Mary Lou Rasmussen

Welcome to the second #AARE2023 blog of the conference

And that’s the last post for the day. Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.

The following post is by Lizzie Mann, doctoral student, Flinders University

Teachers are storytellers. We should listen

The grey gloom couldn’t dampen the energy and excitement at the AARE Conference. It was an absolute pleasure to present my forthcoming doctoral research with passionate peers in Rural Education and Teachers’ Work and Lives.

My presentation shared the stories of early career teachers and the factors that influenced their work and life in rural, regional, and remote Australia. 

Teachers are storytellers. To hear their voices, see through their eyes, and tell their stories, I crafted research portraits from my interview data. Each “portrait” of each early career teachers “painted” with their words the compelling, rich rural work and life experiences.

To share the themes that influenced early career teachers’ rural work and life, I crafted research poems. Each themed poem was crafted with all early career teachers’ words, their different perspectives and experiences woven into a narrative flow. 

With much attention focused on the teacher shortages gripping our nation, teacher voice is critical. 

Teachers, early career and experienced, rural and metropolitan, should tell their stories. The media, governments, and universities are not the only storytellers. Stakeholders must value and listen to teachers’ voice, perspectives, and experiences of their work and life in the profession.

Engage in conversation. Change the narrative. Support our teachers. 

The following post is by Jess Harris, University of Newcastle.

Schools in a state of arrhythmia

The evolving challenges in the principals’ role in Australia and England:

Anyone who has worked within or with schools is aware that the role of the principalship is relentless. Principals hold responsibility for the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of teachers and students, in addition to needing to lead teaching and learning, address policy issues and plan for ongoing improvement. These papers in this symposium each highlighted that responsibilities can weigh heavily on school leaders and have been exacerbated by the disruptions caused by COVID.

In her paper, Pat Thomson drew on Lefebvre’s thought of rhythmanalysis to illustrate the standard rhythms within schools. School closures, shifting policy landscapes, and ever changing regulations disrupted these rhythms, leaving schools in a state of arrhythmia.

This period has added substantially to the workload of principals, with many reporting that they felt that they had no time off and their concerns that the constant overload was having negative impacts on their mental and physical health. 

These concerns were echoed by the team from Australian Catholic University, who showed that the wellbeing of principals is at crisis point. Their survey identified that the status of principals’ mental health and workload was worse in 2022 than it was during 2020. One potential explanation for this, raised in Pat’s session, is that schools and school leaders are often asked to take on greater responsibility but work is rarely, if ever, taken away.

The team from Monash, led by Jane Wilkinson, highlighted that the diversity and complexity of this role requires educational leaders to be strategic leaders, effective managers and show care and compassion for those in their school community. Their emotional labour means that they often prioritise teacher and student wellbeing before their own.

While this symposium identified so many evolving challenges for school leaders, there were some glimmers of hope. First, the Monash team reported that clear policies and procedures can provide principals with a sense of ontological safety. These provide something of a map to support school leaders to respond to critical incidents strategically, meaning that they can set their emotions aside – at least while dealing with crises. Furthermore, the chaos and complexity of COVID lockdowns made visible much of the work, including the emotional labour, that school leaders do. While this doesn’t help principals in the short term, hopefully the growing public recognition of their care for teachers and students, often at the expense of their own mental and physical health, will prompt some much-needed action from school systems.

This following blog post is by Naomi Barnes, QUT.

Staying with trouble

Generative discussion about the challenges to education of the COVID 19 pandemic was the topic of a symposium led by Susanne Gannon from Western Sydney University. The educational inequalities and (post)pandemic legacies in Australia, Denmark and Brazil symposium probably brought up more questions than solutions, each paper demonstrated the multifaceted challenges of schools and their communities without even scratching the surface of the complexities. But this is a good thing. It’s generative because we can’t just all agree on a way to move forward.  

