Monday, September 11, 2023

What's the Best Reason for Using a Parent Communication Letter?

Parent communication is crucial for teachers working with English Language Learners.  But for the first couple of years that I taught at my K-8 school, almost none of the parents of my English Learners came to my classroom during our Open Houses at the beginning of the year or for quarterly parent conferences when report cards came out. It was very discouraging to sit in my room for 2 hours and have no one visit. In this blog post, I'm going to share the easy-to-implement things I did to change that.

Teacher sitting at left talking to father and child at a parent-teacher conference
Sending letters home to ELL families increases their participation in school functions; source: The ESL Nexus

The Importance of a Parent Communication Letter

I realized I had to do something if I wanted my students’ families to come to the school. So I started reaching out to them. I made phone calls home and I got permission from my principal to send letters home.
What a difference that made! Suddenly, I had a steady flow of parents and caregivers visit me. I was able to explain what their kids would be learning, show them the textbooks we’d be using, how I’d be grading the students’ work, show them the weekly progress form I’d be using to update them on how their children were doing in my class, and tell them how to access my class website where they could find out what the homework assignments were and other important info.
From then on, I always sent home a letter when there was an important school function. I’d learned that making that extra effort was necessary because many of my ELL families were not used to being much involved in their children’s education. They came from cultures that highly respected teachers, expected teachers to know and do what was best for students, and therefore took a hands-off approach to their kids’ education.
Far from being uninterested or not caring about their children’s education, as many teachers in my building thought because most Multilingual Language Learners’ families didn’t show up for Open Houses or optional report card conferences, they just needed to understand why it was important and helpful for them to participate in school activities. Since that wasn’t something they were accustomed to doing, when I reached out to them and extended a personal invitation, that made them feel comfortable coming to school functions.

Parent Communication Tips for Open Houses and Conferences

When they came to my room, I always told them that we were partners in teaching their kids. I explained that I’d be in touch with them regularly and together we would help their kids achieve success in school. So I made a point of letting them know when their kids had done something well, and didn't contact them only when there was a problem.
And don’t let being unable to speak your students’ languages stop you. Many of my students’ families found it hard to communicate in English, but they usually brought someone who was more fluent in English to help us communicate with each other. Once, when a Turkish mother who didn’t know any English came to see me, we used Google Translate to communicate; it made mistakes but we laughed and managed to get our points across in spite of that. Your ELL families, perhaps more than others because they know it’s challenging, will be grateful that you make the effort to keep them informed about their children.

When to Send a Parent Communication Letter Home

Besides open houses and report card conferences, here are some other times it’s helpful to contact MLL families directly and not rely on an impersonal announcement sent home to all students:

* Field trips, especially if you’re looking for chaperones

* Evening activities, such as game nights or holiday fairs

* International or multicultural nights, especially if food from various cultures is included
* School plays

* Concerts

* Book fairs, if families are allowed to go to them

* Special end of the year activities such as field days, especially if chaperones are needed
Another thing to keep in mind is that school activities are often in the evening, when many adults are working. Eventually, my school started adding afternoon conference times but that still didn’t accommodate everyone’s schedule. So one year, when I really wanted to talk to a mother who was unable to come to the school during the regularly-scheduled time, I got permission to do a virtual conference via Skype. This was long before Zoom was a thing and no one else in my school had ever done such a conference. But it worked great. So thinking outside the box and figuring out workarounds to get your students’ families involved is another thing I encourage you to do.

Results of Using a Parent Communication Form for Teachers

Making that extra effort to get my MLL families to come to the school was well worth it. To save you the time of having to write up your own letter, I’ve recreated the one I sent home. It’s customizable, meaning you can add your own info to it, but it’s not completely editable. There are both print and digital versions.
When you buy this resource, you’ll also get versions of the parent contact information sheet I used at open houses and the parent communication log I used for report card conferences – because eventually I had lots of families attend and I needed to keep track of who was coming and when they were coming.
Being able to collaborate with my ELL students’ families to help their children be successful in my class was the best reason for using a parent communication letter and other forms. I hope these tips and parent communication templates for teachers help increase attendance by your students' families at school functions, too.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Shop the TPT Bonus Back to School Sale for Great Discounted Deals

Today and tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday, August 29th and 30th, TPT is having a bonus Back to School sale.  Woo hoo – another chance to stock up on great beginning of the year resources!
Everything in my store, The ESL Nexus, is 20% off, including bundles.  Plus, when you use promo code BTSBONUS23, you’ll get an additional 5% off when you check out.  That means you’ll get 25% off everything in my store!

