As we often remind our readers in this blog, our relationships matter! As teachers, this means engaging in a positive relationship with the families represented in our classroom. As a result, our students will experience positive outcomes.
Adding to this is the need for us to recognize that reaching out to the English Language Learner (ELL) families may require us to think differently about communication. We have identified a few communication strategies to serve as starting points for purposeful planning as we partner with families who may represent different cultures and may speak different languages.
Learn About District Supports for Communication
One of the first things we can do for ELL families is to familiarize ourselves with the language support options available through our district and school site. We can learn about what options are available for translation and interpretation, including district interpreters or a language hotline. There may also be texting translation apps that are approved for use. Once this information is gathered, be sure to share the language supports with the families who could benefit from using them and emphasize that you welcome the use of these resources to build a strong partnership with them for the benefit of their child.
Encourage Regular Communication
Another method for establishing a partnership with ELL families is to encourage their questions and expressions of concern. Take time to communicate to the families that their questions are welcomed, and then be sure to answer them in a timely manner. When possible, ask cultural liaisons or interpreters to be available at events, meetings and conferences associated with your classroom. Offer to meet with families before or after school to allow them to ask questions. If your classroom population contains a large number of ELL students, consider inviting more than one family to meet with you at a time, giving them an opportunity to connect with other ELL families.
Explore Technology Tools for Sharing Information
When there is a language gap, it can be challenging for both you and the ELL family. With this in mind, you may explore utilizing technology to support your communication efforts. As mentioned, the app, Talking Points, is helpful for informal communication with families. Offering to meet virtually also helps with the challenges of travel or childcare. For example, you could send videos in the family's native language introducing yourself as the teacher, share information about the school, or discuss available resources. In this way the technology serves as a tool to strengthen the partnership between yourself and families.
A final suggestion that is offered in some districts is interpreter cards. These are short phrases in a family’s native language that include a translation to English. You may see phrases such as, "Do you need an interpreter?" or "Do you have questions about your child's transportation to school?" Using these cards may be helpful to initially gauge how much support you will need in the area of translation.
Partnering with diverse families is one of the joys of teaching, and the results of open communication and positive relationships help to ensure beneficial results for all involved. As we engage with ELL families, utilizing these communication strategies can be helpful to strengthen this vital relationship.
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Knight, S., Gilpatrick, M. & Vasquez, T. (2022). Communicate Student Data Constantly. Communicator. Volume: 45. May/June.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.