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Engaging Parents of ELLs: Practical Solutions for Lasting Results

According to the latest Pew Research, 64% of Americans have smartphones, and that number is projected to climb. The same research also found a direct correlation between individuals with lower incomes and/or educational attainment to becoming more dependent on smart-phones. We should keep this in mind as we start to think about connecting with parents of ELLs and look to technology for help.


The main benefit of connecting with parents through technology is that we can convey important information in a format that is easily accessible, timely and relevant. As education practitioners, we have typically used face-to-face conferences, phone calls, print newsletters and digital updates to engage with our parents.  While these are all great strategies, smart-phones often look like the example on the right - with hundreds of unread emails and dozens of missed phone calls, but few unread text messages or social media notifications.

When thinking about how to reach out to parents of ELLs this school year, consider adding these strategies to your toolkit:

Text Messages: At the beginning of the year, one of the best ways to build a relationship with parents of your ELLs is by sending them a friendly text message using services such as RemindClass Dojo or Talking Points. Many of these messaging services also provide translations that allows for more effective communication with parents.  

Facebook: While it’s mostly used as a personal platform, Facebook allows people to receive information in real time, just like text messages. This can be helpful when trying to reach parents with a limited amount of messages in their service plan. In addition, the great thing about Facebook is that pages can be created in a variety of languages! All you need is someone that speaks a dominant ELL language in your school or district to create the page and allow for interactions. Consider using Facebook to promote events, share real-time learning, post pictures when possible, and encourage different activities for parents to engage with their students. Keep in mind that you need to provide comprehensible input, so use simple text and pictures to support your message. You can also observe who is checking in with your page, which may inform new ways to communicate with your parents.

Pinterest: Creating a campus and/or classroom Pinterest page can go across language barriers due to little text and high visual images. The collaboration tool allows for multiple users to post onto boards so that schools and teachers can show parents ways to help their child with their homework, how to take notes, etc. Another great way to use Pinterest is to show parents and students the FANTASTIC work going on in the classroom or school! Any time students and/or parents can be recognized always helps to build those positive relationships.

While technology can play a huge role in parent engagement, there will still be moments when you might need to communicate over the phone, in-person or through direct mail. For example, when a new student enters the district, and is considered eligible for the ELP program, federal law mandates that districts must notify the parents with a letter within two weeks of entering the district. Make sure you use a trained interpreter and not Google translator as English words don't often translate directly. Districts can automate these parent letters by using Ellevation to generate Title III parent letters in over 35 languages, translated by professional interpreters, saving educators significant time while ensuring compliance. Check out this sample letter in English and Arabic.    

One last piece of advice I’d like to share comes from Larry Ferlazzo, author of Building Parent Engagement in Schools. Larry points out: Parent engagement is about leading with our ears instead of our mouths. In creating a parent engagement model that works, make sure that you’re also listening to parents and encouraging feedback. If you’re hearing the same types of questions or challenges, bring those parents together to share stories and come up with an action plan.