A Research Project That Had To Be Done

Here’s a timely blog on Syrian students from Distinguished Fellow Professor Ira Bogotch…

In October, 2016, as I boarded the Porter Airlines plane taking me to Ontario, Canada, and, then in November of that year, boarding Eurowings to Germany, I had many questions and just as many assumptions, not the least of which was `why was I traveling to Canada and Germany to study school integration of newcomers from Syria?’ As a US citizen, and as a Jew, US policies governing immigration, both legal and illegal, are not so much being debated reasonably as a policy conversation, but rather are being viewed today as a singular litmus test contributing to the political divides in the country, if not also the world. Make no mistake, immigration laws should be on the table for extended debates in all fields of study and in all societies. Yet, according to estimates made by the Pew Research Center nearly 13 million Syrians have been displaced after seven years of conflict in their country. Approximately 6 million people within Syria are displaced having their homes and towns destroyed. While the other 7 million have been able to seek refuge in other countries. These countries include Turkey (3.4 million), Lebanon (1 million), Jordan (660,000), Germany (530,000), Iraq (250,000), Egypt (130,000), Sweden (110,000), Greece (60,000), Canada (54,000), Austria (50,000), and the United States (33,000) (Connor, 2018). Of course, some of these countries have done so by setting up strict selection criteria, including Canada and Germany.

Despite this alarmingly high number, most of the international community has done little or nothing in the face of this humanitarian crisis. Even today, the isolationistic and xenophobic policies perpetuated by so-called Populist and Nationalist administrations, including the US not only restrict people from certain Muslim countries from entering the US, but restrict all legal immigration pathways as well.

While it is a privilege as an educational leadership researcher to decide which of the many significant events happening in the world are worthy of research, I felt compelled to study [im]migration. Specifically, I wanted to capture the in-the-moment voices of educators who were called upon, involuntarily, to serve these newcomers. It was often left to the frontline educators to educate themselves on what was happening, sharing information and alleviating their own stress. The effects of the newcomers’ traumas emerged, expressed physically through violence and psychologically as somatic complaints. The educators quoted newcomer statements such as “my soul feels dark,” “my heart feels squeezed” and conversely “I feel human again,” “I have rights,” “I can contribute to the community,” and “I can say `no’ without fear of retribution (prison or disappearance).’ All these explicit emotional statements brought stress to both the individual educators and onto the school systems as a whole, as everyone involved had to learn to cope with integrating the newcomers.

I personally fight for the future of my students (or I fight against their shared past/trauma). It is for me a really challenging when they tell me about their trauma but I think it has made me grow as an individual.

I quickly found that the name `intensive class’ also meant it would be intensive for me as a teacher.

Yet once on-the-ground, when asked why I was studying Syrian school integration, the most honest response had nothing to do with my expertise or any singular research agenda. Rather, I replied, “that I had to.” In other words, I wanted to connect directly to this humanitarian issue not only to advance my own learning, but also to push myself and the field of educational leadership beyond its ever-present managerial lens which focuses primarily on how best to run schools and school systems. Educational leadership, for me and I hope for you, too, has a larger purpose in educating children and adults towards a more democratic future internationally. Educational leadership, again for me, is deeply personal – even as I study abroad.

Other “had-to’s”

Educators have had to manage their own stress, borne from of a commitment to make educational, social, economic and political differences. Their message was, and still is, one of hope and optimism; it is also a message not often not heard beyond schools by citizens and politicians. Thus, our responsibility is to give voice to their optimism in hopes of disrupting anti-immigrant discourses and hateful narratives now heard around the world.

While some federal funding was provided for the education of Syrians (i.e., children and adults) in Canada and Germany, School Boards and school not only had discretion, but also had to make do with existing resources-necessitating creative and innovative ways to meet educational demands for all K-12 students.

German language teachers were moved into German as a Second Language classrooms and school administrators had to not only rely on the good will of their faculties to meet new enrollment needs, but also had use funding “tricks,” such as replacing pregnant teachers on leave with retired teachers to cover newcomer classes.

