Friday, March 2, 2012

Tips for Reaching Out to Parents of ELLs

Many of you are struggling with how to best reach out to the parents of your ELLs.  You pick the date, book a fabulous speaker, set up interpreters and send home flyers announcing the event.  But when the time rolls around for the meeting, it looks a lot like the photo above.  So what can you do differently?   Today I’ll share six tips that I have learned over the years. 
There is no magic formula here, but we can learn from what has worked for others.  Please share your own tips in the comments section at the end of the post. 

TIP #1: Provide childcare. Many of our parents need someone who can watch their children while they attend the meeting.  Consider contracting with a teacher or teacher’s assistant in your district to provide supervision for the children during the meeting.  Have coloring sheets, multilingual books and board games available for the children.  Consider having a few adults present to help provide homework help for older students.

TIP #2:  Vary the time of day and/or day of the week.  Maybe a school night isn’t the best time for your families.  Ask a few parents what the best time of the day is and the best day of the week.  I know of a district that has had great success with ELL parent meetings on Sunday afternoons.  Another district has found that they get the best turnout when they hold the meeting during school hours.  They make sure to end the meeting shortly before the students are dismissed so that parents have time to pick their children up. 

TIP#3 – Vary the location. This tip goes along with Tip #2.  Ask a few parents.  If a number of your families live in a particular apartment complex, check with the property manager to see if there is a meeting space you can use for your parent meetings.  The same holds true for local houses of worship.  This might be a great place to hold your meeting and make connections with leaders in the community that also serve the needs of your families.  An extra bonus - I have found that houses of worship are often willing to announce parent meetings before or after their services. 

TIP #4 – Don’t just send home flyers! Think about the sheer number of flyers and information that go into a child’s backpack each week.  Often our carefully crafted and meticulously translated flyers get lost in the shuffle of all of those papers.  Call parents and personally invite them to the meeting.  Tell them that a flyer will be coming home with the details. Tell them what color paper the flyer will be on so that it will be easier to spot.  While you are at it, ask them to bring another parent with them.  You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference a personal invitation will make.

TIP #5 – Have refreshments.  Food is a universal sign of hospitality.  Brew a pot of coffee and have some cookies available.  Approach local restaurants or ethnic grocery stores and ask them to donate refreshments for the parent meeting.  Not only will parents feel more welcome and relaxed, the local restaurants have a chance to connect with the school in a new way. 

TIP #6 – Recruit parents.  At your first meeting, tell parents to come to the next meeting with at least one friend.  Ask for volunteers to help with the next meeting. 

Click here to read a post on resources to share with parents of ELLs.  

Written by: Tammy King


  1. Excellent tips! Our district has had much success in increasing parental participation and attendance at events by alternating the days and times they are offered, and also by providing refreshments and small prizes that are donated by teachers. It's also helpful when teachers talk about the events with the students. I've personally had parents of my students tell me that they attended a class or event largely because their son/daughter talked it up!

    1. Valerie, Great point about the importance of talking with students about events. I also liked your idea about giving away small prizes. Thanks!