Intersectionality and school communities:
a brief overview

Inclusive school communities value and support the participation of all students. They recognise and embrace diversity through providing supportive environments that are responsive to the different identities students may hold, including disability, gender and/or sexual identity, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, financial disadvantage, religious beliefs, and family structure (for example, out of home care).

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a framework for understanding that some people may:

  • hold different identities (for example, gender, disability, sexuality, age, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, financial disadvantage, religious beliefs, and family structure);
  • experience barriers to their participation that relate to these identities.

For some students and their families, a combination of characteristics that make up their identity can mean that they face multiple, overlapping barriers to inclusion. For example, a student with disability who is experiencing financial disadvantage and is living in out of home care, is likely to face more barriers to their education than a student with disability from a financially advantaged home.

Why is it important to consider intersectionality?

  • Students and families that have intersecting identities do not experience their lives through the lens of one identity at a time.
  • Respectful communication and working against discrimination can help students and families feel they are accepted as they are.
  • When intersectionality is not considered, students and families may not have access to full participation and inclusion, or to the supports they need.
  • Teachers do not need to be an expert in mental health, or each disability, culture, sexual identity, and religion.
  • Building your awareness of intersectionality can help you to identify resources and adjustments that will address barriers or discrimination, and support students’ meaningful participation.
  • It is important to remember that the positive experiences that people have do not take away the disadvantage or discrimination that they have experienced - no spaces are neutral.

Pause, reflect, include

Through pausing to reflect on how the unique life experiences of each student and their family shapes how they engage with their school community, and identifying how to best respond, teachers can support all students and families to feel valued and included.

For a brief overview of what an inclusive school may look like in action for school leaders, teachers and students, see our inclusive school guide.

Take the Pause, Reflect, Include challenge

Examples of opportunities for teacher reflection

  1. Might some topics cause distress to some students or their families?
    Examples: Topics that intersect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, such as colonisation. Family tree or history activities for students who are experiencing bereavement, are in out of home care, or have connections to the Stolen Generations.
  2. Do visual or media resources provide good representation of the diverse identities Australians hold?
    Example: Do images include people with disability? People from diverse cultural backgrounds?
  3. Have we considered how our policies, processes and practices may impact the participation of students and families with diverse identities?
  4. Are we making assumptions about the specific identities and experiences of students and families?
  1. Could some of your wording or phrasing reinforce harmful stereotypes or cause offense or hurt?
  2. Is the wording accessible to everyone?
  3. Are you aware of any specific cultural or neurotypical norms you may be expecting others to conform to?
    Example: Some students and families may avoid eye contact for cultural reasons, or if they are on the autism spectrum.
  4. Do you create clear expectations about the use of respectful language in your classroom or school?
  5. What do you have in place, to ensure that all students and families feel welcome and respected?

Examples of how teachers may act on their reflections

  1. Let families know early that there is a potentially sensitive topic coming up, and work together to identify a suitable approach to the topic.
  2. Provide choices.
    Examples: Create more than one activity that addresses the learning goals of a family tree activity. Make sure some of these activities have no connections to family or family history.
  3. Access information from reputable sources. See below for some resources that may be helpful for supporting students and families with diverse identities.

Want to know more about intersectionality?

For more ideas on how to consider intersectionality within your school community visit What does an inclusive school look like?, Trauma sensitive environments, Building successful school to home partnerships, and the below resources: