TER #226 feature - Multiculturalism and Refugees in School
6:06AM Jul 31, 2023
Joining me now from Western Sydney University are Megan Watkins and Greg noble. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you. Now we're here to talk about, particularly the needs of students of refugee backgrounds, in schools in Australia. Before we get into the details of that topic, how did this come to be such a major focus of your work together?
It's interesting actually, because I this work stemmed from the research that we were doing with the New South Wales Teachers Federation for this in tannery and they got in touch with us because we had been doing some work with the education department on a much larger project, spanning about four years, which was on multicultural education. And we were looking at a kind of reassessment, if you like, of multicultural education with the department and given the the interest in what came out of that, which Greg and I were both working on. The Federation contacted us because they saw a need to investigate issues around refugee students in New South Wales schools
just need to stress how important that was for both us and the Federation, partly because it's very easy to kind of isolate refugee students and asylum seekers students as a kind of discrete category that have to be dealt with on their own. And their argument was, they actually have to be seen in a much larger policy and practice context. But we will kind of spend a lot of time talking about that in the podcast later on. But but that context was really, really crucial for us and Federation.
Well, speaking of that broader context, and as you say, Megan, this came out of work on multicultural education more broadly, having heard the two of you speak at events previously, you offered a slightly different perspective on what multiculturalism is and how multiculturalism functions in education that I think was offered an interesting perspective shift. Can we just start with we start by unpacking that, like when, when we talk about multiculturalism, particularly in education, how do you actually define it?
The simple point is this multiculturalism is often seem to be a relatively straightforward policy of celebrating and acknowledging and recognizing diversity, and, and encouraging students to have a strong sense of their homeland identity and for teachers to develop curricula that was both inclusive and anti racist and encourage that kind of ethos. Our argument was, was this multiculturalism is not simply to be acquainted with cultural diversity, or ethnic diversity. It's actually a complex set of policies and programs designed to do a whole range of things. So there's not a simple goal. So you have the kind of ESL anti racism, community liaison, period, involvement, blah, blah, blah, all sorts of things that go on in a school, which actually followed different kinds of rationales. And certainly by reflecting on those different rationales if you can kind of get to the heart of the question about what we what we think the needs of students are, and and what we think are the best ways to address that. And there's been a tendency to focus on very limited ways of enacting multicultural education policy in schools, which we are kind of very critical of, and I'm sure you've kind of come back to that. And it's, and that kind of the logic of that argument, meant that we actually asked, we asked teachers to think much more critically reflexively, about the nature of the world that we live in, and the forms of ethnic diversity that exists, and what that means for a school community, beyond a kind of a simple ethos of recognition and celebration.
And in your work, and in your experience, how how have you seen that effectively adopted and enacted in practice? And I suppose the question is, what's the good, the bad and the ugly, of multicultural practicing school? Because I'm sure every teacher will have had the experience of multicultural awareness kind of being reduced to Harmony Day and days focusing on food or traditional costume. But then on the other side, what does actual effective practice look like for achieving some of those goals for students from diverse backgrounds?
I think the fact that you mentioned the word reduced is is actually really important because this is this is part of the problem that in in trying to be well meaning and inclusive, a lot of teachers focus, as Greg said, on certain forms of recognition and that gets reduced if you like to the annual multicultural day and there is nothing inherently wrong with a multicultural day. In fact, they can be great community events. But part of the problem is that people, practitioners make assumptions about students culture, you know, and I'm doing little kind of scare, quote, mannerisms, if you'd like to, to indicate that it that can be a problem, particularly given the kind of complex nature of the world in which we live now that that a lot of the students that are arriving in school have very kind of complex migration histories, they may be second, third fourth generation. So what teachers foreground in terms of a student's culture is, may be not necessarily something that the students themselves foreground, in fact, they may see themselves as being Australian, whatever that that may mean. And so making assumptions that they are they are of Chinese background, or Lebanese background, or whatever, may be limiting how the child themselves and their families understand their own kind of cultural background. So what would be a way forward is for teachers and working with students to have a better understanding of what we mean by key terms like culture? You know, what do we mean by culture? What does that incorporate? How can we better understand Australia's migration history and the impact of that? How does culture morph if you like, how does it change? And and how do we think in more complex terms about the about student populations and the way in which they experience life, which may be very similar to a lot of other kids at a school despite the fact that their ancestry may be maybe quite diverse?
