It’s that time again for many of us worldwide to start the new school year!

This time of year is very exciting, but also comes with new challenges. One of the most important challenges of the school year is how to engage parents. Larry Ferlazzo, author of Building Parent Engagement in Schools, points out that while many schools involve parents they rarely engage parents. According to Larry Ferlazzo, engaged parents are those that enter into partnerships with teachers and school staff to provide the best learning environment for children. Engaged parents make decisions and have a say in what happens in the classroom and with the curriculum. Engaging parents was something I often struggled with for many years. I was afraid of communicating with parents because in my teacher training courses I was never taught how to engage parents. Here are a few practical ways to get your parents to become partners with you in providing the best learning environment for their children. When parents are involved they aren’t scary at all. As I found out, when I won over parents by showing them how much I care about and do for their children I had less behavior problems and more successful students.

Begin the Conversation

Instead of having parents sign a syllabus with difficult language try sending a personalized email.

  • I use a blanket email I copy and paste but the first two sentences always say something along the lines of, “Dear Mr./Mrs. Doe, I really enjoyed meeting Johnny who is very bright and made me laugh with jokes.” I always try to send a positive message for every child. This way the first communication you have with the parent is positive versus negative.
  • Include information and links to your wiki page, school website, your contact information, where they can find homework, your meeting hours, schools supplies needed, and other important dates or information.
  • Use headers like I am using in this post for easy navigation.
  • Try translating with Google if you know the parents of your English language learners have trouble understanding. I often will begin the email with “I’m sorry if this isn’t translated so well. I used Google.” Parents really get a kick out of this and love me for the effort.
  • At the end of the e-mail, ask the parents to respond with answers to questions like what is the best time to contact them and how they would like to help. If the parents have a question, they are more likely to respond back.
  • If the parent doesn’t have email, then send the printed letter home with the child that asks for the best way to contact them. It might be through texting. Be flexible to how you contact parents because this will save you stress with student behavior in the future.

Set-up an Online Parent Community

Set-up a community for your parents to communicate with you and other parents. You can easily do this with free tools such as a Facebook groupEdmodoWiggioMoodle, or Enter the Group.

  • These communities allow parents to post updates to calendars, share resources, find homework that is posted easily, and so much more. The updates are short and manageable so take less time. Everyday parents and students will be able to know what is going on in the classroom so they will keep organized. These social networks can be made private so that only students and parents have access.
  • Try posting a resource every week or month that will help parents with their own English. The Everyday Dialogues or Office Life series are great to share to help parents!

Keep Parents Active

Partnerships work best when we help each other.

  • Let parents make decisions- Ask parents what they think would make the curriculum better. Then try to implement the suggestion. In the past, I have had parents add Wiki content such as song lyrics or Youtube videos. I have had parents suggest an activity for a book or a game.
  • Invite parents to volunteer and help- I have had parents decorate the classroom or allowed them to update the calendar in our online community with their children’s upcoming competitions or ceremonies so that as a class we can support each other. I have had parents gather and organize fundraisers to get computers or other needs in the classroom. I have had parents be in charge of the activity of the month or resource of the month on the wiki page or our online community. Parents have organized field trips or have been guest speakers. Just like students, parents often need to know how they can help and be assigned roles so they feel like you value them and their ideas. Every parent can help in some way to improve the learning environment.

Invite Parents to a Workshop

Invite parents to a special workshop night and serve food! Food entices people to come. I used to serve my German parents some Mexican dishes I knew they normally would not get. I like to do this after the first few weeks in order to go over what technology we will use in the classroom, games we will play, rules, and more. I talk to parents about their concerns about their children posting online and we come to an agreement of what will be published.

Share Your Ideas

I hope these ideas will help you begin the school year right with your language learners and their parents! Whether your students are toddlers or teenagers, these ideas have worked for me!

What are your favorite ways to engage parents? Please share in the comments section!

For more back to school help try our Back to School flash cards and the resources in our August News post!

If you want to receive more of Shelly’s tips for online resources for having a successful language learning class, then subscribe!

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, instructional designer, and author. She has been recognized by various entities, such as the ELTon Awards, The New York Times, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as a leader, innovator, and visionary in the movement of teacher driven professional development, education technology, elearning, and mobile learning. She is the co-founder of #Edchat, the Reform Symposium Web Conference, and The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. She has trained teachers and taught learners in 100+ countries and has consulted with organizations such as UNESCO Bangkok, The European Union aPLaNet Project, Cultura Iglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, and the British Council in South East Asia. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and shares regularly via TeacherRebootCamp.com, Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/shellyterrell, and Google.com/+ShellySanchezTerrell. She’s the author of Learning To Go, Byte-sized Potential, and The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers published by Routledge. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year 2014 by the National Association of Professional Women and awarded a Bammy Award for #Edchat.   Website: http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/   Twitter: @ShellTerrell