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Judith Anthony Guest Post, Strategies that I have found successful in engaging with parents from diverse communities.: Revision

Hi everyone

For the next few weeks I would like to focus on Home-School Partnerships (HSP). I think that term 4 is a great time to review what we have tried in 2014 and to reflect on what we might try differently in 2015. To kick off our thinking I am excited to share a guest post by Judith Anthony.

Judith Anthony is ESOL Teacher and Specialist Classroom Teacher at Aidanfield Christian School in Christchurch.  She has taught in a variety of primary classrooms and has specialised in working with ELLs for the last six years. She completed the GradCertTESOL in 2010 and has recently completed a PGDipEd endorsed in Teaching and Learning Languages. Judith presented at the 2014 CLESOL conference on this same topic. 

I know you will enjoy reading her post and as you read it please reflect on what you currently use in your school. 

Strategies that I have found successful in engaging with parents from diverse communities.

New Zealand evidence suggests that teachers traditionally prioritise little time to forming strong home school partnerships.  However, research advises educators to change the way they approach and interact with family and whanau, especially those from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.  “The active involvement of parents from bilingual communities is particularly significant in assisting their children’s academic achievement” (Smyth, K, 2003).  This premise has formed the basis of six years of research based and practical inquiry into engaging with the communities of English Language Learners. The ideas presented have been trialed in two schools and practical ideas for community engagement will be suggested, which can be adapted to multiple learning contexts.

I am currently the ESOL teacher and Specialist Classroom Teacher at Aidanfield Christian School in Christchurch, with a background as an experienced primary trained classroom teacher.  Aidanfield Christian is a decile seven school of approximately 230 pupils and our school roll includes students from European, African, Maori, Chinese, Japanese and Pasifika backgrounds.  I am especially interested in the parental involvement of those from a non-English cultural background. Research suggests that the academic success of culturally diverse learners can be linked to strong home school partnerships: “Schools where there is genuine and active participation by parents have seen improved learning” (Gibbons, 1991, page 112).  

Communication in all its forms is an important starting point to build relationships with parents.  Regular newsletters (especially those using first languages), emails and interviews are crucial for all learners.  Initial support on arrival opens the lines of communication.

I have found that Blogs can provide a window on the classroom.  Parents and family members have the ability to comment and posts can be viewed from anywhere in the world.  More recently this has become a successful marketing tool as well.

International Parents’ Meetings are held once a fortnight in school time and are a valuable time to share and receive information for any parent or family member who comes from another country.  Topics are generally suggested by parents, and have included areas such as reporting and assessment, strategies to help children at home and issues around health and safety. Questions can be asked and new arrivals can met other parents who have been in the school for some time.  This connects parents and provides an additional point of contact for understanding school routines and processes.  This group also has social outings once a term and is a respected part of our wider school community.

Open classrooms where parents are invited to attend their child’s ESOL lesson have provided a valuable bridge between learning at school and at home.  Parents are able to see the benefits of specialist language support and its relationship to the wider school curriculum.

Involving parents in the school curriculum is an important way to recognize the prior knowledge that our ELLs bring to the NZ classroom.  Parents become the experts on their language and culture, which has benefits not just for ELLs but all learners.  At Aidanfield, we have held two very successful Cultural Weeks over the last two years, which have really utilized the gifts and talents of our international parent community.  Crafts, music, dance, food and language have all been taught by parents across all levels of the school.  The week culminates in a shared meal and performances that celebrate our school’s cultural diversity.

In a similar way, parents can be involved in special events, for example, celebrations of learning, school trips, and other events, such as fairs.  The International Café at our school fair has provided a real event for our International Parents’ Group, and valuable links have been formed as a result between parents and families.

I have found that different approaches work well in different schools and at different times.  Donn and Ruth Schick (1995, p 171) are quite correct when they note, “It can be a long, slow process finding out what strategies are most successful in particular situations”.

Even within a school community, the requirements of parents shift depending on their needs and backgrounds.  This is a continuing challenge that requires schools to adapt and change their strategies for engaging with diverse groups of parents.

I look forward to continuing to hear from others about approaches that work well in your own schools.

 If you have any feedback or would like to share what worked well for you in your school  then please email primaryesol@lists.tki.nz using the same in heading, Strategies that I have found successful in engaging with parents from diverse communities, in the subject line. or join in the discussion on the VLN primary ESOL pages. 

Kind regards

Janet McQueen