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Expressing Kindness in Pink

By Adam Smith
Expressing Kindness in Pink

27 February was a special day on campus for students and staff alike at Esbjerg International School (EIS) in Denmark, home to some 350 students ranging from Early Years to Year 11. Not only was it the first ever girls’ indoor soccer tournament, featuring four schools, it also happened to be Pink Shirt Day.
The celebration of Pink Shirt Day began on the eastern coast of Canada in 2007 when then-students Travis Price and David Shepherd noticed a new student to the school, Chuck McNeill, was being harassed and teased for wearing the “wrong” shirt. What was wrong with it? It was pink.
Price and Shepherd decided to take action against this behavior by purchasing as many pink shirts as they could and giving them to friends and allies to wear the next day. The word got out and the next day McNeill walked into school surrounded by a sea of pink. The bullies? Scared off most likely.
That was 12 years ago. What started as an innocuous action by two caring and open-minded students has blossomed into a powerfully important and effective statement about the harmful effects bullying can have on students. The day is observed in nearly 180 countries worldwide.
Students at EIS got into the spirit and—most importantly—embraced the message of Pink Shirt Day. In my own class, we had profitable discussions leading up to 27 February about the various reasons why people become the target of bullies while exploring some of the root causes of bullying behavior. We inquired into concepts such as gender and gender identity, self-esteem and confidence, and what equality and freedom mean in our everyday lives.
Discussions in the lower-year levels centered on the gendered nature of toys, clothing, and colors. Why is it the case that pink is associated with girls and blue associated with boys? Are there “male” professions and “female” professions? Why are girls’ clothes smaller than boys’? In the upper levels, conversations were more nuanced and complex. Why should the State have any say in who a person can love or marry? Why is the saying “boys will be boys” harmful to both males and females? How can we be effective friends and allies for those who feel alone?
Pink Shirt Day is a powerful and effective lead-in for schools wishing to address bullying with actions rather than simply drafting a policy or dealing with consequences. The day can be approached with an interdisciplinary spirit; for example, students can research related facts and create infographics to raise awareness or turn percentages into fractions. Teachers might ask students to write letters to a bully, describing in detail how their words or actions made them feel. Books such as Trudy Ludwig’s The Invisible Boy and Alexis O’Neil’s The Recess Queen are invaluable teaching tools with which students easily identify.
Pink Shirt Day, at least for us here at EIS, is an important event leading up to International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019. We synthesize all the knowledge learned from Pink Shirt Day and use it as a starting point in looking at the achievements—both historic and current—of girls and women everywhere. We also tap into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #4, which is Gender Equality, explicitly highlighting areas of inequality among students, staff, and parents alike. It is an excellent time to question and challenge the beliefs and opinions of others while celebrating the many women in our lives.
In sum, special events like Pink Shirt Day that advocate a universally-accepted social message are powerful educational opportunities that we should take up in our classrooms and schools.
Adam Smith is a transplanted educator from Ontario, Canada who teaches Year 4 at Esbjerg International School on the west coast of Denmark.

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