The pandemic has made visible many tensions that education researchers need to fully consider. Rather than accepting the binary of ‘good and bad’, the desire for what education is and what it can be, lived side by side throughout the pandemic, and by sharing our stories and research around the world we can begin to develop a global conversation about what the point of education is. Tensions exist between parents delegitimising the purpose of school as opposed to those who needed it to do what it has always done. Australian parents deciding how much of the provided school work to do  was juxtaposed with children in Brazil doing any of the homework they can on a mobile phone and the very real impact of two years of disrupted education on learning. Some parents spoke of how inclusive schooling from home was for their children with learning needs because they could adjust for each child, was placed in tension with the huge inequalities that exist between those parents that could help their children and those that could not because they were essential workers. 

 Ultimately, the pandemic has shown us that education is in an uncomfortable place. But the advantage of being uncomfortable is that it demands we work, and continue to work, on ourselves, our theoretical frameworks, our analyses, our support of the teaching profession and the communities that are entangled with the education system. We can’t just pick and choose which research outcomes we will apply to match our pre-pandemic agendas because it is just so starkly unethical it is to pick a one-size-fits-all solution. 

There was a huge cast of academics and educators trying to come to terms with the meaning of education before/during the pandemic and the one that is still continuing today. Sharing experiences and listening to other points of view, the team was ‘staying with the trouble’. 

Paper 1: ‘Reworldings’: exploring perspectives on the future from Danish and Australian youth during COVID-19 

Paper 2: Parental educational agency during COVID-19 

Paper 3: Educational inequalities at the pandemic context: diagnosis and propositions for Brazilian public policies

This following blog post is by Steven Kolber, University of Melbourne

Weaving Indigenous knowledges

These three sessions on Indigenous knowledges dovetailed wonderfully with the overarching metaphor of weaving. Weaving strength-based and culturally responsive leadership; weaving reflective and relational approaches through storying pedagogy: and weaving stories of strength from across Australia, Aotearoa, Canada, and the United States.

Throughout all three sessions, respect, representation and developing a pipeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarship and excellence were present.

The ever-present deficit framing of ‘Closing the gap’ and other policy documents was challenged, through the role of leaders roles within creating spaces where excellence is the norm to counter this framing. The importance of leaders holding a clear understanding of race as a social construct as well as their core role to establish conditions for quality teaching and learning. 

Indigenising the academy through storying as a means to allow students to consider their own biases and expectations was outlined with exciting student writing examples presented. The pedagogical and conceptual framing of this approach was also outlined. The five core Storying principles were explored as follows:

  • Principle 1: storying nourishes thought, body and soul
  • Principle 2: storying claims voice in the silenced margins
  • Principle 3: storying is embodied relational meaning making
  • Principle 4: storying intersects the past and present as living oral archive
  • Principle 5: storying enacts collective ownership and authorship

Closing out the trio of sessions, an overview of First Nations and Indigenous knowledge inclusion within the systems of Australia, Aotoroea, Canada and the United States. Then stories of Indigenous experts were presented alongside their framing of best practice work within their relevant contexts. 

A very clear message of weaving strength based narratives throughout work in this field was developed alongside the lack of listening to expertise from Indigenous people within Australia and elsewhere. The need to listen, value and respect First Nation voices was reified through a range of possible actions and interventions. 

The presentations were:

Weaving the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices into school leadership in Australia Antoinette Cole, University of Queensland

Weaving a knowledge basket through storying: Enhancing student engagement in tertiary Indigenous Studies through a reflective and relational approach to teaching and learning Tracey Bunda, The University of Queensland; Katelyn Barney, The University of Queensland; Lisa Oliver, The University of Queensland

Weaving Stories of Strength: Utilising a framework towards Indigenising the Classroom Tasha Riley, Griffith University, Griffith Institute of Educational Research; Troy Meston, Griffith University; Chesley Cutler, Griffith University; Samantha Low-Choy, Griffith University | Griffith Institute of Educational Research | Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security; Brittany McCormack, Griffith University, Griffith Institute of Educational Research; Eun-Ji Amy Kim, Griffith University; Sonal Nakar, Griffith University; Daniela Vasco, Griffith University; Eunjae Park, Griffith University; Emily Wright, Griffith University

Mary Lou Rasmussen delivered the 2023 Redford Lecture this morning. What follows is an extract. #AARE2023

We love the Matildas – so what do we think about men’s football?