And just to illustrate that mean, the example often fall back on is if there's a lot of talk about the problems with Lebanese students in Australian schools, particularly in Sydney, and Melbourne. And of course, what is what is Lebanese mean? If you're making a judgment on the basis of a student being Lebanese, he's doing that Christians, Christian Maronite, so you're talking about Muslims? Are you talking about kids who come from Beirut and other cities? Are you coming back kids come from rural and sometimes peasant backgrounds? Are you talking about people who actually migrated to Lebanon from other backgrounds and have settled there for some time and then moved on, or you're talking about, you know, some kind of essential category of what it means to be living these, all these things are kind of problematic assumptions that we make. And we make them every day in the school classroom, in the school context, that that's the thing that we want teachers to kind of rethink.
And, you know, we also have to give consideration to the fact that that many, many students are the product of, of families of, you know, everyone who's determined sort of mixed marriage. So So what is, you know, a student's culture? So I mean, we've been throwing around the term culture and ethnicity. And once again, these kinds of these terms need to be unpacked. What do we mean by by these terms? And what does students understand by them?
And I suppose the thing I'm trying to get a clearer understanding of is, how does that different understanding potentially affect a teacher's practice in a way that is meaningfully different to the student? If someone's coming into a classroom with assumptions about, you know, and maybe a somewhat homogenous concept of what students of Lebanese background means in their classroom? What can that potentially manifest as in practice that creates a barrier for those students that what sort of, because I imagine even the P even students and then I think about myself, I'll use myself as a benchmark here rather than some hypothetical student. Even with the best of intentions, it's possible to make a misstep or it's possible to not realize you are operating from a basis of an assumption that's actually not helpful to that young person. But then trying to understand what what sort of manifestations in the classroom can that lead to that become problematic for those students?
I suppose the the practices that have been most worrying for Greg and myself have been around the ways in which culture is often used to explain things that may have very little to do with with cultural background or ethnicity. So for example, going back quite a few years ago, although some of these kinds of practices are still evident in schools, there was a relationship drawn between learning styles, and particular ethnic groups. And so you can look at and you know, as I said, it's still out there, you can look at certain materials that will say, Well, the best way of dealing with Pacific students is by you know, having, I don't know, group based learning or, or whatever. And, and then, we, we, these often lead on to sort of certain kinds of stereotypes, things that are typical around space students of all various Asian backgrounds, they say, oh, you know, Asian students are good at maths and science and blah, blah, these kinds of things. Now, the reasons why they can be these kinds of understandings can be problematic, is because they may not necessarily address what are actually the issues. In if I use the student, the case of students of Pacific backgrounds as an example, a lot of students of, of Pacific backgrounds in in New South Wales schools tend to perform quite poorly. I mean, it's not always the case. But but those issues of performance relate far more to to aspects of class, as opposed to, to a student's ethnicity. A lot of students of Pacifica backgrounds tend to come from low SES backgrounds, their parents, maybe shift workers there, they don't have as may not necessarily have the same degree of of support within the home, not that the parents aren't being good parents, but there are issues around around socio economic disadvantage, that have very little to do with with issues of culture and ethnicity. So there has to be a kind of further interrogation of what is the root cause of issues that may have that may relate to educational performance.
And to give a different kind of example, with multicultural days there to recognize students, cultural origins, and the significance of homeland identities, this can backfire. So we often use the example of a little girl who went home in in tears because, and said to her mother, mommy, mommy, am I Chinese that the school says I'm Chinese, and I have to come to multicultural day, my national costume. This little girl was a mother who was a Chinese background, and a father who was Anglo. But you know, they'd been in Australia for a very long time. And she grew up thinking of herself as Australia. And so the school was telling you now you're not Australian, you're Chinese. So a, an event that was supposed to be inclusive, actually excludes.
But it also creates issues in terms of students who are have an Anglo background. I mean, if we look at current federal policy around around multiculturalism, it talks about multiculturalism being about all Australians and for all Australians, but very often the term multicultural, is used to describe people who are non Anglo. And so if you're having a multicultural day, where the students have long term Anglo Australian backgrounds fit in, and so what they then engage in because of those practices, processes of othering. Okay, multiculturalism is about the other. It's not about me.
And and we do have lots of examples of teachers who refer to the multicultural kids in the school.
Yes, yes. That notion that it's about those who don't belong here don't come from here. It's certainly something I've encountered and experienced in my own experience in my own teaching practice.
