Effective School-English learner (EL) Family Partnerships

More than fifty years of research supports the importance of parental and family engagement for improved student achievement, better school attendance, and reduced dropout rates, regardless of socioeconomic background or ethnicity (M. Beatriz Arias and Milagros Morillo-Campbell, 2008). As I state and elaborate on in the white paper I wrote for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, EL Academic Success through Effective School-Family Partnerships, the most effective family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and families work together as equal partners, with shared responsibility and a common goal: student achievement and school improvement.

However, developing and sustaining an effective partnership between schools and families of our growing emergent bilingual/English learner students can be a challenge. Barriers pertaining to language, school staffs’ lack of familiarity with culturally and linguistically diverse families, and parents’ unfamiliarity with U.S. schools can all impede effective parent-school collaboration. For this reason, programs that incorporate professional learning for school staff and specific strategies for developing two-way knowledge building and communication, teamwork, and trust, are key.

In “Partners in Education: Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships” (USDOE/SEDL, 2013), the policy and program goals outlined by the authors to improve family engagement focus on building the capacities of both school staff and EL families to engage in partnerships. In my HMH white paper, I suggest five best practices for building capacity and developing and sustaining effective partnerships among all stakeholders in students’ academic success: school leaders, educators, parents, community partners, and the students themselves. All of these best practices are based on the research we have done over the past four years in districts across the country.

  1. Learning Communities that emphasize teamwork among educators, students, parents, and community partners, who work together to improve the school and increase student achievement.
  2. Leadership that champions a strong desire for engaging EL families for school improvement, sets a clear vision, and participates actively and enthusiastically in all stages of the process.
  3. A culturally-responsive family engagement action plan, developed collaboratively by the school team, which incorporates current successes as well as new research-based programs and standards-based practices.
  4. Nurturing understanding, respect, trust, and confidence among and between school staff and families.
  5. Building effective two-way communication and knowledge-sharing.

I will write more about the research and work HMH, I, and my co-author, Sylvia Acevedo, are doing in future blogs; but, meanwhile, I welcome comments from readers about the successes you are having engaging families of your emergent bilingual students, as well as your challenges.

Lise Ragan