In part two of this lecture, I introduce my understanding of everyday public pedagogies of gender/sex/sexualities. These public pedagogies are familiar, they feed habits of thinking and feeling about gender/sex/sexualities. In order to imagine what’s possible, it’s valuable to examine what these public pedagogies can do, what they do to us, how they make us feel and what “we” can learn about ourselves by attending to the above.  

Public Pedagogies


Things worthy of the national embrace? Things that give us pause? 
The MatildasMen’s Football
She/her – He/HimThey/them
Ru Paul’s Drag RaceDrag Queen Story Time
Sex Education – on NetflixSex Education – in schools
Same Sex MarriageVoice to Parliament
Accessible bathroomsGender inclusive bathrooms

When I think about public pedagogies of gender, sex and sexualities in “so-called Australia” in 2023 these are just some of the things I have in mind. That “we” love the Matildas, but “we” recognise that men’s football has quite a way to go until it is seen as inclusive as the women’s game. That some pronouns are more equal than others. I learned that Drag Queens have their place, it’s just not in the library, with “our children”. That while “we” continue to agonize over the content of school-based sexuality education, Netflix’ Sex Education series 4, was the most popular series streamed in Australia for two weeks. That while the same-sex marriage survey felt right- a form of inclusion whose time had come, the “Voice to Parliament” referendum, not so much, “we” were not there yet. That accessible bathrooms that don’t specify a gender are okay. However, bathrooms that don’t specify a gender are potentially confusing, if they are for people who are able-bodied.

Beyond the list, public pedagogies are enacted in the ways “we” count gender and sexualities in our research surveys. It’s the way “we” talk about males and females, when most likely “we” might be focused on women and men but “we” often fail to understand the difference between sex and gender in the research that “we” do. It’s the way “we” design homes with particular sorts of families in mind. Or school/work/sports uniforms with particular sorts of bodies in mind. It’s in the ways that “we” talk about “working families” – that backbone of Australian society – predictably evoked at every election cycle like “we” all know and understand just what a “working family” is. It’s public votes on who should be included in our polity and/or our constitution. 

When public pedagogies of gender, sex and sexualities are seen in the broad, then “recognition politics” will be insufficient to apprehend and respond to the complexities they surface. A focus on inclusion of LGBTQ subjects in education, health and housing is valuable, but it is also insufficient. A focus on recognition and inclusion can obscure ways in which gender/sex/sexualities are entwined and embodied. 

Affects teach us. What can “we” learn when “we” pay attention to pleasure, disgust, discomfort and joy in relation to gender/sex/sexualities? In his critique of public pedagogies Glenn Savage asks us to reconceptualize “what pedagogy means in contemporary times [and] that informal sites of learning need to be re-imagined as spaces of resistive and regulatory potential: as dynamic, dialectical, and political spaces through which new visions can and will be forged” (2010:104). Public pedagogies of gender, sex and sexualities are, at least as I imagine them, at once, dynamic/regulatory/resistive. These public pedagogies, I hope you’ll agree, are directed towards us all, though maybe, sometimes, it feels like they are more for some, than others, do you know what I mean? Today, at least, I am not interested in what young people feel, what teachers feel, or parents or administrators. I am focused on this community of researchers in education and how together “we” can contemplate the affective and habitual discontinuities and continuities that adhere to the flows of gender, sex and sexualities in these public pedagogies. 

As an academic who has been working in the space for over 20 years, I want to admit to being unsure about just how I should think or feel about gender/sex/sexualities and the ways that they are entwined with racism, settler-colonialism, religion, secularism, late capitalism, non/reproduction and ableism. This is especially the case when, each year, I engage with undergraduates and doctoral students who I feel are living with these shifting terrains in ways that I am just not; as a they/them, she/her, settler, monogamous, gen x, queer professor. 

Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen has undertaken research in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Her research focuses on building transdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across diverse lifeworlds, taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship, cultural and religious difference and technologies of sexuality, education and health. She is co-editor, with Louisa Allen, of the Handbook of Sexuality Education (Palgrave).

