Teaching Tuesday: How To Welcome New Neighbors to Schools

Kelsey Carroll, Ed.D, Adjunct Faculty, College of Education

Neighborhood friends at school looking at an exhibit

One of the fastest growing student populations includes culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Students who are refugees and asylum seekers are also increasing in numbers. Many educators may not be particularly prepared to welcome new neighbors who have survived forced displacement.

Forced displacement can involve violence, war, torture, temporary or permanent separation from loved ones, and bleak opportunities to attend formal school. One way to think about fusing the concept of welcome to practical classroom instruction is by implementing the three E's of support: empathy, encouragement and engagement.


Empathy requires the educator to be prepared for when students experience unpredictable emotional changes. Refugees or asylum seekers who have survived trauma in any capacity may react adversely to an unknown environment, such as an American classroom. For example, teachers can be proactive in how they respond if a student experiences vivid flashbacks of violence or danger, and create an action plan ahead of time with supportive colleagues and administrators.

Teachers should be prepared to give as much time as it takes for students to show signs of comfortability and security. This could take a few short days or many long months. Every child is different, and their journey is unique. Teachers can learn to set aside their personal reactions when students outwardly go through a period of adjustment. Instead of allowing personal feelings of frustration and dismay to determine how educators react toward newcomers' period of adjustment, teachers can focus on trying to understand what is happening and seeing the situation through learners' eyes.


Closely related to empathy is encouragement. New neighbors have likely been through countless transitions and migrations before they finally resettle in the United States. One of the ways we bridge welcome into tangible classroom instructional strategies is by providing opportunities to feel successful. For neighbors who are also emergent learners of English, the use of pictures and visuals will be essential in communicating warm and edifying responses.

Likewise, permitting newcomers to produce their own pictures and drawings could lead to opportunities for teachers to acknowledge student effort. These scaffolded activities could also be an opportunity to validate the newcomer as a valuable member of the classroom. Engineering games and activities that are low stakes and build confidence are the building blocks to creating an encouraging and welcoming learning space.


The final E is engagement, and we can think about this in three means of engagement related to the classroom environment:

  • Engagement with the content and learning materials
  • Engagement with peers
  • Engagement with the teachers

Welcoming educators take interest in new neighbors’ cultures and languages, and seek to learn from newcomers. When newcomers are engaged in all three areas, they begin to identify the novel environment as a dynamic and interesting community of learners, including seeing the teacher as a learner.

As newcomer students from the resettled community experience a warm welcome, little by little, they will desire to take part in those learning opportunities and see themselves as authentic and contributing members of the classroom.

Check out all the articles from Teaching Tuesday and return each month for a new post. Learn more about Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and our degree programs and join in our efforts to elevate the education profession. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

Scroll back to top