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Tips for ELL Parent Involvement

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

Involving parents of English language learner (ELL) students in school offers unique challenges for teachers, administrators and other school staff members especially in a community receiving ELL students for the first time. However, the arrival of non-English speaking families impacts the whole community. School staff members should anticipate going beyond the traditional school to parent interactions. In addition to the traditional parent involvement activities, schools should be prepared to offer community support to the ELL families and develop an awareness of cultural differences between the home countries of ELL students and families and their new home.

Parent Involvement

  • At the start of school, hold an in school session to have parents complete forms. Translators should be available. This is a good opportunity to share information on school supplies and other expectations, and enlist parents and guardians as school/classroom volunteers.
  • When dealing with family members with little or no English proficiency, providing forms and notes in their native language is very helpful. When translating, caution should be taken to ensure the correct phrases are used. In this regard, reliance on Internet-based translation sites or computer software programs should be avoided. When using district translators, accuracy, due to dialect, is sometimes an issue. Some translators do a great job of oral translations, but their translation of written material may not be proficient. Additional information on working with translators is available in the document Working with Translators.
  • Arrange for parent teacher conferences at times that are convenient for parents. Some parents of ELL students may work evening shifts. Make sure to send home conference notices in the home language and tell parents translators will be on-hand.
  • Schedule the parent teacher conferences, so parents can make one trip to the school covering all their children's conferences.
  • Parent nights are a useful way to engage family members in school activities. When organizing such events, it is helpful to keep the following in mind:
    • Involve ELL students as part of the program to encourage family member attendance.
    • Be sure to send home bilingual notes announcing parent nights. In addition, personal contact with the families is also beneficial. This might be a role home-school liaison staff members could fulfill, if available.
    • Individually greet and say goodbye to attending families.
    • Celebrate the achievements of outstanding ELL students.
    • Survey those attending, asking for input on student programming, adult programming and satisfaction with the current programming efforts.
  • To build rapport between the parents and teachers, parents could be asked if they would be willing to give the teachers lessons on ethnic dancing or music or cooking popular ethnic recipes.

Community Support

  • Gain an understanding of immigrant families' needs in the community.
  • New non-English speaking families may need community support mechanisms. It is helpful to find someone within the community to mentor the new families. By default, this may fall on the school's ELL teacher. Initial support will involve basic living and survival tips.
  • Community support involves being aware of the following: health services, shopping, basic living tips, migrant services and translator services. Besides identifying service providers, school staff members can help families be familiar with these services, as well.
  • Schools may be able to share translators with other local agencies.
  • A district with significant immigrant populations might involve other community organizations, such as a YMCA, in after school activities. When doing so, it is important the collaborating organization's staff members be aware of and have training in the cultural dynamics involved with the ELL students. Communication channels among the organization, the school staff members and the students' community should be clearly defined and used.

Cultural Awareness

  • It is useful to have written guidebooks available to staff covering relevant program policies and procedures and cultural issues related to the nationalities served.
  • A district with significant immigrant populations might think of having designated liaison staff for such groups. When doing so, it is important to involve members of the ethnic communities in the selection process. Within each ethnic group, there are subgroups that may not interact well with each other. Selecting a person associated with one subgroup might unknowingly alienate members of another subgroup. The ultimate hiring decision is still up to the district staff. With concerted efforts, liaisons will usually win the confidence of the community.
  • Students from other countries, including Mexico, may have varied educational experiences. Some may have gone to school regularly. Others may have limited attendance. This may be due to migrant/seasonal employment, war in their home countries, lack of available attendance centers or teachers and other factors. Initially, their attendance pattern may reflect their prior educational experiences. Regular attendance may be an issue that should be addressed with ELL student families.
  • Due to economic reasons, some children may be expected to get a job and help support their family. This may prevent them from participating in extracurricular activities.
  • In some cultures, parents going to school for parent/teacher conferences is not a common occurrence. As such, there may be a natural hesitancy by parents to attend conferences with the teacher or receive telephone calls from school personnel positively.
  • For some cultures, there is a general reluctance to use mental health services. While American school officials may not hesitate to use mental health providers or school counselors to assist with behavioral or abusive situations, parents of ELL students may not feel comfortable allowing their children to receive such care.


The content and thoughts for this document were derived from interviews with the following individuals: Mike Shimeall, formerly with Lexington Public Schools, Lexington, Nebraska and currently Superintendent, South District #1 Public Schools, Wymore, Nebraska; Susan Mayberger, ESL Elementary Supervisor and Shari Koch, ESL Secondary Supervisor, of Omaha Public Schools, Omaha, Nebraska; Larry Turnquist, Superintendent, Karen Christensen, ESL Teacher, Pat Bohart, Foreign Language Teacher, Rosa Flores, Para Professional, Rosa Morales, Para Professional, and Alicia Kuykendall, Para Professional, of Harvard Public Schools, Harvard, Nebraska; Brad Cabrera, Superintendent, and Mary Sedersten, ESL Teacher, Sutton Public Schools, Sutton, Nebraska; and Donna Moss, Director of Special Services, and Mary Lamken, ESL Teacher, of Hastings Public Schools, Hastings, Nebraska. March 2001.

The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and are intended for general reference purposes only. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education or the Center, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. Some resources on this site require Adobe Acrobat Reader. This website archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.