Holding an Effective Group Meeting with Parents of ELLs
by Monica Schnee, Judie Haynes
Do you want to hold a group meeting for the parents of your English language learners to help them learn about your school? Learn how to involve parents in their children's education.
As ESL professionals we believe in respecting the cultures of our students. We also want our linguistically and culturally diverse families to learn to navigate the U.S. school culture. Parents of our English language learners must make some modifications to their own practices and perspectives in order to help their children fit into our school culture. An essential part of our role as advocates of ELLs is to reach out to those parents. One way to do this is to hold an ESL or bilingual program parent meeting in school. In some states, this meeting is mandated by state law. In many ESL districts, there may be a large number of different languages backgrounds and it is not possible to hold a meeting in native language. What is involved in a meeting held in English for parents of ELLs? How can you make it successful?
Holding An Effective ESL Parent Meeting
The overall objective to holding a meeting for the parents of ELLs is to help them understand your school's culture and procedures;and to improve communication between school staff and parents.
Here are some of the reasons to hold a meeting:
- to talk about issues that come up involving the school and the parents of ELLs. For example, an issue that I had to bring up with parents every year was explaining to parents our school's policy on keeping children at home when they are sick.
- to help parents and teachers communicate more effectively. A welcoming and nonthreatening environment must be established in order for ELL parents to feel comfortable about expressing their concerns.
- to learn how parents and teachers have different ways of achieving the same goal. School personnel needs to learn to emphathize with ELL parents. This is all new and unknown to them.
- to make everyone's job easier. Reaching out to parents of ELLs can accomplish this.
First, letters should be sent to teachers asking them to explain the areas of difficulty they have when communicating with the parents. One year a kindergarten teacher told me that one of her students did not bring Valentines to school for the kindergarten party despite a letter in native language. The mother had told the child "no Valentines." She obviously did not understand the importance of having her child participate in the social life of the school. Now this is always mentioned at our school ELL parent meetings.
Second, letters of invitation should be sent to the parents of ELLs in native language, if possible. You will also send a reminder letter the day before the meeting. Or better yet, have a native speaker call parents on the phone to remind them.
For the meeting, you should have handouts in English with translations that include a synopsis of the topics of the meeting so the parents have something to take back home with them.
Topics to cover
Here are some of the topics to cover at a meeting.
- The school’s ESL/bilingual program and its benefits
- Criteria for exiting students
- Clarification of school’s procedures and culture
- Stages of language acquisition: BICS and CALP
- State testing: the school’s expectations & parents’ expectations
- Report cards, study habits, parent/teacher conferences
When and if possible, you can invite a representative of the PTO to talk about their work and ask these parents to join. Include also the school nurse and your principal. It always gives greater weight and validity to your presentation if a principal or superintendent of schools speaks. You can also ask the community liaison from the police to explain traffic and other safety issues. You might want to stress that the police are trustworthy and are here to help us.
After the presentation, which is supported with visuals, the parents are divided into groups, with a translator. This translator could be hired or could be a parent. Parents are given pen and paper so they can write their questions and concerns. Many of them find it very hard to speak in front of an audience but feel comfortable writing and/or speaking in their own language in small groups. The written responses are great feedback for you to share with other teachers. Finally, answer the parents’ questions and try to keep in mind that they want to learn, that is why they came!
We are the cultural brokers, the facilitators between these families and our school community. We ask them “to do things our way” when what that means is asking them to understand and change the way they have done things all their lives.
© 1998-2010 Judie Haynes, www.everythingESL.net