Breaking the cycle of discrimination of Roma children through early childhood education
The situation described above by this Roma parent in the REYN Early Childhood Research Study (REYN Study) is still very common for many Roma children in Europe. The pressing issue of segregation and discrimination faced by Roma children at all levels of education is still persistent.
One of the most common and complex barriers Roma children face is discrimination. As Aljosa Rudas, Program Manager, International Step by Step Association (ISSA), stated in a recent webinar (“Inclusion of Roma children in Early Childhood Education and Care”- watch the recording) organized by Eurocities and UNICEF: “Young Roma children face multiple inequalities in areas of their lives that impact their development and growth.”
Discrimination both at institutional and individual levels greatly affects access to education for Roma children and therefore, their equal learning opportunities from the start. The evidence is overwhelming: according to the REYN Study, 60% of Roma children under the age of three do not have access to early childhood education and care services nearby, and only 44% between the ages of three and seven (or the starting age of compulsory primary education) are enrolled in early childhood education, according to the European Parliamentary Research Service.1
A call to end Roma children segregation in education in the European Union
The recent European Parliament’s resolution on October 4, 2023 ‘Segregation and discrimination of Roma children in education’ is a leap forward to tackle the problem of continued segregation of Roma children. It stresses that all children, irrespective of their ethnic origin, must benefit from equal and free educational opportunities, which is not the case across the European Union (EU).
While listing the many issues still to be tackled, the resolution also highlights the urgent need for comprehensive and effective measures to eliminate systemic discrimination in the EU, such as the participation of Roma children in early childhood education.
Early childhood education and care play a pivotal role in breaking the cycle of discrimination and disadvantage faced by Roma children. The REYN Early Childhood Research Study has shown that the participation of Roma children in early childhood and preschool education has a profoundly positive impact. It not only enhances their overall development but also significantly contributes to their future educational attainment, access to quality employment, and improved living conditions, all while breaking the cycle of marginalization and discrimination.
REYN’s research findings indicate that early childhood education and care programs that are culturally sensitive and inclusive have the potential to bridge the educational gap that many Roma children face. By providing accessible and high-quality early childhood education and care infrastructure and services, Member States can create an enabling environment where young Roma children can thrive, develop their potential, and take part in the education system on equal footing with their peers.
Photo: Roma and non-Roma children in a kindergarten in Korca, Albania. Courtesy of Save the Children.
Facilitating a language-friendly environment for Roma children in Croatia
Human language is much more than a means of communicating — it creates a sense of belonging. Children learn very early that the language they speak identifies them as a member of a particular group. According to Piper (1998) children acquire their first language within their society of language users. They learn language in order to become a part of that society, and their learning is influenced by a variety of social factors.
When children experience a discontinuity between the language and culture of the family or community and the culture of the school (which is often modelled on the majority or mainstream culture) this can disrupt their learning. Language discontinuity between the home or community, and preschool or school can be a problem for many Roma children, and has been identified as one of the key reasons for the low educational performance, failure, exclusion, or self-exclusion of minority groups like the Roma.
The precise number of Roma who today live in the Republic of Croatia and their territorial distribution is difficult to ascertain. This is because of their territorial distribution and the fact that they are not a homogenous population — with differences in language, socioeconomic status and religion. However, the latest available data, obtained by mapping Roma sites in 15 counties of Croatia in 2017 (Klasnić et all, 2020.), suggests that there are about 24,524 members of the Roma national minority living in the Republic of Croatia.
The importance of multilingualism
Recently, the Open Academy Step by Step Croatia organised a focus group with educators from public primary schools on the topic of multilingualism. The group explored the importance of language development and the challenges that Roma children face when entering school, as well as the increase in the diversity of languages and cultures in Croatia. This article will explore language development based on insights gained from the educators practice, and the theory of language development.
Language is the main component of early literacy development, but including children from different languages and cultures involves more than just teaching them the alphabet. According to Nemeth K. (2021), five factors combining the social/emotional as well as cognitive domains need to be considered in diverse early childhood education programs. These are:
Identity and self-esteem
Tolerance and acceptance of diversity
Supporting the home language
Support for teachers
1. Identity and self-esteem
In the process of developing language, it is important that Roma children are not denied the right to enjoy their own culture, and religion or to use their own language. However, educators should also be aware when they develop activities using the Roma language, that this does not serve to exclude Roma children from the culture and language of the wider community, and that the educational activities delivered in the Roma language are of the same quality as those delivered in the mainstream language.
