Brendan Kwiatkowski is a secondary school teacher, has his Masters in Educational Studies (Special Education), and is beginning his PhD in Education at the University of Edinburgh this fall. He is also a husband and father who loves nature, bouldering, late-night conversations, and music.
As an educator in a public high school in the greater Vancouver area for 5 years, Brendan has primarily taught psychology, history, resource and social justice. He has also served as an Aboriginal department head who had the role of working with and learning from Indigenous groups in Canada and helping other departments at his school to authentically incorporate aboriginal perspectives and content into their subjects.
For his masters research, he created and led a social-emotional intervention for grade 11 boys with behavioural needs. In it, they explored the ideas and social scripting surrounding masculinity and what it means to "be a man." The first semester was psycho-educational in nature, meaning there were a lot of conversations and activities about what emotions are, how to be aware of your emotions, and how to healthily express emotions. The second semester these participants acted as mentors to younger boys from a nearby elementary school. You can find more details and read my thesis on the research page.
His PhD builds upon his masters as he researches resiliency factors in adolescent males who are able to embody a more mature (less restrictive) expression of masculinity.
For a more personal glimpse of who Brendan is, read part of his story below.
"I am A MAN..."
When I was a kid, my cousin and I discovered “the manly way.”
Instead of walking on the sidewalk we’d jump across the ditch
And yell “this is the manly way”
Encouraging and taunting the other to follow so that they can also prove their manliness
It was harmless fun, we were both pretty equal and when one would take the manly way
The other was sure to follow.
But I remember one time when our friend didn’t take the manly way with us.
He didn’t want to climb the tree, even when we warned him that “it’s the manly way”
And when he told us that his mouth hurt which is why he couldn’t climb the tree,
We heard, “I’m not man enough to take the manly way”
And we felt better about ourselves by thinking less of him
…but it was harmless
When I was sixteen my best friend and I worked at a summer camp
One morning a fellow counsellor told us she had had a weird dream
In her dream we were a married couple and one of us was pregnant with our child
But me and my best friend were both boys and not gay
And the last thing that we wanted, even in a dream, was to be the one with the child.
Because then that would have meant we are even more girly.
And when you’re trying to be a man,
Girly just won’t do.
So that dream started a real-life competition about who was less feminine that the other.
For the next 8 years,
When one of us would do something “feminine”
the other would say
“See! He’s more feminine than I am!”
It was an ongoing joke,
I viewed the feminine like it was contagious.
And the best way to protect against it was to find someone who had it more.
People laughed, we laughed.
So I guess that meant it was all harmless.
When I became a high school teacher it was tough at times
To see how adolescents treat one another
The posturing, the insecurities, the hurt; their innocence changing to experience.
But there is always so much light to witness in these kids as well.
One of the brightest, they say you shouldn’t have favourites,
But he was mine, ended his life
I ran into him in the hallway earlier that day
And asked how he was doing.
He said stressed
I followed up a bit more
But since we were both late for class
We parted ways.
I want to be clear, I have no idea if his gender played a role in his death but here is what I do know: Conservatively, males are 4x more likely to commit suicide, and that gender disproportion starts being evident from around high school - which corresponds to the age when boys become less emotionally expressive. And psychological research is clear: the three most dangerous messages about masculinity given to males is be emotionally stoic, be tough, and figure it out yourself.
This is not harmless.
I also learned that two of the greatest obstacles preventing males from becoming emotionally healthy is the fear of femininity and the fear of homosexuality.
Both of these fears were present in the “games” I grew up playing.
I also grew up watching a true Canadian T.V. show
With a man named Red Green who would fix things with duct tape
At the end of each show a group of men would cite this creed:
“I’m a man but I can change, if I have to, I guess”
Now that I’m older, I can’t find the joke in it anymore.
I hear it now as an honest reflection that change is hard but still possible.
My masculinity is still a journey, but here’s what my current creed would sound like:
I’m a man, and I will seek growth
To become aware of how what I do, or how I think
hurts people, “other’s” those around me, or hurts myself
I’m a man, and I’m enough
To know that my strength lies
In my ability to love.
I’m a man, and I will be open to change
For my masculinity is not restrictive
And doesn’t keep femininity caged.
by Brendan Kwiatkowski