Monday, 9 July 2018

Finding Solutions not Focussing on Problems.


I am writing this post from Berlin, where I am almost 1 week into my 4 week Churchill Fellowship, my idea to research how preschoolers and their families are supported in Germany & Sweden began with a study visit here in Berlin in March 2017. (You can read about that here:
As a preschool teacher I was so curious as to what was happening in the kindergartens if at almost every primary we visited teachers were saying 'If the migrant children have been to kindergarten then they don't need to come to the Welcome classes' I wanted to find out what strategies were being used to make sure the youngest children were up to speed with their German by the time they went to primary aged 6 and were fully ready to be integrated into the mainstream classes. 

Reached out to some of the organisations I had come across in my previous visit and one DKJS ( pointed me in the direction of a kindergarten in Dresden called 'Kleiner Globus" ( meaning 'Small World'. So I began my Churchill Fellowship in earnest last week with 2 appointments in Dresden, one at Kita Kleiner Globus and the other at DKJS.

It was incredible to get to see around the Kita and learn their story, it is purpose built preschool set up 2 years ago with the intention of integrating children from all different types of backgrounds. The main body behind the Kita is Ausländerrat Dresden e.V ( an organisation specifically set up in 1990 to support the cultural , social and political integration of migrants. 

A key element of this group is that the campaign for social issues that affect migrants and encourage people to stand up for their rights and help them to learn about the new culture where they now live. 

Some of the welcoming staff at the Kita with me. 
Listening to the staff talking about the Kita, I was reminded of how the integrated education movement began in N. Ireland. This kita is all about children from different social backgrounds being educated together & this is a key aspect of any integrated school back home. It was interesting to learn that it was not set up as a direct result of the recent influx of refugees but rather as a way to ensure the Russian population could maintain their own language whilst also learning German (and English if they wish) so that they are not isolated. The main emphasis of this Kita is on immersion of the languages and it was wonderful to hear the staff speak to the children in English or Russian & the children reply in German or vice versa. The atmosphere in the Kita was very relaxed and welcoming & it is very obvious that different languages and cultures are respected in the space. Because the families come from all over Dresden, the staff explained that the children are from a variety of socio economic backgrounds - unlike the norm where you might attend the setting in your neighbourhood and so only mix with those from the same background as yourself. The staff are also from a variety of backgrounds & this can only but help put families at ease. There is strong volunteer movement within the schools (I saw this in Berlin in 2017 too, where retired teachers and business people were volunteering in the Welcome classes) so there were many extra people to help prepare snack, read stories to the children etc. This made for a very calm feeling about the place & the snack was beautifully presented by the volunteers. 
No teacher has time to prepare a snack as beautifully as this!
I had an opportunity to talk to some of the staff and they explained how they had been at training only last week for staff on how to deal with racism and that they had been the only setting who were able to say, that it wasn't an issue they had come across. There are lots of opportunities for parents to meet up and share cultural experiences and learn about what might be expected of them in the new country where they now live. 
The Kita has a dedicated parent room, where 3 days a week there is a member of staff on hand to talk to parents about any issues they might have & that member of staff can attend meetings with the parents that they may need to go to with government bodies. This is an aspect that I would like to see better covered within schools back home - I think we could be doing more to help migrant families navigate their way through an alien system, either by working with another local body or offering such a service in house through a cluster of schools working together. It is not good enough to expect families to have access to computers and printers if they need to use official forms. 

There is a real sense of being a responsible citizen within any of the people or groups I have met up with but also an emphasis on only getting involved in issues that directly affect you rather than getting involved in all issues - something we could learn to take notice of back home too.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Now I know how it feels to be a 'Newcomer' #WCMTUK

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
Winston Churchill 

As some might know, I was honoured and delighted to have been successful in my application to become a Churchill Fellow for 2018. You can read about that here: 
I found out back in March and have been planning my study trip for a few months and lo and behold it has actually arrived! I think I kept thinking that I would receive an email to say "Hey, Kierna, we made a mistake, you weren't supposed to be on that list" but to my surprise, that never happened and I found myself planning a 4 week trip for the month of July to Germany and Sweden. 

I arrived in Berlin on Monday the 2nd July and after a brief stop over for the night travelled onto Dresden on the Tuesday for 3 days. I have no German and have actually found it really hard to even learn some basic phrases - I blame BBC4, they haven't had any German programmes on for me to listen to! (In all seriousness, watching Swedish shows has allowed me to at least understand some words in conversations)

Visiting Spanish teachers passed on information on an amazing FREE app called 'Say Hi' which has proved invaluable for email communication and for translating signs or menus but as usual most people can speak beautiful English and it does make it all a lot easier for me. 

Last night I wanted a cup of coffee to round of my long day of travelling and those who know me are aware that I am very fond of my coffee, so imagine my surprise when the lady at the coffee kiosk wouldn't let me have it until I repeated the word 'Schwarz' (Black) a few times for her. I really began to understand how the 'Newcomer' children must feel in school when staff repeat a word several times for them to say when all they want is a yellow crayon! She wasn't being mean, she simply wanted me to be able to order a black coffee the next time I needed to. 

For those who might find themselves saying that those who migrant to new countries need to pick up the local language as quickly as possible, I want to know have they ever spent any time abroad where they don't speak the language. It is isolating and you can't really engage with people the way you want to and you really can't be your true self. I am finding myself smiling a lot at people and nodding and saying the one or two German words I have managed to pick up and now I know a little bit of how some of our migrant parents feel when they need to engage with staff at school.

Over the next 4 weeks I want to research different practices to help migrant families and preschoolers to best feel at ease in a new situations, with a view to being able to bring some ideas back home to share within my own school and the wider community.