More than a quarter of Australians are born overseas, making Australia one of the most multicultural countries in the world. With so many new Australians, many of us are eager to make our society more welcoming, but might not know where to start.
Inclusion in the classroom and the schoolyard are vitally important for kids who are arriving in Australia at a formative time of their lives, as well as for their families who are getting their bearings in a new country. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help them settle in.
1. Do your research. Spend some time developing knowledge about the different cultural backgrounds of children in your school, to help guide your approach to new students. Be mindful that within every group is a rich tapestry of difference and it’s still crucial to treat students as individuals, rather than representatives of their culture.
2. Use plain English and large print. By using plain English on handouts, notices to parents and classroom displays, you’re making sure you have the best chance of communicating with everyone. Plain English is not only easier for English learners to understand, but also has the advantage of accommodating students and parents with different learning abilities.
3. Where you can offer an interpreter. Offering a professional interpreter to students’ parents can help increase their involvement and help them to feel part of the school community. It’s also thoughtful to offer an ‘open door’ policy, setting aside certain hours for parents and carers to come in and share their thoughts and concerns.
4. Teach kids about our diverse community. Use classroom projects as an opportunity to expose students to other cultures and the fascinating ways different people live and express themselves. Some project ideas include: asking students to interview members of the community, starting a book club with texts from a variety of sources, or establishing a pen pal program with other children overseas.
5. Instill the idea of social responsibility. Encourage students to understand their rights and the power they have as citizens to advocate for the kind of world they want to live in. Teaching kids to write letters to politicians, attend community meetings or run small-scale fundraisers for causes they believe in helps them to feel confident in their ability to shape a future that includes everyone.
The items on this list are just a starting point – ultimately making your school a caring, welcoming environment for new Australians is a collaborative project that requires everyone’s help to succeed, but there is still plenty we can do as individuals. The schoolyard can be a big, scary place for a young person in a new country, and it can be the little things that make it that bit easier to feel at home!