Guide for Engaging ELL Families: 20 Strategies for School Leaders

Engaging ELL Parents as Leaders

A woman attching something to a classroom bulletin board.

How can schools develop ELL families as leaders in the school community? Learn from some schools that have successfully done so from the examples below! These strategies appear in Engaging ELL Families: Twenty Strategies for School Leaders.

The following strategies offer tips for helping ELL families learn about leadership opportunities in their school community and develop the confidence to step into those roles.

Supporting immigrant families

For related ideas, see the following:

15. Encourage ELL parents to take on leadership roles

Download PDF versions:

A. What you need to know

While ELL parents may be underrepresented in leadership roles, some guidance and encouragement from school leaders can go a long way in building their confidence. It may be something small, such as soliciting ideas for school events, or something bigger such as asking them to serve on a parent advisory council or speaking at a school board meeting (Meyers, 45). Your parents know their children and community best, and they are likely to offer successful solutions to problems that the school community hadn't thought of before, particularly if they represent a large number of ELL families.

B. Reflection

Do your parent committees reflect your ELL population? Who is advocating for your ELL students?

C. Strategies

  • Make sure that qualified interpreters are available so that parents can feel comfortable communicating their ideas in their native language. The negative encounter experienced by a gentleman who spoke in front of a legislative hearing in Texas underscores the importance of having an interpreter who can communicate nuances and intent.
  • Consider developing a branch of the PTA for your ELL parents, organized by language. While it may seem to isolate or favor certain parents, it will allow ELL parents to become comfortable with the role the school is asking them to take on, to learn more about the school, and to build capacity. Once the parents feel more confident, bring them together with the larger PTA on a regular basis, and help the two groups communicate. (As in other cases, the way people respond to this step will depend on how you frame it. If people understand why you think it's beneficial for the entire school for ELL parents to become more involved in the PTA, they are more likely to support a separate ELL parent group. If you can organize such a group, sit in on a meeting to get a sense of what it's like to follow a PTA meeting in another language!)
  • As your ELL parents become more familiar with the school policies and environment, ensure that ELL parents are represented in the PTA and parent advisory groups.
  • Offer your ELL parents frequent and convenient opportunities to share input, ideas, and concerns with you and your teachers in a variety of venues (Houk, 67).
  • Encourage parents to attend and speak up at school board meetings, even with an interpreter.
  • Remind the school board members and district leaders to communicate policies/changes in your families' languages.
  • Take parent input seriously, and don't ask for it until you are prepared to listen. As Houk notes, "Parents should not be 'included' to rubber stamp school decisions, or to provide affirmation for school staff about decisions made with no real input (68)." The message parents send may not be what you want to hear (69) and this may require some more flexibility and cross-cultural understanding on everyone's part. However, once you begin to hear their good ideas, you will realize that the learning curve is worth it!

D. Example

  • Marla Hori from Skokie, Illinois describes a program in her district called "Bridge Parents." One or two parents are enlisted from each language group to serve as leaders in engaging other parents around school during coffee hours at the school or parents' homes. Marla also notes that these parents have helped the school as translators (40-41).

Video: Becoming the PTO President

Video: A crisis that created a leader

Video: "But I am the president"

Video: Immigrant families are rising to meet challenges

16. Look for ways to make parent leadership more sustainable

A. What you need to know

Parent leadership can be lost easily as students get older and transition to new schools. Think about putting a mentorship program in place to keep new parents engaged. The mentorship piece is essential because, in these roles, bilingual parents are asked to speak up and make decisions in a new cultural environment — and the cycle of building trust and respect must begin again.

B. Reflection

Think about your strongest parents at the school. How do you plan to replace them once their children move to another school? What barriers exist to developing bilingual leaders?

C. Strategies

  • Form a panel of ELL parents to address questions and concerns.
  • Designate parent leaders in each language group to engage other parents.
  • Brainstorm with your ELL parent leaders about ways to recruit and mentor new parents.
  • Learn from your parents' experiences and find out what they think will make a positive impact on future parents who are new to the U.S. school system.
  • As parents prepare to step away from leadership responsibilities, ask them if they would be willing to mentor new parent leaders who are joining the community.
  • Ask them for recommendations of other parent leaders that they have gotten to know.

D. Example

  • ELL parents serve on a district Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee (BPAC) in Illinois' District 65, as mandated by Illinois Administrative School Code. Parents on the BPAC help the district:
    • Review grant applications and implement grant activities
    • Organize Spanish classes for the community
    • Review standardized assessment data
    • Advocate for programming at school board meetings
    • Volunteer and tutor in classrooms
    • Organize school events.
    The BPAC parents were also instrumental in successfully lobbying the school board for a new two-way immersion program despite the board's initial resistance (Yturriago, 50-51).



For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.

More by this author

aft shield logo
nea logo

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.