Five Ways to Engage Parents of ELL Students

Five Ways to Engage Parents of ELL Students
The Editorial Team November 1, 2013

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Engaging with the parents of ELL students, also known as English Language Learners,  is vital to helping these pupils succeed.

Parental involvement is the backbone of a child’s education, and this is especially true of ELL students who are challenged by language barriers. These five suggestions should smooth the process:

1. Connect with ELL students’ families

One important key to success with ELL programs is actively connecting with families. Waiting around for them to connect with your program will not work. Put in the time to learn about parents’ cultural traditions and educational characteristics. Work on developing a personal, one-on-one approach with each family.

You’ll need creativity and ingenuity to strengthen the relationship between the school and home environments of ELL students. Work on building a partnership based on mutual respect that empowers parents to contribute their talents and experience to their children’s education.

If you become involved in ELL students’ neighborhood activities, you may meet unexpected contacts like community leaders who can then put you in touch with more parents of ELL students.

2. Ensure the effective communication of important school information

Make certain that ELL families receive all of the school’s scheduling and other important information in their native language—not just in English—to ensure they “get the message.”

Some people mistakenly believe that using the family’s native language does them a disservice because they really need to learn English. But studies confirm that strong native-language skills actually contribute to the academic success of an ELL student.

When parents understand the school’s information, they can more effectively support their children’s understanding of it.

3. Tailor your approach to the family’s cultural traditions

Use what you learned when you established contact with the family to embrace their cultural norms. For instance, people of Hispanic heritage might have a slightly different interpretation of the role of school.

For example, at teacher conferences, Hispanic parents might seem more interested in their child’s behavior than in his or her grades. Don’t worry, they are not being insensitive to the child’s needs; they are simply expressing their social customs- that education is more about teaching moral and behavioral controls than it is about achieving academic milestone requirements.

The key is seeing that this is a two-way street where both viewpoints are valid. Do whatever it takes to empower them to participate in their child’s education.

4. Get parents involved in school activities

For starters, all parents can monitor the completion of their children’s homework. But they can also be encouraged to visit the classroom and perhaps even to speak to the class.

They also can volunteer in the lunchroom, the office, the library or wherever there is a need. Involving a child’s parents in the school’s activities is the clearest message of all that parents are expected to have a large role in their children’s education.

5. Formulate a plan to encourage parental engagement

Think about alternative scheduling. Sometimes families of ELL students (and the students for that matter) are subject to scheduling limitations that are not immediately apparent or common to other populations. Students may be working jobs for several hours after class. Parents may be working multiple jobs. Guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Meet the people. Learn their heritage, their problems, and their strengths.
  • Schedule conferences and meetings according to the family’s available time.
  • Solicit the ideas of the ELL community.
  • While you are at it, don’t forget to ask the students what their parents need most to become more involved.
  • Research your community for translation possibilities and input from community leaders.
  • Formulate your plan around identified strengths as well as needs.

Education is everyone’s business, not just that of educators. Encouraging the contributions of ELL families is one more way to help schools work for the betterment of the entire community.

Want to learn more ways to have a successful ELL program? Our ESOL MEd degree concentration gives you the knowledge and best practices to develop helpful instructional strategies for ELL students. 

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Categorized as: Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Tagged as: ESOL