Eileen Kugler Shares Tips to Boost Student Success in Diverse Schools

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Students need more than just good teaching to succeed. Research shows that students – and their families – need to feel valued and connected to school, and that can be challenging in diverse schools. Embrace Diverse School's Eileen Kugler, an international expert on strengthening multicultural schools, provides tips for building those critical school connections for students and families of every culture.

Students feel connected to school when they can be authentic and they don't have to hide their culture to fit in.

As the school year starts, teachers are focused on helping every child succeed. "One key to school success is making sure that students -- and their families -- feel connected to school, " says Eileen Kugler, president of Embrace Diverse Schools. "This can be particularly challenging in diverse schools with a mix of cultures and expectations."

“At the foundation of strengthening a diverse school is creating an atmosphere where everyone feels valued as a unique individual,” says Kugler, a global speaker and consultant on strengthening diverse schools. "When they feel valued at school, they feel connected; and research says that connection to school promotes achievement."

Kugler provides the following STRATEGIC TIPS that increase student success by increasing both student and family connection:

  • Recognize the Culture of Each Student

“Everyone has a culture – where we were born, where we grew up, who raised us, our ethnic background, our religion, our home language, our family structure, and more,” says Kugler. “Students feel connected to the school when they can be authentic and they don’t have to hide their culture to fit in.”

  • Learn to pronounce all students’ names - What’s in a name? A person’s history and identity. Schools shouldn’t hand out nicknames just because the name is hard to pronounce. And no more, “Call me Mrs. K.” Teachers should model the behavior by expecting students to learn their names, as well.
  • Rejoice in different accents - It’s not just about accents from other countries. Reports show a disturbing lack of respect for any accent that is “different,” like reports of a child from Boston being ridiculed for his pronunciation in a class in Ohio or the southern drawl of a child from Alabama laughed at – by the teacher – in a Maryland school.
  • Let students see themselves in the classroom - A photo of each child should be posted around the room with the student’s personal writing. The students can draw pictures of themselves, encouraged to express their own individuality. Multicultural literature around the room should reflect the many faces in the broader community. Through class assignments, students can write autobiographies that include interviewing relatives and family friends. The assignments can be more sophisticated as students get older, using poetry or drama as vehicles for bringing their lives into the classroom.
  • Create an opportunity for students to share what is important to them. Daily classroom meetings, where students share their ideas, thoughts, and experiences in a safe place, can build a true community. With guidance from the teacher, students learn the important skills of active listening and problem-solving together.
  • Value the Dreams of Every Parent

"In my work with schools across the U.S. and in South Africa, I find every parent has hopes and dreams for their child,” Kugler asserts. “Sometimes they never have a chance to voice those dreams, with the constant stream of information from school telling them what to do.” Kugler urges schools to:

  • Assume every parent cares about their child’s education - Schools should not make assumptions about parents just because they aren’t visible. Many families believe it is their job to support education at home, but the teacher’s job at school. They show respect by not interfering with the teacher’s work. Sometimes parents are intimidated to talk to a teacher – they didn’t have a good education themselves or they found school a place of negative experiences. For immigrants, expectations of American schools can be confusing. Many immigrants are shocked to learn that American schools expect them to be involved!
  • Respect the strengths of family members and engage them as partners - The goal of engaging families is to build a partnership to support the students and the school itself. Families of diverse backgrounds bring many strengths that are often overlooked. Think of the organization and resiliency of an immigrant family who made the challenging journey to the U.S. Or the perseverance of a parent who could not attend college but works long hours to assure his child will have that chance. Or the commitment of a grandmother who is determined that her grandchildren will understand the value of hard work by doing chores at home. When schools learn about and respect these strengths, they understand that communication with diverse families should be two-way, as family members have many lessons to teach as well as learn.
  • Go beyond traditional programs for family involvement - Back-to-school nights and parent meetings work for some families, but others find them overwhelming or intimidating. Schools should look for non-threatening ways to encourage parent involvement: a classroom celebration of children’s writing where family members accompany their child to class; a breakfast with their child before work; a chance to meet with other families from their culture. Invitations sent out in multiple ways is critical, including personal notes home with the child and follow-up phone calls – the more personal, the better. A community leader who is known and respected by school families can be a great ally in connecting with diverse families.
  • Get out of the school - Some families find it intimidating to just walk through the school doors. To connect with families in a more comfortable setting, schools can hold meetings in community rooms, libraries, or religious institutions in the neighborhood. Sometimes a lunchroom in a local factory is a great place to connect with parents who can’t leave work.
  • Collaborate with involved families - As schools look for innovative ways to reach families, success can’t be judged by the number of families who initially respond. Build on the outreach by collaborating with new families who do become involved. Give them the opportunity to do substantive work alongside long-active parents. When family leaders in the school represent the diversity of the community, family engagement across the board will snowball.

“Valuing the unique strengths of each student and family is a critical step to building vital school connections,” Kugler asserts. “Diverse schools offer exciting opportunity for academic and social growth for every student, because of the richness of classrooms with students of different perspectives, experiences, and skills. But they can only reach their potential when students and families of all backgrounds feel they are a valued part of the school,” she said. “Then students of every culture are empowered to achieve.”

Eileen Kugler is a global speaker and consultant on strengthening diverse schools, communities, and businesses. Her award-winning book, "Debunking the Middle-class Myth: Why diverse schools are good for all kids," has been called a “civic and community blueprint for the 21st century.” Follow her on Twitter @embracediversiT

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