During the focus group that was organised on the topic of multilingual learning, educators suggested that interactions between minority children with others provide an opportunity for the minority children to show respect for their culture and language. This is illustrated by one of the teachers who mentioned that “When Roma children say something in their own language or show some of their subjects to non-Roma Croatian children, they feel important and accepted.”
A child’s home language is the language of his family. It is the language used to love and nurture him from the time he is born and it is the language in which he learns about the world and how he fits into it. It is so important to support and honour this powerful beginning and to help the child see that this part of his life is valued and understood.
2. Tolerance and acceptance of diversity
Rather than using the word “tolerance” which suggests enduring someone’s existence and nothing more, the educators prefer the word “inclusion” in the true sense of the word, and emphasize that, “Opportunities for this need to be created.” From their experience, the educators added that “Children in a classroom benefit by learning to make friends with others who may look or sound or behave differently and to interact without fear or judgment.”
Even if the adults in the classroom are not bilingual, each child’s language and culture should be reflected throughout the classroom (Espinosa, 2009). In practice, educators use various strategies to address diversity in early childhood like sharing books about the similarities and differences between people, enjoying music from different countries, and inviting families to come in and share aspects of their culture and life. When educators were asked about the benefits of minority students’ plurilingualism and the benefits this has for other students, one educator said that “Non-Roma Croatian children really love to hear about Roma culture and they are interested in learning more.”
3. Family strength
The idea of family strength comes from the fact that parents are the child’s first teacher and are critically important in supporting teachers. To help parents become aware of how they can be effective partners in the education process, teachers should talk with them as early as possible about the parents’ hopes and aspirations for their child, their sense of what the child needs and suggestions about ways teachers can help.
In the Croatian case, the biggest challenge is changing people’s opinion that Roma parents. Many teachers assume that Roma parents are disinterested in their children’s education, as illustrated by one educator who stated that, “To the parents of migrants and minority children, school is very low on the scale of importance.”
It is arguable that because many Roma parents, particularly mothers, have not been to school and are illiterate themselves this restricts their ability to support their children’s education. Community-based programs are therefore necessary to help parents to improve their own literacy in order to break the cycle of poor educational outcomes across generations. Parents should be recognized and supported as advocates for their children’s right to education and the value that it has for them.
4. Supporting the home language
While supporting the use of the home language at the same time as encouraging the learning of Croatian can seem rather complicated, children already have some knowledge of how language works. This means that in learning Croatian, they need only grasp how the new language works and how it differs from their first language. It is important that educators are aware that children from different cultural backgrounds may have different ways of expressing themselves. Instead of judging these as wrong or in need of fixing, the teacher must use information obtained through observation as the relevant starting point for that child.
5. Support for teachers
Teaching in a diverse and inclusive classroom place many demands on the teacher. In order for the teacher to be successful, a number of program supports should be in place.
Children need to be stimulated to develop and use their mother tongue skills. Parents, schools and the community have been shown to play an effective part in this. Opportunities for children to use and develop their mother tongue skills enable them to gain recognition for skills and see that they are of equal value to other language skills. Informal programs for learning mother tongues should be provided and encouraged.
As Croatia becomes more and more diverse, educators play a pivotal role in helping the new generation of children grow up bilingual, culturally aware, and ready to get along with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. What a wonderful opportunity to give every young child — an advantage for a lifetime!
Iva Sviben, program coordinator, Open Academy Step by Step Croatia
Photos: Taken in Orehovica, a municipality in Međimurje, July 22, 2021.
European commission (2015). Language teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms.Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
Espinosa, L. (2009(. Getting it Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds: Applying Research to Practice, Pearson
Klasnić, K., Kunac, S., Rodik, P. (2020.) Uključivanje Roma u hrvatsko društvo: žene, mladi i djeca. Ured za ljudska prava i prava nacionalnih manjina Vlade Republike Hrvatske. Zagreb, page. 68
Piper, T. (1998). Language and learning: The home and school years. III edition. Upper Saddle River, N. J: Merrill Prentice Hall
Roma parents in Slovenia are seeing the value of early education and care
In the period between the end of 2021 and spring 2022, National REYNs conducted research in their own countries on the situation of Roma families with young children (REYN Research Study). In Slovenia, the Educational Research Institute led this unique process in the country, which implied involving members of the Roma community along the development of the study. They gathered data from Roma parents, ECEC practitioners, professionals who work with Roma families, and from local and national policy makers.
