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How can teachers welcome refugees in their classrooms

This is a toolbox offered to you by the Pestalozzi Programme's Educators' Community of Practice. For more information on the programme please visit: http://www.coe.int/en/web/pestalozzi/how-to-participate

pascale mompoint

on 20 June 2016

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Transcript of How can teachers welcome refugees in their classrooms

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Using images
Situation and context
Adapting activities to target groups
What are the foundations for your actions?
Starting-point Guidelines
How should it be done?
Some critical areas of your action

Building empathy
We can:
Explore identity
Establish fairness
Raise awareness of stereotypes
Tolerance, respect, acceptance
Cultivate curiosity
Challenge prejudice
Inspire action and social change
Listen hard and be vulnerable with an open-mind
How can teachers welcome refugees in their classrooms?
Pestalozzi Programme for Education Professionals


Numbers of migrants and refugees have made their way across the Mediterranean, or from other parts along other routes to Europe in 2015, to seek help and relief from wars and poverty. The current situation in Europe puts inclusive democratic societies at risk. If the fear of newcomers mixed with the populist oversimplification of security concerns gain the upper hand this may lead to an increase of self-centredness, closing-in and eventually to more discrimination, prejudice, stigmatization of certain groups, and thus to increased exclusion and nationalism.

This presents a great educational challenge and day-to-day education practice has a significant and key role to play in countering such developments. This is a humanitarian crisis and we as educational professionals, members of the Pestalozzi Community of Practice and Learn to Change wonder about the possibilities, about what we, can bring to the table today to support educators to welcome these newly arrived youngsters and their parents? We believe that our recent publication TASKs for Democracy with the Core Transversal Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge for Democracy, the activities and the advice on how to use them in any learning context and school, is a big step forward for education professionals, to look at, to read in and get inspired by, now more than ever, to meet this humanitarian crisis.

We are listening to the voices of the people behind the statistics. People are traveling many miles over lands in search for safety and a better life. The events are followed by the media that shape how we talk about people; they talk about “exodus”, “masses”, “hordes”, multitude, “invasion” even… But we observe, feel, speak, fear, sympathize, experience, understand, create opinion and act too. This is a human experience.

Is it necessary to talk about it in school? What can we do better to welcome new students? How can we enhance mutual respect and benefit from the encounter? What are your experiences? Let’s learn about it together! And what we learn, we can share further to the wider community of education professionals.

We live in an interdependent society, and one of our educational aims is to prepare students for democratic citizenship. Our present work is directed towards one aim: How can teachers welcome refugees in their classrooms with confidence, dignity in a spirit of equality?

Learn to Change-
Change to Learn
Teaching activities:
How to act
Using narratives

Other resources
”In 1997 we had 30 refugees from former Yugoslavia in my hometown. We did a lot of right things and also wrong. Therefore is important to learn from our mistakes and make the refugees welcome, good and calm because people are a treasure. I am a leader of the Red cross in my town and 55 refugees will come to Iceland in December and we in the RC are trying to do it right and learn from others' experience. Workshops or courses about intercultural teaching is needed.”
Common shortcomings we can observe:

too much focus on language 'technicalities' and not enough on social inclusion/communication;
there is something such as 'too much help' especially when given before getting deep understanding of what people come with and what they can bring to the community (skills, experience, wishes...)
after the first welcome, we aught to make a conscious shift from helping to helping people help themselves.
Contribution from
Magnhildur Björk Gísladóttir
Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard

Simulations activities
Our Pestalozzi Community of Practice member
Sezgin Tetik
informs about an implemented research of the Gazi University:
“This was a qualitative research and we have implemented it in Tokat-Turkey. We have surveyed with refugee students, their parents and teachers (who are working with refugee students).”
"According to our research main problems are:

there are problems about language competencies. People have attended language courses but it is not enough to follow the lessons. Also teachers do not know refugee language and they cannot communicate with their parents. In conclusion teachers said that they are willing to learn basic Arabic.

there are problems about refugee grade level. There are too many of them and it is hard to decide which grade they should follow. Some schools have changed their grades (which are selected by the central authority) for some period and they are saying that students’ success and self-confidence is increased.

