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Holding an Effective ESL Parent Meeting

Judie Haynes

Hold a meeting for the parents of your English language learners to help them learn about your school. If you want to involve parents in their children’s education, you need to find some common ground. As ESL professionals we believe in acculturation, not assimilation. Although we advocate for our students and their parents, we also want them to do things our way. Parents of our English language learners must make some modifications to their own practices and perspectives in order to fit into our culture. This is especially true in elementary schools. An essential part of our role as advocates is to reach out to those parents. One way to do this is to hold an ESL parent meeting. What is involved in this kind of meeting?

Holding An Effective ESL Parent Meeting

The overall objective to holding an ESL parent meeting is to help participants understand school culture and procedures;and to improve communication between ESL teachers, mainstream teachers, and parents.

Here are some of the reasons to hold a meeting:

• to talk about issues that come up between the school and the ESL parents.
• to help parents and teachers communicate more effectively.
• to learn to empathize with parents who have lost their frame of reference. This is all new and unknown to them.
• to learn how parents and teachers have different ways of achieving the same goal.
• to make everyone’s job easier. Reaching out to our ESL parents can accomplish this.

First, letters should be sent to teachers asking them to explain the areas of difficulty they have when communicating with the parents. You also want to know what behaviors ELLs exhibit in class that teachers believe are particular to a population.

Second, letters are sent to the parents of the ESL students. If you have someone who can translate this letter, maybe a parent volunteer or and aide, you should send the letter in both languages. You will also send a reminder letter the day before the meeting.

For the meeting, you should have handouts in English and translations, if possible , of the gist you are going to cover so the parents have something to take back home with them, just like we do here because you know this works!

Topics to cover

Here are some of the topics to cover at a meeting.

The school’s ESL program and its benefits

Criteria for exiting students

Clarification of school’s procedures and culture

Stages of language acquisition: BICS and CALP

State testing: the school’s expectations & parents’ expectations

Report cards, study habits, parent/teacher conferences

When and if possible, you can invite a representative of the PTO to talk about their work and ask these parents to join. Include also the school nurse and your principal. It always gives greater weight and validity to your presentation if a principal or superintendent of schools speaks. You can also ask the community liaison from the police to explain traffic and other safety issues. You might want to stress that the police are trustworthy and are here to help us.

After the presentation, which is supported with overheads, the parents are divided into groups, with a translator. This translator could be hired or could be a parent. Parents are given pen and paper so they can write their questions and concerns. Many of them find it very hard to speak in front of an audience but feel comfortable writing and/or speaking in their own language in small groups. The written responses are great feedback for you to share with other teachers. Finally, answer the parents’ questions and try to keep in mind that they want to learn, that is why they came!

We are the cultural brokers, the facilitators between these families and our school community. We ask them “to do things our way” when what that means is asking them to understand and change the way they have done things all their lives.

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Parent Meetings (10k .PDF)

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