Workshop Focuses on Muslim Culture

Rob Nelson, Times-Picayune (New Orleans), Jan. 27

If a Muslim or Arab family is slow to respond to a note sent home by a school or is running late for a teacher conference, school officials should not feel snubbed but should understand the cultural influences behind that behavior.

That’s been the message delivered this week to about 250 Jefferson Parish public school teachers and administrators as part of a four-day workshop designed to help them work better with Muslim and Arab families in the school system.

The seminar, which comes after an incident last year in which a teacher was accused of using religious slurs against a Muslim high school student, focused not only on religious tenets but also on the geographical and cultural aspects of Muslim life.

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Because Muslims like to build trust, verbal communication tends to get better results than written documents, she said. Correspondence sent home by schools is the “least effective” way to communicate as opposed to a phone call or visit, Sabbas said.

“They want to develop a sense of you before getting down to business,” she said.

In addition, Muslims have a different “time orientation,” she said. Immediate matters, such as a family member stopping at their house unexpectedly, take precedence over previously scheduled events, Sabbas said.

That can lead to a parent missing, canceling or running late for appointments, including teacher conferences, she said, prompting some grumbling from the audience.

One educator asked how she could better stress the need for Muslim families to keep their appointments. “You just have to keep delivering that verbal message,” Sabbas said.

At the suggestion of visiting families’ homes, a principal quietly complained about giving that kind of attention to one student in a school that serves hundreds.

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