British Columbia

Langley high school initiative helps troubled boys talk it out

A Langley high school teacher inspired by feminist thinking is helping high school boys with discipline issues.

Grade 11 boys deconstruct the stereotypes of masculinity and share their feelings in a new pilot project

The majority of students with behaviour issues are boys, according to a school teacher in Langley, B.C. (Shutterstock)

A high school teacher in Langley, B.C., is working with boys with behavioural issues by encouraging them to buck traditional ideas of masculinity and open up about their emotions.

"Eighty per cent of students with behavioural needs are males," he explained. "The most compelling research suggests the way that society constructs masculinity could play a huge role in this."

Brendan Kwiatkowski had been working at D.W. Poppy Secondary School as a high school teacher for a few years when he decided to get his Masters in special education from Trinity Western University.

Last year, he started working with a group of Grade 11 students as part of his thesis project.

Kwiatkowski, who has now graduated, says it became clear that stereotypes of masculinity pressure boys to act in certain ways to deal with stress.

"Things like don't cry, don't show fear, you gotta be tough, you resolve conflict by fighting," he said. 

Many of the boys in his group have problems with aggression, he said, often getting into fights, yelling at teachers and having interpersonal relationship issues.

Creating a safe space to share

Kwiatkowski's solution was to start a sharing circle with the boys, getting them to talk about the emotional issues they were tackling.

It wasn't easy to get the boys to open up, he admitted, and it was only through relationship building and having known the kids for years that they were able to trust him.

High school teacher Brendan Kwiatkowski started a new initiative for boys with discipline issues to talk about their emotions and feelings. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Kwiatkowski and his fellow facilitator would also share their own struggles to create a safe space.

"We led by example, and we modeled what being vulnerable was like to an extent," he said.     

There have definitely been breakthroughs for the boys, Kwiatkowski said, some of whom have volunteered to come back to act as mentors as he continues the project this year.

"There were some boys that were intimidated by one another, going into the group, and by the end, they were like, this is a guy who has feelings just like me and he's not this façade that he puts up," Kwiatkowski said.

Inspired by feminism

Kwiatkowski said he was inspired by feminist ideology to start the group.

"I was scared to use 'feminist' for a long time in my life, but what I've come to know about feminist theory and the feminist lens is [that it] actually analyses the power dynamic of relationships of any minority."

He said he wanted to move beyond stereotypes when helping his students, and wanted to help boys develop their emotional intelligence and give them the space they need to talk about their feelings — something he says is not typically available to boys.

"You can't just expect that emotional intelligence will increase over time without some sort of teaching," he said. "It's a journey, it's a process."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled New initiative help boys with disciplinary problems talk it out