What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “family engagement?” Teaching parents of ELLs about the school environment? Leading them in literacy activities to practice in the home?
Traditional efforts to engage parents are concerned with how parents can ensure their child’s academic success, and although they may seem a positive and valid way to engage, used alone traditional efforts are a barrier to parental engagement according to M. Beatriz Arias, PhD, and Milagros Morillo-Campbell, PhD. of Arizona State University. In their paper “Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times,” Arias and Morillo-Campbell identify six barriers to parental engagement including school-based barriers characterized by a “deficit perspective” and “unidirectional approach” to parental involvement.
Schools serving diverse populations have long been criticized for having a deficit view of ELL parents and communities [and] for limiting their approaches to traditional efforts at parental involvement, which are unidirectional: focusing only on what parents can do to support the school or support academic achievement rather than what the school can do to support families.
Non-traditional engagement provides alternatives. Rejecting the “deficit perspective,” proponents of non-traditional engagement consider how parents already contribute to their child’s academic success by teaching their cultural values, ensuring they get enough rest, and talking to and nurturing them, according to Arias and Morillo-Campbell.
Instead of informing parents about and involving them in educational activities, the authors explain, non-traditional models build on what parents already do and “situate the cultural strengths of family and community within the school curriculum, parental education, and parent advocacy.” They encourage incorporating parents’ values, which may be counter-cultural in the U.S., into school curriculum. A non-traditional engagement approach also informs effective family literacy, which acknowledges and integrates “ELL parents’ own literacy practices, skills, and abilities” and uses programs based on things ELL parents already do at home.
How can educators learn about ELL parents’ own literacy practices? Ask them. Well-planned home visits provide an opportunity for teachers to learn from families in their homes. Dr. Luis Moll of Arizona State University states:
There’s an abundance of resources in families’ households through their lived experiences, and by approaching them respectfully and carefully, they’re more than willing to tell us about their histories and their experiences so we can learn from them, which is really the key. . . to enter the households as learners – in the ethnographic sense – to learn from the people we’re interacting with.
Check back next week for more resources on ELL home visits.
Inviting ELL parents to speak during professional development events is another idea for sharing power and knowledge with parents and moving away from a traditional, unidirectional communication model. In the presentation “Refugee and Immigrant Family and Community Engagement with the Schools,” Laura Gardner, a specialist at Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS), models parent panels with ELL parents (slides 38,41, and 42) and provides logistical considerations (slide 39) for hosting a similar event. Gardner also recommends inviting parents to lead introductory language courses in which they teach basic words and phrases in their native languages.
BRYCS, a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services, hosts the nation’s largest online collection of resources related to refugee and immigrant children and families. The BRYCS 2007 report “Involving Refugee Parents in their Children’s Education” provides cultural, educational, and logistical engagement considerations.
According to Gardner, parents who feel their voices are respected and heard will engage with school staff. When trying to gauge the current level of ELL family engagement, consider this:
- Some parents may keep their distance as a way of showing respect.
- When contacted by their child’s teacher, some parents may initially think the teacher is complaining or there is a problem.
- While valuable to all learners, parental engagement is even more important for ELLs whose families are adjusting to life the U.S. as teachers may be able to help address basic needs.
- Intergenerational conflict due to different rates of acculturation may cause stress within families.
Do you know teachers, administrators, or schools in Kansas City that use non-traditional strategies to engage parents? How do they incorporate ELL parents’ values in curriculum or integrate their literacy practices in the classroom?