The Edge

“We All Do Better When We All Do Better”: LGBTQ+ Affinity Group with Brandon Petersen and Emily Thomas

June 06, 2024 ISTE Season 2 Episode 21
“We All Do Better When We All Do Better”: LGBTQ+ Affinity Group with Brandon Petersen and Emily Thomas
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The Edge
“We All Do Better When We All Do Better”: LGBTQ+ Affinity Group with Brandon Petersen and Emily Thomas
Jun 06, 2024 Season 2 Episode 21

Join Georgia and Jessica for a conversation with Brandon Petersen and Emily Thomas from the ISTELive 24 LGBTQ+ Affinity Group. Listen as they explore how access to technology can help create conversations about their community and what to expect from the Affinity Group in 2024. 

Show Notes Transcript

Join Georgia and Jessica for a conversation with Brandon Petersen and Emily Thomas from the ISTELive 24 LGBTQ+ Affinity Group. Listen as they explore how access to technology can help create conversations about their community and what to expect from the Affinity Group in 2024. 

LGBTQ+ Affinity Group with Brandon Petersen and Emily Thomas

[00:00:00] Georgia Terlaje: It's time for the edge, a podcast brought to you by it's the community leaders. Whether you're a seasoned educator, a visionary administrator, or a passionate education enthusiast, fasten your seat belts because this podcast is tailor made for you. 

[00:00:14] Georgia Terlaje: Get ready to embark on an exhilarating journey as our ITSD community leaders take you behind the scenes and into the dynamic world of education. In the episodes ahead, we'll unveil stories from the front lines, showcasing the relentless dedication and innovation that fuels the transformative field of education.

[00:00:32] Georgia Terlaje: Buckle up and brace yourself for an adventure coming up today. We've got two fabulous guests on the show who are going to discuss affinity groups for it's the live 2024. I'm one of your community leader hosts, Georgia. I'm a TK five instructional coach and an educator of 35 years. And I'm here with my always favorite partner in crime is Jessica.

[00:00:55] Jessica Pack: Thank you, Georgia. You are my favorite too. I love it. I'm Jessica Pack, a middle school teacher and an ISTE author. I'm so looking forward to today's episode because we are going to discuss the role of affinity groups in ISTE. And today we're going to focus on the LGBTQ group. So we're super excited to welcome our fellow ISTE community leader, Emily Thomas.

[00:01:21] Jessica Pack: Welcome to The Edge, Emily. 

[00:01:23] Emily Thomas: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here. I love The Edge. So I'm so happy to be a part of this today. 

[00:01:29] Jessica Pack: Oh, and we are so excited too because you brought a friend. Could you introduce your colleague to us? 

[00:01:36] Emily Thomas: I can. I brought the ever amazing Brandon Peterson today, who is also a member of the LGBTQ Affinity Group.

[00:01:48] Emily Thomas: Hello. 

[00:01:48] Jessica Pack: Thank 

[00:01:48] Emily Thomas: you. 

[00:01:49] Georgia Terlaje: We welcome both of you to the edge. Thanks so much for being here. So we always like to start off with a little insight of like how you two met starting working together, sort of your origin story. So could you give us a little background about that? 

[00:02:04] Brandon Petersen: Brandon, I think this one's all you.

[00:02:06] Brandon Petersen: It's all me. I was like, I'm trying not to interrupt. Happened by total oh, I mean, I think everything in teaching happens by total disaster. I don't even want to say happenstance. Like, that was not by, like, happenstance at all. Disaster, is that a thing? Organize, yeah, organizing a disaster is disaster cleanup on aisle five.

[00:02:25] Brandon Petersen: We met last year at ISTE and ISTE Live in 23 in Philadelphia. And it was really exciting because I believe, if I recall, that was the first year that ISTE had affinity group meetups during the conference. And it was just very exciting to be in a room with other, you know, folks that identify similarly to you, or that represent you, or that had like a lot of empathy.

[00:02:53] Brandon Petersen: And so there's a lot of exciting energy in the room. And then the person that was supposed to you know, show up for that session did not show up to lead the session. And we're like, Oh, my gosh. And a little background information. I'm from Denver, Colorado, so I'm actually on the program committee for ISTE Live 24, which is in Denver.

