Engaging and Celebrating Families of ELL Students

Communication, Community, Diversity, Engagement / /

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Savannah Staley, a Possip reporter, and former English teacher, shares ideas about engaging and celebrating families of ELL students in your school community.

When you walk into a new community, what is it you notice first? A warm smile, or a familiar face? Or perhaps it’s an empathetic response or access to helpful resources? These are questions to consider when we think about how families feel when they engage with our school communities. 

It’s also important to acknowledge that while the needs of our families vary, their experience matters. This means we need to consider the various languages, cultures, and backgrounds of our students and families. This is especially important for school communities with a high population of families of English Language Learners. Here are a few ideas to support engaging and celebrating our families of English Language Learners:

Translate Documentation, Resources, and Communication

At the beginning of the year, use survey tools, personal phone calls home, or other communication platforms to find out what languages families are speaking at home. Make a commitment to share important information in the appropriate home language. When sending students home with printed materials, offer all students the option to choose the language that’s best for them and their families. This encourages both inclusivity and student choice.

Provide Training in Multiple Languages

As we continue to move forward into a digital world, parents are being asked to navigate more online platforms. If your school community holds trainings on platforms such as Google Classroom or Illuminate, include these trainings in multiple languages that accurately reflect your student population.

Mindfully Hire Bilingual Teachers and Staff

Our teachers and staff should represent our student body as much as possible. If you have a high population of families of English Language Learners at your school, consider intentionally hiring teachers and staff who are bilingual and speak the same home languages as your students. This creates a more positive experience for both your students and their families. Additionally, it allows for clear communication between families, teachers, and leadership. If the majority of your school population speaks 2-3 predominant languages, consider hiring a translator(s), to welcome and support families. This also eases the responsibility of your bilingual staff and teachers.

Engaging and Celebrating Family Culture

Invite students to celebrate their cultures through mindful and intentional celebration. Consider hosting a yearly International Festival where families bring favorite dishes together. Encourage students to regularly share music, literature, and films that allow them to celebrate themselves. For example, you can ask students to help plan a Black History or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Assembly, or designate a bulletin board to students’ quinceañera pictures. Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, and spend time learning about the various cultures in your community. Observe holidays for all cultures and religions represented if possible.

Teach Diverse Authors / Voices

Audit your curriculum thinking about the voices represented. Consider how your student’s cultures are being represented in history. Does your curriculum adequately represent your student population? Engage in conversations as a staff that encourage diverse perspectives when it comes to curriculum choices. 

Cherrie Moraga, a Chicana author, and activist said in her piece, The Bridge I Call My Back, “I am a woman with a foot in both worlds, and I refuse the split. I feel the necessity for dialogue. Sometimes I feel it urgently.” Our families carry with them stories, cultures, and experiences, that we as learning communities, need to learn and warmly welcome. Our students and families should not have to “split.” Ideally, we want them to carry their identities into our schools and communities to make them even richer.

When we think about the word “community,” we must consider what it means for every single one of our students and families, especially our families of English Language Learners. Consider using this resource to reflect on how you are engaging and celebrating families in your community!