Monday, October 2, 2017

8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement

I had to make a special effort to get the parents of my English Language Learners involved in school activities.  Not knowing English, or thinking they didn't know it well enough, kept a lot of the parents of my ELLs from attending parent-teacher conferences.  A lot of my students' parents worked second or third shift so they couldn't come to any night-time or even afternoon activities, such as beginning-of-the-year open houses, unless they took time off from their jobs but most couldn't afford to lose that pay.  Transportation was also an issue; one parent didn't have a car because she had moved with her 6th grade daughter to the suburban district in which I worked and couldn't afford the taxi fare to the school.

A child's first teacher is its mother.
Read more at:
A child's first teacher is its mother.
Read more at:
A child's first teacher is its mother.
Read more at:
However, we all know it’s essential to get parents and caregivers involved because then their children do better in school.

8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement in School | The ESL Nexus
Read on to find out how to keep your ELL parents & caregiver informed; source: The ESL Nexus
So, how did I get the parents of my Grade 5 - 8 students involved?  (And by involved, I mean coming to open houses and parent conferences.)  Here's what I did:

* I sent home personal invitations to open houses, in addition to those sent by the principal's office.  I wrote up a letter, got it approved by my principal, had it translated into Spanish by the parent liaison and then sent it home with my students.  Once I started doing that, attendance by my ELL parents and caregivers skyrocketed at the school open houses as well as for parent-teacher conferences.

* I used my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish to communicate with parents who didn't know English, used GoogleTranslate with a Turkish parent, and greeted parents in whatever language they spoke to make them more comfortable.  Doing this also showed them that although my knowledge of certain languages was limited, I wasn't afraid to use them and make mistakes and look silly.  Therefore they shouldn't be nervous or embarrassed when using English, either.

* With parents who weren't able to attend parent conferences in person, I arranged to Skype with them at their convenience.  I'm pretty sure I was the only teacher in my building who did that when I first started doing it.  Another plus for doing video chats is that I got a glimpse of my students’ homes, which was really interesting.

* I made sure to email more positive notes home than negative ones, so when I did have to tell the parents and caregivers something not-so-good about their children, it was easier for them to accept hearing it because they had already developed a relationship with me.  I also sent home little paper notes that I bought from a teacher supply store with complimentary sayings on them, for when students did especially nice or good things in class.

* At the open house, I showed parents my teacher website and how to find the webpage where I posted all my homework assignments.  For the parents who weren’t able to make it in person, I emailed them the information.  Teachers at my school weren't required to have websites and not all of them did.  But knowing the homework assignments were posted online meant that students couldn't say they forgot it or there wasn't any, which some kids tried to do.  I know that some parents did go to the website to check for homework because on occasion they asked.

* As the years went on, I sent home a form on Fridays that gave an overview of how each student did that week in their class with me.  (Click here to see the resource in my TpT store.)  There were times when I didn't send it home because we had a shortened week or, well, I just didn't get around to filling it out for everyone, and a couple parents would then email me to ask where it was!  So I took that to mean it was a successful tool for keeping parents informed and involved.

8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement in School | The ESL Nexus
For more info about this resource, please click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus

* In the last two years I worked at that school, I had my 7th and 8th graders create electronic portfolios.  Whenever they finished a unit or project, they uploaded something about it to their portfolio.  I then shared the links with their families so the adults would know what their kids had been doing in my class.

* I asked the parents to call me by my first name.  I always found it odd when they called me Ms/Miss/Mrs (it varied!) when I considered us to be equal partners in the education of their children.  Doing that helped to close the distance between us and put the relationship on a more informal footing, which I think enhanced our communication.  I’ve listed this tip last but I think it might just be the most important one of all.

I really enjoyed working with my students’ parents and I think they sensed that.  Conferences were supposed to just 10 minutes but I usually spent at least twice as much time with them.  (I took that into consideration when building my schedule so there wouldn’t be any issues.)  In some cases, I had visited the country the parents came from or I had some other connection to the country and that also helped bridge the gap because I made sure to let them know how much I enjoyed visiting there.

It did take a fair amount of time and effort but the results were clear, when compared to before I started doing these things.  In fact, I had such a positive relationship with the mother of one of my students that when I told her I was moving to Arizona, she started crying and told me how much she appreciated everything I had done for her and her daughter.  Hearing that, I teared up and knew that all the work I’d put in to keeping my ELL families informed about school was well worth it.

If you’d like more information about getting your ELL families involved with school activities, please follow my Pinterest board that is dedicated to this topic.  Just click here to follow it.