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10 Ways to Connect with the Families of ELLs

null • Sep 13, 2022 11:36:13 AM • Written by: Nicole Service

Becoming engaged with ELL students’ families and caregivers is critical to their success in school. It might take a little effort, but it’s worth it! 


When teachers are able to let ELL families and students alike know they’re cared for, important, and welcome at school, student academic performance and Social-Emotional well-being is boosted.


Ways to reach ELLs at home


  1. 1. Make information accessible to multilingual students’ families and caregivers. 


Parent and caregiver materials, flyers, and information should be available in students’ native or home language. Don’t assume that parents or guardians are literate in English, or that providing materials in their native language somehow does ELLs and their families a disservice. Multilingual communication is a path to equity and will only make everyone feel welcome, and will only make information better understood. 


  1. 2. Encourage the parents  and caregivers to voluteer.  


Let ELL parents and guardians know that they’re welcome and valued. Their knowledge and language skills can only be an asset to the class environment, and they can provide essential translation help or aid in social language learning in a direct and meaningful way. 


That being said…


  1. 3.Make the classroom welcoming to everyone. 


Add cultural signifiers and language tools to your classroom to show ELLs are valued and taken care of. Are there posters on the walls with vocabulary terms in multiple languages? Are there flags or cultural items that represent more than the dominant culture? If not, take time to cultivate a classroom that takes ELLs and their families into consideration. 


It’s okay to ask students and parents what might be meaningful to them to avoid any displays that might feel inadvertently frivolous. 


  1. 4. Be sensitive to different schedules. 


Make sure you’re flexible with scheduling. Over half of ELLs come from low-income families, where parents and caregivers might work multiple jobs or jobs with unconventional hours. Some multilingual caregivers might not be able to meet during your standard conference times or parent hours. Be amenable and switch things up if necessary. Many ELL households want to be involved in student activities and engaged in their students’ progress, but life barriers might get in the way. 


This is true from a cultural standpoint as well. Being aware of significant holidays and dates when scheduling conferences or events can help ingrain meaningful cultural responsiveness into your interactions with ELL families, and show that you care about their lives

  1. 5. Have a family night.


Host a multicultural family night for parents and guardians of all students. Encourage students and parents to bring dishes that they cook at home. Providing an opportunity for parents, students, extended family, and teachers to connect can only strengthen the integral network of support that happens outside of school hours. 

  1. 6. Get involved in neighborhood activities, if possible. 


The life of an educator is already jam-packed, but if you are able, seek out or attend open community events and meetings where you might be able to engage with community leaders. Showing you care can foster trust and lead to a better understanding of what can be done to aid parents of ELLs and their home engagement. 


  1. 7. Learn the language. 


Equity and home engagement is not a one way street. Though the predominant term for multilingual students might be English Language Learner, learning English is more about emergent bilingualism or multilingualism than anything. The more language flows and is exchanged in the classroom, the better supported your ELLs will be. 


Taking the time to learn significant greetings, phrases, and words in your ELLs' home language can make them feel welcome, and lets them know that their native language is enriching to the overall classroom experience, and to you.

  1. 8. Build your awareness of differing customs and cultural values.  


The parents and guardians of ELLs might emphasize different facets of their child’s education than prevailing “norms.” 


The conversations you have with the parents of ELLs might be different than you’re used to; some families might prioritize a more collectivist approach to learning and be concerned with their student’s social engagement, or be more interested in their behavior in class than their academic progress. Education is not one size fits all. Thinking of cultural diversity as an asset to the classroom can help everyone succeed. 


Despite these differences in emphasis, it can be helpful to


  1. 9. Provide resources for parents to help their ELLs at home.

A pool of shared resources, like bilingual dictionaries and language tools, can help your ELL parents with homework support. These resources can also take less concrete forms, like providing tips for setting up a quiet homework corner, if possible, and helping build a homework schedule to prioritize this facet of learning. 

  1. 10. Don’t be afraid to ask your students about their families and caregivers.


Your multilingual students often have the best, most nuanced insight into how to connect and communicate with their families. Don’t be shy about asking them for their thoughts! 

Engaging with your ELL students at home isn’t just about homework support. The more parents, guardians, students, and educators work together and get to know one another, the more apt ELLs are to succeed. 


Nicole Service