But of course, that's not unique to teachers. I mean, the the term, multicultural was often used as a synonym for sort of culturally diverse, I mean, we would much prefer to use the term, you know, culturally diverse populations. I mean, any term has its issues, but when we start using multicultural in that way, it then creates barriers if you like, because it's, it's those people who, who are multicultural, and those who are not. And so it sort of runs counter to, to the kind of aims if you like, of a multicultural policy.
Now, it was mentioned at the beginning that part of your argument about addressing the needs of refugee students is for them to be treated or to be included in a broader approach to effective multicultural and inclusive practice. But in acknowledging that, what are some of the specific issues that come with having a large cohort of refugee students or students of a refugee background? You know, to go back to to Greg, what you were mentioning about interaction of different policies, you know, there are many policies that do identify, I don't want to say target, but maybe specifically apply to students of refugee backgrounds. So what particular needs are recognized there that stand out from the broader multicultural milieu of our culture and our schools?
Well, there's, there's a whole range of needs, that we can kind of work through, this is some broader set of challenges that we have to think about. But just to bear in mind that the point I was making about those different rationales are difficult choices for a school, you know, so there are some things where you want to encourage, to equip students with the skills that they need to exist in Australian society. And there are, there are things that you need to do to to adequately recognize and foster homeland networks and knowledges that are also value to them, because they live in a kind of the sport community in Australia. Now, those are the choices between say, kind of a community language maintenance program and English, English language acquisition, in effect, they become choices that that are in contestation in schools are in that can be in conflict, because schools are places with finite resources and finite amounts of time. So what a school does come down to or we've got a period free on Friday afternoon, do we do this or do that? So there, there are, those different rationales mean often comes down to very difficult choices that schools have to make, if so that's part of the context. So in that context, and making kind of talk much more about some of the issues around English language acquisition, there are also issues around trauma and the psychological well being of refugee students. But as Megan will kind of talk about at length, if we give it the chance, there is an over emphasis on the consequences of the trauma of being a refugee student that sometimes is another way of pigeonholing students. Not always, hopefully, there are issues around transition we that need to be addressed. And there are issues around kind of the RE socialization of students in quite a different context. You know, one of the things that is become a truism in teacher discourse is you have to know the student know your students. And that the problem that we keep coming back to is that knowing the student often comes back to putting them in a particular pigeonhole, whether that is a because they come from a particular ethnicity, or because they are a refugee student. And neither of those things can be very helpful. Many of the students who come to Australia as refugees or asylum seekers come along Via very complicated trajectories, which means that they don't have a simple kind of connection to a homeland. Origin, they have, they may have picked up a second or a third or, or even replaced their first language because of that, that project trajectory. So So teachers actually have to know actually have to have a much more complicated knowledge about students, in order to address those needs. Even in the process of identifying those needs, you actually have to know a lot more about a student, rather than assuming that there's a, you know, five or six means that can be ticked off the checklist simply because the Muslim, or they're from Afghanistan or whatever.
Yeah, so very often, I think that teachers understandably want to, to know a lot more about the culture of specific countries. And in doing that, they're finding out about the background of their students. But But, and while that may be useful, you have to account for the complexities involved with the culture of any particular country, but in relation to refugee students, you're then also thinking about the the particular kind of journeys that they have gone on whether or not they have spent time in in refugee camps in other countries, if they've been to multiple countries in terms of their moving to Australia, at the age at which they were so it's There tends to be this tendency not just with teachers, but but anybody trying to understand a situation that we involve. We engage in processes of what the sociologist Rogers Brubaker calls group ism, that, that we tend to group things to make sense of what is happening. But in the in that kind of process of sort of simplification, we end up raising the necessary complexity of the situation. And so teachers in knowing that students have to engage with that complexity, and that they, instead of thinking of refugees, as a group, and in some cases, you have to around things like funding an organization and whatever else, instead of just thinking of refugees, as a group, you have to think about their highly individualized experience, which can be can differ within a family.
And I think it's interesting to point to the comparison between Intensive English centers, and mainstream schools, because Intensive English centers generally have quite developed systems for assessing their the new student, and not just in terms of language, but getting a kind of a sense of, of, of the experience that they're coming from, and aspects that are built into the previous history, their their refugee history, mainstream schools often don't have the time or the resources or the expertise to be able to do that. But they offer also, many of those skills don't always draw on the expertise of the ICS, who have done it. So there are all sorts of little things in there that we can come back to in terms of the systemic kind of issues. But but any school that actually has intake of students of refugee backgrounds, should actually have in place a quite a good assessment and evaluation process so that we can actually generate as much data around that student that helps them through the process of settling in.
