Supporting Human Development & Sexual Health Webinar Blog |

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Supporting Human Development & Sexual Health Webinar Blog

Monday, April 6, 2020 - 09:05

In February, Ophea hosted a webinar with a specific focus on Supporting Human Development & Sexual Health, one of the health topics in Strand D: Healthy Living within the 2019 Ontario Elementary Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum.  With the intention of enhancing teacher confidence, the goals of the webinar were:

  • to bring a clearer understanding of the Human Development and Sexual Health components of Strand D: Healthy Living;
  • to increase confidence with the implementation of key concepts within the topic of Human Development and Sexual Health, including gender identity, gender expression and consent and;
  • to increase awareness of resource supports available to support the implementation of the 2019 Elementary H&PE Curriculum.

We would like to thank our co-presenters involved in this webinar:

Alyx Duffy is a genderqueer equity educator based in Tkaronto with over a decade of experience in equity work focusing on 2SLGBTQI safer schools and communities. A founding member of Challenge Accepted, a community-centered equity and inclusion collective, they work to educate and encourage everyone to consider how to make community safer and more inclusive for each and every dynamic individual.  Alyx uses “they/them/their” pronouns, and asks others to use these pronouns in reference to them.

Tanya Woods is an Instructional Program Leader for K-8 Health & Physical Education with the Halton District School Board and also sits on the Ontario Association for the Support of Physical and Health Educators (OASPHE) executive.  She completed her Bachelor of Kinesiology at McMaster University and her Bachelor of Education at Queen's University.  Tanya has worked for the Halton District School Board as an Elementary Physical & Health Educator for 16 years and an Instructional Program Leader for the last 5 years.  In her current role, she is responsible for all professional development related to the Elementary Health & Physical Education curriculum, elementary athletics, safety, well being and outdoor experiential education. Tanya uses “she/her/hers” pronouns, and asks others to use these pronouns in reference to her.

We would also like to send a thank you to our participants for their active engagement and insightful feedback throughout the webinar.  Many diverse stakeholders from across the education sector and public health were represented.

View the full webinar on our YouTube channel and read the overview below.

What has been updated?

The 2019 Elementary H&PE Curriculum has a number of updates. While the focus of this webinar is on content in Strand D, it is important to note that Strand A: Social Emotional Learning Skills is new and strongly connected to the planning within all strands, including Strand D: Healthy Living. Strand A “helps students develop social-emotional learning skills, to foster overall health and well-being, positive mental health, and the ability to learn, build resilience, and thrive.”[1]

Updates to Strand D: Healthy Living includes enhanced and new learning on a variety of concepts including, new body image expectations in multiple grades, the addition of impacts of viewing sexually explicit media (including pornography) in Grade 6, and enhancing learning in Grade 7 to include the legal age of consent.  It is important to remember that, although we are addressing specific expectations, when we evaluate, we are evaluating the Overall Expectations.

Inclusive Approaches to Teaching Gender Identity & Gender Expression

This webinar discussed ideas of gender identity and gender expression to help support educators in meeting Strand D (and A) curriculum expectations by providing further context about some elements of human identity. The overall goal of this process was to support educators in teaching ideas of gender and sexuality in ways that are inclusive of the full range of human diversity in these areas, including representation of 2SLGBTQI identities. While the default response to new content may be a desire to have resources and ideas for instruction, because this important learning has potential to impact how we approach instruction across the curriculum, in this part of the webinar we spent some time trying to deepen understandings and reflect on personal biases and perspectives that can impact our practice. Read on for some of the key elements discussed.

Exploring Identity with the Gender Unicorn

The Gender Unicorn and similar tools provide educators with a fun and engaging starting place for discussions of key elements of human identity such as assigned sex, gender identity, gender expression & attraction. As with any complex subject, discussing ideas regarding identity within the classroom relies on building students' understanding over time. Tools like the Gender Unicorn allows us to begin with simple information regarding identity elements and provide the scaffolding needed to support the nuanced concepts that better resemble the complexity of identity in the real world. Using the Gender Unicorn, we can unpack the key distinctions and connections between core concepts, allowing us to better understand the diversity of identities they inform.

What is Gender Identity?

Given the goals of this webinar, the discussion focused on the concepts of gender identity and gender expression. The definitions provided by the Ontario Human Rights Commission are the same definitions included in the glossary of the curriculum document (on pages 303-317). So what are we referring to with these ideas? Simply put, gender identity refers to "each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum."[2]  Important to note is that an individual's gender identity is highly personal, and rooted in one's own experience of their senses, emotions, ideas and perceptions of self. Similarly, gender identity is distinct from the concept of assigned sex - the medical designation of female, male or intersex that is assigned by medical professionals at birth. The real key to understanding gender identity is that it is about our own understanding of our gender, and not about how other people perceive us to be. 

