SOE News

Welcoming children from other cultures to American classrooms: Resources and a workshop recap

Photo from ESL Workshop

Participant Lindsay Creech joins in a session on culturally responsive teaching.


Photo from ESL Workshop

A participant comments on a display of books and resources from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Bull’s Head Bookshop.


Photo from ESL Workshop

(Left to right) Darla Deardorff chats with Lucy Williams.


Photo from ESL Workshop

Panelist Sashi Rayasam makes a point. Other panel members are (left to right) Ivanna Mann Thrower, Suzanne Gulledge, Alisha Das and Joanne Dowdy.

Photo from ESL Workhshop

Maria Rangel shares her perspective.

Many teachers face the challenge of welcoming children from other cultures into their classrooms and making the classrooms work for everyone.  

How to accomplish this goal was the topic of a workshop hosted by the School of Education Aug. 12, 2009, in Chapel Hill.

“The idea for the workshop came from some of our alumni teachers,” said Lucy Williams, workshop organizer and coordinator of the Carolina Teachers’ Connection, a School of Education program that matches experienced alumni teachers with novice teachers to provide support and encouragement in the early years of teaching.

The Carolina Teachers’ Connection co-sponsored the workshop in collaboration with LEARN NC, a School of Education program that provides lesson plans, professional development and Web resources to support N.C. teachers and improve K-12 education.

“We were looking for a meaningful way to bring alumni teachers together,” explained Williams. “A first-year teacher expressed concern about what to do for children whose first language isn’t English, children from other cultures. Sensing her frustration, I arranged a meeting with her and another teacher who had taught in a dual language classroom. The workshop idea grew from there.”

Thirty teachers from 10 school systems across North Carolina gathered for the day-long event at the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence in Chapel Hill.

In a morning keynote address, Dr. Darla Deardorff of Duke University addressed the question, “How do I approach my role in teaching kids with very different cultural backgrounds?” She described many steps that teachers can take to reach all students in their classrooms, and presented a model of intercultural competence that enhances student outcomes. She emphasized the complexity of becoming interculturally competent.

Culturally responsive teaching was the topic of a breakout session led by Dr. Bobby Hobgood of UNC-Chapel Hill’s LEARN NC. He described ways that teachers can make their classrooms more inclusive, enhance the meaning and relevance of what students are learning and engender competence in students. He also directed participants to lessons, articles and Web sites related to this topic.

A second breakout session, led by Ivanna Mann Thrower of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, focused on the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). Thrower, who is an English as a Second Language consultant, discussed the kind of teaching that helps English Language Learners understand content and described class activities that promote cooperative learning.

The workshop concluded with a lively panel discussion on the topic, “Being a 21st century teacher in a linguistically and culturally diverse classroom.” The panel members addressed a series of issues, including making all students welcome in classrooms, enlisting support from others, involving parents and creating a common classroom culture.

Moderated by Bobby Hobgood, the panel included Alisha Das of Harnett County Schools, Joanne Dowdy of Kent State University, Suzanne Gulledge of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, Sashi Rayasam of Durham Public Schools and Ivanna Mann Thrower of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Wrapping up and looking to the future

Workshop coordinator Lucy Williams believes strongly in the value of bringing teachers together. “These kinds of experiences were extremely helpful to me in my own teaching experience,” she notes.

“It’s a broad goal of the Carolina Teachers’ Connection to bring teachers together to share ideas and resources,” says Williams. “And the teachers bring so much passion and energy to these kinds of experiences. Their enthusiasm is contagious!” 

Participants agreed that the workshop was beneficial in multiple ways, as illustrated by their comments:

  • “[The workshop] has made me think in a different way than when I entered at 9 a.m. this morning.”
  • “I came away with tons of ideas and strategies for improvement.”
  • “I will be sharing the information with my colleagues, which will be most helpful.”
  • “It’s nice to be with people who are passionate and positive.”
  • “It’s so inspiring and so relevant to be with other professionals and discuss these issues that are of such importance to us all!” 

If you would like to suggest topics for consideration for future workshops, contact Lucy Williams at or (919) 962-3791.