What schools should do now to empower their non-binary students

The decision this week by the Federal government to pull the Religious Discrimination Bill illustrates that in the current climate it is not actually possible to get such legislation through parliament.  I assumed the Bill might at least make it to the Senate. 

As far as the Morrison government is concerned, I wonder if it’s not necessarily a problem that the bill didn’t succeed. Perhaps it is enough to at least be seen by members, by their base, to be trying to do work in this space. The government obviously perceives that there is enough support for such legislation in the community that they are motivated to be seen trying to uphold religious freedom. What is less clear is how much the base cares about religious freedom, versus how much they want a curtailment of sexual and gender identity attached to religious freedom. Maybe such questions will be tested in the upcoming election. 

Is there still, in our contemporary political context, political capital to be gained from taking that position? We are likely to see more political debate in this space, especially when and if the Australian Law Reform Commission hands down its report about what they think is the way forward for students and teachers on issues related to sexuality and gender. 

When thinking about trans issues in schools it is important to grasp that trans is a broad umbrella that covers a large range of genders such as being non-binary, genderqueer, a Sistergirl or Brotherboy, genderfluid, having a binary gender, and more. Some trans people want to affirm their gender in social and legal ways, like changing their name or wearing new clothes and updating their legal identity, and some affirm their gender in medical ways, like being on hormones or having surgeries, but some trans people don’t affirm their gender in ways that are visible to the outside world at all. Given these different ways of being trans, schools have a lot to think about in working out ways be inclusive of teachers, parents and students who are trans and non-binary 

A good place to start is by asking young people what it is they want rather than having an assumed policy for trans and non-binary students. That isn’t to say we can’t think in advance of some things that might need to be put in place. 

For example, available resources in terms of changerooms and bathrooms people can access. Don’t necessarily assume that because somebody is trans, that they will need a separate space. They might want to be in the same space as the gender to which they’re socially transitioning. They might like to have a say, rather than being told, this is where you have access.

Schools are getting much better at this because it’s much more common. There are a lot of schools really doing a good job nowadays and there are good policies at a state education level, for example, Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania have good guidance in place, around how we can work with trans students to give them a better experience of schooling. 

Schools, at least in some jurisdictions,  have  a  legal  duty  of  care to  protect students  from  risks  of  harm  (that the school should be  able to anticipate)  and to do  what  is  reasonable  to  ensure  students  are safe  at  school. In  spite of  these  obligations, it can still  be  daunting  to  navigate the different gendered  facilities and  activities  at  school. For  example,  wearing  a gendered  school  uniform,  using  gendered bathrooms, going  on school  camps  and participating  in  school  sports  teams. 

In some schools, there’s not much going on but in others there are 

good policies in place because schools have had to develop them. They’ve had pressure and activism from trans students and their parents, and from non-binary students and their families. These groups have demanded to be seen by schools and really doing a lot of great advocacy. 

It’s important to recognise the advocacy that young people are doing in this space to try and create better places for themselves in education. As part of our Queer Generations project we interviewed a young person who was being schooled in Victoria. The first school that they went to wasn’t meeting their needs. They left that school and went to another school which they chose on the basis that it had explicit support programmes for queer youth at the school. 

Clearly, not all young people have the capacity to move schools if they are not welcoming.  This is especially concerning when young people are in school contexts in which they are invisibilized or which are outright hostile and transphobic. Transcend Australia and A Gender Agenda are just two organisations working with young people and their families to help schools improve on the ways that they support young people. But it’s not just students we should be concerned about, it’s also teachers who can feel incredibly sidelined if they don’t toe the line in terms of cisgender norms and also heteronormativity. 