In this article, we would like to highlight some interesting information obtained through questionnaires and focus groups with Roma parents. Mothers and fathers from Prekmurje and Dolenjska, two Slovenian regions with large populations of Roma, participated in the research which examined various topics, such as health and wellbeing, hygiene and nutrition, play and early learning, responsive parenting, family and living conditions, safety and security, and accessibility, availability and affordability of ECEC services. The main focus of this piece will be on how Roma parents feel about early childhood education and care.
Through the research it became evident that Roma parents are aware of the significant impact that they have on their children in the early years. This is illustrated by one of the fathers who said, “If I were to raise my voice to my wife, the children would hear us and this is not right. What kind of a message am I sending to my children with such behaviour?”
The parents also demonstrated an awareness of the importance of being caring and attuned to their children’s needs. It is important for parents to show affection to their children through a caring attitude, talking to them, and spending quality time with them. Especially for younger children, who cannot yet express themselves verbally, it is very important that parents do their best to interact and connect with the child in order to understand what it is they need. Many parents — mainly mothers — confirmed that they had no problems understanding their children and that they had a feel for what their children wanted to tell them. “A mother just feels what the child needs,” one mother said.
The value of preschool
We often emphasize how important it is for parents to view education as a value and to enrol their children in preschool early — enabling them access to quality education and care, and a supportive learning environment.
Participants in the studies agreed that attending preschool indeed supports children’s development. They witnessed advantages in the children in their acquiring a new language, understanding the daily routine, learning about tolerance and good manners, as well as improving their independence during meals (table preparation, serving the food, cleaning the table after eating etc.), hygiene, and dressing. Additionally, parents recognised that in preschool, children are able to make new friends, and learn how to act in society. All of these skills help children have a smoother transition into school.
Another huge benefit parents in the research saw in preschool education was that it gave their children an opportunity to learn the language of the majority. This is one of the most important factors in helping children to be successful later in school. Otherwise, it is likely that they would have difficulties with understanding the teachers’ lessons, their learning outcomes would be lower, and peers might tease them. All of these things have an impact on the child’s development and level of self-esteem.
Furthermore, some parents were inspired by the amount of effort that certain teachers and peers put into helping their children feel welcome at preschool. One couple shared that, ”Our daughter could not speak Slovene, when she entered school. One boy really tried to help her with the language as much as he could understand her. Then her teacher decided to attend a Romani language course to be able to help our children. All of us respected this noble decision. We also had another teacher, who regularly took our children to the playground and worked with them on their physical condition.”
However, there were also parents who expressed uncertainty about preschool. They feared that their children might not be given as much care as they receive home. For other parents it is difficult to take their children to preschool due to their demanding living conditions. In such cases, it is the duty of REYN Slovenia and the other national REYNs to work for and with these parents with the aim of empowering them, gaining their trust, and ensuring adequate conditions to enable them to enrol their children in preschool as early as possible.
Authors: Petra Zgonec, Mateja Mlinar Researchers at the Educational Research Institute, coordinating institution of REYN Slovenia
8 April – REYN gives visibility to young Roma children affected by the war in Ukraine
This day last year, when we marked the 50th International Roma Day, we enthusiastically looked toward a better Europe for all, emphasizing the fundamental need for equality, inclusion, and participation to fight antigypsyism — we all hoped this year would be different.
But, one year later, the persistent discrimination and social inequalities that Roma in Ukraine face are only exacerbated by war. Roma are encountering additional hardships when seeking humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs, even while trying to cross borders to safety.
Today, we want to tell you the stories of young Roma children and their families experiencing additional adversity due to the war and share one organization’s work to bring hope on this 51st International Roma Day.
Hear me – See me – Stand with me tells the story of the REYN Ukraine‘s remarkable work, acknowledging their tireless efforts to create safe and welcoming spaces for Roma families fleeing war zones. A Station of Hope serves as a safe haven; it provides a welcoming environment where children can express themselves, be heard, play, and interact with peers. At the same time, parents can engage with professionals, learn, and support one another. Despite the harsh environment of war, a Station of Hope succeeds in building community and creating a sense of normalcy for children and their families.
Watch the video here. How will you contribute to making 2022 different for young Roma children and their families? Will you hear Roma, see Roma, stand with Roma? Take to Twitter with the hashtag #standwithRoma to join the conversation.
Khetaun sam zoraleder. Opre Roma!/Together, we grow stronger. Rise up Roma!
