Back to school season can already be a scary time for parents sending their kids off to a new classroom, new teachers, new environment, but it’s even more nerve wracking for parents of  transgender and gender fluid students.

How will the teacher respond to my child? How will the students? What do I say? When do I say it?

We’ve found this incredibly helpful resource for teachers of transgender students — Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students  in K-12 Schools.

This guide is sponsored by the ACLU, Gender Spectrum, The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Education Association. The 60-page guide includes sections on Privacy & Disclosure, Names & Pronouns, Discrimination, Harassment & Bullying, Legal Concerns, and more.

The introduction from a school superintendent speaks volumes to the importance of communication between parents and teachers:

One day about eight years ago, a mother came to me and asked what I could do to support her child who would be starting kindergarten in the fall. While I was accustomed to addressing the fears of worried parents, this family’s situation was one I had never encountered — Toni was assigned male at birth, but her parents were considering letting her start school as a girl, which is how she had been identifying for some time.

I told Toni’s mom that while I hadn’t dealt with a situation like this before, I believed every child had the right to feel safe, welcomed and valued, and I would work with the family to make sure we supported her child. Our journey began that day.

Toni eventually transitioned to living openly and authentically as a girl in second grade. Her family, school staff, counselor and I worked together to support her throughout the process. This was a new experience for all of us and we had few models to follow, so we all learned as we went and the process evolved over time. We had a plan in place for those things we could predict, but other things caught us off guard and we had to make it up as we went along.

By far the easiest part of the process was the acceptance by Toni’s classmates, who embraced her and affirmed her identity. As we worked to balance the need to educate and inform parents while protecting Toni’s right to privacy, I met with a small number of concerned parents individually and attended a parent night facilitated by Gender Spectrum. We provided education regarding transgender children to the school’s staff, our administrative team and the governing board. For the most part there was a compassionate response to do the right thing. There were people who struggled with changes we put in place, but we continually focused on supporting Toni and doing what was right.

Two years later another second grade student in our district transitioned — but this time we were prepared, and the process went more smoothly. Both of these students have since entered middle school. Both girls are courageous and wise beyond their years. They have taught me and others valuable lessons about what it means to truly support your students.

When I began this journey, I had little experience with working with transgender students, particularly those who were so young. I learned so much during this process from working with Gender Spectrum, but also from Toni’s parents and — most of all — Toni herself.

I encourage anyone looking to support a transgender student to always focus on the needs of the transitioning child and think about what they need to feel safe, included and supported. I never had a political agenda; my agenda was to support our students. I listened and tried to understand when I faced obstacles. I worked to be an advocate, not an activist.

If your experience is anything like my own, you will be in unfamiliar — perhaps even uncomfortable — territory. It is important, however, that your own personal uncertainties do not interfere with your ability to do the right thing to protect the safety and well-being of these vulnerable children. This guide to supporting transgender students builds on the experiences of educators like myself and the advocates who have supported us along the way. Moreover, it ensures that the knowledge we have gained as we worked to support these students can serve as a model for other educators, parents, counselors and students. In doing so, we hope to provide a foundation so that schools and classrooms become more accepting of gender diversity and where all students can feel supported and safe.

An open dialogue and communication with your child or teen’s educators is vitally important for creating a safe space at school. Consider printing out this guide or emailing it to your child’s teachers. It’s a great starting point for a safe and supportive school year for transgender students.