[00:03:11] Brandon Petersen: And so I'm sitting there as a representative kind of of ISTE at the time. And I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I can't like, of course, it's going to be like the gay group that gets messed up. Like, that's literally what I'm thinking. Like, I'm and Emily is sitting right next to me. So we're talking. I'm like, okay, I'm gonna just get up and say something and kind of try to get the group going.

[00:03:28] Brandon Petersen: I don't know what's supposed to happen at this meeting. Like, nobody's told me anything. But thanks to Emily and a lot of others, we were able to just have like a lot of really great conversations. And I learned that Emily. Is one of the leads for the affinity group and I got to learn more about the affinity group.

[00:03:44] Brandon Petersen: And it was just fun. And now we're leading it. So we definitely will be there. 

[00:03:48] Emily Thomas: Yes, we will definitely be there. And it's not quite as early as the Philly one was. We had the like 8 a. m. time slot. Yeah. 

[00:03:58] Brandon Petersen: At least it wasn't on a Monday. And maybe 

[00:03:59] Emily Thomas: it was the day after all the big, you know, company parties.

[00:04:03] Emily Thomas: Yeah. Now I don't remember, but yeah, it was bright and early. Yeah, that doesn't sound very fun. No, we didn't pick the early one this time. We're afternoon this year. 

[00:04:13] Georgia Terlaje: I thought it should be so much more energetic and exciting because people will have sort of slept off and worked off the night before. So that's good.

[00:04:22] Georgia Terlaje: Yes, exactly. 

[00:04:26] Jessica Pack: Well, what do you see the role of affinity groups being at ISTE Live 2024? Because now that we've had this year to kind of, you know, get your legs under you and figure out maybe what the vision is what is it going to look like this year? So 

[00:04:43] Emily Thomas: I think 1 thing that I'm really was really like the most of the most powerful part of our experience last year.

[00:04:50] Emily Thomas: I think we're hoping to bring forward into this year is that community it's there were many people where it was like, yep, I'm the only person that I know of who identifies as lgbtq plus in my district in my township in my county. It's just, or the only other person I know is my spouse. Okay, well, yeah, that's awesome.

[00:05:11] Emily Thomas: But that doesn't build a sense of community. And if you're the only person you know of at your school in your district, that makes you feel really alone. So having that community, having a group of people, even if we're just, you know, down the road or a couple states away, you still have a community there for you.

[00:05:30] Emily Thomas: You're not alone. alone. There's all of us here as well. 

[00:05:35] Brandon Petersen: Yeah, I would concur with that. I think, like I mentioned before, having being able to feel empathy and, and know we, you have other folks going through similar experiences, especially in education as you, and that came out at the last one, but I think having a little bit more of like some structure and guidance and I think for me, what I also want to celebrate as like, or yes, to share is a lot of celebration experiences too, of like.

[00:06:03] Brandon Petersen: Sometimes sessions get very negative, and I understand, education's rough right now. But there's also a lot of celebration to be had, and a lot of things to learn. And I want to be able to help empower others to know, like, you don't have to be afraid of being gay, or you don't have to be afraid of, you know, a lot of things.

[00:06:22] Brandon Petersen: And I have some of those stories to share. And I definitely think, like Emily, just being more prepared and being able to really, Share all of that is just super beneficial. I always say like like we're the regional affiliate, which is in that co here And I always feel like we're the island of misfit toys as teachers sometimes, especially the ed tech, techie teachers.

[00:06:41] Brandon Petersen: Right. And so there's just a really unique human experience to have there that I think is just something to really just be able to, to have and to learn from. And it just will hopefully empower and inspire people to be able to walk away as you would just normally for Misty, right. But at this whole other level of like.

[00:07:00] Brandon Petersen: We have these different layers, and so, you know, how can this help me in the next year you know, especially as we, like, look at an election year and many other things, like, how does it, how is there things to learn and not be so afraid of and to celebrate and to empower us, so. 

[00:07:16] Emily Thomas: And we have the added benefit of ISTE happens every year during LGBTQ Pride Month, so even more reason to bring a little bit of, you know, celebration and party to ISTE.

