New school year: students getting on bus

In this second part of the blog post series, “Starting the School Year Right for Our ELs”, we will focus on setting up a plan for effective communication with ELs and their families. In this blog post, we’ll share three steps you can take to foster better communication with EL families and some guiding questions for you to consider. We’ll end with helpful resources on the topic. Let’s take a look.

Make a Communication Plan for ELs and Their Families

Step 1: Develop your own awareness.

  • What are the different pieces of information that need to be communicated to EL families?
  • How much of the information to be shared is lost in translation–or worse yet–not translated?
  • Are you able to call families using a system like Language Link or another interpretation subscription service?
  • How can you ensure the families have not only received but understood the information?

There are many different factors that can have a serious impact on communication with families of ELs including their home country’s school culture and their familiarity with the American educational system. Two overarching issues often arise: difficulties with the translation and limited home literacy. The ‘standard’ version of the language used for translation may be quite different from the dialect the family uses. Specific educational terms are sometimes unfamiliar to either translator or EL family member or may not translate easily. Additionally, even when forms are translated well, there may be limited literacy in the home which will impact families’ understanding.

Step 2. Consider how EL families can communicate with you.

  • What plan do you have in place for EL families to contact you or the administration?
  • What voice do your EL families currently have in the school?
  • What voice could they have with additional support?
  • How can you find out the best way to reach your EL families and for them to reach you?

It is not just about teachers telling families what they must sign, send in, buy, and do–but what the families want and need to tell us. In the first part of this blog post, we looked at getting to know your ELs and their families. Consider finding out information about communication preferences and needs as a part of the process. Social home visits during the first quarter are a great way to not only get to know each other but open up a direct line of communication and build families’ trust.

Step 3. Share your knowledge with colleagues.

  • What information do you have about communicating with your ELs that would benefit colleagues?
  • How can you share your knowledge with colleagues?
  • How can you advocate for improving communication with ELs and their families within your team, grade level, department, or school?
  • With whom can you collaborate in your advocacy efforts?

As educators of ELs, a vital part of our role is to advocate for our ELs by educating and sharing information with non-EL-trained colleagues. Please consider taking some steps to share your knowledge about communication with particular ELs and their families with your colleagues who work with the students as well. Also, think about gently raising their awareness of what might be behind situations such as unanswered calls and unreturned forms. Take some time to troubleshoot with teachers who are encountering barriers to communication.

Resources for Communicating with Your ELs and Their Families

Explore more: What is culturally responsive teaching?