I mean, a big issue here is in critical mass how, what are the numbers of students in schools. And so when Greg and I were doing the research with the New South Wales Teachers Federation, we made a point of going into schools that had large numbers of students from refugee backgrounds, but also those who had very small numbers. In fact, in one school, there were there were just two students, and looking at their experiences. And, you know, understandably, a lot of teachers felt pretty lost about what they need to do. And that was at a time where there was a as a support gap, if you like, within the Federation, where there had been the loss back in, you know, 2012, or whatever it was of the, the multicultural, and ESL, consultants. And it was before the appointment of the refugee support leaders in some cases. So it's, it is so important to have a high degree of centralized support where where teachers and schools know that they can go somewhere to access the required support that they need, even if they only have one or two students, you don't want them slipping through the cracks.
I just make one other point about the needs of refugee students. We think this is true all students. But one of the things that keeps coming up in the in the research, not just ours, but other research is that these students often need a really strong sense of routines. And that includes routines in the school, and routines around homework. And if as many of these students have experienced a high degree of turbulence and dislocation and constant cost of mobility, the routine that routines they develop both within schools and outside schools, become really, really crucial to a whole series of other questions around the learning and their climatization.
Greg mentioned before that often, how we saw that kind of imbalance between favoring the pastoral over the academic in relation to dealing with students or refugee backgrounds in schools and of course, it's it's incredibly important to consider the pastoral needs of students, but at the same time students, their academic needs need to be met. And there's very much a relationship between the academic and the pastoral if a child is not achieving academically that's going to have a huge impact on on how they see themselves and their psychological well being. And so, in the recent Should we did with the Teachers Federation, it was interesting to see the comments of, of some teachers and principals who were saying that that often, there were not the same kind of high expectations of students of refugee refugee backgrounds compared to other students, because teachers were trying to make allowance for the for the difficulties that they had encountered. But in doing that, that was was a problem. So we have students themselves actually asking for, for more homework for challenging homework and that kind of support they wanted to, to work really hard to improve their English language and literacy. So you know that that became a key issue in our research.
Well, that sounds like a good point to springboard into the question of student's own perceptions of their experience. And it's one of the chapters of the research paper that really caught my attention. You know, as you said, before, Greg, that even within families, there can be different perspectives on what it means to be in Australia or to have come from refugee background. And, you know, the the examples that you've used of young people who see themselves as Australian yet getting pigeon holed in other migrant identities or ethnicities. So I suppose the first is to throw the doors wide open from that research and from your work more broadly, what are some of the things that have really stood out to you about the way that young people view themselves? And how that either sometimes works with or runs counter to what they're experiencing in the education system?
Hmm, that's a really, really good question. And of course, the answer is what depends. The, because all the students that we interview, all have quite different experiences, even when they look like they have the same kinds of experiences. In fact, the little inflections and changes and variations had enormous impacts. So, you know, we were quite astounded that we'd come across, these young people hadn't incredible, you know, use contemporary parlance, resilience, really highly motivated and really wanted to make a go of it in Australia. They were there working for their family, not just for themselves, that could often lead to conflicts within their own family, about their roles and so on. But but then we will go to these other schools where I mean, mean, yeah, the example the school where there was only two refugee students where you would think that their needs could be relatively easily addressed, because the school didn't have a complex array of students from refugee backgrounds. But in fact, they were lost. They weren't, they weren't seen by the school, which had different different focus, and so on. And, but no one had actually really ever stopped to talk to them, about what they're interested in, what excited them why they were, why they wanted to be at school, if they wanted to be at school, we ended up having a really interesting conversation with these two kids, about their hobbies. And because what we realize that when we're talking about school, they were flat, their eyes, we kind of did, you know, they were, they were kind of very hesitant and very suspicious of us. And it sounds like no one had ever really kind of engaged them in the ways we had. And then we asked them about what really interests and they changed completely. So sort one of them was into dance. I can remember the other one was into sport, but particular transport. And then and then once we had that conversation, it was like we're interviewing different people. And what struck us was that they had kind of gone through this education system. And they'd been in a couple of schools that the oldest student in particular, and had been kind of constantly locked out. She really wanted to have a dance in the school, that would have been her thing. And the school on interest was an interesting, so. So the starting point for us is having really good conversations with students and their parents or carers to understand the perspectives that are coming from their particular histories and experiences. But also recognize that there are very complicated community and family arrangements for those students. So they may not actually have parents in Australia. In this case, the example that students were just talking about. Their parents weren't in Australia. They were looked after by I think relatively distant relatives were immediate uncles, and the kind of a distance from the school where they had to live and they were remoteness was School psychologically, was something that school had never addressed, and it should be addressed. And again, I don't blame the teachers per se, because it's it's a very time consuming kind of activity to do the kind of thing that we could do, because we came in as researchers doing it. But really, if the point is to kind of what are the work at the best possible circumstances, for the education of these students, somebody needs to be engaging in those kinds of conversations.