We should note that the idea of gender identity is not particularly new, and it's likely that many students already understand the concept, whether or not they make use of the term. For many of us, our own gender identity is such a foundational idea that we may rarely think about it in any depth. Once we re-focus on the concept of gender identity as distinct from assigned sex, we can better recognize the gender diversity that exists in the world.  Recent projects like this map from the UN Free & Equal campaign shed light on the many traditions of diverse gender (and sexual) identities that have existed worldwide for thousands of years.

What is Gender Expression?

A simple definition of gender expression is "how a person publicly presents or expresses their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance...”[3] Thinking about it, you could likely name a number of different ways that we express gender with our bodies through the way we dress, our movements, and language used. It’s important to remember that how one expresses one's gender may not be the same as how others 'read' or understand that expression. Indeed, the models used by groups of people to better understand specific gender expressions are highly culturally specific and change across regions and over time. This means that it's fairly common for someone to misread, or not understand some element of the gender expression of another.

Understanding the distinction between gender identity and gender expression is particularly important for educators working with youth. For instance, a student may be seen expressing their gender in a way read by some as feminine and thus be assumed to identify as a girl, even if that student actually identifies themselves as non-binary. This example illustrates the possible error of assuming someone's gender identity based on our own reading of their gender expression. Consider that elementary students may not be able to purchase, select or even choose the clothes and accessories they wear to school, and hence may not have the ability to express their gender the way they'd like. Furthermore, even if a student has the means to express their gender authentically, they will also need to consider the reaction of their peers and the relative social, emotional and physical consequences they may face when attempting to express their gender freely. Ultimately, we cannot assume we know someone's gender identity simply by perceiving their gender expression, and must instead create opportunities for individuals to share their identities if and when they choose to.

Gender Identity & Expression in the Classroom

In considering how discussions of gender identity and expression can be brought into the classroom we must first acknowledge that the ideas themselves are present in early elementary classrooms, long before students may know the technical language. Studies of human development have shown children as young as 3 or 4 develop clear understandings of the social “rules” of gender identity, and expression, at the same time that they are forming and exploring their own identities[4]. Elementary students will not wait for formalized instruction on these topics before bringing them up in the classroom, and so it's important to consider how related discussions can be had in an inclusive and age-appropriate manner.

Within the webinar we discussed several examples across elementary grade levels where the ideas of gender identity and gender expression may inform the discussion, even if they are not directly mentioned themselves. Examples included approaches to grade 1 expectations regarding anatomy that provide information on diverse anatomical configurations, sometimes referred to as differences of sexual development, and often related to intersex identities.

More broadly, we discussed approaches to Strand D curriculum implementation that acknowledge the historical absence of positive 2SLGBTQI representation and attempted to better reflect the diversity of gender and attraction identities within Ontario communities.  Participating educators provided feedback regarding a number of classroom strategies including sharing of diverse media (i.e., picture books, novels, videos etc.) as well as inclusive language and preparedness to engage positively in 'teachable moments' in reference to events occurring in the classroom or broader community. Related resources and strategies have been included in the Instructional Strategies section. 

Instructional Strategies

“Depending on the special education needs of the students, some additional considerations may be relevant for their instruction in health education. These considerations may apply to all health topics, but are particularly relevant to human development and sexual health. Some students with intellectual and physical disabilities or other challenges may be at greater risk of exploitation and abuse, and some may not have experienced acknowledgement of their healthy sexuality or their right to enjoy their sexuality. These students may also have had fewer formal and informal opportunities to participate in sexual health education. Teachers need to ensure that these students’ privacy and dignity are protected, and that the resources used are appropriate to their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development and needs. Different kinds of accommodations and approaches will be required for different students, but it is important to ensure that all students have access to information and support regarding their sexual health.”[5] 

Each of the below strategies has been pulled from the webinar and are linked to grade specific expectations in Grades 2, 6 and 7.

Grade 2

D1.5 demonstrate the ability to identify and appreciate aspects of how their bodies work and describe what they can do to ensure that they will continue to appreciate their bodies as they grow and change [A1.1 Emotions, 1.3 Motivation, 1.5 Self]

Creating a safe space (from Drawing the line): Co-create an agreement (Appendix B from resource p.109) with your class that refers to respect and safe space.  Begin the discussion by asking what students need to feel safe and accepted in the classroom.

Read alouds using books that fight bias with gender norms and bias e.g. And Tango Makes Three (Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, 2005),  10000 Dresses (Marcus Ewert, 2008), My Princess Boy (Cheryl Kilodavis, 2009), Red Crayon (Michael Hall, 2015)

I SEE, I THINK, I WONDER: List major body parts and place them on chart paper around the room e.g. hands, legs etc.  Students rotate around and brainstorm what they can do (e.g., Legs can walk, ride a bike, etc.). Show a picture of the ILL ABILITIES Dance Crew just posing. Ask students what they see, think or wonder? Show the ILL ABILITIES Dance Crew video. Connect back to their lists of what body parts can do and ask: Does seeing the picture and video change anything for you? Would you add anything to the list?

