Teaching consent should happen both at home and at school. Our last blog touched on what parents can do to integrate learning and talking about consent into daily life with their children, this second blog will focus on what teachers can do to build up foundational knowledge for children.
Consent education was recently made mandatory in all schools across Australia from 2023 onwards. Currently, the Australian Curriculum is under review and the revised version will apparently cover consent. In the meantime, kids should not have to wait to learn about consent and teachers should be supported in delivering this material.
It’s surprisingly easier than most teachers think, once they have had some support and training. Consent is a topic I have been teaching for years and am very passionate about, I’ll show you some pointers on how to engage young people in this topic.
Here are some tips on how you can start teaching consent right now:
Don’t teach it on its own
Consent education must be taught alongside respectful relationships and sexuality education.
Approach the topic of consent and relationships with a focus on fun, enjoyment, and positivity
The fear and danger approach of the past does not serve our young people. Evidence shows that positive, candid, comprehensive, and engaging, act-based information results in the best outcomes for young people.
Understanding the ethics of consent
Young people do need to learn the laws around consent, however, we need to also teach them that consent goes beyond laws. It is important for them to understand that ethics, empathy, and respect are more important in situations of consent than just the law.
Laws can be thought of as the baseline for all experiences and partnerships, but people’s decisions and behaviours need to go above and beyond that. Current laws within Australia don’t cover the complexity of consent so it is recommended to guide young people to think about consent with a foundation of ethics, empathy, and respect. The end result being mutually negotiated experiences, with affirmative, enthusiastic, and ongoing consent.
Initial consent discussions for young people needs to emphasise that intimate encounters with others will be enjoyable, positive, and safe for everyone involved when they are always based on foundations such as respect, listening, and empathy. We can teach the importance of respecting personal space, understanding how to listen to people’s boundaries and asserting their own, and learning how to mutually negotiate choosing an enjoyable activity to participate in with someone else.
You can find more information about the age of consent laws in Australia here.
Create a safer safe
Any time you are teaching content around the topics of consent, human sexuality, and respectful relationships, it is essential to “set the scene” in the classroom. This means that you adequately inform and prepare students about the content that will be talked about and create a set of shared group guidelines that can help keep discussions respectful and safe for everyone.
Setting the scene creates safe parameters for discussions. Keep in mind that because you have shown students that this is a safe space, it may result in them feeling comfortable sharing personal information such as their gender identity or sexuality, as well as traumatic experiences they have had. Providing safe spaces for learning and awareness about how consent may affect them is a profound privilege as an educator, giving young people opportunities to get the help they need.
My teacher training sessions covers disclosures and reporting, as well as techniques to manage disclosures within classrooms. I recommend letting wellbeing staff know when you will be delivering these sessions so they can be ready for potential disclosures and be there to support you and your students.
No space is completely safe for everyone, with the potential for mentioning things that can be triggering for people always being a possibility. Covering topics such as consent, human sexuality, and respectful relationships will inevitably include conversations about violence, assault, and abuse.
This is why setting the scene is so important in order to make the space as safe as possible. Group guidelines help keep comments respectful and productive and within acceptable limits. Avoid discussions about the topic outside of allocated lesson time such as in the schoolyard because in-depth discussions can move into potentially unsafe/disrespectful territory for participants. For example, discussion and language may become value and opinion-focused rather than sticking to facts and in the third person. We cover examples of this in our teacher training.
It’s not about you, it’s about the facts
Adults have their own experience with sex and sexuality and this inevitably impacts how they teach these topics. You need to put your own experiences to the side, and teach young people the facts about what healthy and positive sexuality and relationships are.
What they learn should not include your experiences, views, or values, rather a comprehensive and age-appropriate look at these topics, including the common themes and beliefs people might have in general – but don’t focus on individual ones. Young people have the human right to learn about sexuality and consent in an inclusive and informative way, this means they need to hear all the facts to be able to make informed decisions for themselves. You can say ‘someone I know’ to elaborate and explain an example. Some other potential responses to personal questions:
“I don’t think it is useful to share my personal opinion…”
“I’ll share as much as is relevant to your learning, but I won’t be sharing my personal experiences…”
“Thanks for the question but it is outside the level of learning of this class. It’s a question you will need to ask your adults at home…”
In teacher training sessions, I talk about teaching the facts, not the values, regarding these sensitive topics. Each student and family will have their own values. The best place for students to learn these is at home.
Teaching facts will include talking about things like gender identities and describing trauma (i.e. prevention of assault) so this needs to be treated with care. Something that I encourage you to highlight is that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but people are not entitled to harm someone else with their opinion. You can link this back to when you set the scene and set one of the group guidelines as respecting one another. Conversations must remain respectful i.e. argue about the idea, not the person.
Another important tip to implement when talking about sexuality and consent with young people in the classroom, depersonalise the language that you use – avoiding saying ‘you’ or’ I’. If you use phrasing like you or I, students might feel that you are talking directly about them, or are talking about your own personal experiences. Using third-person language takes personal experience out of the equation for now and allows you to deliver the facts i.e. “a person would take the condom out of the wrapper and put it on an erect penis” versus “you take the condom out of the wrapper and put it on your penis.”
Resources for schools
I know how important consent education is and want to support teachers in delivering these lessons, I am thrilled to share our new resources that are classroom-ready for teachers.
1. I have co-written a book with Ingrid Laguna on consent: Kit and Arlo Find a Way: Teaching Consent to 8–12 year olds.
- An action-packed and relatable fictional chapter book, Kit and Arlo is a page-turning journey of upper primary school kids – Kit, Arlo, Harley and Vanya – developing and exploring friendships with plenty of ups and downs. Entertaining and compelling as a standalone narrative, Kit and Arlo’s secret weapon is that it contains all of the complex components of consent and includes respectful relationships education in an age-appropriate format
- Teachers can read the story, chapter by chapter, in class, and then use the discussion points and ‘read and respond’ notes to facilitate conversations around consent in child-friendly ways with their students.
- For schools needing a more in-depth consent and respectful relationships curriculum, a dedicated Kit and Arlo teaching resources platform houses evidence-based teaching activities, videos, webinars, podcasts, resource links, and lesson plans designed to tie in with the story.
2. Our website also has consent lessons ready for you to use inside our Virtual Classroom (VC) package.
- A platform that delivers lessons on topics of Human Sexuality, Consent, and Respectful Relationships, with content from Prep to Year 10.
- VC takes a best practice, whole-school approach by getting parents involved and providing resources for them too. This means that both home and school are working together to deliver healthy, age-appropriate information to children to support their wellbeing.
For more about Virtual Classroom for Primary Schools, click here.
For more about Virtual Classroom for Secondary Schools, click here.
Other Talking The Talk blogs on consent: