As an Instructional Coach in Teton County, Northwest Region President, and Co-Vice President of the Teton County Education Association, Michelle Rooks is no stranger to sexual harassment in Wyoming schools. “I have witnessed, heard of, and been subjected to sexual harassment in Wyoming schools – as a student, teacher, and parent,” Rooks told WEA News. “Unfortunately, I think it would be difficult to find anyone who hasn’t.”
Now, Rooks is helping to develop and deliver trainings teaching education employees how to build safer more equitable learning environments, through her work as a member of the WEA Safe & Just Schools Cadre.
The Cadre is comprised of WEA members from around the state, who create and present training on everything from recognizing implicit bias to LGBTQ+ Legal Rights in Education, Understanding Cultural Competence, and more. (Learn more about the Cadre’s work and see a complete list of currently available trainings here.)
Rooks encourages fellow educators to bring Safe & Just Schools trainings into their local, including Ending Sexual Harassment: The Power of Title IX. “There is a lot of unlearning that has to happen to make our schools safer,” she says,” these trainings play a role in that unlearning. For example, in the recent Title IX training, we learned to use and trust the system. It was new thinking for me that we as teachers do not have to do any investigation before reporting – the Title IX coordinator is responsible for that. We need to interrupt, report, and support. It was both liberating and motivating. I can do that knowing that those actions help students, schools, and our districts become safer and more just.
Rooks says that sometimes, by taking on too much responsibility, education employees can feel paralyzed when it’s time to take action. “I came away from our latest Safe & Just Schools Ending Sexual Harassment: The Power of Title IX training with actionable steps that—within only one week—I have already taken to make our school and district a better place to learn,” she said.
Rooks believes that safer, more just learning environments are built by educators, families, and students being willing and equipped to have productive conversations and take meaningful actions. “I think the goal of the Cadre is to make sure these conversations are happening, and people know who to contact when one is needed.”
Rooks recognizes that intentionally putting effort toward creating safe, just learning environments can feel daunting for busy educators. “I hope people will realize that creating safe and just schools is a daily action, not an unrealistic goal,” she says. “It is about conversation and action. It’s about centering healthy relationships so that the work of learning can occur. It’s not a criticism or a box to check; it’s a way of being that helps all districts embody our Equality State moniker.”
To request the Ending Sexual Harassment: Power of Title IX training, or any Safe and Just Schools training be provided in your local or district, contact WEA Vice President Kim Amen at email@example.com. View the full list of available trainings here.