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Partnering With Families and Communities

All families want the best education for their children, and ELL families are no different. English Language Learners of all ethnicities cite education as a priority for their children, and for the majority of Hispanics—the largest group of ELLs in the nation—education outranked every other issue on national surveys.1

No wonder research continues to link increased parent engagement to better student attitudes, improved academic performance, and a reduction in dropout rates.xiv Although the value of fostering family and community relationships is well documented, many schools still struggle with how to most effectively develop these partnerships.2

As you advocate for the rights of ELL students, never underestimate families as your most valuable allies. While there may be some constraints, such as language barriers or mismatches in educator and family schedules, everyone wins when educators and families partner in the education of children.

Advocacy Strategies

Use the following advocacy strategies as helpful starting points for partnering with ELL families and communities:

  • Be open to different forms of parental engagement. Recognize that all families are involved, in varied ways, in their child’s education, and offer them a wide variety of opportunities for family involvement. Also, recognize that extended families and community members often play a significant role in the lives of “Advocacy is the art of guiding students and parents in winning their educational rights.” ELLs. Welcome extended family into the classroom and at school events, and look for ways to increase families’ comfort level with being at the school by providing programs that directly benefit them (e.g., free English classes, information about immigrant rights or community services).
  • Recognize and eliminate barriers to family involvement. Identify ways the school can support families in participating in school activities and events and provide what is needed (e.g., childcare, transportation to and from events, interpreters, dinner, flexible meeting times, and dual language resources).
  • Build relationships with family and community. Developing trusting and respectful relationships with parents will go a long way toward helping ELL students succeed in school. Many districts have launched home visit programs as a way to enhance parent-teacher communication, help teachers learn more about their students, bridge cultural gaps, and show parents and students how much teachers care. Participating in local community events also helps show you are invested in the life of the community and helps inspire trust.
  • Immigration status matters. Recognize that in many instances, families of ELLs are dealing with various factors associated with their immigration status. They may have feelings of dislocation and unfamiliarity with cultural and institutional norms. Take care in the type of information you request, and contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for guidance in navigating this issue.
  • Communicate in families’ preferred language and in multiple ways. If this is not possible, find a trusted, bilingual interpreter who can accompany you to a meeting and whom you feel would be comfortable around parents. Ask families what form of communication works best for them: email, notes home, phone calls, face-to-face school drop-off or pick-up.
  • Learn about your ELLs’ funds of knowledge. Allow your students to do projects that help you gain insights into their family and cultural backgrounds. Encourage families to come to the classroom and share one aspect of their culture. Let the family member and the student be the expert.3
  • Share resources and your expectations for students with families. Give all parents information about opportunities that will help ensure their children don’t make harmful decisions or fall behind academically. Start sharing information “The focus of advocacy is education and empowerment, not rescue.” early (e.g., talk about college planning in junior high so families know the type of coursework required). Familiarize parents with your expectations for their child.
  • Make sure parents know their rights. Rights for parents of ELLs are often an amalgamation of district, state, and federal requirements. Identify and share resources that will help parents understand and exercise their rights in proactive ways, not just when faced with an issue.


1. Pew Research

2. Henderson & Mapp, 2002, Staehr Fenner, 2014

3. Funds of knowledge refers to the various forms of skills, abilities, ideas, and practices that are essential to a students’ culture, home, and community functioning and well-being. (González, Moll & Amanti, 2005)

web resources

For further discussion of ways to partner with families and the community in advocating for ELLs, see the following resources:


additional reading

  • 50 Strategies for Communicating and Working with Diverse Families (3rd Edition) by J. Gonzalez-Mena (2013).
  • Home, School, and Community Collaboration: Culturally Responsive Family Engagement by K. Grant, J. Ray (2012).
  • Reaching Out to Latino Families of English Language Learners by D. Campos, R. Delgado, and M.E. Huerta (2011).