-In service training for teachers:
Teachers claim that they have to be trained about these students. They should be informed about their language, culture, values and different methods. This could be one week or two week in service training course."

Sezgin Tetik,
Gazi University research
Both refugees and Turkish students have problems about adoption. Refugee students are coming from hard conditions (war, hunger, etc.) and different culture. Also Turkish students are thinking about “why they are here”, “why they left their country”, “will their parents lose their job because of newcomers”. These thoughts make this harder to live and learn together. In some cases if the teacher and families explain the situation better, students accept their new friends (especially in lower grades).

-Families lack of interest:
Families are dealing with basic needs therefore they are not coming to schools. They are trying to find food, home and money. They have problems about communication (language). Also they do not know what will happen. Are they going to stay or move to another country?"

Sezgin Tetik,
Gazi University research

A few tips that have worked over the years are shared by
Maria Polychrona
educator from Cyprus:

try to overcome the language barrier as soon as possible, even before the students start to communicate in the new language, a simple pocket bilingual dictionary or access to Google translator can go a long way communication wise;
pair them with a “best buddy”, who will show them around the school building and can help them with practical issues and socializing;
use experiential learning activities to promote understanding among classmates (e.g. "Make a step forward" activity from Compass handbook for Human Rights education works brilliantly);
as soon as minimal communication is established, get to know the life story of your new students and ask them to share them with the class. If you give them a map, you will be amazed of how many countries they've already visited in their short lives.
Patience, understanding and respect are paramount!
Address needs such as food, school supplies, health issues etc. discreetly in coordination with the relevant school service.
Don't hesitate to act as an advocate for them, most likely if you don't, nobody will.
And a warm message from Maria is “hope and courage to all colleagues welcoming immigrants and refugees in their classrooms”.

Handbook for Determining Refugee Status and Guidelines on International Protection -


UNICEF Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and Care -

SIRIUS - European Policy Network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background -

Amnesty.org - 8 educational resources to better understand the refugee crisis -


What's going on?
Why it is important to act?

Whether the move is temporary or long-term, changing life circumstances is always very stressful for the whole family, especially children. Children lose their environment, one they recognize. Thy find themselves without close friends or family members. They have witnessed frightful scenes. Refugee and migrant children meet with the additional burden of adapting to the new environment, learning the language, getting to know a new way of life. Learning disabilities can occur as a result of post-traumatic stress. There may be psychosomatic problems, fear of school, sleep problems, attention disorders, hyperactivity...
Because of forced and unexpected transitions to the new environment, children become very vulnerable, insecure and subject to high levels of anxiety. They may be sad and nostalgic, suffering; others may reject the new environment, they may become aggressive.... Regardless of whether or not the children are able to share their experiences with others, they all experience intense feelings (fear, distrust, anger).

The 'local' children, who are in the position of welcoming newcomers to the community, may experience difficulties as well. They may express mistrust, disgust, even hate towards migrants and refugees. This is why teachers will need to consider

in their classrooms.

For teachers, it is important to know that it is normal for children to express reactions to stress and to cope with behavioral problems. It is important to know how to deal with strong emotions.

