After years working with English Language Learners of all demographics, I've put together a list of the best and simplest ways I've been able to reach parents. This is by no means a one-size fits all list (nothing is, when it comes to ELL's!), but it contains some of the strategies that have worked for me.
1. We know that time is an issue for many families. At our parent nights, my teammate and I focus on 3 or 4 pressing issues (which are related to each other) so as not to overwhelm our families.
Some issues we've put together in the past are:
school uniforms, hygiene, school safety
supply lists, reading at home, talking to your child
internet safety, stranger-danger, telling a teacher
homework, grades, report cards
We've found that by focusing on just a few issues, we can spend more time answering parent questions and providing student-tailored suggestions. This makes our presentations much more personal, and allows the parents time to digest the important facts rather than struggle with minute details.
2. If you feed them, they will come. Click the links to read about the incentives at our End of Summer School Party or our annual Christmas party, which have become annual traditions at school.
Don't worry if you have a small budget, or no budget at all- providing incentives doesn't have to stretch your wallet. We ask for donations from our faculty and school community, and receive most of our clothes and raffle prizes that way. If you have a few dollars in your budget, do like my teammate and I: we scour dollar store shelves and clearance racks throughout the year for possible prizes, and hoard them away in our classrooms.
Food and snacks can be donated too! Ask your PTA or HSA for help with food for a large event, or for a smaller event, just put out pretzels and bottled water. Food is a universal ice-breaker, and having something to munch on makes everyone happy happy happy!
3. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Possibly two thousand, depending on how many languages are spoken at your school! In all our communications with our parents, we try to follow the 90/10 rule: 90% visual, 10% words.
Here's a great example of the 90/10 rule: One day the school nurse called me in my classroom. She had been having trouble getting in touch with a refugee family for a dentist appointment. She had been sending home form after form, but nothing was coming back. What could she do?
Go back one sentence and read these words: sending home form after form. Therein lies the problem. ELL parents (at least in my school) are not able to read a form that looks like this, much less fill it out.
So how did I solve the problem? I made a note to go home with explicit images and words my ELL student could read and understand. It's not cute and there are no fancy fonts, but it gets the job done with 90% visuals and 10% words. (Usually, we include the student's name and put the phone number/address for the dentist as well.) This format can be modified for any sort of appointment the family needs to make, as well as for a school conference- just swap out the images as needed.
4. Make your Open House play a double role by inviting important community organizations to attend. Think of the resources your families need access to: is it the local Goodwill? is it a library card? is it an understanding of safety laws? Consider contacting your local police department for a mini DARE session, or your fire department for a tour of a fire truck. Connecting your families with the resources available in your area is something our parents are always grateful for; without a guiding hand, many are unaware of the services that are out there!
5. At our Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, we invite the faculty and staff to help serve food and act as crowd control. The students are always so excited to see their teachers outside of the classroom setting, and it shows the parents that the teachers care about their children.
Over time, these strategies have made our ELL parents more comfortable in the school setting and more invested in their childrens' education. However, this is by no means an overnight solution! It takes time, effort, and commitment.
Do you have a hard time with parent involvement at your school? Tell me all about it! I'd love to hear if you have used any of these strategies, or are planning to this school year. Leave a comment or, if you have questions about increasing parental involvement, send me an email!