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A Canadian kindergarten teacher helps her newcomer students integrate


In terms of adaptability and integration into the receiving culture, from a practical standpoint, I cannot emphasize enough that parents must do their utmost to adapt to the culture themselves, while still emphasizing and holding on to their own cultural values

One of the most dynamic kindergarten teachers I have had the pleasure to watch teaching is an Iranian immigrant named Ashraf Madani. 

Like so many professional immigrants Ashraf has had a difficult career journey in Canada. She arrived in Canada from Iran with two small children. Even though she was a Vice-Principal in Iran, she had to start from scratch here in Ontario. 

Having left an Iran in turmoil she could not readily access her professional transcripts in order to have her qualifications assessed here. So she volunteered in a school as a lay assistant. 

When I was appointed to that school as Principal, I was impressed by her amazing skills and her incredibly strong spirit despite her hardships. 

Through some tireless work by our Ontario Ministry of Education, Ashraf was able to have her Iranian credentials validated. She took additional courses and became a certified teacher in the GTA. 

That was nearly twenty years ago. Since then, she has been much sought-after by Kindergarten parents who recognize that by her superior teaching strategies she inspires her students to love reading. Many of her students leave kindergarten happily and fluently reading despite the fact that for most of her students English is their second or third language.

I recently caught up with Ashraf and asked her what advice she would give to young newcomer parents of Kindergarten children. I have captured below some of her advice which she has documented in a collection she calls, A Kindergarten Class in Bloom.

“I should emphasize the importance of reading to your children every night. Close the evening, each night, with a book or a story. Not only is reading to your child emotionally beneficial to the child, but it will aid in their listening skills, phonological awareness abilities, as well as encourage them to think more. 

“It is through critical thinking that children learn to problem solve. The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) grade 3 and 6 results based on assessment tools showed that students are, on average, strong in all areas of learning. 

“However, on average, they need improvement in their thinking process, which is reflected in self-expression, inference, vocabulary, as well as oral and written skills. 

“To help in this area, my advice to parents, as an experienced teacher who has been working in Canada and other countries with more than 80 per cent of students coming from different cultures, is that parents should work closely with their children to improve their thinking on a daily basis. 

“One way to do this is by asking children for their opinions on finding solutions to an everyday problem. 

“An example would be to ask the children something like, “We are going to the grocery store today; what would be a good time and what is the best way and why”. 

Though this seems like a simple and straightforward question, it nonetheless encourages children to express themselves orally, and it gets them thinking. In asking children different situational questions, their vocabulary and grammar begin to improve as a result of having to employ different terms and words that are context-relevant. 

Children become better at self-expression which is tied to an improvement in their everyday critical thinking ability.”

Ashraf’s advice for parents is to play an active part in the education of their children.

“Based on decades of experience teaching students at the primary levels, and my experience in working with immigrant students and their families, mainly from South Asia and the Middle East, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan and Iran, I have outlined a few suggestions, that can aid in bridging the home and school cultural gaps, and thus help immigrant parents participate in the educational and social development of their children.

In terms of adaptability, and integration into the receiving culture, from a practical standpoint, I cannot emphasize enough that parents must do their utmost  to adapt to the culture themselves, while still emphasizing and holding on to their own cultural values. 

By educating themselves thoroughly about the host culture, the parents can take a strategic (rather than a blind) approach in helping their kids cope with the transitions that accompany the process.  

It is important to learn the host culture’s language and to divide your reading time between reading in the first and second language.  

In this way, the parent is placing importance on the home culture, but still emphasizing the necessity to utilize the host culture. 
Children need to hold on to their mother language, so the emotional contact remains strong. 

As long as a healthy and stable relation exists between parent and child, the technicalities of educational, social, and cultural adaptation and integration can be accomplished with patience and confidence. 

Another very important factor in this process is establishing clear lines of communication with teachers, principals, and social workers at school, in conveying your child’s needs, and wanting to stay informed. 

Once teachers see that the parent is keen on monitoring and assisting the progress of their child, they will be more inclined to take responsibility as they know they will be held accountable for their performance. 

Shyness on the parents’ part is common, especially in those coming from Eastern cultures, and especially for those still learning the host language. 

However, this should not become a setback, as effective communication between parents and teachers certainly produces positive results. 

Abstaining from communication with teachers and school principals may stymie the educational development of the child, and so parents need to take an active role in the social growth and education of their children. 

                                                                                                                                                       – Dr Vicki Bismilla

• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and recently retired as Vice-President, Academic and Chief Learning Officer at Centennial College, Toronto. 

Posted: Jan 2, 2014

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