Top 10 best practices
for empowering schools to support EAL families (part 1)
Schools across the developed world — especially in the UK, America, Australia and New Zealand — are becoming increasingly multicultural.
As a result, there’s been a tremendous amount of academic literature and practical policy papers written about strategies and techniques for successfully teaching and integrating students from EAL [English as an Additional Language], ESL [English as a Second Language] or ELL [English Language Learner] backgrounds into English-language-centric schooling systems.
What’s sometimes overlooked — chiefly because, at first glance, it has a less obvious impact on the day-to-day functioning of a school and its student learning objectives — is the role that parents of EAL students play.
Recent research indicates just how important enabling parents of EAL students — not just the students themselves — is when it comes to academic achievement, language development and successful integration with school environments and communities.
So what are some of the best ways to engage parents of EAL students, in order to take a holistic approach to EAL families, and better ensure positive schooling outcomes? Read on to find out.
1. Create a dedicated EAL family support function in your school
Whether it’s writing EAL family support goals into your school’s operating plan and dispersing responsibilities across a number of existing roles, or creating specific EAL family support positions, empowering staff to dedicate more time towards assisting EAL parents is critical.
Not only can this enable EAL students to be fully-included in school activities and college life, by ensuring EAL parents are well-informed about all the opportunities available to their children, it also establishes deeper parent – teacher relationships.
And, aside from helping EAL parents reduce the week-to-week administrative tasks demanded of student guardians, dedicated EAL family support functions also embolden EAL parents to proactively start more conversations with the school. Simultaneously, this gives them clear impetus to improve their own English skills so that they can build upon those relationships.
Regardless of the presence or absence of dedicated EAL support roles in your school, a ‘whole school’ framework and action plan for EAL development and inclusion is recommended. This approach helps to ensure the concept of EAL support permeates the routine operations of the school and remains top-of-mind for all staff members. Engaging your existing bilingual educators to establish how best to deliver assistance is important too.
Additionally, wherever possible, EAL support staff should remain in those positions of responsibility over a reasonable period of time — no less than 12 – 24 months. This will help build strong, trustworthy and lasting relationships between EAL parents and teachers.
2. Build EAL partnerships with other cultural or linguistic entities
Engaging with other organizations and community groups that specialise in foreign languages and cultures, both in terms of transferring knowledge and assisting with integration, can be hugely beneficial. And, the benefits flow two ways — EAL parents feel welcomed, visible and that they have a voice within the school community. At the same time, non-EAL families can gain a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, other cultures within the school community too.
Delivering on these desired outcomes might include engaging such third-party organizations to perform at, or help run, special cultural experience days or activities for certain groups of pupils — even the broader school community. Seeking input and assistance from EAL parents and families with relevant cultural backgrounds can bear additional fruit.
To further grow the confidence and active participation of EAL families, consider partnering with third-party adult and child EAL specialty organizations to deliver discount after-hours English classes. To make such programs even more logistically and economically accessible, consider subsidising costs or using school facilities to host classes.
Improving parents’ language skills can aid social integration, inside and outside the school community, and can lead to more effective support for EAL students as parents become able to more effectively articulate goals, concerns and needs.
- UK: Headteacher-update.com: Supporting new EAL arrivals >
- US: Education USA: English Language Programs >
- AUS: Resources from the Australian Council of TESOL Associations >
3. Establish an EAL induction program
New EAL families have often traveled significant distances for economic, social or political reasons. Therefore, many may be completely unfamiliar with your system of schooling.
Establishing a structured induction program can help EAL parents understand basic school requirements, and where and how they can seek resources or assistance, which in turn will help EAL students settle quickly and achieve better academic results. The quicker these parent – school relationships can be established, the more likely EAL families are to remain and prosper at your school.
Elements of the induction program may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Admission templates and assistance in native languages
- Assessment of new EAL students to help formulate a customized learning and support package for parents and teachers to enact
- Resources to ease the transition — ranging from overview materials on your country’s education system, to information about local public transport options
- Methods to ease the transition — including in-home discussion and learning strategies to help EAL parents facilitate student academic achievement and ease social tensions
- Curriculum outlines and student learning objectives in native languages
- Induction to English language resources — for students and adults
4. Hold regular EAL community sessions
While formalized EAL induction programs are a great place to start, running regular meet-ups can cement content and concepts shared at induction, provide an open forum for questions, and build stronger relationships between EAL families and teachers, as well as between EAL parents.
School churn rates among EAL families are often high due to the number of challenges they face. Consistently providing newly-arrived EAL parents with access to tools, resources and people to help navigate those challenges can help significantly reduce those churn rates.
EAL get-togethers at your school provide a regular forum and framework through which you can:
- Communicate and reiterate school expectations around common themes like student attendance and participation, parental engagement and homework — many of which may be new concepts that need reinforcing to some EAL parents
- Disperse EAL resources and communicate information about your school’s EAL teaching program
- Encourage parent learning — provide, recommend or deliver English Language Learning programs for EAL families
- Create an immediate feedback loop, whereby EAL families can have direct input into the ongoing development of EAL enablement strategies
- Facilitate and nurture EAL community building amongst parents (social isolation is common among migrant families, and overcoming this hurdle helps provide a stable environment for ongoing student learning in the home)
Also consider holding sessions outside the school grounds, in more neutral venues, where EAL parents may be less intimidated by the enormity of a foreign school system, and therefore may also be more open to actively participating.
Getting to know EAL families also builds important school related relationship based on trust, which in turn can pave the way to student success. This approach is most effective when the communication is personal and face-to-face.
4.1 Establish EAL student support groups
Organizing support groups for EAL students who share common language backgrounds assists ongoing learning and relationship development. Additionally, they also act as a backdoor avenue for EAL parents to:
- Learn additional techniques for ongoing English language development at home
- Network with fellow EAL parents
5. Encourage EAL families to participate in school events and life
Schools are always looking for additional parent volunteers to support a range of activities — from music programs and drama productions, to sports carnivals and school trips.
These style of events are fantastic for bridging the divide between EAL and non-EAL families. Increasing dialogue between the parents of EAL and non-EAL students is also demonstrated to improve the engagement rates of EAL parents while simultaneously enhancing relationships between EAL and non-EAL pupils.
Encouraging EAL parents to volunteer in day-to-day college life — from the classroom, to the office, library, lunchroom or canteen, school clubs or sports teams, and after-school programs — can also elicit similar benefits.
Whist most suited to primary or elementary schools, this specific example can be powerful.
In fact, there was a study conducted at a primary school based in southern Sydney, Australia, which identified the most important elements of creating ‘school literate EAL parents’. At the time, 98 percent of enrolled students were from ‘foreign’ backgrounds, spread across 45 different language backgrounds. Titled Becoming school literate parents: an ESL perspective, the study found “access to school literacy practices” was “fundamental to parental involvement in literacy learning”.
The report identified a number of practical activities that promote literacy learning and offer usable strategies to “extend the learning” of EAL children, including EAL parents’ participation in:
- School meetings;
- Close interactions with class teachers and, most importantly;
- Participation in volunteer reading programs and observations of the classroom teacher in action.
This style of direct observation and participation by EAL parents also increases parent – student collaboration on out-of-classroom school work.
5.2 Student participation in extracurricular activities
EAL student participation in extracurricular activities is important for developing confidence and facilitating inclusion. Critically, it also offers an additional avenue through which EAL parents can form new relationships and integrate comfortably with the school community.
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Where to next? See you soon for part two.
Keep an eye out for part two of this blog series, where we share the next five best practices for empowering schools to support EAL families.