A School Leader's Guide: 9 Ways to Effectively Engage ELL Families

As schools implement and utilize more technology solutions, challenges surface in reaching English Language Learner (ELL) families. Some ELL families may feel apprehensive about getting involved because of their limited English skills, lack of exposure to technology, or their unfamiliarity with mainstream culture and the public school system in the United States. However, it is important that schools understand and make efforts to include ELL parents as they bring a level of dedication regarding their commitment to the school community. Below are some ways to identify the barriers to reaching ELLs around technology, and increase the likelihood of their participation in school communities.

Part I: Laying the foundation for technology adoption

1. Create a welcoming environment

How welcoming is your school environment for ELL families? When an ELL family walks into your office, how many bilingual staff do you have there? Do you have some bilingual greeters in the morning? Is school information being translated at the school and class level?

Face to face interactions become an important cultural factor in helping ELL families understand the technology being used at the school and class level. Some schools have a paid or volunteer bilingual parent coordinator who becomes a trusted resource that parents feel comfortable asking questions and expressing concerns to. Coffee with the principal, ELL home meetings, and translators for school meetings encourage this dialogue with ELL families around adopting technology. 

These added measures go a long way to ensure ELL families that they are a valued part of your school community and helps them get accustomed to all channels of school communication.

  • Bilingual parent coordinator
  • ELL home meetings
  • Translators for school meetings

2. Integrate culture in classrooms and at school

Help ELL families feel welcome by integrating cultural dimensions into your school community. Creating a welcoming cultural environment helps ELL families feel more respected and connected. Do your ELL families feel comfortable at your school? Do the pictures and artwork in the office and in classrooms accurately represent them?

When families see more cultural integrations, whether it be a picture on the wall or a flag from their country, they feel like a valued member of the community. Do your teachers integrate cultural history and holidays in lesson plans? Integrated cultural lesson plans are great for students to learn cultures of all types and to share with their parents that the school really cares and respects every culture.

  • Display pictures and artwork that represents diversity
  • Integrate cultural history and holidays in lesson plans
  • Display maps and flags from your students’ native countries

Part II: Addressing Barriers

3. Include ELL families with new technologies

Schools and Districts are implementing new technology all the time. Often ELL families are not included in the conversation when new technology is introduced. ELL families need to understand the value this technology will bring to their child or family before they may be willing to cross the technology gap that sometimes exists.

When schools or districts roll out new technology whether it is a communication portal or an iPad program, email logins and mandatory registration become barriers with ELL families.

Many ELL families may not have an email or a computer, but we see that most families have a smartphone. Hence, along with email notifications, try to use text messages and app notifications for parent communication.

Anytime a new technology is rolled out, provide a bilingual coordinator who can help walk ELL families through the process of signing up and logging in. Back to school nights and open house are a great opportunity for teachers to set up displays in home language and help parents with downloading the app and logging in. Registration that requires an email becomes a barrier.

  • Adopt technology that allows use of smart phones instead of computers, and cell number instead of email
  • Educate families about the value the technology will bring to the child
  • Use displays in home language at back to school night to encourage registration when adopting new technology

Download the full eBook to learn: 

9 strategies you can try at your school to increase the likelihood of participation at your school with ELL families. 

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