We are delighted to launch the TEAMS project despite the extraordinary circumstances we currently live in. Launching an international project during a global pandemic has highlighted to us the challenges of engaging with diverse communities of students and educators, academics and practitioners as well as policymakers and other actors who can facilitate migrant students’ integration in schools.
While we would much prefer to meet you in person and introduce the TEAMS project in ways that enable us to have more conversations, it has become increasingly clear that we need to learn to live and plan with Covid-19, rather than around it. In fact, the current situation has emphasised the urgency of the TEAMS aim of understanding and helping teachers and schools create and sustain inclusive school communities for all their students, including increasing populations of migrant students.
Why do we need to understand how teachers and schools support migrant integration?
Diversity has become a norm in today’s schools and classrooms around the world. According to the United Nations, 14 per cent of the world’s estimated 258 million migrants are children and young people (UNCF, 2017). The influx of migrants has created both challenges and opportunities for receiving education systems. The capacity of schools to support migrant students is known to have a significant effect on their educational outcomes—and, within schools, teachers are key (OECD, 2015).
Shifting thinking about diversity as a norm in today’s schools, rather than as a problem that needs to be addressed (Florian & Pantić, 2017), has a profound impact on the practices of teachers and other school staff, as well as for institutional structures. Teachers may need support to adapt curricula in order to embrace local diversity, and to develop intercultural and relational aspects of their pedagogy (Pantić & Florian, 2015) for creating inclusive school and classroom environments for migrant students.
Institutional support systems are required for coordinated approaches and collaboration within and beyond schools. Policies increasingly emphasise the need for schools to work with families, and other professionals, such as health or social workers, to promote the learning and wellbeing of all students. For migrants, such collaboration may also involve teachers working with language specialists to support students who do not speak the official language(s) of the country they are in.
TEAMS approach – why focus on relationships?
In this context, developing teachers’ and schools’ capacity to facilitate migrant integration requires an understanding of the complex interactions of many actors who bring their diverse perspectives and expertise to bear in order to support migrant students together. TEAMS focuses on teachers’ interactions with other actors as building blocks for developing more stable relationships and inclusive school communities that can facilitate migrant integration.
We take a holistic view of migrant education that includes academic learning, as well as socialisation across cultural groups, and a sense of belonging to the school community. Relationships are powerful conduits for understanding others’ needs and experiences that support both cognitive and affective aspects of learning, but they are also important in themselves – for learning how to be and thrive together in an increasingly diverse world.
The Covid-19 crisis has further highlighted the challenges of providing equitable and inclusive education. Emerging studies, sadly, point to the losses in learning that have disproportionately affected some students. Issues of access to learning remotely might have been even more pronounced for those needing additional language support. School closures have also reminded us of the importance of schools for nurturing a sense of community and togetherness that are equally important aspects of education as a public good. The crisis gave a sense of urgency to our aims of understanding how inclusive communities are built and sustained both during crisis, and for addressing challenges such as migrant integration.
How can you get involved?
We will be working closely with 6 secondary schools in Finland, Scotland and Sweden, two in each country, to map collaborative networks within and beyond schools, including support services for migrant students and their families. Staff and students in these schools will have an opportunity to participate in research as well as in knowledge exchange activities to discuss issues and strategies for learning across school and country contexts.
In addition, we would like to invite a wider community of colleagues, practitioners, students, parents and other community members to engage with the project events and outputs that will be made available via our website. You can participate in on-line seminars and discussions or contribute your own views, stories or artefacts that relate your own or other peoples’ experiences of migration, displacement, home-making in a new country, and the role of schools and teachers in particular.
We look forward to meeting you in one of our TEAMS events or hearing from you via our community pages or email! firstname.lastname@example.org
Published 2 February 2021