Smoothing the Transition of Roma Children from the Trailer Park to School
In the city of Leuven, Belgium, many initiatives have been taken over the years to increase the participation of children of the Rom Travellerfamilies in the nearby schools. The efforts of different welfare organizations ensured that by September of 2021 90% of the Rom children were present by the start of the new school year. Various efforts contributed to this success, including exchange visits organized by REYN Belgium and providing insights and inspiration from the REYN network. The strength of the experience in Leuven is that different social organizations work together towards the same purpose: to ensure that Roma children attend school regularly and feel comfortable there, and that there is good school-parent cooperation.
At the residential trailer park in Leuven, 30 Rom Traveller families are living permanently. The city of Leuven has made a conscious decision to invest in the establishment of social support services for the Rom families. In concrete terms, this means that two employees of the city are responsible for the entire functioning of the trailer park in consultation with the Rom families. As the employees of the city of Leuven are regularly present at the trailer park, trust has been formed between the families and them over time. Two staff members are the Roma families’ point of contact for support questions in different areas of life. Because of the diversity of questions, there was the need to start a broader network of social professionals. This network – the so-called ROL team – consists of staff from Agency Child and Family, staff from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ and social workers from the public centre for social welfare . With this group, two times a week they organize on-site consultations. In this way, they can take concrete action with regard to the families’ requests for support on different life domains, each on the basis of their own expertise. They work together with partners on housing, health, leisure activities for the youngsters. More and more parents by now are convinced that these services might be beneficial for them and their children and are willing to make contact.
Involving parents in the transition
These partners are also involved in creating smooth and warm transitions from home to the schools in the neighborhoud, and they do it by motivating and reassuring families along the process.
A couple of years ago, members from the family support organization ‘De Mobil’ started to regularly organize a play-and-meet-moment for young parents and their young children (0-5 years). These pre-school activities are still going on where children can play with toys and games, while parents chat and discuss topics on education and family life. Parents can work out a picture book on their families, as a starting point for conversation. In the future, they will be able to lend the toys for a certain period.
In organizing these activities on a regular basis, the professionals of ‘De Mobil’ have built a strong relationship with the families and have gained their trust. They also support the conversations between the parents themselves. One of the topics is going to school. Parents have many questions: how does it work, a school day? What do children there? How will the teachers react on children’s needs?
The staff of the local Agency Child an Family, who are also members of the ‘ROL team’ are involved in motivating and reassuring the families for school.
“While parents come to our consultation office for the medical check-up of their babies and toddlers, we talk about schooling. At first they think it’s too early for their child, but later they change their mind. We provide information on how to register, when school starts etc. Because they are not familiar with our education system, you’ve got to give them time.”
Hanne, nurse from Child and Family Agency
To put further trust in going to school and as an action due to the pandemic, two schools in Leuven took the initiative to organize temporarily ‘homeschooling’. Two teachers came to the trailer park with lots of toys and playing-learning materials that are usually present in a toddler’s classroom.
“Parents have many concerns about the school: ‘What if my child is hungry or thirsty? Will somebody notice it and take care?’ By showing in their own environment how a toddler’s class is organized – with lots of toys and playful learning moments – they get acquainted with the benefits of schooling: ‘Look, it seems that he is just playing with little boxes, but he’s learning to count at the same time!’”
Lies, homeschooling teacher
Homeschooling had a positive effect. Parents and children got a better idea of what happens at school. They started to foster the idea of sending their children to school more regular and were more and more reassured that early school participation was important and an added value.
“The homeschooling period was a very good warming up, building positive experiences and gaining more trust in ‘the real thing’. Because of the support of many services and people, this was successful. Other practical problems still remain, such transportation to the school.”
Tim, social worker, city of Leuven
Due to these actions, the school supporting part of the project has been very successful: 90% of the children of the trailer park were attending school on September 1st, 2021. This is the result of many persistent actions of the ROL-team, two homeschooling teachers, other school teachers and directors.
“In August I went to visit all the families at the trailer park. You can call it a ‘motivation visit’. I wanted to prepare them that the first school day is coming. That helps a lot. On the first school days it is important to take away the worries of parents. We send them pictures and texts to show them that their child is happy here and he’s got a lot of friends. Many parents can’t imagine their children sitting next to non-Travellers-children…”
Annick, school director
Thanks to the efforts of many, the transition from the trailer park to school is now much better. Still, it remains a precarious process, partly due to the corona pandemic, but there is much motivation among all partners to keep up the efforts when children talk about their experiences at school positively.
