by Hector Montenegro
Educators play a pivotal role in supporting newcomers as they navigate the challenges of adapting to a new educational and cultural environment. Newcomers often face significant hurdles, including language barriers, cultural shock, and diverse traumas associated with migration. These challenges can lead to distinct social and emotional needs, making it essential for educators to employ targeted Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies. The trauma experienced by newcomers can manifest in heightened stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, underscoring the importance of recognizing and addressing these unique emotional needs to facilitate a smooth transition into the learning environment.
To address the distinct social and emotional needs of newcomers, schools can implement tailored Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies. First and foremost, creating culturally responsive lessons that acknowledge and celebrate diverse backgrounds can help newcomers feel seen and valued. Additionally, incorporating trauma-informed practices into the classroom environment can provide a safe space for students to express their emotions. Collaborative efforts between teachers, counselors, and language support specialists can help identify and address individual needs, ensuring a holistic approach to supporting newcomers.
A comprehensive plan of action for schools should involve ongoing professional development for educators to enhance their cultural competency and understanding of trauma-sensitive teaching methods. Implementing mentorship and coaching programs or peer support initiatives and peer coaching opportunities can help newcomers build connections with both students and educators, fostering a sense of belonging.
Schools should also prioritize communication with parents and guardians, recognizing them as valuable partners in supporting the social and emotional well-being of the students. A national survey of 2,000 6- to 12-year-olds sheds light on the sometimes conflicting messages children receive about kindness and how the unkind actions of adults affect them (State of the Kid, 2017). The survey, commissioned by the children’s magazine Highlights, asked respondents what is most important to their parents. Forty-four percent said their parents most wanted them to be happy, 33 percent said their parents’ priority was that they would do well in school, and 23 percent said their parents most wanted them to be kind.
“Kids are hearing that parents want them to be focused on achievement,” developmental psychologist Luba Falk Feigenberg has said. “It’s tough because there are so many messages about individual success and achievement in particular that overpower the messages parents think they are sending about being caring and kind.” (Blad, 2017)
By proactively addressing the unique challenges newcomers face through targeted SEL strategies, schools can create an inclusive environment that provides equal opportunities for success, regardless of students’ backgrounds or birthplaces.
Schools can take a variety of approaches as they integrate social-emotional supports and skills development with rigorous academic structures. The approaches and programs described below have demonstrated success with newcomer students, including those who are English Learners (ELs) (U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition, 2016):
- Focus on the Whole Child:
- Moving beyond a focus on test results and standardized achievement scores only, the school has consciously chosen to focus its efforts on the whole child, which includes a child’s academic progress, but also includes the child’s psychosocial development and growth as a whole person” (Roxas, 2011, Fall, pp. 30–31).
- Comprehensive Services and Supports:
- E.g. a summer bridge program to ease the adjustment for students.
- Collaboration with Local Community Organizations
- E.g. A community clinic partnership
- Advisory Programs
- The teacher serves as an advisor to a cohort of students.
- Caring School Environment
- The immediacy of the immigrant experience generates great responsibility on the part of the teachers, who see it as their mission to create a linguistic and cultural bridge for immigrant students and their families
Teaching kindness and acceptance fosters a sense of community and belonging, creating an environment where every student, regardless of their background, feels valued and supported. Teaching kindness should extend to the entire school and district though activities such as the Great Kindness Challenge and student artwork that highlights student creativity around kindness and inclusion. Ultimately, SEL and fostering a culture of kindness is an investment in the holistic growth of students, preparing them not only for academic achievements but also for a future where empathy and understanding play critical roles in society.
Blad, Evie. “Adults Send Children Mixed Messages About Kindness. Here’s Why That Matters to Schools.” Education Week’s Blogs. 2017. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/adults-send-children-mixed-messages-about-kindness-heres-why-that-matters-to-schools/2017/11
State of the kid 2017. Highlights Kids. (n.d.). https://www.highlightskids.com/stateofthekid2017
U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition. (2016). “How Do We Support Newcomers’ Social Emotional Needs?” Newcomer Tool Kit. Washington, DC: Author. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oela/newcomers-toolkit/ncomertoolkit.pdf