Creating Spaces of Wellbeing and Belonging for Children and Families with Refugee and Asylum-Seeker Backgrounds: Research Findings from a Study of Principals in Five Countries

Year: 2021

Author: Imig, Scott, Sellars, Maura, Fischetti, John

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Background: At this moment, 70 million human beings have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to war and conflict. Of these individuals, 28 million are classified as refugees or asylum seekers. Many are children who have experienced unimaginable loss and trauma, find themselves living in new countries, with a new language, new cultures, radically different expectations, and new forms of schooling. Our work in this space challenges us to ‘reimagine [our] ways of thinking and working in uncertain times.’Significance/Aims: For school principals, there is often a lack of knowledge about meeting the needs of students and their families with refugee and asylum-seeking experiences. This presentation will share findings from a study of school leaders in five Western countries (Australia, New Zealand, England, United States and Northern Ireland) who have developed responsive school communities who are educating and supporting children and families who have been resettled. The aim of the research was to identify the challenges and opportunities these principals faced in creating welcoming schools.Design: Using a snowball sampling approach, 22 leaders participated in the study. Participants represented a range of primary and secondary schools, large and small enrolments, religious and government, and in both urban and rural settings. Engaging in a semi-structured interview protocol, these principals alerted us to the challenges and difficulties they had experienced in addition to detailing their contexts and sharing with us their successes, perspectives, strategies and approaches to inclusion.Findings from our research included: 1. The importance of reflection for school leaders who are supporting children and families who have suffered complex trauma; 2. The need for leaders to identify and confront racism in its many forms; 3. The development of purposeful efforts to understand cultural diversity and the unique lived-experiences of newly arrived students; 4. Understanding the emotional and cognitive impacts of trauma and loss; and, 5. The ways school leaders work within and around educational policies to transform their schools for the benefit of all students and their families. Implications: Our findings provide opportunities for school leaders to rethink their practices. The study also challenges school leadership programs to reassess their courses and learning objectives to embed the reality of serving refugee and asylum seeking students. Our findings also point to the need for additional research into the practices of school leaders and into the classroom practices of teachers who are working to support children and families with refugee experiences.