Although many of the Canadian schools had tens of other spoken foreign languages, Arabic was prioritized as were the Syrians. “We had to get more teachers, social workers, and administrative assistants as the time went on, all of whom were needed to welcome and schedule families and students.”

Recognizing that many Syrians had interruptions in their formal education, there had to be a relearning of how to sit in a classroom and follow school-rules. “We’re sitting these 6’4” guys in a desk asking them to learn something, while they are attached to their phones because they are wanting to know what happening with their family in Syria. They are not necessarily present and they’re forced to sit for a long time and not be active…”.

When we asked whether the school or school system was in support of newcomer education, the responses were always positive and optimistic. In one extended conversation with a Canadian educator, she explained how a systemic approach to newcomer education, from welcoming students and families to second language classes to addressing trauma among the students was far better than when administrators or teachers had to individually address problems and seek out “heroic” solutions. The building of support systems and inter-agency relationships across responsibilities was deliberate and beneficial for it allowed for educators not only to hand-off problems to others, but to have confidence that the system would work and students/families would not fall through the cracks.

What characterized the autonomous German schools, which had to depend upon individual actions taken by the German educators themselves, was that they were far less formal and loose in comparison to the Canadian support systems. While it was clear to us that the surge had brought administrators and language teachers much closer together, the issues of newcomers were not always being addressed school-wide. In fact, with tight schedules and shorter school days in Germany, it was difficult for the German as a Second Language (GSL) teachers to find time and space to communicate with regular teachers about their immigrant students.

Even in the best of circumstances, educators face institutional barriers as they do their daily work. What was the same in both contexts was that the integration of newcomers, particularly in early 2016, came with a continuous sense of urgency and change to the way things had to be done. In the context of Canada, this urgency and change were met systemically with innovations and many structural supports; while in Germany, the urgency and change was matter-of-factly incorporated into individual educators’ personal, professional and cultural responsibilities without very many systemic supports.

Not Refugees

Language reflects the attitudes and values of its speakers; in Germany, rather than referring to refugees as Flüchtling, a term directly related to their status as asylum seekers, refugees are given the title Neuzugewanderte, which means ‘Newcomer.’ The terminology that has developed around the Syrian refugee crisis speaks to the host country’s attitude towards today’s asylum seekers. The very essence of successful school integration in the two contexts is the objective of German/Canadian residency and citizenship for the Syrians.

As it was explained to us during one of our early interviews in Canada:

I just wanted to tell you that I don’t use the word refugee. I was taught by our settlement worker in schools that they’ve found refuge here, so they are newcomers from Syria; that is how the language that we use: newcomers from Syria. Other people refer to them as Syrian refugees but that’s a derogatory term from what my settlement worker in schools has said; so, if I was to read your [chapter], and it said Syrian refugees, I would put it aside because I would think you don’t know what you’re talking about. You should know that our language is newcomers from Syria in whatever you write.

Settling upon the term “newcomer,” is also in line with the concept of social justice, a term much maligned by specific segments of today’s US popular culture. Instead of looking to redress inequities both in schools and society, conservative commentators refer to social advocates as “social justice warriors,” or “socialists” who want to redistribute wealth. Yet, the meanings of social justice are both cultural and political and grounded in the need of individuals and communities (Bogotch, 2002, 2008, 2014). In this sense, social justice is also contingent upon situations and contexts in the environment, sometimes aligned with humanitarian issues, but many times not. Social justice, like attitudes and policies towards immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, is a matter of political will and economic development. Global citizens as well as many world governments today seem to ignore immigrant contributions to economic growth when it does not fit their nationalistic narratives. It is such ignorance and paradoxes which challenge the quest for educational leadership for social justice.

Meet Ira Bogotch

Living and Working in Education Along La Frontera

Recently I asked the following questions of GlobalEd Leadership’s Distinguished Fellow Professor María Luisa González…

Photo MLG


First, tell us a little about yourself.

