Regardless of the current shortage of skilled workers, "regular kindergartens" can benefit from the particular experiences of bilingual kindergartens. For a long time now, there have been pedagogical specialists whose native languages correspond to the respective profile of the institutions.
Bureaucratic hurdles - the vexing question of the recognition of foreign degrees
The recruitment of foreign applicants in German kindergartens, however, initially means a considerable additional expense for the institution and the skilled workers themselves. Certificates must be translated and then submitted to the relevant authorities for evaluation. For applicants whose home countries are outside the EU, a visa, a work permit and a preliminary examination at the employment office are also required. Once these steps have been taken, recognition of credentials – which is also carried out differently in each federal state - often lasts for months, as each case is usually examined individually (see: KiTa aktuell 05.2017).
Dealing with German authorities - often a linguistic challenge
Once these first hurdles have been overcome, bureaucratic and linguistic challenges continue. The new employees must register with the registration office within two weeks, after which they are automatically given a tax identification number. Ideally, they will have already found an apartment by this time. Especially in German cities, however, this is rather problematic.
At rainbowtrekkers Kita gGmbH in Cologne, we therefore provide our new employees from abroad with a furnished room with a tea kitchen and bathroom for the first few months, which serves as the basis for their own housing search. In rural areas, the situation may be more relaxed, but in large cities it is advisable for employers to maintain contact with landlords who allow such types of temporary housing. In the further search for accommodation, we support our new colleagues with information about the various parts of Cologne, average rent and utilities and public transport connections from home to work.
We recommend summarising this and other important information in a Welcome booklet, which can be sent to the applicants with the offer of contract.
As soon as the new colleagues start their job (and thus pay obligatory social insurance contributions), they must join a German health insurance scheme. In addition, they should open a bank account in Germany as soon as possible, so that the payroll office can pay them their first salary on time and without additional fees.
With little or no knowledge of German, all these steps are difficult to cope with. That's why our new team members need help right from the start. Registration with a health insurance provider can be done online or by phone using the general service number. At this time, the manager of the kindergarten or direct colleagues on site can linguistically assist the newcomers. If necessary, we at rainbowtrekkers also organise a companion for visits to government offices, who can translate if necessary. Involvement of volunteers (parents) is also a good way to support workers. Maybe a mother or father at the kindergarten even knows someone who has a low-cost apartment to rent or who can accompany an apartment viewing appointment.
A new daily routine - integrating new employees into the existing team
In kindergarten life itself, the main thing is to welcome the new colleagues in a friendly and open manner. Interested inquiries, friendly words and an open ear help the newcomers to better process the first culture shock and overcome initial homesickness.
Many pedagogical professionals who come to us from abroad are still very young and it may be the first experience of living in a foreign country for a long period of time. Some have lived with their parents up to this point and are suddenly on their own.
In this situation, it is especially the task of the management to support the new colleagues as they get used to the team and to provide emotional support when needed.
A “buddy system,” connecting old and new team members, is also a possibility in order to make it easier for newcomers to work in the team and get used to the new environment. In larger teams, there may even be colleagues who come from the same country or at least speak the same language and thus can help the new employee without a language barrier.
Often it seems to be little things in everyday life that present the newly recruited colleagues with problems. For example, what do I have to do if I get a letter from the GEZ? How can I manage to separate my garbage so perfectly that even Mr. Müller-Schmidt with his ever-watchful, critical eye from the window of his apartment on the first floor to the garbage cans, has nothing to complain about? Why aren't the supermarkets open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and where do I get something to eat late at night? Any newcomer will also be extremely grateful if someone is able and willing to introduce him or her to the deeper secrets of the extremely complex fare systems of the various local transport networks in Germany.
Knowledge about different education systems in the countries of origin
With regard to vocational integration, knowledge about the different education systems in the countries of origin plays an important role. Values, the image of the child, and the question of socially accepted pedagogical approaches can vary greatly from country to country. The question of what children should learn in kindergarten is addressed differently from place to place. These professional and cultural influences the "new" bring with them, when they come to us from abroad.
While in Germany a long tradition of free play characterises kindergarten life and school content should not be over-anticipated, many kindergartens in the Anglo-American arena, in France as well as in South and South-eastern Europe have much stronger educational elements.
There is also a different emphasis in the early childhood education institutions in different countries; on the one hand, on more structured, teacher-led learning and group activities, and on the other hand, on more individualised learning processes, based on the interests of the individual child.