 Rom is one of the three groups of Roma population in Belgium. The other two are Travellers and Manouches/Sinti.
Up to 75% enrolment target for young Roma children in ECEC in Slovakia
Specific Steps of the Slovak Roma Inclusion Strategy 2030
The Strategy for Equality, Inclusion, and Participation of Roma 2030 was approved by the Slovak Government on 7 April 2021. This framework material forms the basis for action plans, which will always be drawn up for a three-year period, i.e., 2022-2024, 2025-2027, and 2028-2030. Representatives from REYN Slovakia have been actively involved in the development of the Strategy and Action Plans.
The Strategy is a framework document that defines the direction of public policies in order to achieve a visible change and improvement in the field of equality and inclusion of Roma in Slovakia. It presents a set of starting points and objectives that aim to stop the segregation of Roma communities and to make a significant positive turn in the social inclusion of Roma.
“The areas of employment, education, health, and housing are key to the fulfillment of the Strategy’s objectives, and special emphasis is also placed on stepping up interventions to combat anti-Roma racism,”state the submitters of the material from the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.
The subsequent Action Plans propose measures in the same five priority areas that were previously stated in the Strategy.
Strategy and Action Plans
The vision of the Strategy in the field of education is to increase the real participation of children from marginalized Roma communities in care and education. The share of the youngest Roma children under three years of age participating in early childhood education and care programs is to reach at least 30%.
“The proportion of Roma children aged 3-6 in pre-primary education is to be increased from the current 25 to 75%, ” the submitters state.
The Strategy also aims to halve the proportion of children from the marginalized Roma communities who repeat a year in primary or special primary schools, as well as halve the proportion of pupils from the marginalized Roma communities who drop out of school. Conversely, the proportion of Roma with completed upper secondary education is to be doubled to 45% for males and 40% for females.
In the education field, the proposed action plan focuses on the need to improve the results of children from marginalized Roma communities. Besides, it aims to improve the quality and number of teachers and assistants in the education of Roma pupils, to increase the capacity of schools and kindergartens in areas with Roma communities, and support measures for children and pupils from Roma communities with insufficient knowledge of Slovak, which is not their mother tongue.
The Strategy aims to eliminate significant inequalities in housing between members of the marginalized Roma communities and the majority population of Slovakia.
“By 2030, all residents of the marginalized Roma communities, and therefore all citizens and residents of the Slovak Republic without distinction, should have proper access to safe and potable water. Closely related to this challenge is the gradual legalization of technically compliant dwellings and the settlement of land on which illegal dwellings of marginalized Roma communities residents are located,” the material states.
With regard to segregated settlements, the vision is to reduce the proportion of Roma living in segregated communities, as well as to reduce the total number of segregated settlements.
As stated in the proposal of the action plan, priority tasks in the area of housing are to reduce the number of illegal dwellings, to improve technical infrastructure and amenities in localities of marginalized Roma communities, but also to implement measures aimed at reducing residential segregation of Roma, for example through the promotion of rental housing in municipalities.
The Strategy aims to reduce the proportion of Roma aged 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor already in education from the current 68 to 40%, as well as to increase the employment rate of Roma aged 20 to 64 from the current 20 to 45%. In particular, the Strategy and its action plans will address the issue of Roma women’s employment, which is significantly lower than that of men.
The proposed action plan defines measures to increase the chances of Roma on the labor market, but also, for example, targeted support for equal access to self-employment and entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, for persons from marginalized Roma communities.
The global objective of the health strategy is to reduce health inequalities between Roma and the general population of the Slovak Republic, with the aim of reducing the gap in life expectancy between the general and Roma population by 50% over the course of a decade.
The tasks related to health in the action plan are designed to improve health conditions at the community level, and also aim to strengthen the professional qualifications of community health promotion workers.
Anti-Roma racism and support of participation
Besides, the Strategy sets targets for eliminating anti-Roma racism, with the ambition to halve the proportion of Roma who have felt discriminated against in the last 12 months. The Strategy will also use supportive anti-discrimination instruments to reduce the proportion of Slovak citizens who would not want a Roma neighbour from the current 54 to 20%. The aim is also to increase by 30% the confidence of Roma in the police.
In the proposed action plan, the section on combating discrimination against Roma and increasing their inclusion in mainstream society calls for anti-Roma racism to be legally recognized as a specific form of racism. One of the other measures proposed is to increase the participation of young Roma and Roma women in policy-making at all levels.