[00:07:28] Emily Thomas: Just not at 8 a. m. No, 

[00:07:33] Georgia Terlaje: that's just cruel. So, so Brandon you were talking about like some stories and that was something that we wanted to talk about is what are some either success stories or stories from the last year that you could share that really kind of highlights the importance of the group and how it really does build inclusion and educate hopefully.

[00:07:55] Brandon Petersen: I think, for me, I was always afraid to even mention that, like, I'm a part of the LGBT community. Being a fifth grade teacher I was told at a prior school, like, that's just, like, you've got to be ready for this. And I was like, ready for what? Like, I don't understand what you mean when you say this. And that was, like, in reference to, like, I don't know, parent backlash, or kid backlash, or who knows?

[00:08:18] Brandon Petersen: I don't know. But then I'm, I'm at a new school, this is my second year, and we're all about inclusion and equity in this school, and that feels like home, because what I learned is that I've always been ready for it, and I didn't know it. I was afraid but then, like, it wasn't a big deal, like, It is definitely something I've been able to identify with more.

[00:08:40] Brandon Petersen: Having a significant other. I had kids that, you know, they just would ask. And I'd be like, yep. And they're like, oh, do you have a boyfriend? And I was like, yeah. And they're like, so happy for me. And I was like, wait, oh, I don't know. Was I ready for celebration? Like I don't think I was ready for, I think I was ready for kids to throw up all over me, I think.

[00:08:57] Brandon Petersen: And yet they were like, they were hugging me and so excited. And I think. Because our school just does a such a great job with inclusion and equity and belonging and representation. I learned that. Like there's no fear in there. I was super afraid because I think our system tells us that too. And I think for me being able to share that this year and go like, Oh, I was always ready because there was nothing to be ready for.

[00:09:24] Brandon Petersen: In fact, like if somebody goes, whatever, like whatever, but there are kids that are need to hear that or excited to hear that. Or, you know, they're, they just want me as their teacher to be happy and loved and they don't care. And I think that's what I really. Like for me, hearing stories like that, especially on the affinity groups and at our meetup is really hopefully empowering to some people that are put into situations where they're fear mongered or what not.

[00:09:53] Brandon Petersen: And to know like, no, it's, it's actually really shockingly not like that because I've worried about that myself, like, especially in an elementary setting. It's a little, it is different than middle and high school. They don't quite understand some of it yet. But they do though, and they just want.

[00:10:07] Brandon Petersen: They, they just want everyone to be happy and to know, you know, and then they're like, why did you never tell us? And I was like, well, that's like a whole long story. I'm not going to get into it. But I think sharing that is what's so exciting about these affinity groups is that there are people going through this as well, and they need to hear these stories and know there are actually, Like the Disney story at the end.

[00:10:30] Jessica Pack: I love that so much. Thank you for sharing that story and kind of how that impacted you. How do you see technology playing a role in advancing inclusion for the LGBTQ community and just representation in an educational setting?

[00:10:48] Emily Thomas: That's such a great question. I think it's sort of, again, this. Having community is great if you have a physical community right around you, but that's not always the case. Sometimes your community is, especially for people who work in more rural communities or in smaller communities, there, there just aren't that many people around physically when you've got, you know A school district of, you know, 10 teachers, really small places.

[00:11:15] Emily Thomas: So having that, using technology to build that community is really powerful, but then, so that's sort of like on the educator side, but I also think it's really powerful for our students too, to see how, you know, Bigger what's outside of our small community. Even, you know, Brandon and I are both big city kids.

[00:11:36] Emily Thomas: We're, we're, we're both city people. I'm in Minneapolis, so it's a big place, but seeing what it's like in other parts of the state and other parts of the country and how we can support each other and bring each other up because we all do better when we all do better. Right. That's sort of that classic phrase, but it's true.

[00:11:54] Emily Thomas: We do all do better when we. All do better,

[00:11:57] Brandon Petersen: Educational technology helps bring access. And that's like, 1 of the huge pillars that we have it at netco for equity. As we believe that, like, in order to be equitable, all students need access to a wide variety of things, to resources, to information and EdTech is always helpful in technology in general, it's helpful in that arena and that's something we've noticed too, and it's exactly like what Emily said, is Some students don't have access to any of that.