First and foremost, I am a child of the borderlands. I come from long standing families that resided on the border before the first Europeans came to this area and before the land was fought over by different countries. I will begin by adding some background because I feel that in most of our lives our background helps explain who we are and why we do what we do. As others before me I need to provide a brief background on both parents–thus offering some of the recognition they deserve.

My grandmother had lost all her wealth during the Mexican Revolution and like many other immigrants who are also border people my grandparents owned property on both sides of the border. Luckily for her and her seven offspring they survived financial challenges and all were raised in the US and attended schools there. By the time my father and his two brothers were of college age there was no money to send three sons to US universities. Instead they attended the best university in Mexico–the UNAM (the national university in Mexico City). Two brothers studied law as their father had. My father chose another profession—medicine–and his was a tougher road to follow since he had to acquire new knowledge along with learning Spanish that he hardly understood well academically. Thus, he insisted that his children learn a minimum of three languages and never face the discrimination he faced.

Mexico City’s UNAM campus

He completed his training where he was supervised and mentored by doctors trained in the US and Europe. His social service as they call it in Mexico was spent caring for indigent patients. When it was time to return to the US he was recruited by one of the top hospitals in the US at the time—the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital–that provided services to the richest people in show business. He was the only Mexican and the only person of color to ever ascend to Chief Resident status there. His preparation in a country south of the border had prepared him to serve the rich. When he passed the Boards, he was promised partnerships in some of the most prestigious medical practices.

On the other hand, my mother had supported my father and me through his medical internship and residency in California. She ascended the ranks of Civil Service and had the highest security clearance of women in her area. She was in charge of security for all the plans and documents related to the first atomic submarine built—the Nautilus. She had lost both parents at the age of nine but loved school. She was unable to complete high school as she had to help provide for her younger brothers and sisters. Later, she went to live in Chihuahua City Mexico with an aunt who could help send my Mother and her oldest sister to a well-respected bilingual secretarial school (English and Spanish). Thus, Mom who had attended schools in the US was also prepared to work in the different American and British companies that existed at the time in Mexico. This schooling proved transcendent in her finding employment in the US after she and Dad married.

Malú moves from Hollywood to La Frontera

When the time came to decide whether to stay in Los Angeles and follow a lucrative medical career there, my Father could not accept that way of life. He felt his only choice was to return to the border—where he knew he could make a difference. He felt he had a gift as an MD and an obligation to care for those who normally could not access medical care. Both parents were never centered around money. Their lives’ values consisted of making an impact by giving and helping others.

Thus, I was their first born (eventually there were four children) living in Hollywood, California, USA. We lived there until I was about 4 years old and then we returned to the border. I grew up in a small part of an over 4,000-mile stretch of border between Mexico and the US. This incredible setting of living on two sides of a bridge that separated two countries offered me numerous advantages that one receives when one lives a bifurcated life. There was a basic familial expectation—we had to master two languages, two cultures, two histories, and that we be able to “maneuver” in two distinct settings. Socially we were expected to make transitions that were immediate. Two cities separated by a bridge where one had to remember to change hours on a clock or watch because we were also separated by two different time zones. We also had to change currency in our mind if we were to buy anything. We switched languages and had to learn to function on immediacy. There was never a choice it was our way of life. I crossed the border twice every school day from first grade through graduation from high school. I saw poverty in one country on a daily basis and less poverty in the other. I would readily live in a third world country and spend time in an industrial nation by crossing an international bridge.

This incredible setting prepared me to accept those and that which is different from my own experience. I see this as part of a border dynamic. I cannot fathom living in a monocultural setting. I expect to see multicultural and multilingual humans around me. Thus, I enjoy traveling and living along the border.

Bridge connecting the US and Mexico

Over your career as a professor of educational leadership and as an administrator in higher education you have written and spoken about many issues of social justice. Why did you choose these areas?