Announcement ot TPT sale on August 29-30, 2023 in centered white circle, which os overlaid on color clipart of school-themed images.
Find great Back to School resources at The ESL Nexus!
My store has lots of resources that are useful at the start of the new school year.  You can see all of them HERE.

I uploaded a brand new resource last night and if you have English Learners who are beginners or at are a low-intermediate level, I think you’ll be interested in it.  It’s a “roll and respond” dice activity – students roll dice and then answer questions on cards based on the numbers they rolled.  This activity helps develop speaking and writing skills.  An editable digital version is also included.  You can find out more and buy it HERE.

Cover image of Roll Dice & Answer Questions resource for beginner & intermediate proficiency level English Language Learners
You can purchase this resource HERE
Happy shopping!


Monday, August 14, 2023

5 Ways to Establish Positive Student Teacher Relationships

Building positive student teacher relationships at the beginning of a new school year is like playing in a table tennis tournament for the first time.  When I played in my first official tournament a few weeks ago, it reminded me of how Multilingual Learners of English and other students feel when they go to a new school for the first time.

teacher in middle school classroom standing over a girl & 2 boys sitting at their desks and helping them do their work; a world map is on the wall behind them.
Graphic created by The ESL Nexus

What's the Connection between a Table Tennis Tournament and Building Positive Student Teacher Relationships?

Although my family had a ping pong table in our basement and I played ping pong when I was teaching in Wuhan, China, and after moving to Arizona I found a local club to play with, I was very nervous about going to the tournament.  Just like students usually are when they have to go to a new school, even though they have prior experience in other schools (unless they’re students with limited or interrupted formal education).

The tournament was in Phoenix and I had to drive 2 hours to get there. Fortunately, Google Maps did not lead me astray and I arrived in plenty of time. But walking to school might be just as nerve-wracking for some students as it was for me to navigate the highways of the 5th largest city in the U.S.

Inside, the venue was similar but much bigger than where I normally play. School buildings differ significantly around the world so even though the purpose is the same, the physical layout can be very different. A new school might feel a bit off-kilter to students because they know it’s school, yet it’s not school like they’re used to.

I know the rules for playing table tennis but I didn’t know how they’d be implemented for the tournament.  Once I found out how things were going to work there, I felt a lot more comfortable.  Norms dictate what’s acceptable student behavior in school but if students come from other countries or cultural backgrounds, they may need to be told explicitly what the expectations are because the norms for US schools may not be the same as what they're familiar with.

Suggestions for How Teachers Can Establish Positive Student Relationships

So I’d like to offer the following suggestions to help your English Learners feel comfortable in your classroom. Implementing them will help you establish good teacher student relationships and get the year started off in a positive way.

1) Find a personal connection to your students’ countries or cultures

Find something about their country or culture that shows students you can relate to them. Maybe you’ve visited their country, maybe you have a family connection to someone’s country, maybe your best friend in college lived in one of your students’ countries. If that’s the case, let your students know!

All these examples were true for me and I don't think it's a coincidence that I am still in touch with some of those students, even, in one case, more than 15 years after she was in my class.

2) Let students know you want to learn about their heritage

If you can't find a personal connection to ELLs’ cultures or countries, just expressing interest in their cultural backgrounds can help build positive teacher relationships with students.  Food is a great way to do this.

Many of my students came from the Dominican Republic or their parents did, but I have never been there. The kids often talked about the food they ate at home and what they liked and didn't like. They couldn't believe I didn't know what sancocho was.  Finally, some parents cooked it for me so I would know first-hand how delicious it was. (Fyi, it's a stew with meat, tubers, vegetables, and bananas.)