I mean, the more we delve into this, the more it really shows the importance of, as you've already mentioned, that first teaching standard know your students and how they learned, but it's just a process of constantly sort of questioning and breaking through your own assumptions. And sometimes even, I suppose, systemic challenges that might arise. In your experience, how important is it for teachers to really need to be advocates for students, particularly from refugee backgrounds in the school?
Well, yes, I mean, they certainly need they certainly need advocates. But I suppose I'd sort of also want to turn that back on the the issue of, of teacher expertise, I mean, I, I don't want to blame teachers, because I think, particularly in the current context, where we're looking at, you know, major teacher shortages, issues around teacher workload and pay. They're huge, they're huge problems that, but meeting the needs of students or refugee backgrounds requires particular expertise. And that expertise relates to, you know, their varying needs. But one of the things that is key is sort of knowledge of, of English language and literacy, and ELD. expertise. And too often we see within the New South Wales education system ELD positions that are filled by people with with no expertise in that area. There's the assumption that anybody can teach ELD will date. And so often, the student's needs are not being made, because they don't have the teachers who have the skills to teach them. I mean, it's like saying, of course, this happens. Anybody can teach maths, or anybody can take science or anybody can teach whatever. So it's an issue of the necessary expertise around language and literacy learning. But it's also this kind of broader sociological understanding that Greg and I have been talking about that that is once again, often downplayed, even within an initial teacher education. And it is those kinds of understandings which allow teachers to actually have a better understanding of not just students or refugee backgrounds, but all their students, that that they don't think in just group based terms to understand what their students needs are, but they look at them to some extent as as kind of specific individual needs, that that need to be addressed.
I mean, just in terms of the language thing, and this is means expertise, much more than mine. But you know, one of the classrooms I was in a very good teacher, overall a good lesson in sciences. But there was a kind of a really interesting moment when the students were looking confused, because a couple of words, but in particular, a couple of terms were being used, which actually had three or four or five different meanings. And in the particular context, the teacher understood the word to mean something rather. And I think one of the kids put their hands up and kind of asked about it. And she said, Yes, it could also mean that there was the teaching moment that a teacher with a really strong background in the ideal ELD pedagogies would have picked up on recognize the idea that we just put the science lesson aside for a moment and talk about these kinds of issues, because the kids were kind of getting lost, being torn between the different meanings of a term. And that's in a good classroom. wherever you've got a really good teacher operating in other classrooms where it's not quite so well organized, or structured or with a small group, the kids just get lost. So there's that kind of level of expertise. And of course, it comes back to a systemic issue because it's not the teachers fault, that they're not trained. It's because universities aren't doing a good job. The Department of Education is not doing the job in providing the resources for either training teachers or Um, teachers already in the system, developing those capacities. And rather than try and run everything to kind of budgetary reductions, we need to be properly resourcing schools for that kind of thing. And the second thing that we which is related is that we keep coming back to is that teachers need more time to do what they do. Everything's always kind of done at the last minute, because of the nature of the classroom, the nature of the schools, teachers don't get much of the time to do the kind of critical reflection, or even even the discussion amongst themselves of particular students. You know, we've been in schools where with teachers actually don't talk about the students they have in common and that, you know, high school, for example, when in fact, what they need to be doing is sharing some information and so on. So, so we, we have argued that, that time needs to be addressed as a kind of a really important factor in a teacher's professional development.