I would like to clarify that I came to the professoriate with extensive experience in the public schools and the different settings presented. I worked in teaching, supervisory, and principalship positions. I worked in schools serving the military, a country club school, rural, barrio, and inner-city populations. I worked with undocumented immigrants whose parents worked two to three jobs to make a living. My life on the border prepared me well for all of these positions. While I saw an overabundance of resources at the country club school I understood that this could be a reality for all the other schools with limited resources to attain. Thus, it was instrumental in my fight for social justice in education. Thus, the university classroom was a springboard to make our students aware of their responsibilities relative to providing the best educational experience for all children– regardless of their citizenship or socio-economic status. I cannot think of any other area of education that I would choose to work in. I have also worked in the ramifications of language learning and the impact on special education services. They are a part of my life force. They are my raison d’etre.

What have been a few milestones in your career?

It seems that I have followed my parents’ trajectory into breaking new ground in their own jobs. When I graduated from my doctoral program, from a university located in a border setting with a predominately Hispanic population, I was the first Hispanic woman to receive a doctorate from that program.

I was recruited several years later when I served as a principal with the Dallas Independent District to apply for a faculty position at my alma mater. Once again, I returned to be a “first” –I was hired and at the time I was the first Latina at the university hired in a tenure track line.

I ended up serving as the first female Hispanic department chair–a position which I held for ten years. The department grew in size, in color, and in gender. We also were able to develop programs that became recognized nationally. For several years I held the highest administrative academic position at that university.

I also served the University Council of Educational Administration as the first Latina president during a time where there were very few professors of color participating. In fact, we could count those professors of color on the fingers of both hands. This has changed dramatically over the years and I am now proud to say that we are making strides in reaching equity.

In all of the aforementioned positions I have held in academia I have faced many challenges. However, it did help to listen to my parents as they shared their struggles with discrimination during the 50’s. I just felt that 40 years later things would have changed, sadly not. While I met and continue to meet individuals who will see women or people of color and immediately think that we are undeserving. Unfortunately for those who see differences as deficits their world will continue to be so limited. I am fortunate to have encountered in my lifetime more caring and engaged individuals than those who are not.

Tell us about some of the projects that have been particularly important to you and why.

My major thrust in grant writing was to develop leaders to serve successfully in educational border settings and with immigrant populations. I will mention only a couple of these.

The first major grant project was born out of a need to develop educational leaders who could understand PK-20 educational border issues and work on strengthening ties on both sides of the border. The funding came from a major foundation in the US and was for a $12 to $14 million-dollar amount. It was a doctoral program in conjunction with Arizona State University and the University of California at Riverside. Other institutions joined in this collaborative effort to prepare doctoral students to develop US educational leaders to become leaders on both sides of the border. The initial plan was to have students conduct residencies on both sides of the border in political settings. They were also to take coursework from the different disciplines but plans changed. The grant paid for multiple students across the United States and all of were of Mexican/Hispanic descent. All students completed their degrees and chose to work in public school systems or university settings. The group became extensive as different universities along the border US-Mexico states joined the program.

The other grant that I will mention was in conjunction with two border educational systems on the US side. The focus was to study the issues of Hispanic students attending schools in the United States and building higher expectations among the parents of these children. Thus, the development was for principals who could identify curricular programs with their teachers to reach these children who were immigrant students. At the beginning of the program there were reluctant school administrators who refused to engage with the program. They felt that the focus on Hispanic children and their needs was not what was needed. With the use of data, they understood they could no longer neglect the needs of the majority of the students in their districts. The students obtained a master’s degree and certification with a special emphasis on serving linguistically and culturally different students. All students with the exception of one who chose not to leave the classroom are serving as school principals or central office administrators.

Were you involved in education policy at the state or national levels? 

I was fortunate to be involved at both political levels. At the state level, I testified each year at the different legislatures and the different educational committees. I spent Untitled4considerable time trying to make legislators aware of border education. I had contact with several of them and invited them to participate in school visits where my graduate students served to make clear issues that were impacting border schools and in which politicians could help out.