We shouldn’t assume that independent and religious schools, or state schools, are intrinsically supportive or hostile. But research does suggest that LGBTQI+ students experience higher rates of discrimination in religious schools. One interesting aspect of the case of the Queensland school was that the principal put something in writing about school norms, making transphobia and homophobia explicit. A lot of people found that reprehensible – but that type of educational context is not exceptional in Australia. It was only exceptional in this instance because it was made public at a time when these issues were in the news. We know those schools exist, – we often don’t see just how they enforce these particular worldviews. If we are going to continue to allow schools to discriminate against teachers, students and parents who are LGBTQI+ I would like to see more demand from parents and from teachers for schools to publicly make known their stance on such issues. The whole school community are adversely impacted by schools that discriminate. It’s not just about young people, it’s about teachers. It’s about parents. It’s about people who are coming in and delivering sexuality education or other forms of health education in the school context. It can’t just be about one part of that story. We need to think about how all those people who are part of our school communities can bring themselves to the classroom, to school events, to activism at school, and also see themselves being represented across the curriculum, not just in the sexuality education class, but in health, in politics, in religious education. 

I know when I was studying to be a teacher in the nineties and I was going into schools as somebody who has a non normative gender presentation, that it was just really untenable for me to stay in that space. It was incredibly uncomfortable in terms of harassment, especially from the students. That experience is alive and happening for teachers and young people today. Even though there’s an increasing number of sexual and gender diverse people in our community schools can still be very tough places and there’s a lot of recent research that bears that out. It’s not just about young people themselves, it’s about the whole school community feeling like they have a place where they feel valued and seen and respected within our school communities. 

Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen of the Australian National University has undertaken research in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Her research focuses on building transdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across diverse lifeworlds, taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship, cultural and religious difference and technologies of sexuality, education and health. She is co-editor, with Louisa Allen, of the forthcoming Handbook of Sexuality Education (Palgrave).

“It was just nice to see they existed”. The importance of having LGBTQ teachers who are ‘out’ at school

Luis, attending a private boys’ school in Western Australia, knew that three of his teachers were gay – “Not that it was ever, like, talked about or anything. But it was just nice to see that they existed. Like, you know, they are there and normal. They had all that”.

As the Australian parliament takes steps towards removing the power of faith-based schools to discriminate against children on the basis of their sexuality, protections for LGBTQ teachers are still being debated. Recent research in Australia suggests these two issues should not be so easily separated. For Luis, and many other LGBTQ young people, having teachers who were “out” provided them with a feeling of belonging and a sense of what their future adult lives could look like. Provisions to protect all teachers from discrimination on the basis of sexuality ensure that LGBTQ young people, no matter their school, have access to important role models.

Luis was part of our research Belonging and Sexual Citizenship among Gender and Sexual Minority Youth [‘Queer Generations’] exploring the experiences of LGBTQ people born in the 1970s and the 1990s. Drawing on in-depth interviews and focus groups conducted in 2016 and 2017 with 121 people (50 born in the 70s; 71 born in the 90s), we wanted to know about their experiences of growing up in Australia. We specifically asked participants about their experience of schooling and education and how this contributed to their sense of belonging and wellbeing. The excerpts below all come from participants born in the 1990s – who began their first year of high school between 2002 and 2012.

In the midst of this debate about religious exemptions, some participants found teachers to be quite accepting of LGBTQ students, but also recognised teachers were often not able to be explicitly supportive because of the constraints of the school context in which they worked. This is hardly surprising given how politicised the provision of relevant information about gender and sexuality has become in schools. Existing exemptions enable teachers to be dismissed or refused employment in religious schools on the basis of sexuality. Other participants had teachers who were genuinely helpful and supportive. These teachers had a significant impact on the lives of young people, with participants often remembering influential teachers by name many years later. And, it was just enough to know that there were teachers who weren’t straight who were going about the business of teaching in their school. Taya, who went to an all-girls religious school in Sydney, recalls:

There were specific teachers that …either you knew were queer…or you kind of knew would be very supporting. But we had a couple of teachers we knew weren’t straight as well, which was really nice.”

Taya emphasizes a feeling of connection to some teachers at the school who the students had a feeling, or perhaps were openly informed, “weren’t straight”. She was not alone in the study. Others expressed similar views about the value of recognising ‘queer’ teachers in the school environment.