Cultural contexts have an influence on daily work
It is therefore necessary to ask about the attitudes and experiences of foreign professionals and in return explain the philosophy of the kindergarten and the way of working of their new team. It's not about defining one approach as right and another as wrong. Rather, the goal is to learn from one another through the exchange and to benefit from each other's ideas and experiences.
The question of how someone worked before is just as important as the description of work in your own, local team. Ideally, this exchange will be carried out step by step, by trying out different ideas and approaches, as each group of children is different and each team works differently. What works well in a group situation does not always have to be the best way for the neighbouring group and vice versa. Also, the needs of the children change over the course of the kindergarten year, so that well-tried approaches and routines should be regularly questioned and, if necessary, possibly changed.
For the successful cooperation of old and new team members, it is particularly important to provide enough time and opportunities in everyday life for the collegial exchange of expertise and the learning process described above - in both directions. Here, above all, the skill of the management is required, to create enough room for colleagues to exchange ideas in the team through well-planned work scheduling organisation. Otherwise, the training of the "new" is perceived as a burden from the existing team, which is not at all conducive to team work.
What can employers do?
On the part of the employer, job descriptions, a clearly worded concept and a quality handbook in the languages relevant to the institution can help to integrate foreign professionals. Tasks also include personnel development. In the case of foreign educational professionals, this means first and foremost supporting the acquisition of the German language and, where necessary, demanding it. For equal and seamless communication in the daily working routine, regular day care centre team members should have knowledge of German at level B2 (CEFR). Managing staff should reach level C1 as soon as possible. Even in bilingual institutions, where foreign skilled workers are employed as native speakers, they should reach a German language level of at least B1 as soon as possible in order, for example, to be able to conduct parent conversations free of misunderstandings.
After an eight-hour working day, completing a German course can be exhausting. However, many of the newly immigrated pedagogical specialists are very motivated, especially if they want to stay for the long term. In the sense of the quality of the pedagogical work, an employer should set clear goals, in each case, about which language level must be reached and by when. This can also be stipulated in the employment contract.
Workshops and training days help with integration
Team training on important kindergarten topics, if possible in a language that is easy to understand for all, helps all employees to grow together as a team.
In the facilities of rainbowtrekkers for example, last year we organised a workshop in English on "Open work in mixed-age groups", because many of our international colleagues did not know of the 'open concept' or did not have the corresponding practical experience with age-mixed groups. As part of our pedagogical day next month, we are offering English-language seminars on professional communication with parents and on working with children under the age of three. In addition, we are planning a mini-conference in the summer, during which all colleagues from our three institutions will be able to exchange views on various specialist topics.
Gentle transition into open work
Sometimes, however, training and technical exchange alone is not enough, especially if the team indicates that the challenges of open work in everyday life are not being adequately met. Then it is necessary to adapt the working method and group structure, to a certain extent, to the needs of the colleagues, in order to create the conditions for more harmonious and effective cooperation, which is the basis for all educational work with children.
At rainbowtrekkers, we know from our own experience that a completely open concept places very high demands on communication and flexibility within the team - especially if, in the case of a newly opened kindergarten, the team still has to find common ground. In this situation, it can be quite helpful to go one step away from the completely open system and initially work 'partially open'. Once the team has worked well and grown together, you can take another step towards working openly. This approach reduces stress in children and staff and thus allows positive and high-quality relationship building in day-care.
In the future, it will become increasingly important to integrate foreign specialists in kindergartens. On the one hand, we can counteract the current shortage of skilled workers in day-care centres, and on the other hand, the team structures of our day care centres should always reflect our ever-changing society. Living in a diverse, multicultural society therefore also means bringing more diversity to our day-care centres and living that diversity in day-to-day kindergarten life. This is best done with the support of educators who bring their own culture and language to work with the children. “Regular kindergartens” can benefit from the experiences of bilingual institutions and learn how immigrant educators can be integrated into existing pedagogical teams. First of all, it requires practical help with moving and arriving in a new country. More important, however, is the content-related support in pedagogical everyday life and in dealing with hitherto unfamiliar pedagogical ways of working, such as mixed-age groups or open work. Employers must promote and demand the language acquisition of immigrated professionals. At the same time, they need to create a supportive learning environment through training that allows their new colleagues to find their place in the local landscape of the kindergarten. On the employer’s side, this requires the development of coherent concepts. Let's get going and keep it up!
Almut Schreiber is Quality Manager and Educational Consultant at rainbowtrekkers Kita gGmbH in Cologne. She supports foreign pedagogical professionals on their way to day care centres in Cologne and advises the employer's bilingual, multinational teams.