At the national level, I supported the work of an individual who spearheaded the rights for homeless children and runaway youth. I served as principal in a school in Dallas that served children from homeless shelters and remained in contact with any group who fought for the rights of these children. I had the honor of reading and reacting to the McKinney Act for Homeless Children. Our school received national congressional recognition for its work with homeless children. 

Who were some of your role models and how did they influence you? 

I have been very fortunate to find mentors who are also heroes at every stage of my career. I just completed a chapter on six educators who fought for bilingual education in this state. Each of them became a personal friend but they were instrumental in my learning to become a voice and act for the rights of those who cannot.

I have mentioned the mentorship I received from my parents as being a great gift. I also found colleagues when I was in Pk-12 education with whom I collaborated to improve our teaching. I have been lucky in finding individuals who know so much more than I do. Even in my students from grade school several followed a teaching career. Another is running for much contested state senatorial office and has laid out a socially just platform. Students offer us so much regardless of age.

In the Academy, I met a woman who has remained my mentor until now. She was the first Latina professor whom I met at a conference and has received every award in our field. She is truly an incredible individual and scholar. We first need to be human then we can celebrate our contributions to the academy. She remains intact in both worlds.

There are also a group of my doctoral students whom I respect greatly. One will be the third woman to be president of UCEA. I greatly admire her work with her advisees. She is exemplary as a professor and a woman. Another is a professor serving at a HBCU where he is focused on social justice and building community with those who feel disenfranchised. There are several as part of a group of the “younger generation of professors” who are beginning their careers in academia. While I try to be supportive and accessible to them I learn more from them than they from me.

The list of colleagues is so plentiful that it enriches my life. I am glad that I spent the number of years I did in academia and that there continue to be multiple opportunities for further involvement especially now given the political outlook.

Meet María Luisa González





Becoming an English Language Specialist in the State Department /Georgetown University Program

Former Community College Professor Jane Theifels describes several initiatives she has led as an EL Specialist for the US State Department…

May of 2011 was approaching, a magic date for me, the time of my retirement from 32 years of  ESL Teaching at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

However, instead of staring ahead at a blank screen, I held two future prospects on my horizon.  First, I was now a registered nurse, having studied in my college’s two-year evening nursing program, while teaching during the day. I was following  my dream of going on medical missions to other countries.  Secondly, I enrolled in the English Language Specialist Program sponsored by the US State Department and Georgetown University.

I discovered the EL Specialist Program at a TESOL information session.  I knew it would be a perfect fit for me on retirement.  I would become part of a database where I could be notified of English opportunities abroad, ranging from two weeks to several months. These opportunities would arise when a Ministry of Education in a particular country approached the US Embassy there asking for an English Language Specialist to fill a special need.


In 2014 I answered a request to go to Togo to do teacher training in interactive methodology in the capital, Lomé, and in three villages outside the capital.  Fifty chosen teachers came to each village training from afar and were lodged for the 4 days in retreat houses.  Four Togolese teacher trainers also each had a session on one of the conference days. My focus was on Active Grammar, the Interactive Classroom, Writing, Learning Styles, and Gender Equality.  The response was overwhelmingly positive for all of us.

In 2016 there was a request to go to Benin for six weeks and travel throughout the country conducting a survey of English language teaching with the Assistant to the Minister of Higher Education and a retired English Language Inspector. This survey was to pave the way for the introduction of English in the public primary schools. Five weeks later the three of us handed in our extensive report, and now there is a pilot program with 72 trained teachers of English in the first and second grades of the public primary schools.

My Partners in Curriculum Development

The request to travel to Djibouti came in 2017, this time requiring curriculum development over a two-month period. After meeting with English coordinators, it was determined that the 9th grade book be rewritten, and our team of two Djiboutian curriculum developers and I did just that. The book is now hot-off-the-press for use this school term.