It is important to focus our action not exclusively towards refugees, but as well towards the people who are in a position to welcome newcomers in their communities. Educators should work with the “majority” to help people “see” and include everybody. It is our job as teachers and we must learn to do so. Your action should focus on getting people (and yourself!) to think about how we view migrants and how we might explore some of these ideas with students . The following are the main areas of action our conversation pointed us to:

Learning from history
- Views of migrants depends on perspective; we need to explore our own perspectives first and how these might need to be challenged and changed. Realising that migration is a story of people and that it has happened everywhere, throughout history is a core activity to help people welcome refugees and migrants. Richard Harris share a training session with us on this matter: please visit

- Teachers tend to focus on language issues. Of course it is of primary importance that students acquire the local language to be able to integrate their new social environment. This said, our action should make it clear that all languages are equal. All languages are worthy. No languages are 'better' than others. The ability to speak more than one language is always a richness not a flaw, no matter what language it is. Classroom activities, schools will benefit from language diversity in the student body if this is a carefully nurtured goal to benefit...
And intercultural learning:
remember that in intercultural communication we often collide with invisible walls – barriers other than language itself: misinterpretation of nonverbal messages, assumptions (preconceptions) and stereotypes. Re-strengthen yourself and your students, when met with such barriers.


- Where language is a barrier, activities that focus on building rapport through non-verbal action are useful. We provide many examples of activities here.

– We are all different, we may have different languages, religions, traditions, world views… but most often we humans share common core values. Teachers can engage students in a reflection on their core values and then see whether and how life permits us to live these values in our communities.

- All emotions are okay, we should embrace them. They are natural and deserve to be noticed, named and understood. Emotions are logical: even when irrational, they follow some psychological logic.There are no good and bad emotions: only pleasant and unpleasant ones. Each of them carries an adaptive value. What can be detrimental on the other hand, is not an emotion but the behaviour(s) resulting from them. When we encourage children to talk about their feelings it reduces their intensity and has an impact on behaviour and namely can reduce unconstructive behaviour or some form of defense, such as a distorted perception or avoidance and hostility. Additionally, as teachers working on this issue, we should also remember that we have our own reactions and feelings and that these will be expressed in our actions: we cannot hide them but we should be well aware of them.

– All teachers have a responsibility in the present situation. No matter what subject matter you teach, as a teacher you will have to reflect on your role and make an effort to accept changing roles: teacher, advocate, listener, intercultural mediator...
"Educators will need to reflect on their roles: teacher, advocate, listener, intercultural
Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard
"This issue is for all of us highly important and asks for our involvement both as individuals and as educators. Personally, I would like to "stay" on the TASKs level of handling this with my students. This is because I am afraid of getting involved emotionally and thus being less helpful to my students. The focus on components are, I think, securing our involvement as educators"
Anna-Maria Panagiotidou
"The age and developmental stages of children are important factors that affect the way the child understands an event, chooses how to react to it and even on whether he/she will accept help and support from others."

Milka Mihailović
ABC - Teaching Human Rights: Practical activities for primary and secondary schools
Free online edition of escapismmagazine - Current refugee crisis
UNHCR - video "Did you know that East Africa is now home to more than 3 million refugees?"
Discussing the issue we could imagine some meaningful activities to do with all the kids in the class (not only with refugee and migrant youth) on timelines, transitions and identities.
What we are also saying that this "great exodus" is bringing to the forefront the question of prejudice and stereotyping, as cognitive shortcuts that allow us to simplify complex other's and 'grasp' them. We understand that doing this is an inescapable and automatic human activity.
But we also understand that with education you can raise awareness about this automatic activity to help people free themselves from its negative effects and therefore reduce discrimination and prejudice. This means that all activities teachers perform for this raising of awareness, should complement the activities for raising empathy.
For secondary school

Extreme Prejudice
[Using research, religious diversity, secondary school]. An activity to handle religious diversity in the classroom, shared by Ana Žnidarec Čučković (Croatia).

Background article found in: Teaching Tolerance
For primary school

“Picture games”
[Using photos, Media, Discrimination, Xenophobia, Primary + ages] Especially good activity for expressing own and understanding other world views by Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard

“How can we work together toward intercultural classrooms?”
a DIV Training Unit by Katica Pevec Semec [Using Game, identity, fairness, diversity, Preschool and lower primary / in-service training]


Full transcript