Five Ways to Involve ESOL Parents in School and Community
Encouraging and Embracing Family and Culture
By Melody Johnson, Curriculum Developer and Writer in Georgia
Imagine entering a new country. New language. New foods. Strangers. And to be expected to navigate through the community and still make friends.
Doesn’t sound so easy, right?
Well, this might be the life of an ESOL student and parent that might be entering your classroom. A classroom is full of different items, people, customs, and possibly even different rules from their last school.
We always focus on the student’s needs, but we also need to support these same parents. From helping the parents, the parents can offer additional support to their child.
Here are several ways we can assist parents in being involved in the school and community:
1) Introduce Parents to a School Liaison
School liaisons don’t just help with translations. They assist with making sure the family can locate things in the community, get them involved in school functions and within the PTA, and even help find additional resources for the school.
Now every school culture is different, but a school liaison can also assist in helping that family connect with other families just like them — such as culturally or just a new family that is also new to the school.
If a parent shares the same language, it can be a breath of fresh air, even a relief. A relief knowing that there is someone they can ask basic questions such as, “How do I know how to pick up my child in a carpool lane?” to, “How to I know what to study at home with my child?”
2) Ensure Clear Communication to Parents
When I first started teaching, I had a parent from overseas come to my classroom and came on a day that both teachers and students were off from school. This parent was only in our school for two days.
I primarily used email and an app called Remind to help remind my parents about days off. This parent was new to the school and had the only been there for two days. I asked the child if they had access to technology and they said, “We don’t have internet. We go to the library to check the email on the weekends.”
So, my first rookie mistake — don’t assume that all families have access to technology.
I felt terrible knowing I was not able to help that parent at that time. From that point, I realized that I needed to start communicating a different way and not just by email. Be more proactive and pick up the phone and call the parents.
The following week, we had a snowstorm — It was called Snowmageddon (not sure if you remember this from a few years back)! The news forecast predicted snow for the entire week. I called this parent directly and explained to them that this is bad weather and that they needed to pick up their child. Now, this parent spoke broken English, but I made an effort to say critical words like bad weather in their language. I downloaded Google Translate to help me with this conversation. That parent understood and picked their child up in ten minutes.
Many of the parents welcomed this small gesture because they know that the teacher cares for their well-being.
I know that it is not possible to do this for every single parent. But for the parents that cannot speak any English, I would try to establish a friendly demeanor so they know that they can come to you for anything.
It especially gives a welcoming touch that you care enough to call about their child.
Now that many families are given the option to use a hybrid method of learning, many districts are offering laptops to use at home for children. Some districts have even partnered with selected internet providers to connect families with internet access for free. To find out more information to connect families with internet access speak with your school principal.
3) Remind Parents with Handwritten Notes
There is something about getting something handwritten notes. I know email is so much faster, and as teachers, we need to be efficient with our time. But it is something unique to that person of getting a handwritten note. Especially if it just says one small thing that their child did that was nice in class that day.
I want you to think, when was the last time someone wrote you a handwritten note? How did it make you feel? Did you get a warm feeling? Chances are, they will get the same sense too.
If you cannot do a handwritten note, a small note, even on a post-it note, will do. If you do not have access to any of these things due to remote learning, sending a short email saying you miss seeing their child in class can make a parent feel welcomed.
4) Watch and Help
Sometimes, parents may not have access to medical or dental insurance or sometimes needing necessities such as clothing for the season or food.
How would you know this family might be in need?
I would observe for things like a child coming into school wearing the same clothing (perhaps the clothes are not clean), clothing that is too small, holes in sneakers. Things like this can indicate that the family has a need.
An example would be finding out if the child is always hungry for breakfast — sometimes trying to take food home without asking. In this case, you can reach out to the parents to do a “check -in” to see if they need anything and offer food from the school’s pantry (Yes, some schools have a food pantry for families in need) or direct them to a local church that has a pantry available to them. Another indication is if there is a field trip coming up, and the student says my mom said she does not have the money for the trip or is not working. Some of those are indications that this family may need support.
If you are not sure about where to begin, start by asking your school social worker first. When families first come into the school, they usually are notified first about the situation with families. The school social worker will have all the paperwork and may even be able to connect with people in the community that can help with these services and more.
They need that support. Sometimes parents may not even know where to find the medical/ dental help required to be healthy. Sometimes it is a matter of feeling humiliated and not wanting to seem that they cannot provide for their family.
Small gestures like this can help parents to feel even more welcomed at the school.
5) Extend an Invitation to School Activities and Events
Many times, parents may think that they can’t contribute because they may not know English well. Extend a personal invitation to them. Explain you need volunteers — even virtual volunteers — and they can participate with ease. I have done this with several parents, and those families have thrived after one school event. Either they had a lot of fun, or they met more people and did not feel isolated and made connections with others.
Making parents feel welcome by introducing them to a school liaison, providing clear communication to the parents, giving handwritten notes, and extending an invite to a school event will make your parents grow in that area. By helping the parent, we can nurture the growth of that child.
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.
Melody Johnson is a curriculum developer, educator, writer, lover of coffee hot or cold, reading, writing, and baking. She is a proclaimed supermom, combustible content creator, and aspiring future pet lover of two Sphinx cats or hermit crabs, old or young! Born a New Yorker, but living and loving the Southern life in Georgia, she is married, with three amazing kids. You’ll find them all curled up watching a fun cooking show rooting for the underdog or playing some extreme game of rock paper scissors or UNO in the kitchen! She is the CEO and Founder of Loving Literacy, a company dedicated to eliminate frustration to parents working remotely and being “teacher”, empowering children and boosting the self confidence of children with reading challenges. Reach out to Melody for a free lesson and free consultation on Twitter @lovelit01, Instagram@LoveLiteracy01 and Facebook Loving Literacy01.
What I Learned While Teaching in the Dominican Republic
An American teacher’s transition to teaching English abroad.
Five Structured Language Approaches for English Learners
By Marine Freibrun, Fifth Grade Teacher in California