Just on that topic, and you know, you've mentioned before the tendency to group students together in ways that can be harmful. When it comes to pedagogical approaches. You know, I've experienced a number of different schools where there are often small classes created for either an ALD class, or for supporting students from refugee backgrounds. And I suppose there's always a risk between that becoming a support mechanism, verse, the risk of it being sort of pigeon holing and removing them from mainstream classes. What does what have you seen as examples of best practice when it comes to addressing the needs of that broad group of students in schools, whether it's small classes, integrated education, or something else?
Well, you know, there, there are a range of ways of addressing needs. And there are pluses and minuses with with withdrawal for ALD, or for addressing ALD pedagogy in the mainstream. I think it's actually a bit of both, and there are strengths and weaknesses of both. But the it's also a timing issue. So when you have students who first arrive at school, and they have very little English language or literacy, there has to be sort of periods of of intense, I think, instruction. But I do think it's important that students also spend time within mainstream classes because their, their oral language can pet can benefit through that. They can have associations and make friendships with with kids in the mainstream. So there's very, there's not a one size fits all approach. But I think what is is crucially important is that people should be making these decisions, when they have the the required expertise. As we've said, very often these decisions are being made with people who don't have the required ELD expertise. And so therefore, measures are very often piecemeal. And that that is worrying.
If I could pick up on that, I mean, one of the things that struck us is really important is, again, the difference between the ICS. And mainstream schools as ICS tend to have a much clearer sense of the programming of what they're doing. Whereas in mainstream schools, primary or high school tends to be a bit more activity based. So in the IEA, says, they have a much clearer sense of where they want their students to be, when they, you know, when they're ready to leave, they're ready to leave. And that's thought through, particularly in terms of language, but also in terms of the, you know, broader social skills. So you have to have a kind of a program and a really kind of much more structured kind of sense of how to get from A to B to C to do. And then I think that because that emphasis is often lost in mainstream schools, the what happens in the classroom is much I can I can question the routines and even a sense of linearity for these these kids development, they actually have to have a much kind of clearer sense of how what they're doing here leads to this. And that will actually allow them to do that. The skill of programming, something that we have kind of said for many years, has been lost in teacher training. And so we blame our universities as much as the Department for that. And having that sense of it taking students to a particular point is really crucial.
You know, and of course, these are key issues for primary schools and, and all schools outside metropolitan areas that don't have access to ICs, you know, students or refugee backgrounds who move into to, you know, primary, are absorbed within the mainstream anyway, I mean, there may be some withdrawal classes, but by and large, it's the, it's the classroom teacher who has to cater for this and, and often with very little ELD support reo, EA or D support that that is, you know, is not based in any kind of training. So, you know, the, these are huge issues. And if, if these issues around language and literacy continue, the child is just more and more disadvantaged, if they are not able to develop the required academic literacy. So not just, you know, basic communicative competence, but if they don't develop the required academic literacy, that has ongoing effects throughout their academic career. And, you know, we see, we see some of these issues in at a university level. So, they read, the earlier they are addressed, and the more specifically they are addressed the the better.
So, you've mentioned a couple of times now, issues of university preparation of teachers time and resourcing by the department, what do you see as the biggest and almost immediate, I should say, systemic changes needed to better support the education of the students in our schools?
Pool. That's a big one, I do think that more rigorous language and literacy courses at university are needed, I may not necessarily make myself popular with, with colleagues. But not only that, but that combined with courses specifically on AOD pedagogy. I mean, I think, given the nature of student populations in Australia, I think every teacher needs that grounding. So then, if they're working in the mainstream, in the high school with a with this particular kind of disciplinary background, they can then have conversations with the specialized ELD teachers. I mean, it's not just a matter of having time, for ELD, teachers and subject teachers to engage and plan for their students. It's about the teachers having a similar language to talk about what is an issue. If you don't share that expertise, you can't target the needs of students in any kind of individualized or class based programming.
I mean, there are so many system, systemic changes that need to occur in teacher education, in a teacher's professional learning that's overseen by the Department of Education, and also in the school system more generally. I mean, there are lots of changes that need to be to be made. I think, I mean, it's really interesting that at this particular moment, there's a bit of a push on, as it has been for a few years to actually do emphasize initial teacher training, kind of dismantle of a bit. And this kind of an argument that teachers often promote themselves, which is teachers learn best by being in the classroom, more there than I ever did going to university may or may not be true. But if you think about the one issue, language expertise that we're talking about here, if teachers or refugee students are going to do their best job, they need a really deep sense and understanding of the way language operates and the ability to teach it. If you dismantle the university training of teachers and save spend more time in the classroom. So you get to get a grips on the skills of classroom management. The students who are going to suffer most are the ones at the bottom of the heap like refugee students, because they'll have they'll have fewer resources in in the sense that they'll have fewer teachers who actually have the skills to actually help them develop language skills that they need.
