Increase Parental Involvement at School

Although I teach ESL in New Jersey, I do not have the "typical" ESL population you may think of.   The majority of the English Language Learners in my teensy tiny district are Burmese Refugees who were born or fled to refugee camps in Malaysia and Thailand.  One of our students did a wonderful short film about the plight of the Kachin people in Burma, and it will give you a good glimpse into our student population.  I encourage you to take a minute and watch.

Everyone deServes to Learn
(Didn't she do a great job?! So proud!)
As you can see from the movie, our families have seen and experienced more trauma than anyone should ever have to.  Many parents are hesitant to come to school for a multitude of reasons.  What we have learned, however, is food is the great equalizer.  If you feed them, they will come. 

Everyone deServes to Learn

Everyone deServes to Learn

We also raffle off prizes at each event. Most of the prizes were things my partner and I picked up throughout the year on clearance and stored in a school supply closet.  Some are gently used items we know the kids will love.  We also gave away Walmart Gift Cards- those were the hot prizes!

Everyone deServes to Learn

We gave everyone who attended 1 raffle ticket, then we started our presentation.  Unfortunately our translator couldn't make it, but we made do.  Lots of gestures!  When all else fails, smile.  Just smile.

Everyone deServes to Learn

We showed a short powerpoint of pictures we had taken during summer school- the parents loved to see pictures of their kids!  

Everyone deServes to Learn

Something we noticed this year was that with the lack of a translator, parents were having trouble understanding the raffle numbers being called out.  Next year, we're going to use visual raffle cards, maybe different colored shapes or smiley faces.  We will do the oral numbers for the kids to practice, but we will differentiate for the parents.  

Everyone deServes to Learn

This year we set up a market of gently used clothing as well.  After our presentation, we let the parents take whatever they needed.

Everyone deServes to Learn

Everyone deServes to Learn

The first step in involvement is getting them comfortable with us and building trust.  Rather than drop and run, we have parents who will stay and wave to us at the door- that is a huge improvement over a few years ago, when we never saw any parents.  Small steps but good steps!

 If you'd like to set up a parent orientation with English Language Learners, here are some things we've learned over the past few years: 

1. Get the students involved by translating the note home
2.  Offer an incentive (food and/or prizes)
3. Think about crowd control- we had the students itching to get to the prizes...we should have kept the kids outside/in another classroom until prize time
4. Have a backup translator who is not a student. 
5. Have plenty of plastic bags for parents to take things home.
6. Keep your presentation short.  If you think it's short enough, make it shorter.  
7. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures!
8. We all smile in the same language.

What do you do to engage the parents in your classroom?  Have you had a parent orientation with tips to share?


  1. This just makes me SMILE! What a wonderful way to get the parents involved. I believe every school with ESOL kids should read this and try it. I just LOVE all of it!! XOOXX
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  2. I thought your student did an EXCELLENT job on her presentation!

  3. I find that food and free prizes are the best ways to get any parents in the school. We definitely used free books to get parents at our parent informational night. Your student's video was beautiful. Heartbreaking, but beautiful!

    Eclectic Educating


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