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NATECLA: Learning Spaces Where Women Feel Welcome

Phoebe McClements

On the 6th of July, Wonder’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Olivia Darby, and Project Manager, Paola Delmonaco ran a workshop at the 2018 NATECLA Conference.

The workshop, ‘Feeling confident to learn: creating education spaces where women feel welcome,’ brought together ESOL and other teachers to discuss how to make ESOL learners, especially women, feel more welcome in schools and classrooms. 

On the 6th of July, Wonder’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Olivia Darby, and Project Manager, Paola Delmonaco ran an informative workshop at the 2018 NATECLA Conference. The workshop titled, ‘Feeling confident to learn: creating education spaces where women feel welcome,’ brought together ESOL and other community language teachers to discuss how to make ESOL learners, especially women, feel more welcome in schools and classrooms.

The workshop was part of the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and Other Community Languages to Adults) 2018 Conference, a national forum for ESOL teachers to come together to discuss issues and ideas relating to the ESOL teaching field. It provides the perfect setting for Wonder Foundation to engage in conversation to further the FATIMA.

The workshop explored these important questions:

  • Is creating spaces where ESOL learners feel safe and welcome – empowering spaces – important in developing their confidence to try new things?
  • Female leaders have shared that it can help them to overcome the feeling of dislocation that they feel upon arriving in the UK. Does feeling welcome play a role in improving learner retention and engagement in classes?
  • What does creating a welcoming space for ESOL learners look like?
  • How can it be delivered with few resources?

Participants agreed that making learners feel welcome and safe had a significant positive impact on learner retention and outcomes. Furthermore, it was shared that when learners feel welcome they feel less inhibited to practice English out loud and that they will invite family and friends to enrol in the program along with continue to attend themselves.

The experienced ESOL teachers in the workshop noted several practices that would create a welcoming atmosphere ranging from having volunteers on the first day of classes to guide new students to their classrooms and intentionally using welcoming body language when learners arrive in class to teachers having one-on-one conversations with learners to understand more about them individually.

Additionally, they considered practices that did not make students feel welcome. These included challenging enrolment forms and questionnaires and the oversubscription of classes with the expectation that students will drop out, resulting in not enough chairs for participants makes learners feel unwelcome.

Participants in the workshop found a number of ways to create a welcoming environment on a budget, including learning hello in the students native languages and giving students opportunities to share their skills and talents or creating informal environments through tea breaks which can also boost student’s confidence and provide an opportunity for students to interact. A sense of ownership could be created through involving students in the organisation of tea breaks or in clearing up at the end of sessions.

The participants had a number of additional questions at the end of the workshop. These including how mixed gender classes affected women’s abilities to feel confident and welcome, as well as whether there would be a benefit in creating a student welcome pack for teachers, which they could adapt to their own settings.

The importance of feeling welcome was initially identified in our “Women Breaking the English Barrier” report which then informed the development of our FATIMA project which empower migrant women. These women, aged between 15 and 50, living in the UK, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain are engaged in a holistic program designed to support the migrant women’s economic, social, political and cultural integration into their host society. Each woman will receive one-to-one support through language class, mentoring, personalised development programmes, civic engagement and cultural activities plan, volunteering and work experience.

The Wonder Foundation would be delighted to hear from ESOL teachers and students about feedback the may have or if they had anything additional to add. Please send any comments or ideas to  paola@wonderfoundation.org.uk

Read the full document here.