Mahlon Evans-Sinclair portrait

Written by Mahlon Evans-Sinclair

Mahlon Evans-Sinclair is an experienced educator with extensive participation in the fields of learning, professional & personal development, and EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

Recently, I updated some guidance on the ‘use of pronouns’ as part of a wider report writing set of guidelines.

From the outset, I’ll say that I didn’t like the singular focus being placed on pronouns. Given that it’s an agitator for many, it felt like it was getting in the way of a wider message about how to write for a document that’s official in nature, but also personal in content. Additionally, the wording gave off a ‘need to know’ basis about any change/accommodation needed for the child in this regard. The twin issues for me in this are that (1) at a school-wide level, it requires the ‘push for assistance’ button to be pressed before ‘support’ can be given and (2) it can lead to a reactive ‘when prompted to’ attitude from teaching staff, with relation to promoting good practice of inclusion as default across the board.

So I changed the wording from a focus on pronouns to a wider acknowledgement to ‘Inclusive Language’ and in doing so, I added the following points:

  • Inclusive language is affirming of all students, regardless of identity marker. (It reduces anxiety and barriers associated with identity presentation and supports feeling respected, understood and represented).
  • [With regards to gender] Use of gendered terms are perfectly appropriate in many contexts (such as report writing) and don’t need to be consistently avoided, however consideration to use inclusive terms is encouraged across all interactions with students.
  • Where a request has been made by both student and parent/guardian to use only the student’s name or [different] pronoun, [this will be communicated] directly.

In updating the guidance, there were a few things I wanted to contextualise, so separate from the document I gave further framing:

  • Firstly, we should be working to reduce any barrier of inclusion related to accessing the feeling of being part of/belonging in a space.
  • Thinking about it from the famously used and adapted ‘equality/equity’ image, we should be working to remove the fence completely (inclusion/liberation), rather than suggesting that we will treat everyone equally unless there has been a request made by the person facing the greatest barrier for an equitable ‘accommodation’. 
  • Furthermore, it’s understood that it’s not the responsibility of the person facing the oppression to educate others about it, so if we were to take that into account in this case, being inclusive in our language from the start takes the burden off of students having to ‘out’ themselves in highly visible and potentially unsafe way to feel validated in their identity.
  • Finally, (in this case), moving the conversation away from being specifically on gender and reactive in its nature, we have the opportunity to move it to being about being ‘Intentional, Individual and Inclusive’ that both affirms the purpose of the space as well as those who are part of it.