My Djiboutian contract also stipulated a return for two weeks to do teacher training in interactive methodology and teacher observations. In fact, I am writing this on the airplane on my trip back to the U.S. after those amazing two weeks in Djibouti.

I say to you that if you want to see the world and deeply immerse yourself in a new culture while working alongside new colleagues on a creative and meaningful task, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with the EL Specialist Program. Each assignment opens a new world where you and your new colleagues share your expertise and bond together. You emerge from these experiences with new friends, new vistas, new cultural awareness and a mutual contribution that enhances English teaching in the country. Try it!  You’ll  love it!


Meet Professor Jane Theifels

Education for the future of Jordan

Here’s the first blog on this subject from Professor Trevor Male who is beginning a project in Jordan.  Stay tuned for more.


I am in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan this week starting work on a project funded by the Queen Rania Foundation.  The task is to examine best practice worldwide and produce a set of options for school councils and parental engagement, which form part of an education strategic plan for this nation.

Jordan is a small(ish) landlocked country bordering Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  In July 2017, the World Bank re-classified Jordan from an upper-middle income country to a lower middle- income country.  There are no natural mineral resources or other natural advantages, so its future prosperity will depend almost entirely on the talents and enterprise of its people.  As of 2010 (the latest estimate available), approximately 14% of the population lived below the national poverty line on a long-term basis, while almost a third experienced transient poverty.   This has had multiple effects on education as children from poor families may be less likely to attend pre-primary education and the burdens of indirect costs (clothing, transportation costs and the need to work to supplement family income) may contribute to non-enrolment, non-attendance and even drop out at the primary and secondary levels.

In addition to these factors, Jordan faces challenges associated with the huge influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and now provides support for more than 1.3 million Syrians.  As would be expected this does place extra demands on the education system and labour market, in addition to other national services and infrastructure.  The challenges are compounded by the continuing rapid expansion in Jordan’s population, which is expected to increase by 1.4% per year for the next decade. Consequently, increasing demands for school and further education places are feeding growing numbers into the labour market.  Whilst this expansion provides a unique economic opportunity for Jordan because the working population will exceed the dependent population for the next twenty years. Nevertheless, based on current projections, there will be a need for over 660,000 new jobs over the next decade, if the national target of 8% unemployment is to be met.  One consequence of this situation is that the kingdom developed a National Human Resource Development Strategy in 2016 which seeks “to invest in our citizens’ education and training to create a generation of forward-looking young people, who are equipped with the skills necessary to analyse, innovate and excel” (King Abdullah II).

Education has been determined as the key to transforming these demographic challenges into opportunities for growth and development, with significant changes being required across Jordan’s education and training systems.  In turn this led the Ministry of Education to devise a strategic plan to address these issues, which was published in 2018.  This is where I appear in the picture as providing “the consultancy service that an international expert will be providing to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to support its goals of having all schools actively engaging parents and working in active partnership with their local communities by 2022”.

What I have discovered since arriving here just two days ago has been unexpected as I had not done my homework on this country and assumed ‘Middle East = must be rich’.     So yesterday I reviewed the documents and today talked to people who work in the schools’ sector.  What I witnessed here is a huge lack of building provision, specially to accommodate Syrian refugee children many of whom are taught in the camps, or in evening schools.  It is not uncommon for schools to be in inadequate rented accommodation and to be double shift i.e. one building with two school populations. They are also short of materials and quality teachers.

Patently the country is not rich and thus sits right in the frame of reference provided by this blogging service in that here is a country determined to overcome social injustice, even when the increase in poverty can be blamed partly on unexpected immigration.  Despite the impact of the influx of Syrian students, however, the Ministry is committed to ensure access and equality towards the vision of “Education for All”, equity in the realms of both gender and special needs, improving enrolment rates, accommodating all age groups, providing a stimulating educational environment and developing awareness and health programmes.  It has been a generous response by this largely Muslim population that puts Brexiteers to shame.

Meet Trevor Male