Addressing Injustices
Addressing Injustices
Addressing Injustices brings together teachers and youth to read, write, make art, and change the world.

Gender is Like An Ocean

In 2016, students from Delta Alternative Senior School in Toronto and teacher candidates in the Master’s of Teaching (MT) program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto read the book Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (2012) by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (, which chronicles the journey of one high school student as he transitions from female to male. Then, students and teacher candidates worked together to design curriculum and create arts-based projects in response to social issues raised in the book, while co-researching that process. The film, Gender is Like an Ocean tells the story of this research project.

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What We Did

We began our investigations together by having conversations about the many kinds of changes those of us in the room had already experienced, such as becoming students, teachers, parents, and siblings. We then asked why certain kinds of transitions are often celebrated, while others are not.

Our initial attention towards the personal feelings, perspectives, and histories of those of us in the room became a bridge into the book. We also had a “silent conversation” with each other using an activity called Big Paper, where we responded to passages from the book using sticky notes and sharpies as a way to surface a wide range of thoughts about the ideas within the text.

We used found poetry activities to make books and to generate scripts, which we then used as the basis for digital stories that explored our thoughts on gender and change. We also brainstormed and then constructed large creative projects in groups, taking up aspects of the text that were important to us. These projects became a mural, a video game, a YouTube channel, a multimedia installation, and a music video.

 Students’ Creative Responses

What Participants Said

“[Being involved in this research project] was a little more uncomfortable that I had anticipated, simply because not having a rigid or clearly defined game plan for each session that we had with the kids, or really, a defined end-game. Everything was from the ground up from the minds of these young people. It’s so different than how we traditionally look at education. It turned out to be a really great process because the ending was phenomenal.” - Teacher Candidate, OISE — University of Toronto

”We have to be aware of what’s going on in the world, what’s happening. It’s not just us, it’s not just our lives, we have to know what’s going on around us.” - Student, Delta Alternative Senior School

“I had a very binary idea of gender. But, going through this project, reading the book, and having that moment of ‘I’m wrong’—and you have to figure that out—was a little bit of a startling point for me. So, where I am now, I would say, definitely an advocate and an ally.” - Teacher Candidate, OISE — University of Toronto

“A good friend of mine came out as trans. I feel like if other schools did more projects like this, it could help so many more people.” - Student, Delta Alternative Senior School

Artwork by benjamin lee hicks

Artwork by benjamin lee hicks

the Film: Gender is Like an Ocean (2017)

Classroom teacher, Sarah Evis, who inspires student-driven learning that focuses on a variety social justice issues states, “If I don’t do risky work in my teaching, I’m not interested in teaching. Implicit in our work is that students learn something and then, they can go out and be agents of change as well.” Throughout Gender is Like an Ocean, teacher candidates share some of the struggles they experienced with student-driven learning, as well as how the content of the book impacted their own thinking and values around gender. Students also talk about the importance of doing inquiry-based projects in the classroom and how being involved in this collaborative research project impacted them. Disruptive, inspirational, awe-inspiring, fun, challenging, educational, and life-changing are just a few of the one-word descriptions that students use to express what it meant to work on this research project. Gender is Like an Ocean is a powerful 47-minute documentary that presents a poignant example of how student-driven learning and arts-based inquiry can be incorporated into classrooms.

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Highlights from the OISE Premiere

Gender is Like an Ocean had its public premiere at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto, on June 4, 2018. Joining members of the research team for this special event were Beautiful Music author Kirstin Cronn-Mills, who traveled to Toronto from her home in Minnesota, and a panel of six Delta alumni who shared reflections on the project, the film, and their ongoing learning about gender identity and expression.


Delta students autograph Gender is Like an Ocean film screening promo poster.

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Simon, R., hicks, b.l., Walkland, T., Gallagher, B., Evis, S., & Baer, P. (2019). Breaking Gender Expectations: Adolescents’ Critical Rewriting of a Trans Young-Adult Novel. In B. Guzzetti, J. Dunkerly-Bean, & T. Bean (Eds.), Literacies, Sexualities, and Gender: Understanding Identities from Preschool to Adulthood, (pp. 141-152). New York: Routledge.

Simon, R., hicks, b.l., Walkland, T., Gallagher, B., Sarah Evis, S., & Baer, P. (2018).“But in the end, you are all beautiful”: Exploring gender through digital composition. English Journal, 107(3), pp. 39-46.



Gender. Sexuality. School. Podcast
Listen to the Addressing Injustices team chat with Tara Goldstein about the film and their work with youth.



Ethnography in Education Research Forum, February 2019
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, June 2018
American Educational Research Association, April 2018
Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity’s 4th Annual Ontario Educators Conference, April 2018
Ontario Education Research Symposium, March 2018
Literacy Research Association, December 2017



The Gender Book is a colourful, short book meant to educate and entertain - a gender 101 for anyone and everyone.

They Is My Pronoun is a website that focuses on using the singular they pronoun in real life, and on enabling the choice to use gender-neutral pronouns for yourself and/or others.

The No Big Deal Campaign is a website that offers tools for people to show their support for transgender and/or nonbinary people and our pronouns in everyday life. Sharable, portable, and printable NBD badges and posters found on this website is an easy way to let transgender and/or nonbinary know that you are someone who is on board to use our pronouns without making it into a big deal.

LGBTQ Youthline is a toll-free, Ontario-wide, peer-support phone line for lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer, and questioning young people.

LGBTQ Families Speak Out is a video interview study conducted out of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto about the school experiences of LGBTQ families living in Ontario (20140-202).