Creating an inclusive learning environment

1. How can we ensure that our classrooms and schools are places where all students are successful and feel that they belong?

Migrant students make up an ever increasing percentage of students in schools throughout most of Europe, Canada and the United States. These students and their families face numerous challenges as they work at transitioning to a new country, adjusting to their new environment, and learning the language of schooling.  Elizabeth Coehlo (2002) argues that there is widespread concern about the academic performance of newcomer children. These students often experience feelings of isolation and stress about their ability to learn the new language.  They have difficulty expressing their feelings and demonstrating knowledge and skills due to limited proficiency in the language of the school.

The role of schools is to create inclusive environments for students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds where they feel safe, welcome and cared for. Sousa (2011) argues these are optimal and necessary conditions for learning; whereas feelings of insecurity, threat or anxiety can create barriers to learning.  Schools have great potential to serve as hubs to bring children, adults and community together and they play a vital role in helping newcomer children and families successfully transition into the school and community. Schools can become inclusive meeting places that create a safe space for students to explore the languages and cultures that they and their families bring to the school.

Many newcomer/migrant students arrive in their new schools with additional languages other than the language of the school. Schools and communities need to value the linguistic and cultural backgrounds and experiences that newcomer students bring to school communities. According to Cummins (2001) newcomer/migrant students' cultural knowledge and language abilities in their home language are important resources.

When educators take the time to find out about their students’ past experiences and culture and then incorporate students’ personal and cultural strengths into the context of teaching and learning, everyone benefits. (Coelho, 2012)  Gathering background information about newcomer students helps both students and teachers. She (2012) argues that educators who take the time to learn about their students’ past experiences, and home and community cultures, and incorporate students’ personal and cultural strengths into the context of teaching and learning are better able to provide a productive learning environment for students. 

In order for students to be successfully integrated into the school system and achieve academically, they must feel they are able to maintain their linguistic and cultural identity.