[00:12:23] Brandon Petersen: So when they get a device put in their hands and, you know, they're even on just like, you know, their favorite creation tool and they see a rainbow flag, they're like, Oh, what? Like, it gives them a chance to open up a conversation that the person that next to them may have a differing opinion, but it still starts something 

[00:12:41] Brandon Petersen: and that's just been neat to see. I was, I was shocked how privy a lot of my students were to information, and that really opened, it just started a conversation and allowed for more research to happen, and like, it's so neat, because we didn't have that, like, couldn't go to my, you know, 20, 000 Encyclopedia Britannica's that were in my room and figure that out.

[00:13:01] Brandon Petersen: But technology can do that, and it causes connection, which is so really wonderful. 

[00:13:07] Emily Thomas: Just to kind of add to that too, as you were talking, it reminded me of something we were working on last summer. So it kind of like, it's just sort of been done in my school district but we were working on making sure that students preferred names were the only thing that the students saw.

[00:13:23] Emily Thomas: So as a public school district, we do have to have the students their legal names, which is many times not the student's name. We have to have that for their records. That's just part of the deal, but we can have their preferred name be what shows up in their Google Classroom, in their email, in their chats, in their Google Drive, which is so important and empowering to our students to really See that and see that.

[00:13:48] Emily Thomas: Hey, we honor your name. That is your name. You're just not yet 18. So we have to, we haven't gone through that process to legally change your name and that's okay, but we're going to call you by your name. I

[00:14:03] Georgia Terlaje: love that idea. And I wonder, Brandon, if you could maybe add on to that of, you know, like giving advice to educators, because I think that's a great idea, a place to start, but ways that they can, educators can create a safer space in a supportive environment for L G B T Q students in the physical and digital space.

[00:14:22] Georgia Terlaje: So I love the Google classroom idea and honoring what their name that they want to be identified with. Do you have some more ideas? Brandon 

[00:14:30] Brandon Petersen: too many. Don't ask me for ideas. My brain is 

[00:14:34] Georgia Terlaje: please go. I am. I love a good brain dump 

[00:14:38] Brandon Petersen: fun for us is I mean, Minecraft is something that all of our elementary kids love.

[00:14:42] Brandon Petersen: And there are even you know, items within the library of pre made worlds that touch on equity, injustice, inclusion social justice, all the, like, it's amazing, like, so, it's just cool that you can go into these, they go into these worlds and they experience, like you know, working with Martin Luther King Jr.

[00:15:01] Brandon Petersen: And you're like, what? Like, and then they're asking me, like, who are some of these other people? And I'm like, Oh, we should, you should research them. Like, it doesn't hurt to Google it. And I think it's just as teachers, we create entry points and we get to let the students decide where that takes them so they can be Alice in Wonderland and go down the rabbit hole, or they can stay service level, surface level.

[00:15:22] Brandon Petersen: And I think that Minecraft is one of my favorites. Cospaces we've used a little bit, like giving them any of these digital sort of simulation type experiences where they can build and create, tell their stories, you know, book create, like there's a million of them. Flip has been amazing as well, like just a place to record asynchronous messages back and forth on different topics.

[00:15:42] Brandon Petersen: I think You know, there's a million tools out there. Canva, you know, Adobe, whatever Adobe Express, you know, we always joke because we call it like the, the train. But I think there's just so many different ways and it's just providing those entry points and seeing what, where students go with it. And I think that's what's great.

[00:16:01] Brandon Petersen: And then there is, there's opportunity. We, I had kids three years ago that just started a club and it was three of them. And we gave them a room and a club, and that was all they needed. And they just need to feel supported and guided. And I think that's the biggest thing I learned, is as an adult, I have a lot of experience.

[00:16:16] Brandon Petersen: I can, you know, help guide them through. But I also feel like I was never given that gift of time to do the exploration when I was younger. And they do, and that's just all I'm doing for them is giving them that that opportunity to explore themselves. So

[00:16:33] Jessica Pack: How can educational conferences like ISTE Live and you know, other conference spaces where educators gather, how can they better address the needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community both educators and students?

