It’s been over a year since Canada opened its doors and hearts to thousands of Syrian refugees. They, along with countless others from nearly every country, chose to make Canada their new home.
Along with the joy, angst, and tumult of moving must also come stress and bit of culture shock from so many new routines, signs, systems, official languages, and day to day decisions. Each of these are indeed daunting to any new arrival at our border including my own. Here’s my story.
In this post I wanted to parallel some of the memories, experiences, and feelings. Since the PM’s name hasn’t changed, I wondered if there were other things that still mirror the experience of moving to Canada nearly 40 years later. As the expression goes, “plus ça change plus c’est la même chose”. However, this time I’m not the nervous student stepping across the threshold of the unknown and into a new classroom. I am the smiling face that greets them on the other side. Here are three tips that help out in my learning space.
Firstly, remember immigration to Canada is nothing new. This can be a great chance for students to learn more about one another in the context that almost all of us have an arrival story to be discovered. That’s how my ancestors got here in the early 1900s.
Our nation was able to flourish because of the generosity of our its First Nations People, it is our privilege to continue making it greater by making room in our hearts and neighbourhoods for newcomers. This is not different in our classrooms whether it is by providing time to learn about a new arrival’s country, culture, and customs or a little extra ELL support. In doing so, teachers can plant seeds of cultural literacy in the classroom and foster an inclusive environment around everything we have in common.
Secondly, not everyone is equipped or able to embrace each new member to the community, but as a family of learners we can always be respectful, polite, and supportive. Whether it is having students initiate a brief conversation, offer help navigating the halls at school, or an invitation to play at recess – a bit of kindness goes a long way to making someone feel welcome. With a little time and encouragement, educators can turn this into an incredible mentorship opportunity that develops and empowers students into school ambassadors.
Thirdly, have students share classroom norms and expectations, not you. Instead, why not build in time for whole-class inclusion activities and ice breakers when new students arrive? Whether it is a game of Octopus, Hoedown tag(Chain tag), or Electricity students get to interact with one another through movement instead.
Over the past 4 decades, I have come to love our move back to Canada in 1978. Reflecting on this is what got me thinking about my own quasi-immigrant (repatriation actually) experience that prompted this post in the first place.* The lessons and lenses gained from all of this now guide my instructional practice and ensure that there is room in our hearts, minds, and classroom to welcome and support new citizens to Canada.
*It’s been a while since I’ve hauled these memories out of the vault – my first through the lens of an educator rather than student.