Discussing how holidays are celebrated is another way to do this.

3) Say students’ names correctly

In China, it was common for students to give themselves English names to use in their language classes. Part of the reason was because English names were easier for foreign teachers to pronounce and remember.

But those students were adults. With younger learners in elementary and secondary school, I think it’s real important to use their given names and not give them nicknames or anglicize their names.

Making an effort to pronounce their names correctly shows you respect them for who they are and where they come from.

4) Become aware of differences in body language and non-verbal communication patterns

I learned very early on that when my Latin American students kept their eyes on the floor when I was talking to them, they were showing me respect. But some teachers misinterpreted that and thought the kids were being disrespectful, so I had to explain it was just the opposite.

Also, in many cultures, people stand closer to each other than is typically the case in the U.S. and that’s just normal for them and shouldn’t be interpreted as being aggressive; that was another thing I had to explain to some teachers.

5) Learn how to say Hello, Thank you, and/or Good-bye in your students’ languages

Knowing how to say just one of these phrases shows students that you’re interested in getting to know who they are. And don’t worry if you can’t say the words correctly! That’s actually fine because it shows students they don’t have to worry about pronouncing English correctly. It lets students know that it’s okay to make mistakes when speaking and the important thing is just to try.

If you want to learn some greetings, I have several poster resources that say "Hello" and "Welcome" in many languages. You can display them in your classroom or hallway; some teachers even put them around the door to their room.  As Kristin N. said, “Great way to make everyone feel welcome in our class! Cute design as well.”

These versions of the posters are in money-saving mini-bundles but you can also get each product separately:
Welcome and Hello posters – Gold Star theme (new!)
Welcome and Hello posters – Mini Stars theme (new!)
Welcome and Hello posters – Polka Dot theme (one of my most popular products)

Effects of Building Positive Student Teacher Relationships

The effects of building positive student teacher relationships at the beginning of the school year are clear.  Letting students share their cultures fosters pride in who they are and gives them self-confidence.

My students saw that I was genuinely curious about their cultures and my connection with them was strengthened.  That made my teaching easier and a lot more fun.


Monday, July 31, 2023

Shop the TPT Back to School Sale for Great Deals at a Discount!

It's time for TPT’s Back to School sale! 


The sale starts Tuesday, August 1st, at 12:01am Eastern time.  It ends Wednesday, August 2nd,  at 11:59om Eastern time. 

Everything in my store will, as usual, be 20% off. The promo code for getting an additional 5% off at checkout is BTS23. So you’ll save 25% on everything in my store, including already-discounted bundles, during the sale. Yay!

Image of school objects overlaid on graph paper, with Sale announcement & details at top and bottom of image.
Find these & more great resources at The ESL Nexus

Helpful Resources (just click on the titles for more info):

* Multilingual Welcome and Hello Posters

Posters in many languages that say Welcome or Hello are available in borders with polka dots, crayons, large stars, or little stars.  You can get individual products that just offer one greeting, or money-saving bundles that include various combinations of groups of resources.  You can see all the poster resources HERE.

* Back to School-Beginning of the Year Bundle
This collection of 11 resources will save you lots of time at the start of the new school year! It includes lesson plans, sign in forms for open houses and family conferences, an "All About Me" activity for students, rubrics and checklists to make grading student work easier, progress report forms to send home to families, and much more.  You can find the bundle HERE.

* Posters about American Holidays
If you have a lot of students in your class who come from other countries, these 18 posters introduce them to U.S. American culture in an engaging way.  Written so English Learners at intermediate levels of proficiency and up can understand them, they also include grammar and writing tasks.  Find our more about them HERE.

* Whole Year Word Search & Crossword Puzzles
The days before holidays can be hectic!  These puzzles are fun but also help students learn vocab words about each holiday.  There are 3 different levels of difficulty for the word searches and the crossword puzzles all include word banks.  Answer keys are provided for all 19 holiday puzzles in this money-saving bundle.  Learn more HERE.

Enjoy the sale and best wishes for a great year!