The Strategy and action plans were developed by thematic working groups in each area, with representation from different government departments and institutions, NGOs, the academic sector, and local authorities.
After a long period of participatory preparation of all materials, and a recent personal change on the position of the Plenipotentiary, the drafts of action plans proposing measures in five priority areas for the period 2022-2024 have been submitted by the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the inter-ministerial comment procedure.
More information about the materials and recent developments can be foundhere.
Photo source: Facebook of Mrs. Andrea Bučková, former Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities.
The lessons a trainer learns 5: how can we manage biases towards the Roma in teacher training?
Bias is present everywhere towards the Roma, from the earliest years on. If it is hard to cooperate with the family, if the parents don’t attend teacher-parent meetings, if the child displays challenging behaviour, kindergarten staff might say: „It’s because they are Roma.”
It’s so much easier to say then to say that it is hard to cooperate or communicate with them because it takes longer to build trust. But when someone has been living in deprivation for so long with the stigma that it is their fault, then shame builds up. And shame stops us from asking for help, from trusting the other person.
Methods for conflict resolution and building bridges with Roma parents in creches, kindergartens and schools are not part of teacher training curriculum. There are great university initiatives and programs but they are not supported by the state education system in Hungary. This is why it was so important when Laura, a mentee in REYN 4 asked for help when she encountered teacher bias towards the Roma during her training to become a kindergarten assistant.
She called me and told me that she got in a conflict with one of her teachers at her training the previous week. The teacher was telling a story about a family where the parents did not notice that their child got hold of his dad’s phone where a porn video was open and after that he started to make sexual moves towards the children in his kindergarten group. The teacher said that it is a ”cultural thing with Roma”, this kind of neglect. Laura was deeply shocked and angered by this statement and had the courage to stand up and tell the teacher that this generalisation is shameful. The teacher said she didn’t mean to offend her, this is just her experience but didn’t apologise. Laura got even angrier, raised her voice and started to cry. They argued in front of the class. The lesson ended without the conflict being resolved.
Laura was ashamed that she raised her voice but also outraged by the teacher’s attitude. She wanted to apologise but also wanted the teacher to apologise. Now what? I was afraid to get involved in a conflict between an educational institution and an individual but I felt I had no choice. This was the time to make a difference. I called the principal of the educational institution, told her what happened and asked for an extra hour where I could facilitate a discussion about what happened. Our association, Partners Hungary Foundation has been working with alternative conflict resolution methods for many years. As a trainer and facilitator of Restorative Practices, I realised that this is an important occasion where participants can talk about what happened, how they were affected by the situation and what can be done to make things right. I explained the method of a facilitated Restorative circle, the questions that could be discussed and that everything said by the participants will be kept confidential. To my suprise, the principal said that it sounds great and that he will arrage that extra hour for me. We agreed that he would let the teacer and the whole class know about that discussion ahead. Kudos to his open-mindedness, flexibility and sensitivity.
When I entered the classroom that Saturday, I was very nervous and felt like I was considered as an enemy by many of the people in the room. I asked Laura, who was also present, why some of the people were looking at me like that. She told me that the principal only told about the discussion to the teacher who interpreted that this would be a scolding from a stranger and this is what she passed on to the group. Great start – I thought. I introduced myself to the teacher and explained what is going to happen. That I am not here to judge who is a good or bad person, that we will only discuss how the people in the room were affected by last week’s open conflict and what can be done to make things better in this learning community . I told her that the content of this discussion will be kept confidential. I talked about my role as a mentor for Laura. The teacher’s face started to change – she didn’t look angry any more but rather curious and said she was up for it and we can start. I explained the same things to the students in the room and I also said that participation is voluntary. Some of the students in the room stood up to leave because they said they were still not convinced that this was going to serve their community and that it won’t have a negative effect on their teacher – whom they like a lot for her experience and kindness. It was hard for me to let them leave but could not force them. I told them how sorry I was about it but that I understood their decision.
I sighed. I smiled at the other participants, thanked them for their open-mindedness and asked them to arrange the chairs into a circle. I looked around and searched for eye contact. What I saw was twelve faces, some of them smiling, some of them looking curious and excited. What happened in those 60 minutes that followed exceeded my expectations. Simply sharing how situations affect us emotionally – in a safe space brings such a sense of community and cohesion. Let me share the details with you in the next post, keeping the participants’ anonymity.