Communicating with families is an essential part of building strong school-home partnerships, but communicating with dual language learners' families can be difficult since they often speak little to no English. As an educator, it's important that you don't let language and cultural barriers (and the conflicts and misunderstandings they may cause) prevent you from establishing connections with students' families.
In Connecting Right from the Start, Jennifer J. Chen, EdD, offers practical suggestions for communicating with the families of dual language learners. According to Chen, the first thing you should do is initiate the partnership. "Don't wait or expect the families to do so, as many will feel neither comfortable nor knowledgeable partnering with educators. Instead, they expect the teacher to reach out to them," explains Chen. Here are just a few of the strategies she shares that educators can utilize during oral conversations with families:
- Believe that the family truly cares about and is involved in their child's education in their own ways.
- Try to put yourself in the parents' position to help understand the challenges facing them.
- Listen attentively and affirmatively by nodding positively and asking questions to show interest and care.
- Make eye contact but be aware that not all cultures find eye contact to be respectful.
- Avoid stereotyping and judging the family based on what they tell you or your own observations of them.
- Learn the family's unique way of communicating (verbal and nonverbal) and try to be responsive to their communication style.
- Ask parents questions for clarification to ensure that you understand their points of view.
- Be consistent with your speech and body language. Observe and assess their state of emotions to respond appropriately.
- Be positive by smiling warmly whenever appropriate.
- Be honest about your observations of the child's performance, progress, strengths, and needs.
By showing respect and understanding, you'll likely receive respect and understanding in return. For more family engagement strategies and resources, visit the Family Engagement category of our Insights and Inspirations section. You can also find a great selection of family engagement materials in the Family Engagement section of our website.