Inclusive Schools Role Model Mari Varsanyi

I think when we talk about inclusion, very often teachers would perceive that it is a one-way process. So the students and their communities and their families, they come here. We have our system ready, we have our schools ready, we have our culture ready, and they should simply adapt. They should fit in. Now, when it comes to language, that simply doesn't work. And the reason for that is very simple, it takes time to learn any language. So when teachers are talking about difficulties with multilingual students, they often mean the student is not performing on the same level in Dutch as my native Dutch students. A lot of teachers are asking me or asking other people that work in multilingualism: but how will I know what my students are saying about me? I mean, I think we have all been students. We have all seen nasty things about our teachers and mostly it was in a language they could have understood, right? So this is again, it's a perceived threat that is not realistic, but it's their teachers feel like they might be ridiculed, they feel like they lose control if they let students use their languages. Whereas from my experience when you let students use their languages, when you create a respectful and open school culture that allows for that, the students understand the trust that you give them and they don't abuse it quite on the contrary, they actually become more and more cooperative, they become more respectful themselves because they feel respected. There are two sides to that. One of them is my own personal experience, so I also studied in a German Hungarian bilingual setting. They're very expected to speak and to understand German. And at the moment of me entering that school my German knowledge was almost non-existent. We got German lessons, but at the same time, we were taught to curriculum several of the subjects fully in German. So while building up the German knowledge, we've already expected to understand biology and history and other subjects and follow them fully in German, also told by Germans native speakers who would not speak Hungarians, so they didn't even have the tools to help us. And while I spoke perfect Hungarian at that point and I spoke some English, I could have managed in English, I felt completely dumb. I felt very powerless in those German language situations. And I think it is partly that feeling that I have experienced with being powerless, being unable to study, unable to understand and unable to show my knowledge. The other side of the story is that I was very lucky to be part of a team that has set up a very special multilingual bilingual school. It's called DENISE. It's a school in Amsterdam that works with immigrants, students, refugees, students and also other international students, but also Dutch students that would like to follow an international curriculum. My focus has been a little bit broader than multilingualism because I think multilingualism doesn't come alone. These students take care of it themselves more than only the language. Of course, the culture comes with the language as well. And so what I've been looking for is more a culturally responsive approach and that is what I specialize in today as well. So I give trainings in culturally responsive teaching. What I do in my work with culturally responsive teaching is first of raise awareness of what is already present in schools, that all the content and all the mindsets that we bring to education, they are culturally influenced. And in culturally responsive teaching, we use the term funds of knowledge. So it means we look at every single student as a student bringing in culturally influenced knowledge with them and giving space to that. And you can do that in the curriculum as well, but you can also do that with their languages. So whenever you're discussing a topic, you can simply ask them what words do you know about this already in your language. We also used to work at my school. So this is something that I have developed and that I've consciously implemented with word lists. Whenever we would start a new topic, a new unit, we would send home a vocabulary list in English and Dutch, and that's the parents to translate that to their first languages and discuss it with their children so that the children would come in, they would already be prepared, they would bring in the most important concepts, and they would know it in their first languages, and so it would be much easier for them to access the same concepts in the school's languages. So there is a lot of space for doing culturally responsive teaching and practice in the school. And I always have the feeling that he overcomplicated the matter. And we just need to start small.

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