A young immigrant family looks forward to a bright future for their children


How can your school welcome immigrant families and get them excited about their child’s education? What programs do you have that will help their children?

As a school leader, there are many ways you can help immigrant families be successful. This can be done by:

  • Creating  a culture of respect for ELLs and their families;
  •  Allocating resources on behalf of ELLs;
  • Encouraging the staff to keep trying creative approaches to reach them;
  • Leading the community in creating a school-wide action plan for engaging ELL families.

Engaged immigrant parents bring many benefits to the school community. They have so much to offer to each other, to the school, and to their children.

The importance of parent engagement

There is a difference between parent engagement and parent involvement. Parent involvement is when ideas and energy come from schools and government mandates. However, parent engagement gets everyone involved. Parents submit ideas to school staff. As a result, this can develop trusted relationships, and parent energy drives the effort.

This is important to remember when dealing with ELL parents. Allowing the parents to take the lead in their child’s education provides a solid basis for their future.

Parent engagement gets everyone involved!

Learn about your ELL population

Learning about ELL students and families is very important. Even a basic knowledge about students’ ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, or the situations from which they have come, can prove useful. For example, if you are in North Dakota and have a new group of refugees arriving from Iraq, staff should be alerted to their ELL families’ assets (such as resilience and an incredible will to survive) as well as challenges these families are facing (such as the lack of a winter wardrobe or post-traumatic stress disorder). This kind of background may even help avoid serious discipline situations.

  • Start first with your ELL/bilingual educators. Their experience can benefit the entire school community, and they will appreciate the opportunity to share their expertise! Your translation service may also have some resources in place.  Remember to find out what you can from the families themselves. You may want to include some of these questions in a survey or a very basic questionnaire that the parents fill out with the help of an interpreter.
  • Remember that your ELL population is not a one size fits all case. Even families from the same country may have vastly different educational, social and economic backgrounds. The child of a migrant worker from Mexico probably won’t have the same educational and personal needs as the child of a diplomat from Mexico. Try to find out what you can about each child’s unique circumstances. This can really help match your students with the services and support appropriate for their situation.

Integrate cultural traditions of your ELL Families throughout the school community

Becoming familiar with the cultural traditions of your ELL families can help create a welcoming and respectful school environment. Some benefits include:

  • Scheduling — If many of your families may be absent due to an important cultural celebration, it is worth scheduling important events such as exams or conferences around that day so that large numbers of students and parents don’t miss the event.
  • Improved communication — Learning about your students’ traditions may help avoid miscommunication or cultural blunders that can damage the school-home partnership. Staff may be uncomfortable discussing these topics at first, and may even resent the changes happening around them. However, open communication about cultural shifts that are taking place will make it easier for everyone to help create a more positive and accepting environment.

Create a welcoming environment for families

A welcoming school environment can make a tremendous difference for all families and especially for ELL families. Some things you might try include:

    • Displaying maps and scenery from your students’ native countries
    • Enlisting a bilingual morning greeter to get the day started on the right foot.
    • Creating a special area for families to gather such as an extra classroom or lounge
    • Encouraging teachers to create a welcoming classroom environment.

    Keep your ELLs visible. ELLs are often treated as an invisible minority, even though more and more schools’ success depends on their success. ELLs and their families should “see themselves” throughout the school, whether it’s on the walls through student work and photos, in the classroom with books and lessons that incorporate their experiences and traditions, in school-wide cultural activities, or in the faces of staff and volunteers who come from similar backgrounds. Remember, a friendly, vibrant atmosphere lets families know that they are valued members of the community. This is especially important for immigrant families who may be intimidated by the formal school environment and the English language needed to understand it.

Are there any other ways that your school has been effective at engaging immigrant parents?
Please let us know in the comments below!


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