[My daughter] wants to be an art
teacher. Last year in her school, her art
teacher chose her drawings and they
are on display. Her drawings are at the
Indian gallery museums at the state
fairgrounds. She loves to dance. She’s
very shy around people, but she’s the
most fun girl when you get to know her.
She can get easily irritated by noise or
by others. . . . Her interests are learning.
She loves school. She is a fast learner,
but doesn’t like taking risks. Thank you
for sharing your knowledge with my
Clara also shares the story
of a father who was the least
proficient in English of all of
her parents but managed to
write a short letter in English
about his child. He clearly
wanted to support his daughter’s success in any way he
Let Parents Share
Interests and Talents
Find ways for parents to
share their interests and
skills. Although there may
be interesting opportunities
based on such familiar touch
points as culture and food,
don’t limit your ELL parents
to the role of cultural ambassadors. Perhaps a student’s
parent has skills to enhance
a project or class materials.
Visiting parents might offer
support to other students in
the classroom, particularly if
they share a language.
Think outside the box in
terms of scheduling to give
parents opportunities to
contribute to your classroom
and volunteer meaningfully.
Parents might enjoy opportunities to learn about one
another at a back-to-school
night or other family event.
They might together come up
with ideas that help the class.
Keep in mind that extra procedures
like background checks might deter
immigrant families from volunteering.
Look for opportunities to share
success stories (even small ones)
with parents, such as in your class
newsletter. Highlight students or
families who’ve overcome the kinds of
obstacles your families face. Educator
Maricela Rincon in New Mexico calls
a different parent every day to share
something positive about his or her
child. Some tell her, “This is the first
time I’ve had a positive phone call
about my child” (Flannery, 2010).
Christine Rowland posts pictures of
graduates from her high school who’ve
gone on to college. Students are inevi-
tably drawn to the pictures to learn
about their fellow students and how
they reached their goals.
Getting to know your ELL
families may be painstaking
and require adjustments to
your routine—but it benefits
everyone involved. Giving
families a chance to share
their stories and support their
children in their own way
gives them the confidence
they need to help their
children thrive. EL
1Schools aren’t responsible
for determining the legal immigration status of families they
serve—only that families live
within the school district.
Flannery, M. E. (2010, January).
Welcoming ELL parents into
the classroom. NEA Today.
Retrieved from www.nea.org/
Robertson, K. (2007). Tips for
conferences with bilingual
families. Colorín Colorado.
Retrieved from www.colorin
Rothstein-Fisch, C., & Trumbull,
E. (2008). Managing diverse
classrooms: How to build on students’ cultural strengths. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Lydia Breiseth (lbreiseth@
weta.org) is manager of Colorín
Colorado, a bilingual website
serving educators and families
of English language learners
Resources for Getting
to Know Families
n “Making Your First ELL Home Visit: A Guide
for Classroom Teachers” by Gisela Ernst-Slavit and
Michele Mason. This online article gives suggestions
for planning a home visit with an ELL family. Available
n “Strategy: Parent Letters.” In this video interview,
Clara Gonzales-Espinoza discusses her strategy of
having each parent write a letter describing their child.
Available at www.colorincolorado.org/video/strategy-parent-letters.
n “Lessons Learned from Immigrant Families” by
Young-Chan Han. This article by an educator who leads
outreach with immigrant families in Maryland draws
from her experiences key lessons about how schools
can best serve such families. Available at www.col-orincolorado.org/article/lessons-learned-immigrant-families.
n “Working with Bilingual Parent Volunteers” by
Judie Haynes. Details creative ways to bring bilingual
parents into your classroom as supportive volunteers.
Available at www.everythingesl.net/inservices
n “A Guide for Engaging ELL Families: Twenty
Strategies for School Leaders” by Lydia Breiseth with
Kristina Robertson and Susan Lafond. This guide offers
ideas to help school leaders build home-school partnerships. Available at www.colorincolorado.org/guide/
n Refugee Youth and Children’s Services has
resources for strengthening families available at