Remembering that LGBTQ young people may be growing up in families where they feel quite alone, and potentially quite unsafe, the importance of knowing there are supportive teachers at school should not be underestimated.  Liam attended a Christian school in Melbourne:

“…There was one particular teacher who, he was the only teacher … he was my drama teacher … I’m now a drama teacher … back then he was the only person that I’d said, ‘Look, I think I’m gay. How would my parents feel about it? I don’t think they’d accept it but I’d like to know what you think.’ And the teacher didn’t know how to respond but just, all they said was, ‘I accept you and they will care about you’… it still resonates with me today ’cause that was the first time, the only moment as a teenager growing up where I thought, ‘okay, well at least somebody’s got my back.’

Liam didn’t specify whether or not this teacher was gay; he just hoped that they would be accepting – especially because he anticipated that his parents would not be supportive. LGBTQ students often report feeling worried about the process of coming out while at school, at a time when they are still completely dependent upon their parents for support. Like Liam, they are seeking trustworthy adults who they could talk to. Knowing that there are teachers at your school like you, or likely to be accepting of you, continues to be meaningful for young people, because these are moments where they feel like they are no longer alone; when somebody ‘has their back’.

Anna’s story provides a reminder of the precarious position in which young people are often still placed when they first identify as LGBTQ– “coming out to family and stuff […] my mum still disapproves.” And yet Anna remembers “three or four teachers” who were openly out in the public school she attended in Sydney. “So it was just, it was sort of a flow-on effect. And now they actually hold a queer group there which they’ve invited me to.” For Anna, school became place where she could feel safe, be herself and find support.

The examples above involve students feeling safe and supported. Teachers who were out at school affirmed young people’s existence just by being there and being known to the students.

These stories are important in the context of current debates about religious exemptions because young people watch their teachers closely, and keenly looking out for people like them. They see when teachers speak back to discrimination; they likely also know when teachers can’t be out and can’t defend themselves against personal and professional attacks. Either way, research suggests that young people are learning powerful messages from their teachers about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Australian schools are places in which public recognition of sexual or gender identity remains incredibly important for young people who are questioning or developing a sense of their own identity as different from the majority. Maintaining a system that justifies discrimination against LGBTQ teachers fails to provide a safe learning environment in which these and other questions can be asked.


Pseudonyms have been used

Our research Belonging and Sexual Citizenship among Gender and Sexual Minority Youth [‘Queer Generations’] was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project.


Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen is Professor of Sociology at the Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences. She has undertaken research in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Her research focuses on building transdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across diverse lifeworlds, taking account of issues related to sexual citizenship, cultural and religious difference and technologies of sexuality, education and health. She is co-editor, with Louisa Allen, of the Handbook of Sexuality Education (Palgrave).



Professor Peter Aggleton is a distinguished honorary professor in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at The Australian National University. He holds a visiting professorial position at UCL in the UK. He is an adjunct professor in the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Peter has published over 250 scientific papers and chapters and has authored and edited more than 50 books. He is well known internationally for his analytic work on health education and health promotion, the social aspects of HIV, sexuality and gender, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. He is editor-in-chief of three international journals: Culture, Health & Sexuality, Health Education Journal and Sex Education, and is an associate editor of the journals AIDS Education & Prevention, Global Public Health and Health Education Research.


Dr Clare Southerton a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark, in the Center for Surveillance Studies. Her recent PhD research focused on mobile digital device habits, but I have also worked on projects related to digital health technologies, belonging and sexual citizenship among LGBTQ young people. (Aarhus University),




Dr Daniel Marshall is a Senior Lecturer in Literature in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He is also the Convenor of Deakin’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Major in the Bachelor of Arts programme, and of Deakin’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Research Network. 



Assoc. Professor Rob Cover is Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at The University of Western Australia. He is a social, media and cultural studies researcher whose work focuses on the implications of media and digital cultures for minorities, particularly in respect to health, social integration, diversity, ethics and belonging. (University of Western Australia)




Assoc. Professor Christy Newman is Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Arts and Social Sciences at University of New South Wales. Christy works across a range of collaborative and interdisciplinary projects in the fields of sexual and reproductive health, blood borne virus prevention and care, mental health, alcohol and other drug use, migrant and refugee health, and Aboriginal health.