Grade 6

D2.6 make informed decisions that demonstrate respect for themselves and others and an understanding of the concept of consent to help build healthier relationships, using a variety of social-emotional learning skills [A1.1 Emotions, 1.4 Relationships, 1.5 Self, 1.6 Identity]

Please Don’t Touch Me (from Drawing the Line pg. 45-55): Using a blank KWL chart (What I Know, What I Wonder, What I Learned) lead students in a classroom discussion on what personal space and boundaries mean to them, asking students to complete the K and W area of their chart as the discussion progresses. Invite students to share their responses with the class.  Write or display two different mind maps on the board, one with the title “Unwanted Touch” and the other with the title “Wanted Touch.” Lead a classroom discussion, using the following questions:

  • What does it feel like to receive a hug from someone you know and like? Is this wanted or unwanted touch?
  • What does it feel like to receive a hug from someone you know but do not like? Is this wanted or unwanted touch?
  • Are there times when you would prefer not to be hugged by a person you know and like?

Record student responses on the appropriate mind map. Explain to students that they have a right to their personal space and to decide what they do with their own body. After showing the video Consent For Kids, lead a classroom discussion about the themes the work presented, ensuring that students understand the following key ideas:

  • that they are in control of their body
  • that they are in charge of their body
  • that if something happens that doesn’t feel right, that should tell an adult they trust

Have students create poems or chants on the topic of personal space as a culminating task.

D1.3 demonstrate an understanding of the impacts of viewing sexually explicit media, including pornography

‘Self-Portrait’: Students draw a self-portrait where they include labels in the following categories (for their eyes only):

  • physical attributes they like about themselves
  • physical attributes they don’t like about themselves

As a whole group, discuss what complaints they hear/have heard from peers about bodies.  Discuss where the idea of what people “should” look like comes from. Record answers on the board.

Focus Question: What do the images in the media suggest are the ideal body types for people?

Stations with images and chart paper posted around the room (e.g., musicians on stage, commercials, sexually explicit ads, still clips of music videos etc.).  Students rotate stations to record their thoughts with regards to the images using guiding questions such as:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you wonder?
  • What do you think/feel?

Students share thinking from their final station.  Refer back to the Focus question and discuss.

Follow up discussion questions:

  • How might these images affect the way we see ourselves?
  • What impact might they have on one’s confidence or sense of self?
  • What are some possible negative outcomes for people (physically, emotionally, and mentally)?

Grade 7

D1.3 explain the importance of having a shared understanding with a partner about the following: delaying sexual activity until they are older (e.g. abstinence); the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent, the legal age of consent, and how consent is communicated; and, in general, the need to communicate clearly with each other when making decisions about sexual activity in a healthy loving relationship [A1.1 Emotions, 1.4 Relationships, 1.5 Self, 1.6 Thinking]

4-corners: Agree, Disagree, Yes...But, No...But. Teacher to read a statement such as the following:

  • Consent means you are respecting the other person’s boundaries 
  • Saying no ce in different ways such as body language
  • Intermediate students should be allowed to date freely
  • If I am in a relationship, that means sex
  • Oral sex is not sex
  • Sex is ONLY for when we are married
  • Once you have sex, you can’t practice abstinence

Students are to think which heading best represents how they feel. They move to the corner with the heading and then take turns in the corner discussing their thoughts on why they chose this spot with another student. The centre of the room could be designated as a spot for students who are still thinking, unsure, or choose to pass.  After a few minutes, ask students to share from each corner before moving on to the next statement.

This activity could be recreated in the gym using the Gender Unicorn to address additional expectations. The corners might be attraction, gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth. Read statements using the curriculum document definitions, or using other examples. Have students walk/run/skip/hop/wheel in a gymnasium to the corner they think the statement relates to. Then end the activity with looking at the gender unicorn together.  This allows for connections to health and physical activity as well as social-emotional learning skills.

Gender inclusive health classes on puberty, emphasizing the categories of social/emotional vs. physical instead of boys vs. girl changes. As well, using less gendered language when teaching anatomy, for example, “a person who is menstruating” works just as well as “a girl who is menstruating” but is more inclusive.

Using the book “From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea” (Chai Cheng Thom, 2017) to discuss gender expression and how students responded to the main character when they expressed themself in different ways at school.

Using question/scenario box for anonymous contributions to discussions avoids personal examples or examples of a “friend”.




Ontario Ministry of Education


Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario


Planned Parenthood Toronto

Rainbow Health Ontario

Parent Center Hub

SHORE Centre (Sexual Health Options Resources Education)

School Mental Health Ontario

Teaching Sexual Health



Inclusion or omission of any particular resource should not be considered as a recommendation or comment on the quality of the resource.  No endorsement of any of the included resources by Ophea should be inferred.

[1] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 25). Retrieved from

[2] Ontario Human Rights Commission - Policy on Preventing Discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression. Retrieved from

[3] Ontario Human Rights Commission - Policy on Preventing Discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression. Retrieved from

[4] Similarity in transgender and cisgender children’s gender development. Gülgöz et al. 2019. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

[5] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 68). Retrieved from