I had an interview last night with Shelly Sanchez for her BamEd Radio show. The topic was The Teacher Challenge: Strategies to help migrant and refugee students feel comfortable in the classroom. It’ll be aired in a few weeks, but after doing the interview I had a chance to reflect on our conversation.
I told Shelly that discussing the topic of refugee and immigrant students is one that is special to me, while I feel passionate about the topic, it also brings back a lot of unhappy memories. Memories of fleeing our country. Memories of arriving to Canada and going through a huge learning curve and culture shock in school. So while I feel very passionate to help teachers help refugee and migrant students, it comes at a cost that requires a lot of self-care and other healing strategies. In a way, discussing and writing about this topic has been a strategy for me to cope and heal.
Being a refugee at the age of 11 has taught me so much about teaching, learning and meeting the learning needs of my own students when I was teaching.
Here are some strategies to try out in the classroom to help create a culturally responsive environment for all students:
- My first advice is to try and spend some one on one time with the student the first few weeks while they get adjusted to the new school, curriculum and making friends. This may seem like more work, but it would benefit both you and your student throughout the rest of the academic year.
- Another piece of advice is to connect with parents on a regular basis, whether that may be through messaging, letters, phone calls or face to face, to update them on their child’s progress. Many immigrants and refugee parents might not feel comfortable asking about their child’s progress as they don’t want to take the teacher’s time. In some cultures, asking about the child may seem like an act to undermine the teacher’s authority. So it’s important to let them know you’re available if they have any questions or concerns.
How to Create A Welcoming Environment in the Classroom:
- The first thing that teachers should focus on is to make sure to create a safe and welcoming environment for immigrants and refugee students and their parents. What does this look like? This may start with booking a translator to be there for that initial parent-teacher meeting. Another strategy is to help students understand school rules and activities. Little things such as explaining when recess is, what’s a hallway pass, where the washroom is, can make a big difference in helping students feel safe and comfortable. Using visuals might help with this.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the refugee crisis in your classroom, especially if you’re teaching middle or high school students. There are many resources that allow you to implement age appropriate materials or activities to cover such topics. My only suggestion when doing so, is not to place so much attention on immigrants/refugee students to answer questions. This might put them under undue stress and as a result may turn inward.
- Seek out resources available for teachers to incorporate culturally responsive lesson plans in the classroom. Resources such as ones found on Teaching Tolerance, Teaching for Change, PBS Teacher’s Network and EduColor provide some great ideas for activities and lessons that are culturally diverse. One of the most important things a teacher can also leverage is students themselves. Provide them with lots of opportunities to write about and work on projects and topics of their choice. This will open up opportunities for them to learn about subjects and topics that they’re interested in and relevant to their every day lives.
Stay tuned for my interview with Shelly!
What do you do to help welcome newcomers to your classroom?