Langley teacher aims to help education system better understand boys

A masters student wants to be an advocate for boys in school.

Wayne Kwiatkowski recently defended his master’s thesis about boys in the education system.

A Langley high school teacher is heading back to the classroom this fall armed with both unusual research findings and a master’s degree no one else has – yet.

Brendan Kwiatkowski is the first graduate of Trinity Western University’s MA in educational studies, special education. He defended his thesis recently, and he believes it will make him a better advocate for students with special needs – an often underserved group in schools.

“Teachers tend to be less confident in teaching those students,” he said.

But Kwiatkowski has observed that more and more, mainstream classrooms have special-needs students with individualized education plans (IEPs).

When Kwiatkowski taught at a Langley public high school, he found that boys with such challenges were marginalized and particularly vulnerable, so with some administrative support, he began an intervention course that turned into the basis for his thesis research.

As Kwiatkowski worked with the boys in his study, and they shared their stories with one another, he developed a foundational understanding of why they might “blow up” at school.

“How masculinity is represented can be harmful,” Kwiatkowski explained. “It helped me build empathy for those students who are marginalized, and it will help me be an advocate for them.”

An excerpt from Kwiatkowski’s thesis abstract reads, “The consequences of societal pressures for males to be emotionally stoic, dominant, aggressive, and to avoid association with traits more aligned with the feminine, can be linked to a number of problematic social and emotional behaviours.”

“Educational research that explores masculinity in British Columbian high schools is rare,” said Dr. Allyson Jule, Kwiatkowski’s thesis supervisor at TWU.

Jule is the co-director of TWU’s Gender Studies Institute and the president of the Women’s and Gender Studies et Recherches Féministes Canadian association.

“Brendan’s results point to some needed work on the part of teachers to consider how we limit students by deeply held sexist attitudes and beliefs about how children learn and grow,” she said. “His work challenges the notion that ‘boys will be boys’ and rather, points to the ways we make boys the way we want them to be. Stubborn stereotypes of boys as rough and tough make it difficult for boys to be any other way in today’s schools.”

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