Case Study No.1

Respecting other ways of being respectful

Italy

CESIE

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Key words

Cultural differences, intercultural dialogue, analysing cultures, Whole-school approach, Language, Active Listening

Introduction

The event occurred in a professional school for tourism in Palermo where, following the increase of TCN students, new inclusive measures have been introduced. 

Karima is 16 years old and arrived to Italy one year ago due to the poor economic situation of her family. Her father had some friends in Palermo, who moved few years before and managed to find a job there. Karima was worried to start a “new life” but already knew few words of Italian since she likes foreign languages and is doing her best to feel part of the new country. 

You, as a teacher, are putting all your efforts to favour her inclusion. Her results are quite good so far. Yet, some misunderstandings may emerge from this continuous path of personal growth and reciprocal adaptation.

School involved

Professional school for tourism, secondary education.

Detailed description of the situation

You are a history teacher and you just started working in a new school. One of your students, Karima, is from Morocco. She is good at school and her Italian is gradually improving. She enjoys spending time with her classmates, though she never looks at your eyes when speaking to her. You don’t pay too much attention; she must be shy.

After one month, the situation has not changed. You start wondering whether you inadvertently did something wrong, used some offensive words or if she just does not like you. You hope that the Theatre course she is following outside school will help her become less shy.

One day, at the parent-teacher meeting, you decide to talk to Karima’s parents. They still don’t speak Italian well, but you manage to exchange few words. You just tell them that you are satisfied with Karima academic progress but she seems to have some problems in her approach to older people. Her parents are very surprised; they apologise for this and promise to talk to her.

In the following weeks, Karima seems to be afraid of you. She totally avoids eye-contact and spends less time with her classmates. 

You decide to talk with a student who seems to be Karima’s best friend. She explains: “Karima really appreciates you as a teacher. This is the reason why she avoids looking at your eyes. Once she told me that in her culture you don’t look an elder person in the eyes as a sign of respect.”

What went wrong? How would you react? 

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Here are few questions for self-reflection:

  • Have you ever experienced something similar?

  • How would you react in the same situation?

  • What competences do you need to develop?

  • Do you try to foster conversations about other cultures? 

  • How can you increase students’ interest in other cultural contexts?

  • Do you generally involve students’ parents?

Initial reaction

The teacher initially interprets the situation as a consequence of the students’ shyness and later doesn’t ask directly Karima for an explanation. He is confused and decides to address Karima’s parents. The teacher does not apply an intercultural approach and analyses the situation from his own cultural perspective. 

Karima’s parents do not ask for clarification neither to the teacher nor to Karima. They do not think their cultural good manner can be misinterpreted, causing some uneasiness in Karima’s integration.

Suggested solution

  • Get interested in the cultural background of your students, try to discover more about their past experiences.

  • Favour conversations and exchange in the classroom: try to stimulate students’ curiosity about other cultures; ask for clarifications when needed; offer more opportunities for team work

  • Active listening: Pay attention to what your students are saying verbally or non-openly. Don’t be shy to ask them to repeat: this will make them feel heard and valued. Try to discover students’ passions and choose the right topics to involve them in conversation. 

  • Interaction with colleagues: before drawing any conclusion, exchange your doubts and worries with your colleagues. They may share the same concerns or have more information than you.

  • Involvement of parents: if there is something wrong with a student, it is important to involve parents. Yet, this involvement should rather prevent such situations. Extra-curricular activities may help foster dialogue and improve the level of inclusion of the whole family.

  • Extra-curricular activities: get closer to your students and involve other actors, improve peer-to-peer connections and stimulate youngsters’ interest in different themes, eventually increasing their willingness to participate more in society as active citizens. 

  • Topic 2 of this toolbox, which is based on the good practice of storytelling, can offer practical activities to support interculturality at school. 

  • Topic 4 of this toolbox offers practical activities to support teachers in managing diversity in the classroom.

Why is this case-study relevant?

Even the simplest cultural differences may create some difficulties in the full inclusion of migrant students, causing inappropriate reactions with unexpected consequences. In this context, the development of a whole-school approach seems to be an important step to ensure full inclusion of newcomers and facilitate their learning of the new language.