws them to this field. Growing up in small town Ohio, I was someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later. I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media, I was enjoying. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. I never saw myself as any sort of ally or activist or educator, I thought those were people who were much older and fancier than I was because those titles seemed reserved for these storied activists like Malcolm X or Marsha P. Johnson, larger than life individuals, not someone from small town Ohio!
Anyway, as I became increasingly more aware of the discrimination against LGBT+ people and people within the intersectionality (since any person of any background or identity can also be LGBT+ identified), I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am currently working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership from University of the Cumberlands, where I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism. I am also working in undergraduate and graduate social work departments Columbia University and Brandman University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on the minority populations that have been too long left out. That includes Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace
I still don’t see myself as ever being able to be at the likes of some of those incredible leaders but now I get the privilege of being surrounded by people like Andrea Shorter, Dimitri Moise, and Jazz Jennings, which only further inspires me every day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I always hope that the most interesting story is the one yet to come! That said, I’ve been told more than once that something I wrote helped someone heal and I’ve been told that something I said was repeated or posted to social media to help spread the message. Those two compliments are pretty much EVERYTHING to an author/educator! It taught me that I wasn’t talking/writing into a void, that people are listening and do want to do better!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always! In addition to my 2nd book just coming out, I am always working as a curriculum consultant, writing or reviewing work and textbooks for inclusion. Plus, I am teaching at a number of universities. Lastly, I am in the last year of a doctoral program, focused on Leadership, specializing in Education!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
Nope! (laughs) this is a terrible thing to rate as a unit as there are so many people working so hard in a system that doesn’t support them. The rating of most educators is so much higher than the rating of broken systems!
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
- Covid insights -covid has shown parents how much work goes into teaching, perhaps allowing some to, for the very first time, see the amount of effort put in by educators.
- Educators- while there may be a few bad actors, most are incredibly dedicated and truly care about students and their success.
- Technology- for those with access, this allows connections to learning tools and materials throughout the world!
- Possibility- nothing in education is permanent, so there is always the possibility for systems to improve and the process to become healthier and more just for everyone involved.
- Youth- open minds and open hearts within students never let us forget that anything is possible!
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
- Equity- kids shouldn’t learn based on what district they are in, they should all have access to every tool needed to learn.
- Educator pay- no educator should be working a 2nd or 3rd job to make ends meet.
- Gun control- it should not be considered political to make every school safe for every kid.
- Inclusive sex ed- every child should learn science-focused medically-accurate information that includes information for LGBT+ identities. Anything else is biased and sets kids up for lifelong problems.
- Funding at every level (federal, state, local)- We cannot keep putting more money into military and prisons than we do into education and expect to have youth who grow up with well-rounded knowledge.
Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Get Educated and Keep Getting Educated- You can’t help if you are ignorant. Seek out authors and speakers and activists and listen. If it hurts you to hear it, dig deep into whether this is hitting a truth you haven’t yet examined. Be brave and examine it. When you know better, you can do better. When you know yourself better, you can be better. [author’s note: Kryss’ book, “The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion” offers a guide for anyone working in education or working with/raising children.]
2. Shut Up- When people in a marginalized community are kind enough to share their experiences and their stories with you, listen. Do not turn it into a story about you or try to be “devil’s advocate.” It’s a gift they are giving to you, be grateful and be quiet so you can take it in… even when they are students and you are the teacher, they can still teach you a ton!
3. Make a Payment- We have to stop expecting people in marginalized communities to offer guidance or quotes or work for free. Stop telling people that it will be “great exposure” and pay them, including students, even if it’s with awards or public praise rather than money (due to the power dynamics of student/teacher relationships). Showing that you value them and their work is vital to being a part of ending systemic racism in the workplace, in academia, and in society.
4. Use Your Privilege- Figure out what aspects of your life give you a break in life and use them to support others without that access. Maybe this means mentoring someone, maybe it means donating money to the student club ro group, maybe you show up to protest, maybe you write letters or emails to politicians in support of inclusive laws. Whether it’s financial, time, passion, writing skills, knowledge, or anything else in your wheelhouse of awesome or in your categories of privilege, participate in supporting those who are working toward change.
5. Stop Assuming- Black people and Brown people and LGBT+ people are not simply skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities. They are full whole people. Do not assume that every person with this identity wants to speak on behalf of everyone. Do not assume that everyone in a marginalized community wants to talk about their identity. Don’t assume that a person’s professional expertise is in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Get to know a person as a whole person, not as a walking talking representation of just one facet of who they are or as a poster child for one aspect of how they identify.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
Right now, teachers are expected to buy their own supplies, cover their costs of living and student loans on meager pay, and be teachers/social workers/police officers/bullet-shields while taking risks of getting sick from covid. No wonder so many aren’t entering or staying in the field. In addition, LGBT+ educators often face significant discrimination. Once we settle the issues with expecting so much and paying so little while setting so many up for failure, we’ll attract top talent into the field and keep them in the field!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. -Audre Lorde
For me, this reminds me to use every position of privilege I have (whether by luck or having been earned) as a way to reach my goals or the goals of those I am leading via education. It reminds me that, though I may sometimes struggle or fear getting the teaching work exactly right or hitting every goal exactly perfect, I cannot and should not be rooted in fear. It reminds me that my fear cannot be the reason why I lose vision or why I do not act.
Being an educator is really difficult and sometimes it is scary to know how many are depending on you to know what you are doing and to know how to reach the goal. By acknowledging the reality of the fear and understanding why the fear is not the priority or the most important part of the work, I can be a more successful educator, which means those I am educating can be more successful too.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
(Note: Ever the activist, before answering, Kryss reminds us that not everyone is a “he” or a “she.”) There are so many in the activism world whom I’d love to have that time with. I think it would be unfair of me to name a Black person, as right now they are so busy in the movement along with still having to deal with the grief and the stress and the fear of existing while Black in America and then any down time isn’t my place to ask for. For me then, I think it’d be very cool to sit down with Dr. Biden. She has been incredibly vocal in her support of so many communities within the world of education and she always does an excellent job balancing when to use her platform and privilege to speak and when to use it to amplify the voices of others.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My website: ThisIsKryss.com
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!