That's not expertise that is acquired on the job. It is it is a body of knowledge that needs to be acquired, understood, and then applied in a classroom context.
I mean, I can certainly speak to that from my own experience. Having recently started an ELD qualification and very quickly realizing the need to do more than I was setting myself up for So I've just just recently moved from doing a grad cert to a master's, because I figure I've got a long way to go before I have my head around it entirely.
I think that's part of the problem with, you know, the idea that oh, well, anybody can probably teach English language because we all speak English. So but that is a kind of lack of understanding of, of needing to know about about grammar, about English syntax, about, you know, textual structure, and how that may vary across the discipline, I mean, not so much, not so much about grammar and syntax, but certainly textual structure.
Again, an important point here is that you need to have that knowledge. And that's quite complicated knowledge that you need to learn. But the academic, also, the academic can kind of get by just on the language knowledge. But for a teacher, they actually have to also have an expertise in knowing how to teach the language. And that's not always very well taught at universities. So it's one thing to develop a language knowledge around language, it's another thing to develop an expertise around how you best deliver that how you answer the best teachers, and structure the learning experience for students. And you kind of under emphasize both of those things. And again, it's the refugee students who will be most likely to suffer. That's why looking,
as Greg said, at programming becomes really important because you look at the language demands of what you are programming, and you then explicitly teach that. So the and that will differ across the curriculum.
So for teachers in the classroom, especially those teachers who might recognize that they have students in their class whose needs are not being met systemically, what are some of the priorities, what are some of the things you would advise those teachers to do or to look at, to make sure that they are better able to meet the needs, particularly refugee students that they have in their classrooms?
I think there are a kind of two broad areas of of, of understanding that all teachers requiring in dealing with students or refugee backgrounds and, and we've said that they have diverse needs, and they need to be met. And so there are issues around kind of the psychological issues that they may be experiencing, but to crew crucial areas of expertise that teachers need around English language and literacy, and also sociological knowledge to allow them to think about the complexities of these these students. backgrounds.
Yeah, I think to that, you know, one of the things that we've been trying to suggest the teachers, it's not just about seeing your students differently, and developing very specific knowledge is about about them knowing your student properly. But it's also about, we've been trying to encourage teachers to see themselves differently. And I think there's there's, in the teaching profession, are kind of a pragmatism has come to dominate the way teachers think of themselves as practitioners, where they can kind of keep the classroom busy with various activities, and so on and so forth. And so the last thing that we want teachers to get out of the screen to us now is that if I have refugees in my class, and if I go over here and read a lesson plan that Sonny's done or read this kind of textbook, and find a few things I can do in the classroom, because those kinds of instrumental, and kind of little tricks in the classroom is not the most important thing necessarily. So one of the things that really important things that we've been saying to teachers is I need to think of themselves as intellectuals, intellectuals who have the responsibility to developing critical capacities, they develop the critical capacities, and I impart on the students. And we've said this to teachers in professional learning sessions, and they've laughed as though they don't recognize themselves as intellectuals. But there is no more important intellectual worker in contemporary society in the classroom teacher, because the students, if kids don't get the intellectual educational capacities in the classroom, they're not going to get them anywhere else. Families can't do it, certainly the kind of marginalized families that we've been talking about. So this if teachers don't see themselves as participating in a particular kind of intellectual educational activity, then then the students are damned in the sense.
I mean, the pragmatic and the intellectual don't necessarily need to be perceived as sort of poles apart. The thing is that that those kinds of every day practical activities that teachers will use in classroom should actually be derived from a broader professional knowledge and that broader professional knowledge relates to the things that we've been talking about about it. Um, the required understanding of of the English language and also that kind of sociological understanding that provides a better grasp, if you like, of the experiences of students or refugee backgrounds.
I think to just as to round that discussion off, Kevin, you said very early on that, you know, you made mistakes. Well, we all make mistakes. Teachers make mistakes in the classroom all the time. And that can't be avoided, that's okay. It's what you do with those mistakes, that becomes really important. You can get very defensive and pretend that things didn't happen. Or you can say, Okay, I've got that wrong. What can I do better than that could be making assumptions about a kid's background, or knowing what to do in terms of developing the linguistic capacities built into a particular program of activities. So yes, we all make mistakes. And you just need to kind of work out how you address them.
