How to be a better ally to your students: Refugee allies

This short film explores some of the challenges faced by young people arriving into the UK as refugees, with advice from students and educators on how to support them.

Notes are compiled by film-maker and equality, diversity and inclusion consultant (ED&I) Dr Mena Fombo and film-maker Michael Jenkins with teacher consultant Karuna Duzniak, an Assistant Headteacher at an inner-city school who is passionate about supporting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within education.

The tips:

Translation is essential

In the film, students reflect on the crucial role of translators in helping them understand exactly what they should and shouldn’t do at school.

Assistant headteacher Karuna Duzniak suggests providing a dictionary and allowing students to use translation apps on their mobile phones: “Translation is important for refugee children because they need to be able to understand what’s happening in the classroom.”

It wasn’t standard practice to use mobile phones in Karuna’s school, but this technology was later acknowledged as a way to support children's learning and communication with their peers. She says: “Although we have a school-wide ban on using mobile phones, we’ve allowed students to use the translating app so they can make friends with each other... and help the students to feel settled and welcome in our school.”

Acknowledge us

Karuna Duzniak works daily with refugee children and shares the importance of student voice: creating opportunities for students to give feedback and, most importantly, listening to what those students are saying.

She says students really want to be respected and acknowledged in class, and one way of doing that is by ensuring all of their teachers acknowledge who they are and give them space to be heard: “They’ve all got a story to tell, and they really want every teacher in that school to hear that story.”

Share cultural norms

In this section of the film, young people speak about the cultural differences they first experienced. They explain how some actions and words seen as friendly and standard practice in the UK would be seen as insulting or inappropriate in their home countries. Without initial explanation students sometimes felt insulted or were upset by those actions.

Examples include someone giving a thumbs up in the corridor, which in some cultures indicates a swear word. It left the young person wondering if he’d been doing something wrong in his first week.

Karuna explains how essential it is to ensure that we share cultural norms, even around things like how to walk around the school, what to carry in your school bag or what happens at break time. Many of this is new and different from what that young person has experienced before.

Speak clearly

In the film Karuna talks about the pace at which teachers should teach and speak in class and the importance of speaking slowly and clearly (not loudly) to refugee students.

Karuna wants other teachers to understand that speaking loudly can be insulting to young people. She says: “Slow down, think about what you are saying and don’t use slang or regional specific words.''

Think inclusive learning

The film finishes with advice about thinking inclusively when teaching. In particular, Karuna Duzniak speaks about representation, avoiding stereotypes and challenging narratives with the use of resources.

Karuna says: ''Make sure that the role models that you use and the pictures you use are representative of the class you have and also of society as a whole.''

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