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Case Study No.11

Inclusion with affection


University of Coimbra


Key words

Cultures, differences, non-verbal language, motivational speaker


The case study is based on a testimony of a teacher on the reception of refugee children, published at Almeida, A.C. & Santos, E. (orgs.) (2019). Play: From concepts to practices (pp. 61-68). Coimbra, IPCDHSUC. 

Retrieved from:

School involved

1st cycle school

Detailed description of the situation

The case study is based on a teacher’s testimony about the reception of refugee children in a primary school of Castelo Branco, Portugal, which has shown a great receptivity in their welcoming. 

Castelo Branco is located in the inner part of mainland Portugal; it is a city with a good quality of life, with many social, educational and training offers, welcoming and, for all of this, attractive.

The teacher worked in a class of eight students from two Syrian families, with different ages, having the great objective of developing Portuguese as a non-native language.

The first family - JSM - spent three years in a refugee camp in Turkey. This family is composed of 9 members: father, mother and 7 children, having “left behind their city, Aleppo, their country, their family, and the fullness of their culture”. The two youngest children (3 and 4 years old) entered a kindergarten and the other five brothers joined together the 1st school cycle (13, 11, 10, 8, 6 years old).

The second family - AA – includes five children: three of them (11, 13, 16 years old) were integrated in the same school and class of the children belonging to the JSM family. This family has two other sons, one of them (20 years old) was integrated in a professional course within a secondary school, while the other (22 years old), having a cerebral palsy, was accepted in an institution with specific support.

This school has about 40 students, most of the students are gipsy ethnic children.

There were several incidents that occurred inside the classroom and at school, many of which derived from issues related to adaptation, or dietary habits. As it was reported by the teacher “Even though dishes were ordered that respected their cultural and religious habits, the lack of trust in our word led the children to reject lunch. There were many lunches between tears and enormous discomfort. Many days passed with snacks during morning and afternoon, and the fruit provided for lunch”.

What would you do in a similar situation?

Share your ideas and suggestions on TEACHmi online Forum!

Here are few questions for self-reflection:

  • How can we promote the intercultural dialogue using the ludic-pedagogical component?

  • How can we promote the involvement of the entire educational community in a work that needs to be collaborative?

  • How can these individuals be supported at the level of true inclusion?

Initial reaction

This group of schools in this city showed great receptivity in welcoming these students.


The teacher was responsible for a class composed of eight refugee children aiming to improve their knowledge in Portuguese as a non-native language. Initially, this group showed great interest in these learnings. However, the behavioural reactions of jealousy, of calls for attention, of longing often led to behaviours of agitation, revolt, depression.

The teacher didn't know Arab and the students didn't know Portuguese. So, the initial obstacle was the language, which could be overcome through non-verbal language and some online tools. As the teacher mentioned, “At some point, I felt that we could even communicate with our eyes, perceiving the core through brightness, depth and deviation”. 

There were many critical incidents related to adaptation to diet. There were conflicts, moments of pressure that were dealt with using a calm tone and examples of solidarity.  Also the involvement of families in some school activities facilitated the improvement of children’s wellbeing at school.

Suggested solution

Migration or mobility may not be a friendly or easy experience. When it does not depend on a free choice, it is not a deliberate option, sometimes it is an escape. In this sense, integration / inclusion in host cultures can be a painful, time-consuming and even impossible process.

The measures must be concerted, with focused and individualized interventions. There are, of course, general needs, but also specific needs, and of various kinds, that should be cautiously considered.

  • Open dialogue with children so to develop children’s self-esteem and self-regulation 

  • Work on the socio-emotional skills of students 

  • Show openness and interest to understand the point of views of the foreign children

  • Useful tools can be found in Topic 1,2,3 and 5 of this toolbox.

Why is this case-study relevant?

One of the main goals of the TEACHmi project is to promote social inclusion among students from non-native migrant backgrounds and minimize bias in the school environment and in the local society.

So, also the language of love and affection can be important, being a universal means of communication, a useful tool in the integration / inclusion of individuals, whether the beneficiaries are refugees, migrants or with other characteristics.

With affection, with systematic support, although difficult, the barriers are being overcome.

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