In terms of that broader professional knowledge. I mean, what comes to mind is something that the teacher I was researching with a number of years ago, relayed to me, and she was an older teacher who had an incredible grasp of the English language, and was probably I would say, the best teacher I had ever seen a primary school teacher. And she was she'd moved to a new school. And some of the younger teachers there were really amazed at her and her expertise around teaching language and literacy. And one of her younger colleagues actually came up to her and said, Oh, could you please tell me what book you're using to? To teach? And I think she was doing a, a unit of work on Wind in the Willows. Okay, so an old book, and this, this teacher said, Oh, well, I just, I just read Wind in the Willows. And, and she said, No, but what what did you actually use to show you what to do with Wind in the Willows? And she said, you know, and I'm pointing to my head here. She said, It's all up here. So that's the big difference. Where is teacher's professional knowledge? Is that is some commercially produced book that that a teacher is is going to draw on without the the overarching understanding? Or do they have the professional knowledge up here, and they can apply it to a whole range of different contexts.
As I recall, that same teacher made a habit, if a kid in the class said, Miss, what does this word mean? She would sometimes say, Well, I'm not quite sure, let's look it up. And she'd pull out the dictionary and get the kids to kind of look it up. And then talk about what they were looking at. So it became a different kind of pedagogical moment, instead of just a kind of a reference moment, which is all that means blah, get on with it with a with a task, she actually turns it into a pedagogical moment, and was training them in a particular kind of skill of chicken extremes. Reading dictionary entries, talking about what they mean. Yeah.
Just meanings of words, they give you Grammatik
she wasn't the setting itself as performable wisdom she was she was kind of thinking about it pedagogical.
But for those teachers who may not have access to an expert, ELD teacher in their school who do need to look somewhere in a book or on a site to learn a bit more, Where won't you recommend they start reading?
Well, I think it depends on what it is that you're looking for. I mean, if you if you're looking for greater expertise surrounding which language and literacy, there's there are a whole range of resources out there, there are professional bodies that that you can consult to get examples of, of, you know, reading lists. I do think in terms of English language and literacy that all teachers need a really good reference book on, on on language. So I still consult a number myself, Greenbaum and quirk as a student's companion to the English language I think it's code is is always a good one. But
Megan itself has written a very good book called genre takes grammar.
Yes, of course. But yeah, so I mean, there are there are reference books and you know, so many of these things are available online. But I think you you consult with professional bodies, you make use of professional bodies you make use of, of the support that is available through the education department and within In the Teachers Federation and the Center for Professional Learning, there are many places that you can go to, to, to find what you should read professional development courses you should attend. And to think about your professional development as not just something that's quite instrumental that you attend this course you pick up a couple of ideas that you can apply the next day. But you look at your professional development in terms of developing a broader professional knowledge that has quite broad application in a range of contexts. That's what being a professional is all about.
And the Federation is in New South Wales is really kind of picked up the ball is leading the way in developing professional learning experiences where really useful skills have been imparted. I'd also obviously, without being too self promotional say that, specifically in relationship to refugee students, the report that we we, we developed for the Federation, is quite a good starting point for understanding what goes on in terms of refugee student experience in school. I'd also say going back to the initial points that we made about the broader multicultural context is that our book doing diversity differently. The I mean, the empirical chapters there, where we go through the 14 schools that were in and recount what they did, and some of them were good. Some were not so good, some of them are great, but they actually give a really good kind of grounding in the kinds of things that do go on and could go on in schools. If you want to think through these issues in your particular context,
those case studies in doing diversity differently, can actually operate as, as really useful examples, SAY IT professional, at a school Development Day, where you can, they're only short, so they don't require a lot of reading. And then questions can be posed about what happened in this school, what could be done differently? In what way? Does this relate to what's happening in our school? Can we implement similar measures? Or can we learn from the mistakes that occurred at this school to rethink how we approach the teaching of refugee students here?
Well, I will make sure that there is a link to those books and resources in the show notes for this episode, particularly the report. It's complex, which is available, regardless of whether teachers are in New South Wales or members of the New South Wales Teachers Federation. Greg, Megan, thank you very much for your work and for your time, it's a very large topic to try and wrap your head around as a practicing teacher. And I really do appreciate some of the insights you've provided in this discussion. So thank you very much. Thank you.