[00:16:50] Emily Thomas: First I want to say where I think ISTE does a really great job, and I don't see Not every education conference that I've seen has done this. I think if she does a really great job of I've all noticed at least since 2017 or 2018, they have been the inclusive restroom signs outside of all the bathrooms that just say, use the bathroom bathroom where you feel comfortable.

[00:17:13] Emily Thomas: And that's just, it's something small, but it really goes a long way to make sure that all members of our community are included. We, there was a couple of years ago, and I don't remember what year, where we added pronouns to our badges so that your name badge says your name and also your pronouns so that people know how to call you, what, what you, how you identify and what to call you.

[00:17:35] Emily Thomas: I think that's also super helpful. So I really appreciate that ISTE has made those steps. Because I was at a conference and they didn't do either of those things and I was like, well, I mean, that's not not cool. Like, let's, let's make sure we do that. So we're not gonna throw anybody into the bus.

[00:17:51] Emily Thomas: I'm not gonna name names. But yeah, so I think that's one thing that ISTE does really well. Brandon, you want to add areas for growth? 

[00:18:00] Brandon Petersen: Oh I'm going to say one. I'm going to do the total teacher thing. Let's sandwich this. I think one other thing being behind the scenes. So I got to do a lot of program review for Denver.

[00:18:10] Brandon Petersen: There's a lot of really amazing sessions that go outside of AI. Cause you know, AI is all the, the craze right now. Like it's almost annoying to me right now. And we got so many of those, but then, so we kind of like sorted it into two piles where it's like, okay, I, I, I like, okay, here's all the others.

[00:18:28] Brandon Petersen: And it was cool because equity is so huge right now. Like it's this huge Like this bucket of all this cool stuff, accessibility and like identity and all sorts of different things. And there's so many sessions that ISTE is providing, like that they provided last year and they're providing this year that I think are just, it's so exciting to see that because I do feel like a lot of other conferences, especially if they're in a location like Florida, they may want to play it safe.

[00:19:01] Brandon Petersen: And I don't think that ISTE is, Like interested in playing it safe, which is something I like from them. So that's been really cool to see from behind the scenes. And I feel like it's very natural and it's not forced and it's not done. Like some, some companies may do it to just try to make it a marketing thing or a promotion, but ISTE really wants every teacher to be unique and an individual and to be seen and represented and heard and that's And they want our kids, for our kids.

[00:19:32] Brandon Petersen: And I think that's really powerful. I think what they could do a little, like what any organization needs to do better is we need to tell more stories. I, I think it's tricky here in Denver because we're done with school at the end of May. And so, like, it's so much safer for our school districts to celebrate Pride Month in June because no kids are in school.

[00:19:52] Brandon Petersen: And I think that, We always say that with any of the months. It doesn't mean like that's the only month you talk about it. You know, like we're trying, we're getting better about doing that with some of the other months, but I think we play it safe in June because a lot of schools are either finishing or like, and you know, like that makes it sticky for me.

[00:20:14] Brandon Petersen: And so I think we need to tell stories throughout the year, just like we would for any other affinity group and celebrate those stories and those successes. And. I think that's part of that mission for, for, you know, folks that are LGBT to feel more included and seen and heard and represented.

[00:20:31] Brandon Petersen: And I, I would say that for a lot of companies, like, you know, we'll all turn our logos rainbow in June, but then in July, okay, change it to the next color. And I think that's just something that. Everyone needs to get better about. It's just always been a sticky point for me, but I, I mean, I do think that ISTE does a phenomenal job in a lot of things for all the affinity groups.

[00:20:52] Georgia Terlaje: I completely agree. Just, you know, on the outside looking in, I'm, Impressed with the inclusivity of it's D. So talking about it's D, can you talk a little bit about what you have planned for the LGBTQ affinity group at it's D and like when, where, what is happening? So listeners can like get it on your calendar.

[00:21:12] Georgia Terlaje: Jessica and I have a shared Google calendar for all the things for it's D because that's our like roadmap when we're there. So we know where to be. So what, what's going to happen with your affinity group? 

[00:21:24] Emily Thomas: Okay. So we don't have a room yet, so you'll have to check the online schedules, but the LGBTQ plus affinity space is Tuesday, June 25th from 3 to 4 p.

