|A strong sense of identity is an important part of a young person’s social and emotional development. It gives them a framework to view themselves and others. A positive self-identity can shape a person’s perception of belonging in their early years and into adulthood. In contrast, a shaky sense of self-identity may lead to rebellion and trying to appear more grown-up through ‘adult’ activities such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and sexual activity.
Sexual identity is a critical part of puberty. Helping young people understand themselves, relationships, and peer pressure goes beyond the more traditional 'sex education' some of us remember. That focuses on physical aspects and reproductive health.
Sexual identity and relationships are a topic where teachers can feel ill-prepared, and the education system lacks consistency. It’s a challenging area to navigate. Parents and communities may have strong beliefs and values which vary widely. Teachers can find themselves questioning the best approach against this backdrop.
In the 2017 the Education Review Office evaluated sexuality education in New Zealand schools. It found curriculum coverage was inconsistent and student’s needs were often unmet. Life Education Trust is uniquely positioned to help, thanks to our long history of health education and our recent partnership with New Zealand’s only national sexual and reproductive health provider Family Planning. Family Planning has a long history of supporting schools and their communities with comprehensive relationship and sexuality education programmes and resources.
A particular focus of our partnership with Family Planning is around their expertise and set of resources called 'Navigating the Journey'. These resources combine research and essential facts into practical information for young people. They offer great delivery ideas for teachers who are unsure of how to teach relationships and sexuality. Family Planning’s National Health Promotion Advisor Dr. David Evans said, “forging a partnership with a trusted organisation in the Primary and Intermediate environments, such as Life Education Trust, is a deliberate move to expand and enhance the support we can collaboratively offer schools and teachers. Our Educators can support the teachers’ delivery by delving further into a particular topic in a way that's both engaging and safe.
One of our Educators, Marsha Chiet, shared a moment that shows the trust nurtured in Life Education sessions. Marsha said, "I was working with the Year 5 and 6 syndicate, exploring pubertal change. One learner held back after their class to ask, "Who is the first person I should tell if I want to be referred to by a different pronoun?"
I took a deep breath and replied, "Well, I suppose the first person you should tell is yourself." The learner's face lit up.
Marsha said, “I will never take for granted the privilege I have working with young people." Following this moment, Marsha connected with their local Family Planning health promoter to help ensure this young person is fully supported, empowered and feels safe.
Life Education, together with Family Planning, can also help the learner's school in understanding its responsibility in terms of legalities. Our Educator said, "It is moments like these that reaffirm why I love what I do."
Behind the scenes, Marsha was able to reach out for her own support. Life Education supports Educator development in several ways. Marsha reached out to Gaylene Hill, her Education Support Mentor, who provides advice and acts as a sounding board whilst guiding her development.
Educators are also supported through their regional groups, their Trusts’ and the National Office team. Jo Mortimer, our Programme and Development Manager, organising Professional Development opportunities for our Educators. Jo recognises the importance of the Family Planning partnership in helping to provide further support for Educators and information that Educators can relay appropriately and when it’s needed most.
Without a doubt, these are critical times for young people. It's not always easy for them to develop who they are as individuals while still holding on to all those things that make them unique. Life Education is delighted to bring together skilled Educators and expert insights to equip young people in making positive life choices.