[00:21:37] Emily Thomas: m. I'm going to stress the p. m. part of that.

[00:21:42] Georgia Terlaje: And what do you have planned? Or are you still in the midst of like, kind of figuring out what's going to go on? 

[00:21:47] Emily Thomas: We're, I think we're still kind of, we're still in our planning phases a little bit, but I think we definitely want to include some sharing successes. Like we kind of talked about it early on because I think that's, you know, we got to celebrate a little bit.

[00:22:00] Emily Thomas: It is, it is, it is our month. We do get to celebrate a little bit. What else do you want to share? What else should we give away? 

[00:22:07] Brandon Petersen: I think, yeah, I really am leaning towards, like, how do we just keep it positive? I think, like, again, as teacher, it is the end of the year, too, so we're all teacher tired, right?

[00:22:16] Brandon Petersen: Like, so, I can get that as tough, but again, yeah, I think it's definitely that, like, let's share success. Like, I, I personally would love to focus more on kids than our own baggage. We're adults. We all have baggage. Like, it's a thing. And maybe it's just a little bit sacrificial as my own, but like, I will do anything for my kids.

[00:22:34] Brandon Petersen: And I want to just know, like, just all those success stories and like tools and resources. And, you know, even just the question you asked earlier is a great way to talk about, like, how are we, Really allowing students to explore their own affinities and to you know, what, what's working for your kids in these areas?

[00:22:53] Brandon Petersen: Because I think that's what's really, that's why we go to ISTE. We go for all the cool geeky stuff. So I want to know what are all the cool, you know, geeky tech tools, whatever projects, ideas you're, you're doing with your students to really help them find their identity or if they're struggling with their identity, how are they working through that?

[00:23:11] Brandon Petersen: And I, I really. You know, for me, that's kind of like my, my secret ninja, like, you know, essential question and standard. So, 

[00:23:20] Emily Thomas: and I think the other thing is building those connections and really, so that we have this, this online community throughout the year, we have a space in connect is to connect and it's not the most active space, but I'm hoping that, you know, come.

[00:23:35] Emily Thomas: What was it the 24th, June, come June 26th, after we've all met up in person, that we'll have a much more active space on the new connect. Everyone will be logged in and have a vibrant community all year. So that we do have these places to share our stories and also ask for help when we need help, because we all do need that sometimes.

[00:23:58] Jessica Pack: Well, thank you so much for sharing about your affinity group. This has been an amazing conversation and I think this is going to be an incredible opportunity for educators from around the world to be able to come together and connect within their community. Thank you both again for being here today.

[00:24:15] Jessica Pack: We really appreciate your time and your message, but before we let you go, is there a way listeners can connect with you? Because now they've gotten to know you a little bit and maybe they want to reach out just. personally before ISTE rolls around. So where can people find you, Brandon? 

[00:24:31] Brandon Petersen: Instagram may be the best place for me.

[00:24:34] Brandon Petersen: I feel like I was gonna say Twitter, but it's not even called Twitter anymore. So, oh, do you really call it X? I mean, you could do that. So you can find me on Instagram. I believe my handle is D E N underscore Peterson, which is spelled P E T E R S E N. 

[00:24:52] Emily Thomas: Perfect. And Emily? You can also find me on Instagram.

[00:24:56] Emily Thomas: I have all of the others, and they're all the same. You are the same username. But I don't post there very often. I mostly post pictures of the awesome projects my students are doing on Instagram. And I am at E K T EdTech. 

[00:25:11] Jessica Pack: Perfect. Well, that just about wraps up this episode of The Edge Podcast. We hope you had a great time.

[00:25:18] Jessica Pack: My name is Jessica and you can find me at Pacwoman208 on Twitter, Threads, and Instagram. 

[00:25:25] Georgia Terlaje: And I'm Georgia Terlahi and you can find me at Georgia Terlahi on X and you can find Jessica and I both at StorytellingSavesTheWorld. com. 

[00:25:34] Jessica Pack: On behalf of everyone at ISTE's The Edge Podcast, remember to keep exploring your passion, and Fostering your creativity and continue taking risks, all things that can bring you to the edge.